The reviews are showing up for Dragon’s Crown and descriptions of its old school nature to me feel sort of ironic given Vanillaware’s and director George Kamitani’s previous work. I’ve already said all I mean to say about the character designs in a previous post. I’m here now to talk about the gameplay heritage that seems to be converging in Dragon’s Crown.
Just recently I did a quick first-time run through Dungeons & Dragons Chronicles of Mystara — the collection of two Capcom arcade brawlers, at least one of which Kamitani worked on. For those that don’t know, Dragon’s Crown is basically an attempt at a spiritual successor to those games.
For those that haven’t tried them out already, they immediately felt to me like Final Fight but with swords. Actually the core combat is a little bit more complex than that, giving special moves to each character class which made both games really feel like skill-based brawlers. With changeable equipment, experience points, shops, treasures, secrets, and branching paths, these games also contain the heaviest RPG elements I’ve ever seen in an arcade brawler. According to Wikipedia the second game, Shadow over Mystara, was the second-to-last arcade sidescrolling bralwer Capcom ever made, so I guess it makes sense for it to feel like probably one of the most advanced games in the genre. Dragon’s Crown has been Kamitani’s 15-year dream of perfecting that design.
Those who’ve played Vanillaware’s other games like Odin Sphere and Muramasa the Demon Blade would probably also describe them as sidescrolling beat-em-ups with heavy RPG elements. For some reason though I actually consider those games to be the opposite. In my opinion the RPG elements in those games take prominence over their brawler aspects.
Odin Sphere in particular is a game that asks you to spend 60 hours engaging in what is a relatively simplistic combat system compared to the likes of Street Fighter, on top of an item and equipment system more byzantine than most pure RPGs. You have to craft and plant seeds that then grow livestock for you to kill in the middle of battle. Stats are also extremely important in that game, whereas in Mystara they felt sort of like window dressing.
Muramasa is a bit more of a compromise. It eases up on the deep leveling mechanics but also sort of lets you choose what kind of game you want to play based on the difficulty level. The easier mode lets you gain dominance by leveling up and forging new swords, while the harder mode is an action game where new swords just fall into your lap but every enemy is a serious threat whether you’re level four or level 40. Despite all that, Muramasa’s base controls were sort of awkward in the context of action games and still felt like a game from an RPG house.
That’s why the concept Dragon’s Crown as a return to brawlers from Vanillaware seems odd to me. Maybe the last two games were intentional in their direction, and Dragon’s Crown is a deliberate turn back to the 90’s arcade games with new elements. I’m essentially wondering if it’s a brawler with RPG elements or an RPG with brawler elements. It seems like an unnecessary distinction to make but I think a balance does exist there.
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