Copyright Adam Schlosser

Copyright 2005 Adam Schlosser

Posted by Pip

F113- I Dubbed Them Science Team Force Five

Space age chairs! What a time to be alive. Also, being able to make mechs and having a team of aides at your beck and call is pretty grand too. And the island has camp! Tour guides, science, chairs, and camp! This place just sounds awesome.

Quick Critique: Dragon's Crown

I had mentioned in my Double Dragon Neon critique that I thought one of the best things about that game was how it added RPG elements to a beat 'em up. Those elements like equipment, leveling up a character, and skill trees are the only way to do beat em ups now to me and Dragon's Crown does all of that really well. Games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage usually get boring after one or two stages for me, but adding growth to your character does a lot to keep it feeling fresh even though you're just slogging through the same enemies. Just, in its core gameplay, the screen gets incredibly busy when you have a full team and a group of enemies are on screen and things are exploding or spell effects are firing off. I regularly just lost track of my character during combat and would have to jump around for a while to pick it out and orient myself. That seems like it would be less of an issue on a TV but for a portable game, it's a major pain, especially if you're on a train or a bus where you yourself are moving around a bit as well. When you're blending in with the background, your AI partners do a solid job of knocking the grunts around but otherwise, they're complete idiots that will stand on traps getting shot by arrows over and over or repeatedly walk into stationary spikes or fire to the point that they'll kill themselves. Unfortunately and all systems aside, you're still just slogging through the same enemies and there isn't a lot to the gameplay. DC tries to add a lot of little flourishes but they frequently make the game more tedious or annoying rather than serving as a change of pace. Your equipment has durability that serves no major purpose outside of forcing you to visit a shop every time you enter town and only exists to prevent you from playing multiple dungeons in a row too much. You come across locked chests and doors, so you have to tap on them for an AI character to open them up, but that just leaves you standing around and waiting for him to get to it already. You have to walk over coins and items to pick them up, which sounds like a minor complaint, but it bogs down the game's pace. Money gets tight later on when costs skyrocket, so every coin counts and you spend just as much time picking up coins or tapping the environment to find more to then go walk over to and pick up as you do fighting the enemies. Levels are spotted with magical runes that can give you bonuses or buffs if you tap on them in the right order, but the sensitivity on tapping them is poor and they frequently overlap with characters or UI that you can also tap on, so you can rarely activate them in the heat of battle. There also isn't a fast activate for them or a pop-up on what the combinations are in battle, so unless you memorize every combination, it's a load of trial and error to the point that they aren't worth the hassle. If you see runes A and B in the background, you just methodically go through the choices. Is A, B, and 1 a spell? No? Then A, B, and 2. No? A, B, and 3? Yes! A spell that kills the undead! Only you've already killed all the enemies on screen so it was pointless. If you pick the character that uses magic, you have to “charge” your magic points. I understand why it's there and that it's a better trade-off than having all of her attacks on a cooldown but it's not fun. It gives you something to do while the AI guy is opening locked chests, but the flow is usually: fight a monster, stop, charge, advance, fight a monster, stop, charge, repeat. If they had made it automatically refill when she's not attacking, that would have all but solved the tedium. The charge button is also the same as the run button so you frequently run away when you mean to refill your magic. The camera constantly fidgets and moves around. It's annoying enough on its own, but there are objects you need to tap on in the background, so you can move your finger over it only to have the screen lurch forward with the camera and tap the wrong spot because your AI partner is dashing back and forth because there's a pool of water on the ground. Your AI partners absolutely freak out over pools of water for some reason. They treat it like the flammable oil or spikes, but are actually more willing to walk into a spiked barrier than walk through harmless water to pick up a healing item.
It's rather difficult to talk about Dragon's Crown and not mention the art and character designs. The humans look like mutant freaks. The men look like bulging sacks of meat, the Amazon has a body that warps perspective so she has a minuscule head but giant lower-body, the archer is more leg than woman, and the sorceress looks like somebody deflated her beach ball chest (she reminds me of the episode of Home Movies where McGuirk spent so much time working on his pecs that they exploded, but that's probably a niche reference). The male wizard is the only character that looks human but that's probably because he's 90% covered by a robe and you only ever see his head. While I may despise the character designs, the gratuitous and near pornographic mostly naked female NPCs thrown in for no good reason, or the very paper doll squash and stretch animation of Vanillaware's games, there's no denying a lot of effort went into the look. It's great they did that, but it comes at a heavy cost. There aren't many different enemy types and the game has a ton of filler that draws out the play time and so they can reuse assets. At a point in the story, you lose the ability to select which level you enter and are teleported to a random level until you luck onto the one you actually need. It's a really crappy tactic to extend the life of the short game. And to further make that lazier and worse, the game makes you backtrack and beat every stage a second time to find an item that wasn't available your first time through. Once you've backtracked through every level and found your items, the game pops up a symbol and asks you if you remember what level you saw it in and you have to go hunt it down. That task is the "check an FAQ because damn this game gets a lot worse the more you play it" quest (pro-tip: it's mostly covered by the UI anyway, so you probably never saw it each time you walked by it [maybe that's another TV versus handheld issue?]). And to make that MORE worse you have to go through the same game multiple times just on harder difficulty levels to see it completely through. The only difference I could see in the harder difficulty was that enemies get a huge jump in their levels, so that just adds the tedium of grinding experience to get on an equal footing and I didn't bother with that. I beat the game on normal and completed the side quests and that was enough for me. The quest system isn't particularly well-done though. You can only “officially” complete a quest if you accept it, but you can only have five quests active at a time, so you could unofficially complete a quest dozens of times before the game actually makes it available and then you make enough room to put it in your request log. For instance, one of the quests is to make sure three NPCs don't die in a specific dungeon and I kept them alive every single time I played that stage because you get a bonus for doing that (and I'm super valiant and all that hero jazz) but I didn't get credit for beating it until the eighth or ninth time I did it because my quest log was full up with events that happen randomly and relied on random number generators to complete. The main theme design kudos to give the game is that the narration is fantastic. The narrator has a perfect fantasy RPG voice and he does all of the speaking voices for characters in story dialogue too so it has a very “story book” feel to it. You can buy a voice pack to change him after beating the game, but the cost is so ludicrously high that it's probably not worth the hours of grinding gold to buy it just to replace him.