Nuchallenger “favorite games of the year” #1 – Dragon’s Crown

The art style on the whole is first class, as Kamitani and co. have been known for in the past. It is an enduring style that encapsulates the value to having Japanese artists interpreting Western mythos and fantasy. Instead of being downtrodden or full of cliched appearances the well worn fantasy beasts and environments feel expressive and full of life. The game is truly a feast for the eyes for those who enjoy fantasy and those who do not.

It is with respect to Kamitani’s adherence to fantasy art that I also mostly ignore the lack of representation of non-white characters in the game. Just painting a caucasian dwarf with a burnt sienna palette swap does not a black character make. I am conflicted on this affordance though, I both fear what a non white character might have looked like, and fear her implementation as well. Would she be overly sexualized, and thus spark one debate, or would he be a simplistic berzerker and spark another? The hint of an outside source of culture exists in a level featuring pirates dressed in Middle Eastern garb, complete with a Genie boss fight, and they aren’t made to be caricatures, though they are also a forgettable horde of fodder meant to be no more than a distraction. This was a missed opportunity to add some sort of representation to the game, especially from a country that tends to feature a brown character of some sort on the team, but perhaps, again, this is more a problem with fantasy than it is with Kamitani’s own leanings.

Beneath the well honed and highly evident brush strokes of Dragon’s Crown is easily one of the greatest brawlers I have ever played, especially as a new title in 2013.

The game features a cast of great characters that all play vastly different from each other with simple to use, deep systems of hand to hand, ranged, or magic based combat. The cast is so varied in play styles that I regret not being able to play as them all, which is rare in any game. To compensate for the focus needed the player is given optional game controlled allies to aid in attacking the stages. This allows a person playing alone to enjoy the game, at least somewhat, in the manner intended; several characters on screen casting magic, throwing enemies and creating an almost blinding spectacle of effects and chaos.

To gain new allies the player finds and resurrects characters during stages and pays gold to have them resurrected. Each new pile of bones is a newly named companion of varying class type as well as having different sets of abilities and equipment. One sorceress may come with ice magic and healing items and another may show up with the ability to reanimate & control trees to fight on your side. These game controlled companions do not gain levels nor new equipment/items, but new companions found while playing will arrive as higher level assistants complete with better armor and assorted other items to avoid the worry of having a teammate that is at too low a level later in the game.

As a single player beat ’em up player I absolutely love the options provided here. At times the game will goad a player to complete a mission alone to prove that she has the skills to forgo and will be given extra gold and experience as a reward. I’m not much of a loot guy, loot being the items, armor, weapons, etc. that are found when enemies die or chests are open in a lot of games, but this game gets me giddy as it offers such a wide range of loot to help players tackle different combat scenarios in different ways. And further complementing the loot system is a bag system in which players can set default configurations to easily switch between being offensive, defensive, or using different types of magic or other offense.