One of the best side-scrolling beat-'em-ups of the last decade is back, but not with a bang. Dragon's Crown Pro offers a welcome return to the beautifully drawn fantasy world of Hydeland, but those who have already sunk hours upon hours into Vanillaware's brilliantly old school romp -- either on PlayStation 3 or PS Vita -- may find that the magic isn't quite so strong.
And that's because Pro doesn't really bring anything new to the table. Aside from an increased resolution -- including an unbelievably crisp 4K for PS4 Pro users who own a compatible display -- and a re-recorded, fully orchestral soundtrack, this is the same dungeon crawling hack and slasher from 2013. It even has the same Trophy list, and supports cross-play and cross-save with the original.
It's fortunate, then, that the game itself is still a slice of 2D brilliance.
For those out of the loop, a brief explanation is in order. Dragon's Crown sees you embark on a quest of rather epic proportions, and hinges heavily on quick stints of adventure. From the hub town surrounding Hydeland Castle, you wander off into the unknown to slay monsters, complete missions, gather all-important talismans, and, perhaps most importantly, obtain piles of powerful loot.
The game features a handful of different stages, each one taking around 10 to 15 minutes to complete. It's bite-sized adventuring, but that's what makes it so moreish. You jump from one environment to the next, mowing down beasts and felling big bad bosses, all while hoovering up treasure and occasionally discovering strange secrets.
There's certainly an element of repetition to Dragon's Crown that may grate on some players, but it's the title's slick combat and addictive role-playing systems that keep you coming back again and again. Each successful dungeon delve rewards you with experience and bagfuls of loot, leading to a constant sense of progression. Every time you level up, you can acquire new abilities or passive skills, improving your character in noticeable ways. It's a hugely satisfying gameplay loop.
When it comes to combat, the game offers up a handful of different ways to play, depending on which character you've chosen. The relatively standard but still fearsome Fighter wields a sword and shield, and is easy to get to grips with thanks to fast attacks and his ability to block incoming blows. Meanwhile, the Sorceress is largely built around support, with her spells aiding the party in various ways. On top of those archetypes, you've got the tricky Elf, the burly Dwarf, the devastating Wizard, and the brutal Amazon. Some characters are definitely easier to use than others, but regardless of who you choose, it always feels great to steadily master your fighting style.
Our only real gripe with Dragon's Crown sadly carries over into Dragon's Crown Pro, but we don't suppose there's much that can be done about it. When you're teamed up with three other players (either online or locally) or computer controlled allies, the screen can become so busy that making out what's happening is near impossible. There are settings to make overall visibility a little better, but you'll still lose yourself in the mayhem from time to time.
That said, this is an issue that becomes less prevalent the more that you play. Once you've got a feel for character movement as well as things like evasive jumps and specific combos, it's especially hard to tear yourself away from Dragon's Crown. Vanillaware's crafted such a cohesive whole that it's nothing short of a joy to experience. From the astounding art and masterful music to the rousing narration and whimsical storytelling, it remains a special game.
The pricing will seem somewhat steep if you've already poured countless hours into the original Dragon's Crown, but that doesn't take anything away from what is still one of the best, most memorable beat-'em-ups on the market. Topped off with some incredibly addictive RPG elements, it's difficult not to fall in love with Vanillaware's stellar sidescroller all over again. Dragon's Crown Pro continues the legacy of a modern classic, and if you haven't tried it before, now's your chance.