Saturday, July 12, 2014

GAMER GIRL WEEKENDS: Dragon's Crown

I had heard a bit about Dragon’s Crown before E brought it home for us to play, though mostly the controversy surrounding it all. This was largely due to the female depictions in the game which as we have been playing it now off and on for a couple of weeks is…exaggerated and that might be an understatement, but we will get to that later.

Brandish your blade, dust off your grimoire, and rally your online adventuring party. Dragon’s Crown thrusts you into a fantastical medieval world packed with labyrinthine dungeons to explore, vile monstrosities to smite, and nearly endless online adventure. Your mission is to dive into the dank underworld, uncovering treasure and strengthening your mettle as you unlock the secret behind the ancient dragon threatening the world.

Safe on the surface of the earth, humans believe that they dwell alone. Dragons, monsters and magic are simply fantasies to mankind — but what undiscovered secrets may lie right below our feet? Deep underground, a sprawling labyrinth holds treasure — and danger — beyond your wildest belief. Now, the portals to the subterranean world of magic have opened to you, inviting you on a perilous and glorious mission to uncover the dark secrets guarded by a deadly dragon. Descend into the labyrinth and arm yourself for massive-scale battles and magical encounters in the Dragon's dungeons.

The mysterious Dragon's Crown holds infinite power that's coveted by many. As a fierce warrior, you must journey through the winding pathways of the underground world to ensure that this power doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Embark on quests that take you across varying dungeon worlds, where you'll battle tremendous dragons and other powerful bosses in exhilarating combat. Hunt for hidden treasure, items and weapons that will propel you on your quest. Decide to team up with a legion of friends or take the road alone — whatever you choose, prepare for nonstop action and intense, role-playing immersion on your hunt for the Dragon's Crown.


The game is essentially a 2D beat-em up RPG. Looking at the game it reminds me of old school barbarian pulp comic/novel/piece of art that has become an arcade style game that recalls far too many hours spent at the arcade as a teen. You choose a character from one of six classes available: Fighter, Amazon, Dwarf (melee heavy), Wizard and Sorceress (Magic users), or finally, the Elf who uses her bow to attack from a distance. As a co-op you can have up to 4 characters that adventure with you (either your online buds, the lovely person beside you, or the AI). Just as you did with other brawlers such as Double Dragon you move your character to the right killing and destroying everything you can. You can still move up and down within the 2D space and of course there is plenty of loot.

One thing I enjoyed is that you have a rogue character with you who opens treasure chests, unlocks doors, and occasionally adds some humor. While there are only nine stages that you play over and over again (yes seeing the same scenery can get a bit boring), there are fun features such as runes to discover and activate, beasts to ride, and secret doors to unlock. Further into the game you can also choose the difficulty of the boss battles which are by far the most fun. Every level you also find more weapons and more equipment. Characters also earn skill points which can be used in either Class Skills or Common Skills. In this way you can play the same character in different ways and that helps the replay value.

There are some quibbles. Choosing runes can be annoying, partly because it was meant for the Vita’s touchscreen. Sometimes when I would choose a rune, the other players have to stay still as you can accidentally choose the wrong rune if they move far enough to pull the screen. The analog stick choosing is also slower and more cumbersome than if I had swiped a finger or stylus. In this way I rarely used the runes while in battle which at times you would like to do as it can turn all enemies into stone, etc. E switched characters about 6 levels in because at times there enough enemies to fill your screen and sometimes we lost track of our characters because they were of similar build and we chose the same colors (our bad). I also learned that while you can block and parry, button mashing attacking is more effective so next play through I will put less points in the block and parry skills.

So let’s talk about the art. Some of it is absolutely gorgeous. In fact I quite enjoyed many of the side quests just to unlock more art. And then there are the characters. Dragon’s Crown is a game where the men have biceps on top of biceps, where mermaids have butt cheeks, and the Sorceress you can play has boobs that are ridiculous. Seriously, as a woman I couldn’t help but laugh a little on how exaggerated everything is. Yes the females can sometimes be…well gross (an injured lady knight with legs splayed far too wide across your screen and ill placed bits of what I am guessing is a chastity belt without the chastity part for example), and yet other times it is just laughable (the mermaid with the broken back pose and butt cheeks).

I look at the male characters who, as I said before, have muscles upon muscles. They are totally the male power fantasy and as hyper-sexualized as the women. The art is old school pulp art where Conan reigned as King and women wore chainmail bikinis. It is to the point of parody really. The Fighter with all of his muscles would not be able to move, certainly not with the finesse he has in the game, The Amazon with her impossibly tiny waist and posterior and thighs that are as large as the Dwarf’s chest is anatomically laughable. All of it is stylized though. It somehow fits with the game in an odd way.

The same can be said for the Sorceress (the first character E played). Yes she is hyper-sexualized (her base photo includes a pose with a skeleton where the head is nestled close to her watermelon sized breasts and her staff is suggestively placed against her just as amble buttocks). It is so over the top and exaggerated I can’t help but laugh. It’s as if a teenage boy drew her. When she runs she holds tight onto her hat while her bosom flops around in a way that would just hurt…a lot. It’s kind of hysterical. I don’t think the game is trying to be realistic at all. Is it right? Probably not. Did it get me to stop playing the game? Nope. Does this mean I am not allowed to be a feminist anymore because I didn’t hate it?

Personally I don’t find the over exaggerated features sexy at all. It’s laughable. And so yes this game may have been designed with the male player in mind, but I still liked it. I played the Elf, not because she was dressed appropriately or not exaggerated (the male wizard is not either…other than just being anime pretty, then again so is she in all of her cuteness), but because I enjoy playing a character that can both melee and also fire arrows from a long distance.

I will say that it made me start thinking after E and I had a discussion while playing the game (specifically after we save a waifish spirit lady who wore little clothing and was chained up and possibly moaning…it actually kind of reminded me of a Luis Royo painting done Dragon Crown parody style) as I was having more of a problem with all of the NPC ladies than I was the characters we were playing. Now I usually play female characters if I am able to in a game. Then again so does E. I have always found it funny that the stronger men get the more armor they were, but for women it is the exact opposite. But then I started thinking about my preferences. When given the choice in a game where I can choose an outfit, do I choose the head to toe armor which is practical, but usually less feminine and appealing to my eye…or do I choose the “sexy” outfit? Yep the “sexier” version usually wins every time.

I enjoy playing a character who is sexy but kicks ass. Feminine, but strong. But I also feel bad for artists in general because they are never going to win. If she wears too much clothing then she looks like a man, if she doesn’t wear enough she is a whore. Her butt can’t be too big, her waist too wide, or her face too pretty. Apparently in order to be a more serious character breasts must be smaller (which is insulting to any of us ladies with larger assets), and clothing school marmish. In a game setting like this the chainmail bikini works, if FemmeShep in Mass Effect wore belly baring armor into battle not so much (it’s okay if it was purple).

What I don’t like in games or comics or media is the sexy lamp (where you can replace the female character with a sexy lamp and they serve the same purpose, background characters as nothing but sex objects = not cool). I don’t like costume bits that don’t make sense (catsuit for a thief = makes sense, catsuit unzipped to the navel = not cool). I don’t like impossible poses engineered solely for the male gaze when other parts of the media might be empowering. I dislike damsels in distress schtick all the time. I don’t dig the woman in the refrigerator thing, and a variety of other tropes. I am annoyed that the makers of Assassin’s Creed say that having a female character would require too much work, though Bioware and Mass Effect would say differently.

I digress and I could do an entire post about this all. Sexism in games exists. It also exists in every other form of media as well. So while yes the objectification of the female NPCs was annoying in Dragon’s Crown, and the exaggerated characteristics of the characters laughable, but what about the game? Did I have fun? Should I not like the game? Should I stop being a gamer because ultimately most games are catering to the other 55% of gamers which happen to be men? I hate the depiction of women in certain games, but I am also a girl who likes to shoot things and blow stuff up and usually there is some sort of misogyny within because…well it was made for a guy in mind, not for me. Does this mean the only games I am allowed to play are Animal Crossing and Mirror’s Edge? Do I dislike the fact that this form of interactive media lets you demean women? That women are depicted so poorly? But do I also like playing a lady who holds her own with the male characters even if she may wear a skimpier outfit (cause let’s not do the shaming thing here)? Do I like storylines that are a bit seedy (even though ultimately I will play a lighter shade of grey because I can never do Renegade mode)? But how will the industry change unless the money makers feel the impact? I don’t want to stop gaming, or watching tv, or reading comics. It’s a tough place to be in and maybe I should write about it more at a later time because it is a problem.

Let’s get back to the game though. Where was I? Ah, yes the music. The soundtrack is okay sounding like something I would hear at a Renne faire. It fits, though doesn’t have the epic score that perhaps Final Fantasy or Mass Effect would have. Again, it fits with the rest of the overall theme and feel.

I wish that the female NPCs wouldn’t writhe and moan when you poke them (and it doesn’t happen just once). Sure your playable characters are laughable and what I see is parody, the NPCs are something else entirely. Vanillaware should have been aware of that when they made a game. That part was annoying, distracting, and sometimes made me want to put down the controller. It’s an unfortunate dalliance and hopefully they will not repeat the mistake if they make another game.

The game can get repetitive, but was still overall enjoyable. If given a choice I probably wouldn’t have picked a brawler for E and I, but I enjoyed this one. It has its issues both with game mechanics, the grinding, and well aesthetic choices. Overall though I am digging it. We might even play it again. We’ll see once we have finished it (we haven’t quite finished the game as we need to “find” a few more sigils) But we are having fun. And that’s really the point right?

3 out of 4 controllers.

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