With Dragon Crown’s upcoming Japanese release only a few scant weeks away, I decided to take a look back at one of its spiritual predecessors -- the similarly titled Princess Crown. And while it is by no means a perfect game, it was a trail blazer for some of the most beautiful and beloved games of the past decade.
Good — A Fun Little Fantasy Tale
Princess Crown is the story of a young warrior princess who, tired of being cooped up in a castle, sneaks out to battle the problems of her land first hand. On her journey she meets colourful characters, dragons, unicorns, and witches as well as meets the people she is sworn to protect. Of course, she travels in pseudo-disguise -- I mean she’s still wearing her crown and everything, but most people neglect to notice.
Good — A Beat ‘Em Up RPG
Princess Crown is an action RPG -- in this case basically meaning a side-scrolling brawler mixed with many of the elements of an RPG. You have a single button for normal attacks and pressing it more than once creates combos. But you also have many different items you can use at any time ranging from throwing weapons to healing items. In other words, it plays a lot like another game made by the same team: Odin Sphere.
Good — The End is Hardly the End
While the story about the Princess is clearly the main plot, it is far from the only one. Upon finishing the main campaign, you begin to unlock additional, shorter stories starring the colourful supporting characters from the Princess’ story: a brave knight trying to avenge his father, a young troublesome witch, and a Robin Hood-esque pirate.
Mixed — Slow and Frequent Combat
On each field map, walking from one point to another, you are likely to be attacked three or four times. This isn’t really a problem except for how long most battles take.
In Princess Crown battle revolves around the power meter. The power meter goes up when you do nothing, but the techniques of attacking or dodging drains it. When the power meter is low you are unable to do combos -- turning the fight into a battle of attrition where you block and run away to get the meter back up. You will even find most battles being of such length that you are able to plant seeds and grow healing items for after the fight.
If you like more tactical and careful strategy in your fights, this pace is a good thing; but for me random encounters became more and more boring as the game went on.
Mixed — Boss Juggles and Difficulty Spikes
So while average battles in Princess Crown aren't difficult -- just time-consuming -- the boss battles are completely different. The bosses can -- and will -- destroy you. Not only do they counter your attacks constantly, but they often are able to do damage far faster than you can heal it. Moreover, they have no second thoughts about trapping you in a corner and simply juggling you till you are dead. Thus, boss fights are left up to luck more than anything. There were times where I'd fight a boss and lose seven times only to never get hit once on my eighth time and win. And it wasn't that I suddenly got better, it was that I got lucky with the AI's attacks and strategy.
Still, despite the frustration, the increase in difficulty was a welcome change to slogging through scores of normal enemies.
Random Thoughts — Against Your Gamer Instincts
It’s weird. Many games teach you to horde your items -- especially if they are consumables or items that will eventually break. It’s foolish to do this in Princess Crown. You get a ton of items as you play -- many you will sell off -- but when it comes to gear, it is better equipped (and eventually broken) than horded. It’s a weird feeling as a gamer to use pretty much everything right as you get it; but trying to not do so will just make the game far more troublesome than it needs to be.
If nothing else, Princess Crown is an interesting piece of history -- a game that paved the way for more modern Vanillaware classics like Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. But the unique melding of brawler gameplay with RPG gameplay is both the game’s strength and weakness. However, if you like any of Vanillaware’s other titles or are looking for an RPG different from the standard fare, Princess Crown is definitely worth a play.
Princess Crown was released for the Sega Saturn in 1997 and then again for the PSP in 2005. It has never received an international release.