Review

Dragon's Crown

Go Deep

The superficial failings of Dragon’s Crown conceal an impressively detailed dungeon crawl.

By Samantha Nelson • August 7, 2013

When I was a little kid, I hated seaweed. Growing up in Florida, I spent a lot of time at the beach and it felt like the ugly, smelly pieces of oceanic plant life were always where I wanted to sit or swim. Then, one day, I discovered a tiny seahorse camouflaged in a clump I was brushing aside. Fascinated, I decided to search the seaweed further and discovered it was filled with surprises – tiny shrimp, squirmy sea slugs and even fish. Suddenly, seaweed was awesome.

I had pretty much the same experience with Dragon’s Crown. I have fond memories of emptying my pockets feeding tokens into the Gauntlet arcade game. Dragon’s Crown harkens back to that era, delivering a side-scrolling adventure where your party of heroes is devoted to beating up monsters, collecting treasure, and keeping their health up by eating plenty of food.

Dragon's Crown

Nostalgia alone wasn’t enough to obscure the annoyances of Crown’s routine. Too much time is spent walking around in town, past people you can’t interact with, just to complete quests that get you into straightforward dungeons. Kill bad guys, get treasure, kill boss, leave, repeat. The oversexed fantasy art is also regrettable, and the Amazon character is particularly egregious. Drawn like a bodybuilder with a steroid problem, she wears a thong and a bikini top that can barely hold her enormous bouncing breasts.

But like the seahorse in the seaweed, I found some beautiful pieces of game design lurking within Dragon’s Crown. The dungeons are straightforward, but they’re also filled with hidden areas to explore. Burning down a patch of overgrown mushrooms or hacking through a weak part of a wall can take you through rooms with fresh threats and treasure that includes some amazing prizes, like a fire-breathing dragon you can ride around. There are dark nooks where someone in your party will have to hold a torch, both to light the way and to ward off ghosts that are immune to your physical attacks. Clicking on little sparkles in the terrain reveals extra treasures. Magic runes hidden in the background can be used for a sort of sorcerous Scrabble: You combine the hidden runes with runes that your character carries to form spells that will help you out by conjuring weapons or a place to heal.

Dragon's Crown

The game also quickly breaks from the standard formula of “kill the boss before it kills you” to offer more complicated climactic fights. In one battle, the key is to maintain control of a magic lamp that summons a genie to slay your enemies—the lamp can be turned on you if an enemy wrests it from your hands. In another fight, you have to protect some rescued townsfolk from vampires, or they’ll get bitten, become undead, and turn on you too.

You can add even more complexity to the experience based on the choices you make with your character. Play as a knight, and you can largely button-mash your way through dungeons. The wizard offers an entirely different experience since you’re constantly looking for little safe zones where you can pause mid-fight to regain mana, but when you’re at full strength, you’re capable of awesome tricks, such as casting a protective ring of fire or turning a wooden crate into a little tree-like creature that fights for you. The skill system also allows you to keep things simple. You can invest your energy in improving passive effects like higher health, or you can unlock new moves and power-ups that offer some of the complexity of a fighting game.

Dragon's Crown

Dragon’s Crown supports up to four players; any extra slots can be filled by computer-controlled companions, who will join you if you gather the skeletons of failed adventurers and pay to resurrect them. It’s easy to see why these adventurers had such misfortune since they’re really prone to stumbling into obvious traps and just standing there while the boss unleashes its special move. They’re great at using offensive powers, but I wish they could just follow my lead when it comes to avoiding trouble.

The plot is pretty thin here—some boilerplate stuff about a power struggle in a generic fantasy kingdom and a need to track down the titular magic crown. That’s to be expected given the genre, but it’s annoying how much the narrator reminds you of what you’ve done and what you’re supposed to do next. I can put up with the droning and the ridiculous imagery, though, to see what’s hidden in the next dungeon.

Dragon’s Crown
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Atlus
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Price: PlayStation 3—$50; PlayStation Vita—$40
Rating: T

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  • rvb1023

    Picked it up, waiting until friends are free before I start playing but looking forward to it all the same.

    I do find it funny the complaints towards the art have shifted away from the Sorceress to almost everyone else at this point, mainly the nun and the Amazon. I honestly do not know how I should feel about the art but I don’t feel strongly towards it one way or another. As long as the game is fun, which it seems to be from the majority of reviews I have read that’s all I care about.

    I also thought back at how few straight beat-em up games their have been this gen. Most of them have been rereleases.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      There are actually quite a few, though less than the 1990s arcade peak.  They just stay in Japan.  The most consistent series had its 3rd iteration released here as Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble.  Think Yakuza plus River City Ransom.  There are 6 in Japan plus 1 playing as a teacher (teachers kicking the snot out of students: SO MANY DREAMS FULFILLED) and 1 store simulation spinoff.  Also, the handheld Yakuzas are made by the team formerly known as AKI, who did the Nintendo 64 wrestling games, and they are much more beat-’em-up action compared to Yakuza’s action-adventure.

      In any case, I feel like the controversy and Vanillware’s response is 1 of the least interesting things about the game.  This is no Dead Island.

      I’ll distract from the conflict by pointing out that Samantha’s right on.  The game is among the smarter beat-’em-ups in history and deserves to be judged as such.  Vanillaware has all of my respect because they truly grasp the 2-d aesthetic.  Contra the Scott Pilgrims out there, 2-d is not an excuse to stylize, simplify, and test endurance.  Vanillaware’s 2-d has many layers.  The simplification of the delivery method means that so much more complexity can be put into each plane or layer, because we process each layer individually.  Vanillaware designs such that the gameplay and systems always unfold as complex and the visuals always produce secrets worth probing the gorgeous scenery.  This feels like a Saturn game in the best way.

      • MintBerry_Crunch

        Oh my gosh. Dead Island. I’m sorry but that game outrages me enough that I could uproot a tree with my bare hands. 

        It’s hard to look at that ‘statue’ as anything other than a naturally transpiring of-course-they-did after you’ve played the game. 

        There’s a sheer boneheadedness to that game that really makes it seem like all the stumbles those developers take can be chalked up to sheer witlessness. 

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Juvenile and witless are 2 different things, and if I really think about it, that’s probably where I draw the line of good taste on these sort of things.

      • The_Helmaroc_King

        Was there any official response from Vanillaware? I thought it was just the artist.

        Oh, and if we’re talking about the Scott Pilgrim beat-’em-up that came out on XBLA and PSN, I played a fair bit of that and I can’t say I was very into it. The mechanics were simple enough, but they weren’t really that satisfying? I remember the majority of the fighting feeling very prolonged unless you pumped up your stats, at which point it became trivial.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Kamitani is not just an artist, but the President of Vanillaware and Director of most (all?) of its games. So even if his response was a post on his Facebook page and not on Vanillaware’s, one could be justified in reading it as expressing Vanillaware’s sentiment regarding the whole thing.

        • TaumpyTearrs

          I played a lot of Scott Pilgrim because as I’ve mentioned beat’em ups are one of the only types of game that my lady will play and because we loved the comic, the movie, the game’s soundtrack, and the Paul Robertson animation. And we could play it with two friends or our two nephews, so it was a go to game.

          I agree the leveling takes a little to long to get to some of the moves, but the trick is to use the two secret shops (especially the second one which lets you buy a super move upgrade). But once Scott’s fire punching and Kim’s sneezing her killer snot ball its pretty fun. Playing it as a group drunk or playing it with our nephews meant we didn’t mind grinding a little once we figured out where the best/quickest spots to get money were. And then we just put it on a harder difficulty once we were all jacked.

        • LovecraftInBrooklyn

           i really enjoyed the Scott Pilgrim game

      • rvb1023

         I agree in full, I feel there really shouldn’t have been a controversy in the first place and all it has done is overshadowed what will otherwise be a exceptionally well made and fun game. Honestly Samantha’s review got me most excited about the fact this game has some exploration elements.

      • Rick Joyce

        I looked up Dead Island, and Wikipedia mentioned the “Feminist Whore” controversy. I’m not familiar with the game. Is that what you’re referring to, or is it a different one?

        • Enkidum

          That would be the game, although you might want to google “Bloody Torso” or whatever if you want the whole sordid story. There’s a very good article about it on this site.

    • MintBerry_Crunch

      I won’t be trying the game anytime soon since, well, my wallet is nesting moths at the moment, but I did read all the brouhaha concerning the game’s art. 

      I think the art excuse is almost plausible! But I did kind of feel bad for the artist behind the game when a Kotaku writer revealed his sense of humour, which—http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/18ljynkh2o57fpng/ku-xlarge.png—raised some dust; I’m sure the poor Japanese fellow could not understand why since ‘he did know wrong’ by dropping some light, juvenile humour. (Well, from his point of view.)

      It’s great that, especially in America, video game bloggers and journalists are willing to point out this stuff, always in hope of someone having some kind of epiphany. 

      Anyway, carry on, people who played the game.

      • BillyNerdass

        I feel like the art excuse is kinda plausible, too. There are obviously a lot of issues with it, but also it feels like a logical extension of Vanillaware’s art design aesthetic, which has always gone to extremes with characters’ physical appearances. 

        Then again, I am a man.

      • rvb1023

         I definitely feel the art excuse works though Kamitami’s  response was in poor taste. Preferably the whole “Sorceress” thing would never had been brought up.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Well, it wasn’t really a large controversy until that response, as I understood it. Schreier didn’t say the game was evil or anything, just acknowledged that the art style was sprung from the mind of a particularly gross 14-year-old straight boy, a joking but true criticism, rather than a full-on indictment (especially from someone working in a field where 90% of everything is marred by catering to dumb adolescent boydom).

        But Kamitani’s response made it clear that, self-aware or not, there were some problematic sentiments behind the choices being made. Apparently the creative mind behind the game wasn’t just a harmlessly oversexed 14-year-old, he was also a jeering, homophobic one, which gave the whole exchange a darker cast and pushed it from criticism to full-on controversy.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          You probably know this yourself, but let’s be fair here, that 90% number is way off. Sports games (and I’m including stuff like Just Dance here), LEGO games, and Nintendo games are pound for pound more representative of games as a whole than this, Dead Island busts or Senran Kagura. I honestly can’t look at 2012 year end sales charts from the US, UK, Japan or Germany and think “Man, games sure are more puerile that other media”. FPS seems to be the superhero movie equivalent, while the games that get/got slammed for objectifying women don’t really seem to be all that mainstream. I mean, I’m not really happy with those lists, but I do think they could be far worse. I’m certainly not disgusted by them or anything.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus 
          All of those top US sellers scream “dumb adolescent boydom” to me. Except for Just Dance, and Lego Batman.

        • LovecraftInBrooklyn

           Gamers can’t deal with anyone pointing out that they might be a bit sexist

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          That Disqus notification thing seems to be not working anymore so I’m very late, but we’ll just have to agree to disagree here anyway. I don’t see how team sports are dumb, adolescent and particularly boyish by defintion.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      That’s my biggest frustration, is if the (deservedly) contentious character designs were removed, hell if everything but the environments were removed, this game would be -visually- a triumph of the medium.
         It’s not just that everything is digitally hand-painted, though that’s a unique enough quality in a game to merit notice.  It’s that, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say this, it is almost Rembrandtesque.
         The environments are luminescent, rich and glowing.  Vanillaware does more than reference classical oil painting, they work to include those qualities into their work.
         Another example of this is their games always include a cooking minigame of some sort.  And you can see in the way all the ingredients are rendered, still springy and infused with color, the same principal as a still life -of trying to capture the essence of life before inevitable entropy sets in.
         And the work to animate such detailed designs requires a completely different approach than rendering polygons.  It’s pretty amazing to see movements unfurl.
         I was watching the creepy-ass horrible poking game linked here earlier today, and still, I was amazed by the woman’s gossamer gown and how it moved in relation to her body.  It was stunning in direct inverse ratio to the terrible principle behind the game.
         I’m sorry all you had to do was say the word ‘art’ in your post and I unload all this on you, but as you can see, I haz the ambivalence.  And by literally putting the most contentious elements of the game up front, it drowns out everything else.
         Also, this review addresses my concerns about the dullness of the game and now I want to get it again.
         Too many feelings.  I’m going to drink another shitty pilsner and yell at a mailbox.   

      • George_Liquor

        I’ll raise a glass to severely conflicted opinions on this game, too.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Cheers.

        • Enkidum

          I’ll just raise a glass, in general. Beats working for a living.

      • rvb1023

         That’s fine, I am still trying to sort out a bunch of it in my head. In one sense, you are correct in saying that the characters are grotesque, to the point where sexual attraction does not even begin to enter into any of it. At which point I assume parody or satire and at that point I wonder why everyone got all riled up about it in the first place. Then I look at the characters again and fully understand how someone could despise it, even if I didn’t.

        That isn’t to say the game doesn’t look great on a technical or aesthetic, it looks amazing and your technical and much better worded sentiments towards that speak volumes about it. Outside of the controversial character models the game is absolutely gorgeous.

        I just wish the “homage to Heavy Metal/Conan” excuse worked better, because the one thing I definitely agree with is the mostly warped characters, even more so than the aforementioned properties.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Vanillaware’s stuff is kind of like a Bougereau painting, to me, in most respects. Technically, it knocks my socks off and blows my mind, but content-wise, it’s completely vapid and boring and not-my-thing.

        I’d love someone to take this much care with a 2-D game that actually had good gameplay, interesting characters, and an art style that was gorgeous without looking like your standard DeviantArt lush-baroque-treatment-of-dumb-adolescent-anime-cliches.

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         It seems like they could have just as easily made character designed that weren’t oversexualised, and the game would have been awesome and fine. I think the controversy about this is good, because it will encourage developers to think twice about putting juvenile titillation in otherwise awesome games (looking at you Arkham City/Asylum).

    • WELCOME_THRILLHO

       I still plan on getting it at some point as a guilty pleasure, but I’ve decided to wait until the price drops a bit. It looks like a lot of fun could be had sitting down with my roommate slaughtering lizard men and pig-faced orcs.

      At least we can all agree that Monstrous Humanoid Genocide is still acceptable in this day and age.

    • TaumpyTearrs

      Got it yesterday before work, was happy to find that my art book for preordering was actually there also. Played about an hour and a half with my younger brother and my lady and we all agreed its pretty awesome. The combat’s simple enough for her to get into it but has enough variety and rhythm that me and my brother will probably enjoy it for a good while with all the upgrades available. We’re loving the art style, the enemies are cool looking, the backgrounds are great, the bosses are nuts. The grub monsters were fantastically disgusting. Even the map to pick dungeons is animated in a unique and impressive way.

      I can definitely see the “spending to much time in town” thing becoming annoying though, mostly because my fiance is impatient when aspects of games like leveling up and selling equipment take up time between her killing things. HOWEVER the players can attack each other in town, there is no friendly fire in the dungeons but in town you can knock each other around the screen to your heart’s content. And you can hit the townspeople who walk by, and instead of killing them your iceblast or axe chop will knock over their basket of food or something. And *SPOILER ALERT FOR MINOR JOKE IN THE GAME* if you keep attacking the townspeople you get locked up in jail for the night, as my fiancé immediately found out. No penalties or anything, just an acknowledgement that you’re being a dick.

    • LovecraftInBrooklyn

      I’m surprised the reviewer didn’t mention the creepy art, but i guess she didn’t want to get flamed by every horrible misogynist gamer on the Internet.  Its ugly, horrible art, but I do like the idea of a modern day brawler.

  • PugsMalone

    Honestly, Samus’ Zero Suit bothers me way more than the Amazon or Sorceress. It’s one thing to create a nameless character who’s ridiculously sexualized- it’s another to put a well-established character in a ridiculous costume for no reason but T&A. They should have stuck with her design in Metroid Prime 1.

    • George_Liquor

      To be fair, Samus has been rocking nothing but a bikini under that Chozo armor since 1986.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        She thought it was time to update the ‘Pat Benatar’ leotard and leg warmer look she’d been rocking for the first half of the 80′s. 

        • George_Liquor

          She’s a steel town girl on a Saturday night.

        • Effigy_Power

          Looking for the fight of her life.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          I think what @Effigy_Power:disqus is trying to communicate here is that she’s really gotten into ’80s synthpop recently.

        • Effigy_Power

          If you spread that rumor I will be the one destroying your robots.

        • PaganPoet

          Yeah, @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus ! @Fluka:disqus has never stopped being into 80s synthpop! Have you seen her impressive collection of Human League albums?

    • rvb1023

       While the Zero Suit is obviously there to up Samus’s sex appeal, she was just wearing underwear underneath so a skin-tight space casual wear isn’t entirely unreasonable.

      Other M adding high heels is another thing entirely and another reason why that game should be removed from the face of the earth.

    • DrFlimFlam

      Yeah, it really baffled me as to why anyone would take an awesome character design and reduce to a blonde girl in a skintight blue leotard. It’s not like we’re about to see Master Chief roll out in nothing but boxer briefs.

      It seems ironic that DOA4, of all games, gave us a female Spartan and didn’t try to sex her up all. She’s just cool without having to be attractive to boys.

      • EmperorNortonI

         According to lore, if MasterChief really did “roll out” as they say, wouldn’t he be, like, missing huge parts of his body, as he’s fused to the armor suit or something?

        Given just what Samus’ suit is, it’s not an unbelievable conjecture that it would be operated more or less naked.  However, that doesn’t mean that minus the heavy armor, she’d hang out in nothing but a leotard.

        • DrFlimFlam

          I can’t say I’m too familiar with Halo lore.

          Or why their AI constructs become increasingly sexual over time.

        • George_Liquor

          @drflimflam:disqus I figure rampancy is kinda like hypothermia: The worse it gets, the more likely, you are to strip off all your clothes and go completely mental.

      • TheKingandIRobot

         The female Spartan in that game is a Spartan because they asked Bungie for Master Chief and a lady because Bungie said no.  They probably would have gone with a dude Spartan if that hadn’t been visually and audibly near-identical to just having Master Chief in the first place.

  • Smbobo

    I don’t get the tons of negative criticism this game is getting for its art. Didn’t any of you grow up with Conan movies and Heavy Metal magazine? This game Is the equivalent of that sweet van with the amazon riding the tiger painted on the side

    • NakedSnake

      Yea, it’s definitely Heavy Metal inspired (by way of Conan). Honestly, I think that there would have been a lot less controversy if the weird proportioning of the bodies hadn’t rendered the characters slightly grotesque. I think it just creeps people out.

      • DrFlimFlam

        Yeah, for me, it’s not even cheesecake; it’s vaguely off-putting. The curvy parts are so out of proportion that it is, as you have said, grotesque.

        • SamPlays

          So now it’s bad because they’re NOT sexy enough. But who doesn’t love a slice of cheesecake?http://tucsonfooddude.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/img00086-20100202-2020.jpg

        • DrFlimFlam

          God, I love cheesecake. It wins the pie vs. cake argument all by itself.

        • SamPlays

          I’m a cinnamon roll kind of guy but I won’t pass up a cheesecake when the opportunity presents itself.

        • Bullet_Sponge

           But how does cheese cake win the argument? For pie (its structural base) or cake (its namesake)?

        • DrFlimFlam

          @Bullet_Sponge:disqus , it wins on structural merit. I used to think cake v. pie was a real debate until someone explained to me that cheesecake was a pie, being a crust with filling, and come on, regular pies plus cheesecake take cake out back and beat it.

      • Penis Van Lesbian

        Looking at the art, I have to admit I’m confused. It seems so OTT that, as you say, it’s more grotesque than anything else, and consequently it seems more like a joke than sexualisation.

        In the end, isn’t this more offensive?
        http://www.hdwallpapers.com/photo/albums/Anime_pictures/Dead_or_Alive_kasumi.jpg

    • MintBerry_Crunch

      The game certainly does seem to carry its, uh, ‘motif’ genuinely enough to justify the caricatures. 
      Though I think Spacemonkey Mafia is right with the those talented idiots! sentiment; especially when the beautiful background is juxtaposed to the foreground of a woman fully rotating her buttocks towards the camera.

      Just sayin’.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I am reminded of the fan-made reversed poses Avengers poster art, where all of the men are posed like Black Widow is, cheeks-first to the viewer.

        It’s ludicrous and a stark realization of what the artwork really was before, though in ou culture it’s easy to not even notice it.

        • duwease

          Just looked that up.. that’s brilliant.

        • Enkidum

          That’s really funny, and kind of depressing. One thing I think we can all agree on, though, is that ScarJo’s ass is kind of awesome.

        • PaganPoet

          @Enkidum:disqus I won’t argue about that, because it is.

          But at the same time, so is Chris Evans’s.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          Hulk’s pose is especially great.

          I am a “firm” believer in equal opportunity butt shots for everyone!

        • Boonehams

          Heh, a “stark” reminder.

          I see what you did there.

        • DrFlimFlam

           It was a real Banner moment, @Boonehams:disqus .

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          I… that’s fantastic. And hilarious. Thank you so much for this. I feel like watching a Best of Lance Sackless marathon now.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      This game is a particular style of Japanese affection for European Rococco and high-renaissance painting co-mingled with remedial fan service.
      A worthwhile Conan/Frazetta/Heavy Metal homage would need a proper bearded wizard, multiple ringed planets, random aggressive rainbows and a pterodactyl with a laser turret.
      But for the sake of argument, if this is the spiritual successor to those things, maybe a woman who’s breasts flap like fitted sheets come undone from the clothesline due to the nuclear wind emitted by her own spell is a sentiment best left in the 70′s.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      The initial criticisms leveled at it were pretty much nothing more than acknowledgments of that (“This looks like a game by and for 14-year-old boys,” basically).

      Then the game’s director made weirdly homophobic responses to his critics, and footage of the game’s gross “groping chained women” mini-game came out, and made the game seem slightly worse than harmlessly puerile.

      • duwease

        Oh man, why didn’t more reviews mention that minigame??  The art.. I can see the argument against it, but to me it comes off as comic exaggeration.  But that minigame.. ugh, there’s no alternate interpretation.  That puts me right off ever playing.. I was uncomfortable just seeing a video.

      • Knarf Black

        And now there is a bit of a nerd freakout on Polygon for giving it a 6.5 largely because of said issues. (As though aesthetic or cultural objections to a game are somehow irrelevant to review scoring.)

        It’s disconcerting how loudly the gaming community objects to any dissent even tangentially related to feminism these days. (or perhaps I’m just paying too much attention to these flaps) It’s not even like there was a movement to censor the game; objectors seemed mostly interested in starting a conversation about the troubling imagery. That hardly seems like Feminational Socialism to me.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          And that Polygon review spent more time lamenting the repetitive, boring gameplay than it did the artwork, anyway, yet commenters freaked out and assumed she was just marking it down based on some ‘agenda.’ (And as you said, even if she was just marking it off for aesthetics, that’s a totally valid criticism for something as subjective as a review to put forth.)

        • DrFlimFlam

          I appreciate the recent push by many gaming critics towards a more stringent set of quality guidelines over “looks good, isn’t broken, 8.0″ reviews.

    • http://disqus.com/Dikachu Dikachu

      In my case, I’m not so much bothered the hyper-sexist portrayal of women, as much as how fucking horrendous the art style is.  There’s simply no conceivable way that supposedly-human beings shaped like that could MOVE, let alone fight.  It’s just fucking stupid.

      • DrFlimFlam

         I think where it goes most wrong is that it’s still too realistic to be so weird. That dude’s head is so TINY. It’s not like Castle Crashers, which is crude and works well as a result.

    • SamPlays

      The negative criticism is coming from the fact that there’s a little less room in today’s modern world for male fantasies. C’est la vie. And that sweet van is being driven by a guy with a mullet and diddler glasses.

    • Halloween_Jack

      I’m old enough to remember the seventies, and the naked amazon genre of van painting wasn’t really all that common. And, for that matter, there was some pretty egregious sexism in 70s culture that doesn’t need to be celebrated, let alone repeated. Heavy Metal was OK back in the day because the newsstand proprietors didn’t seem to realize or care that it featured nudity and let me buy it even though I was too young to buy Playboy (HM was much more explicit, in parts), but there’s a reason why it’s no longer in print, and it’s not because it didn’t show enough skin.  

      • Smbobo

        Is it still sexism when its portrayed equally? Thats the other argument ZI don’t understand, the men are just as egregiously portrayed as the ladies. 

        • SamPlays

          Yes, sexism is still sexism even when it’s equal opportunity.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       Yes, because Heavy Metal magazine was widely praised for its mature, positive treatment of women.

      • Smbobo

        I never said it was, but how can anyone take these things seriously or feel threatened or offended by them, its just so ridiculous

        • Professor_Cuntburglar

           Maybe because some people are actually women?

        • Smbobo

          Correction: some people are easily offended women

        • Roswulf

          Picture the most offensive African caricature you can. Pitch black skin, bone through the lips, the whole nine yards. Does the ridiculousness of the caricature make it inconceivable that one would find that image threatening or offensive?

          If so, ridiculous images of women can hold the same power. If not, you really need to work on your empathy skills.

        • Smbobo

          Oh gimme a break, are you really comparing the artwork in this to some overtly racist caricature? If it were the same the game would be universally shunned. And yet the girls on my friends list are enjoying it just as much as I am

        • LovecraftInBrooklyn

          or some people are men who are embarrassed playing games with  portrayals of women like that?

  • NakedSnake

    Looks like an amusing piece of fun, maybe I’ll …. … WOAH … Fifty dollars??? I’m supposed to pay premium price for a retro beat-em-up?  C’est une blague ou quoi?

    • DrFlimFlam

      Yeah, just get the Capcom D&D beat-em-up. It’s probably not quite as good, but it’s far cheaper and includes two games, and you can play it with a child/sibling/cousin without feeling really awkward.

      • NakedSnake

        Yea, definitely. I’m surprised that they felt they could market it at that price. There are just too many options. That’s the problem with retro-inspired stuff. You can’t charge too much b/c people could just play the original product for cheap (or free!).

    • Harrowing

      This is pretty late, but Dragon’s Crown isn’t quite as retro as it seems. The backbone is, I suppose–it’s definitely an homage to those D&D beat-em-ups that DrFlimFlam mentioned–but everything else is much more a modern action-RPG. It’s like if a retro beat-em-up had a weird Japanese baby with Diablo II, right down to the difficulty levels.

      • NakedSnake

        Was the Amazon the mother of this weird Japanese baby? Cause those are birthin’ hips if I ever saw them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

    What fucking pisses me off about this whole sexist argument bollocks surrounding this game is that it ignored the fact that this game is made by Japanese for Japanese, so of course it’d involve a lot of sexist fanservice.

    Of course the Japanese will add sexist display of boobage in a game like this. Why should they care about you getting offended by it? 

    CDProjektRED was right in their response to the nudity complaints by Americans in Witcher 2: “Of course Americans are offended. What a bunch of fucking prudes”

    You want Japanese people to stop adding boobs to games? Then why not tell them to improve their workplace first. Working in Japan is like working at Sterling Cooper in 1960, so of course it’s going to be filled with sexist bullshit.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      This is really not a very good argument.

      • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

        But it’s a fucking obvious one that the gaming press seems to miss.

        Debating about sexism in a JAPANESE GAME is a lost cause because:

        a)The Japanese won’t cater to Western prudishness
        b)The Japanese love this shit. Go to 2chan and they will call Westerners “baka gaijins” for being offended at boobs in Bayonetta and Dragon’s Crown.

        So why fucking bother? If you want to tell Japanese game devs to be less sexist, then you better the entire Japanese society to be more accommodating to women

        • PaganPoet

          I’m not sure if I can really feel offended by Japanese people on 2chan making fun of the American sex life. While I agree that a sizable population of the U.S. is full of prudes who need to grow up, isn’t Japan in the middle of a huge population decline? Don’t something like a third of people under thirty there claim to be completely uninterested in sex?

        • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

          @PaganPoet:disqus Well, they are very accepting of nudity more than the Americans and the lack of sex is less of a sexual problem and more of an economic problem.

        • Unexpected Dave

          Fine, then. 

          HEY, JAPANESE SOCIETY: BE MORE ACCOMMODATING TO WOMEN!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Yes, and why advocate for better treatment of women in countries where they don’t have rights or citizenship? IT’S JUST THEIR CULTURE, LET THEM HAVE IT, AND DON’T IMPOSE YOUR QUAINT WESTERN IDEALS OF FEMINISM ON IT. Obviously all things are completely relative, and no member of culture A has any right to question or probe another culture or its artifacts, even when those artifacts are marketed and sold in culture A, and when the creators of those artifacts are publicly engaging the critical establishment in culture A.

        • ItsTheShadsy

          Sorry, I really do not want to use an anonymous web forum as a standard for what is and isn’t culturally acceptable.

        • Citric

          @ItsTheShadsy:disqus You mean that the US isn’t mostly sex offenders? Going off 4chan here.

        • Professor_Cuntburglar

           @davedalrymple:disqus I know the word “hero” is thrown around a lot these days…

        • LovecraftInBrooklyn

           its not ‘prudishness’

    • Neitto

      As I sit at a big steel desk, facing a big steel desk, with big steel desks on either side of my big steel desk in a room where the AC is set to 82 to save electricity (though my desk is certainly hotter, and humidity is very high in here), I can’t help but think how little this place looks like Mad Men. And how much I could use a drink.

      Sure, gender roles are more traditional than in the states, and the workplace statistically reflects that. (I say statistically because most of the Japanese offices I’ve worked in have a few serious, career-track women, but several more women in low-end, low-responsibility jobs) I don’t think there’s nearly so much change to be done in the office as there is in the society at large – relatively few native born and raised women want proper careers. Unless they have a great fondness for endless hours at steel desks, I can’t blame them.

      You’re right in pointing out that this is a Japanese product, but it’s really a niche product here too, aimed squarely at a recognizable set of people. 

      (I have trouble thinking of people’s fantasy worlds in terms of sexism/political correctness anyway, but that’s a different discussion)

      • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

        Well, during my time in Japan i’ve seen quite a number of salarymen at trains playing VNs on the PS VITA or 3DS so yeah while it’s a niche, it’s a recognizable niche.

        And despite loving the country, i always try and avoid working at a desk office of a Japanese company. I mean, Working 9 to 6 with forced overtime and nomikai sessions? It’s no wonder why Japanese women have no time to make babies.

        • Neitto

          Would that I had that sort of control of my career right now…

          The forced nomikai thing seems to be a thing of the past in most parts of the job market, and belongs to an era of big expense accounts, and even poorer oversight.

          I think it’s hard to function in the full-Japanese work environment (I manage to avoid all that, by maintaining outsiderhood), without fully adopting the ethos of work for its own sake. I don’t think it’s an especially masculine worldview, but often enough, when women adopt it, they do seem to rule out parenthood, socially and philosophically.

    • rvb1023

       Casual sexism is still sexism, even if I do lean more towards your way of thinking. If the dude wants to make sexually charged, over-designed characters more power to him. I actually like a fair deal of the game’s art, but just because there are different cultural expectations in regards to the way gender is viewed doesn’t mean it can be removed from criticism.

      And that quote gave me another reason to love CDProjektRED, so thanks for that one.

      • Neitto

        I’m not sure where to draw the line between sexualized and sexist. 

        Even if the characters (male and female) are embodiments of typical male fantasies, it’s not like the female characters are portrayed as weak or in any way inferior to the male characters – they just happen to have looney, strategically exposed bodies. (The male bodies are pretty improbably too, but not for sexual titillation) 

        • rvb1023

           It is a blurry one in this case.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          “it’s not like the female characters are portrayed as weak or in any way inferior to the male characters”
          Except for the ones who are chained up in the ‘poke and grope’ minigames?

          I honestly don’t mind exaggeration or caricature, and even recognize there’s a place for tacky, tasteless Vallejo-van-art fantasy, but between Kamitani’s public statements and that shitty minigame, I have my doubts about how innocent and/or self-aware this game is.

        • Neitto

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus  
          ah. see, I have this habit of leaping to judgments based on my politics. If it has one of those not-uncommon groping games, it is a fair bit harder to defend.

          It’s a shame that acting out murder fantasies in video games is more acceptable than acting out sexual power fantasies, (and both are completely acceptable in text and generally acceptable in film and comics) but it seems that’s where society stands.

          I don’t really withdraw my objection, but I guess I can withdraw my complaint.

    • PaganPoet

      Small counter argument, this is not a game by Japanese for Japanese. This is a game by Japanese for everyone. Be honest, they’re hungry for those Western sales. Like it or not, if they refuse to accommodate to Western taste, they’re leaving themselves wide open to criticism and poor sales. That’s the world of business, ne c’est pas?

      • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

        But again, you’re dealing with a game made by people who thinks sticking a finger up someone’s butt is comedy.

        For me, i’d rather pity them instead of criticizing their work because they are still stuck in a Galapagos Syndrome when it comes to foreign demand.

        Japan is like Thora Birch from Ghost World and Dragon’s Crown is the Coon’s Chicken Inn of video games.

        • DrKumAndGo

          “But again, you’re dealing with a game made by people who thinks sticking a finger up someone’s butt is comedy.”

          Oh, FFS.

          Please go back and read what you’ve written. I’m starting to think that maybe you’re not the expert in Japanese culture that you think that you are. This is sounding less like “culture” and more like “stereotypes” with maybe a little “racism.” 

        • Professor_Cuntburglar

           Why are internet nerds so afraid of criticism of this stuff? I see this argument everywhere.

          “I’d rather ignore this/play something else/pity them/disengage in some way than spend time trying to actually talk about these issues.”

        • George_Liquor

          Since when is finger-up-the-butt comedy a thing the Japanese like? I pride myself on keeping current in all the latest dick-headed cultural stereotyping, but I’ve never heard of that one before.

        • Enkidum

          @George_Liquor:disqus I believe Mohd is talking about “kancho”, which is… a very weird tradition to outsiders. Look it up (probably SFW, actually, since it’s generally done fully clothed).

      • Neitto

        I don’t buy that. Every work of art, even the crass ones, are “for” the audience that wants them. If they don’t have an audience in the west, then it will, in one sense at least, be “for” the Japanese audience (a specific subset of them). 

        Whether or not the game find an audience stateside, the tone of criticism of the game tends toward treating it as an affront.

        It’s just other people’s fantasies. In this case, the female characters are actually the physical equivalent of the (also improbably proportioned) male characters.

        • PaganPoet

          To clarify, this is definitely a niche title, and I don’t think anyone expects it to sell like the latest Call of Duty or Bioshock Infinite.

          That said, it WAS localized and promoted and advertised in the West. Japanese developers can’t completely ignore Western tastes or, in this case, Western values, and then expect to be completely free of criticism and controversy, whether or not that criticism is on point or not. Nor do I think it’s okay for anyone to dismiss it with “Westerners are prudes” or “Their culture is different” or whatever.

    • feisto

      As somebody who IS Japanese, let me push back by saying:

      A. Japan is a country with many people. We have multitudes. There are some people who require big boobs and other sexually pandering elements in every medium. There are many who don’t.

      B. Working in Japan is NOT like working at Sterling Cooper in 1960 (maybe in the 80s). Some of the older, big companies still retain many bad practices from those days, but there are also many companies that don’t.

      C. The biggest-grossing movie of all time in Japan is Spirited Away. The best-selling games of all time are Pokemon… followed by Pokemon… followed by Super Mario Brothers. All made for the Japanese, by the Japanese, and not a single trace of the overt sexual pandering found in Dragon’s Crown.

      And despite what some people like to think, we DO care about what the outside world thinks about us and our pop culture. If you shout and act overly righteous, sure, people will become overly defensive. But if you make a civil argument, people will be more than happy to respond. I don’t speak for all Japanese, but I, for one, am happy that this discussion is happening.

      • Kyle O’Reilly

         Wait so the Japanese aren’t overworked, emotionally stunted, sex fiends as others would have me believe.  They actually have a diverse an thriving culture with a multitude of view points!  You don’t say.

        • feisto

          I know! Shocking, right?

        • DrFlimFlam

          Don’t listen to these lies! Each country is like a race of science fiction aliens, with one dominant culture that all hew to!

      • EmperorNortonI

        I’ve found in Japan that the audience for “tasteless” hyper-sexualized pop culture (this, anime that features upskirt shots, etc) is a reasonably sized niche market, which makes no effort to flinch or hide from general public scrutiny at all.  Certain stores catering to such crowds will quite proudly put giant-breasted anime maids in orgasmic postures on their cardboard cutout sale displays, knowing that the “ordinary” non-fans think it’s rather tasteless, but not caring at all.

        That stuff gets the sad head nod from good chunks of society, just like the giant and obvious multi-story porn stores do.  However, it’s typically with a “boys will be boys” kinda attitude, rather than a “that needs to be stamped out for the greater good” kinda attitude.

        • feisto

          You’re correct that it’s a pretty sizable niche market, but your characterization of its level of acceptance doesn’t ring true, at least from a Japanese perspective. It’s true that there’s no “that needs to be stamped out” attitude, but neither is it a “boys will be boys” attitude; it’s more somewhere along the lines of “you can have your weird filth, but you keep it away from the rest of us.”

          The setting you describe sounds like Akihabara, but that area’s always catered to people with weird pop culture fetishes (although there’s so much more to Akihabara than that). So in and around that area, you’ll see the kind of brazenly sexual advertising you describe, although from the store’s perspective, it’s probably no more or less brazen than a restaurant with a food display set up outside. (That is, they’re not trying to taunt you with their tastelessness; they’re just doing business.)

          But outside of that environment, it’s essentially a source of embarrassment or fascinated curiosity. I know some people who’ve lived in Tokyo for years but have never ventured out there because of some of the things it represents (sometimes I get funny looks for saying I’m going out there, even if all I’m doing is browsing for retro video games). I’ve heard people talk about visiting Akihabara like they’d just been to the zoo. The people who buy the kinds of products you describe certainly don’t seem to care what others think, but it’s generally a source of embarrassment for family and friends (unless the friends happen to be into that stuff as well). And you try opening that kind of a store in a prominent location anywhere else–outside of known red light districts, it won’t happen.

          Like a lot of counter-culture stuff in Japan, it’s tolerated as long as it’s taking place in certain environments; but bring it home, and it’s a problem.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Thanks for this. 

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         In response to B, I feel like this is a good time to link to the greatness that is 80s Don Draper:

        https://twitter.com/80sDonDraper

    • Enkidum

      The way that things like sexism get better is by pointing out manifestations of these things and objecting to them. Your argument is analogous to saying “of course black people were being denied the franchise, Mississippi in the 60′s was a racist society, King should have focussed on fixing southern racism altogether instead of whining about that particular manifestation of it”. It’s a terrible argument.

      (Note, I am NOT equating the civil rights struggle to the controversy surrounding this videogame. It’s just the silliness of what you’re saying becomes more apparent when the context is changed.)That being said, I don’t give two shits about the art style of this game – if anything, I think the Crumb-fetish Amazon is kind of progressive in a weird way – at least it’s a different body type. The comments made by the developer sound more worrying (although I haven’t read them, and don’t really intend to), and the groping minigame is really pushing it. But I think a lot of this is kind of a tempest in a teapot, and the gameplay counts for a lot more. Which this review makes sound pretty fun.

    • Citric

      I don’t think this holds water, because Japanese entertainment for Japanese people is often pretty varied. There’s no “of course” with boobs, because that depends entirely on the people developing it. There have been Japanese games with great female characters, some of the most interesting in the medium – FFV’s Faris, for example, is actually a compelling exploration of gender roles. It’s certainly no worse than western developers, and in some ways it’s actually better since they seem more willing to put a woman as the main character.

      Which is not to say they’re perfect, but “well of course there’s boobs because JAPAN” reeks of bullshit.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       Like how that Atlas Shrugged movie was totally great, because it was made for dumb conservatives.

  • DrFlimFlam

    There was a small portion of time during which I debated my feelings about this game. Then I saw it was PS3/Vita only and wow that solved a lot of it.

    The character artwork is kind of crazy and a little gross, but the backgrounds sure do look nice.

  • huge_jacked_man

    The Vallejo/Franzetta fantasy art style for this game looks great and a natural fit for an old-school Golden Axe-type of game but I guess those hugely powerful, terrifying warrior babes should put some damn clothes on because we all know the true problem with female characters in gaming is strong women with ridiculous curves and not the pathetic damsel-in-distress gender role they are almost universally assigned.

    If this shit bothers you but you are perfectly fine with Mario saving the worthless Princess Peach in 4 separate games for children released this year alone then you should reassess what it is you are trying to accomplish.

    • DrFlimFlam

      An empowered sex object is still a sex object, and a  strawman is still a strawman.

      • Citric

        But her special power was being all floaty! 

        That’s why she was the best in Mario 2.

        • DrFlimFlam

          I make no bones about being terrible at games. So I enjoy playing as Peach quite a bit.

    • Enkidum

      Can’t you be bothered by both? I mean, in this case I’m not bothered by the art that much, but why can’t one find both equally problematic (or even different levels of problematic)?

      • ItsTheShadsy

        I’ve been attempting to write a properly sarcastic reply for a while but I’m failing, so I will just say that your point is very valid. Not all criticism has to be broken down into “sides” or being against something else.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          Oh god, yes this! I’m kind of a resident crank re gender in games around here, but honestly if the only problematic thing about this was the character art I could maybe let it slide. I kind of dig grossly grotesque depictions of people, and these character remind me a lot of the cyclists from The Triplets of Belleville.

          I’ve seen a lot of backlash against people criticizing games lately coughanitasarekeesiancough and people tend to just simplify everything to the point of ridiculousness and it’s so infuriating. 

          Like the guy upthread. Dude. You’re setting up some weird strawman who is upset by Dragon’s Crown but somehow ok with the princess is a damsel in distress trope? These are both problematic and PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT THEM BOTH! MOSTLY IT’S THE SAME PEOPLE BRINING THEM UP OVER AND OVER! And then the argument against them is either “stop complaining, get over it, these games aren’t made for you” or someone moving the goalposts like “well, if you think this is offensive why don’t you think this is offensive???” when people have repeatedly criticized that other thing too. AIGH.

          I’m rambling. I’m gonna go watch some Dota.

        • ItsTheShadsy

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus Liked for a Triplets of Belleville reference. Holy shit.

          The moving goal post thing is a very good point. There’s this weird mindset that a single incongruity or neglected detail discredits an argument. With Tropes vs. Women, I’ve seen a lot of comments like “Sure, but you’re using footage from other YouTube videos!”, as if someone putting forward criticism has to offer a holistic, all-encompasing argument that doesn’t have any room for clarification or nitpicking.

          I don’t see that sort of everything-or-nothing argument anywhere else apart from maybe Congress?

        • huge_jacked_man

          No, people aren’t “talking about them both”, they’re talking about the sorceress’ boobs in this game and not the gender stereotypes in Bioshock Infinite or Mario games or any other game reviewed on this site. 

          I’m pointing out that the omnipresent damsel in distress trope as described by AS is much more damaging and yet only in the discussion of this here game, which lifts its alleged sexist depictions wholesale from 70s fantasy art, do we see significant debate on the subject, and I find it hypocritical. 

        • ItsTheShadsy

          @huge_jacked_man:disqus Please go through the archives of this website. There has been extensive, endless discussion about the damsel trope. Look at the very next article on this site, the one about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and see the lengthy conversation about the use of the damsel trope in Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

          We cannot feasibly bring up every single problem with the depiction of gender in video games in every single thread. In this one, we are talking about the sexualized depiction of women, because that’s what’s relevant.

          Gameological is one of the few sites where commenters actively, repeatedly examine gender roles in video games. It’s a place where we can actually discuss issues like this, as you seem to want to do. So please, please do not accuse people of holding opinions that you only assume they have.

      • huge_jacked_man

        You can, but you aren’t. Or not as vocally anyway if the Bioshock Infinite comment section is any indication. 

        Let’s not pretend the omnipresent, insidious gender tropes in most games reviewed here get any discussion at all. But this does even though the sexism people see in these caricatures is lifted wholesale from 70s fantasy art.

        • Enkidum

          What the hell are you talking about?

          This is pretty much the single most feminist-friendly mainstream gaming website, bar none.
          There’s discussions of gender and gaming in all its forms occurring here pretty much every week in the comments, and frequently in the articles as well, and virtually all the more frequent commenters are very vocal about gender issues. I don’t recall a lot of discussion of the damsel in distress trope (although if I recall correctly, it was specifically discussed in both the Bioshock Infinite review and comments), but it’s certainly come up several times over the years (well, year + a bit), and Sarkeesian has been linked to several times. 

          So, yeah, I dunno what you’re thinking, but you’ve got a seriously skewed view of this website.

          Also, just to reiterate, the fact that these particular caricatures happen to be lifted from the 70′s (80′s, really) does not make them more or less sexist. It’s totally irrelevant. And the fact that they are or are not sexist does not diminish the fact that the damsel in distress trope is a big issue. We’re allowed to care about more than one thing.

          And, for the record (and for the umpteenth time), I’m perfectly ok with this art and disagree with those who say it’s inherently sexist, although I don’t feel very strongly either way. And I’m not ok with the reliance on the damsel in distress trope. So at least in my case, your stereotype of this site doesn’t apply (and, reading the rest of these comments, it doesn’t apply to an awful lot of other people here either).

    • Halloween_Jack

      Aside from the criticisms below, I’m flabbergasted that you’d seriously compare this crap to Frazetta, or even Vallejo.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       I haven’t played it, but several reviews have implied that there is some pretty awful damseling in this game.

  • snazzlenuts

    The only other Vanillaware game I’ve played is Muramasa: The Demon Blade, which was outstanding aesthetically. I hope the gameplay in Dragon’s Crown is way better, though.  Muramasa was pretty bland.

  • Thomas Crane

    I bought this game yesterday and played it for a few hours. I picked the Amazon. The game is straight fun. There’s a reason why there’s so many sites doing live streams of 4 player game play. The more people the better.
    I think I found my jam until the Bioshock Infinite “Burial at Sea” DLC comes out.

  • Kyle O’Reilly

    Oh Dragon’s Crown, you will never escape the mantle of “That game with women made of piles of meat” in my mind, which is a shame as Odin Sphere was one of the last great Playstation 2 games I had the fortune to play.

    As everyone else has covered most the bases here, including a surprise “everyone who doesn’t get that the sexism is X is an idiot!” opinion, I’ll just state that if your portrayal of females dominates the conversation about your video game, you’re portraying females wrong.

    Also, Spelunky comes out tomorrow on PC so fuck this sexist garbage let’s party!

    • DrFlimFlam

      Thanks for the Spelunky update! My son saw the footage from Tropes Vs. Women and immediately wanted it, but I want my games on Steam over XBL now and the free version from the website has difficult controls. That’s going on the old wishlist for sure.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        You can remap the free version controls i’m pretty sure. I recall having trouble with the default layout too. You can probably map them to a controller too if that suits you.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Funnily enough, one could make an argument that spelunky has weirdly sexist tropes (it does). However, Spelunky is a awesome and the squickiness isn’t up front and in your face all the time, and it never gets THAT awful. 

      I’ll probably pick it up when it goes on sale mostly for the daily challenges. I’ve played the heck out of the original a few years ago. 

      • DrFlimFlam

        It garnered some screen time on Tropes vs. Women. I like how it threw a hunky guy character in if you preferred one over the woman, but then also a dog, because woman = man = dog.

  • Indoorsman

    Is this really worth fifty bucks? Or wait? 

    • DrFlimFlam

      I don’t think there are many games worth $50, maybe 2 or 3 a year. It depends on how much you enjoy that genre. The reviews I’ve read say that if you really like the genre, and if you have like-minded friends, you may enjoy it. The discussion around it is also worth some of the cost.

      So maybe?

  • James

    The headline is pretty much how I feel about most entertainment. “If you can get past its ludicrous treatment of nonwhite people, Game of Thrones is a pretty good fantasty.” “If you can get past its ludicrous treatment of gay people, Arrested Development is a pretty great comedy.” It’s hard to be truly progressive and like TV and video games.

    • PaganPoet

      I know this is hardly the time or place, and I’m sure I could just google an article about it, but what’s with the complaint against Game of Thrones? To be fair, I’ve only seen the show, so I can’t really talk about the books.

      GAME OF THRONES TV SHOW SPOILERS FOLLOW

      Yes, many of the non-white people in the world are scheming and backstabbing…exactly like the white people. But in a story were so few of the characters are truly honest and honorable, Khal Drogo, though imposing and scary, is shown to be scrupulous, just, and fair. To a fault, as a matter of fact, as it leads to his downfall, just like Ned and Robb Stark.

      I WAS a bit disturbed by the sight of thousands of slaves being liberated by a pretty little white girl (even though Daenerys is one of my favorite characters), but I’m not sure where that story line is going yet, so I’m just not sure.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I imagine that most of the rage comes from events like the Dothraki wedding, which has animalistic rutting, public nudity, and savage combat for the right to said rutting.

        The idea that GRRM puts forth is that each civilizations has its own idea of progress and civility, and that none are inherently better or worse, and that all have flaws. They might be all smiles and perfume in the Iron Throne, but there is also murder and incest. The Dothraki might practice savagery, but there is also nobility and structure (though the “noble savage” trope is in full force there).

        Dany’s a tough one to call out for me. She’s not even of the same people that live in Westeros, being a scion of Valyria. So yes, she is “white”, but that’s like saying a German is white in the same way an Irishman is. They’re both caucasian, but they have unique cultures (and of course regional cultures within those) separate from each other.

        • PaganPoet

          I guess we can agree that it was done very intentionally. The Dothraki are presented as a very savage at first, but the more you delve into the series, you actually begin to appreciate their way of live. In Dothraki society, if you hate someone, you challenge to a fight to the death. Done. In the Seven Kingdoms, if you hate someone, you pretend to be their ally while plotting to frame them for treason and have them executed. Both societies are very brutal, but the Dothrakis are at least more honest about it.

        • DrFlimFlam

           @PaganPoet:disqus , I do feel like some of the problem with how these other races are viewed is how ham-fisted the TV show is about it up front. The books do a better job of showing the dignity and pride of the people in a way the TV show doesn’t have the time (and initially lacked the skill) to portray.

      • James

        There’s two points that you make that I’d like to address. Note that I stopped watching after a few episodes, so I can’t speak to the development of characters or ethnic groups beyond that.

        Your point about white people exhibiting similar behaviors to non-white people is a bit of a red herring. That CERTAIN people are bad, even INNATELY BAD and ONE DIMENSIONAL, is not (for the purposes of this discussion) problematic. In fact, if you have all kinds of one-dimensional people of a variety of races, you’re not making something something implicitly racist, you’re just making something bad. That brings me to my second point.

        What I saw of the Dothraki is that they were presented as a monolithic, one-dimensional ethnicity. This is a problem in lots of science fiction and fantasy, both on screen and the page. Roddenberry was guilty of it, Tolkien’s guilty of it. The warlike race, the pacifist, the rational race. Meanwhile, you have the everyman race (often white, or at least exhibiting Euro/Americentric traits, regardless of skin color) that has a multitude of different behaviors. You have fiery leader Kirk, Shakespearean hero Picard, gruff Bones, wise-ass Tom Paris. And then there are Klingons, who look like they’re modeled on Mongols. Klingons love war and killing and honor. You have your occasional B’elanna Torres or Worf, who despite their devotion to their cause, still can’t seem to shake their biological imperative to fight. I felt similarly about the Dothraki. If the Seven Kingdoms are modeled on the Norse/Anglo-Saxons/Normans/Teutons, then the Dothraki are clearly an amalgamation of an image of Arabs, Mongols, Persians, etc.

        So on the one side you’ve got a scheming usurper, his sister the mistress, a king who may or may not be cut out for the job, a tough but fair lord who will probably become king in season 2, a strong-willed princess who will probably become a general or something if she ages well enough, some generic princes, and a 4’5″ Dr. House. And those are just the characters I can remember distinctly.

        On the other (nonwhite) side, you have King Killer Rapist and his army of Killer Rapists.

        Can you see how that’s problematic? The problem is not who is shitty and who’s not shitty on the individual level. The problem is that the white people are varying shades of shitty, noble, petty, cool, dumb, interesting, etc., while the nonwhite people are an indistinguishable mass of a few defining qualities. If the Dothraki were a race of benevolent sages, we’d be having a conversation with a difference in town, but with largely the same substance. Monolithic cultures in comics, books, TV, movies and video games suck. There are very offensive ways to do them (Dothraki, Klingons) and less offensive ways to do them (Vulcans, Fremen maybe) but I’ll dislike any story that portrays a “race” as having any one certain way it behaves, particularly when white (or human) culture is presented as a multidimensional group of people.

        • Green Winnebago

          In their defense, Khal Drogo and the Dothraki were inspired partly by Genghis Kahn and his men, AKA King Killer Rapist and his Army of Killer Rapists.

        • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

          @greenwinnebago:disqus But the Mongols outlawed torture and guaranteed freedom of religion in their dominion so it’s not like they were just a bunch of human-shaped orcs.

        • DrFlimFlam

          I will say that GRRM does do a decent job of giving each city in Slaver’s Bay it’s own culture, moreso than most of the places in Westeros proper (ignoring Dorne and the Iron Islands, which are practically their own countries). There’s more going on there than I’m used to seeing. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than normal.

        • James

           @greenwinnebago:disqus And the Westeros are inspired partly by northern/western European kingdoms of the Late Middle Ages, aka the Crusaders, who were not known for their mercy after, for example, the Siege of Antioch. Once they defeated the Jewish/Turkish forces in the city, they massacred everyone. Then, when they got Jerusalem, they massacred everyone. Things didn’t change a century later, when they captured Constantinople and destroyed houses of worship, raped nuns, massacred civilians, and destroyed much of the contents of the last remaining ancient library. But how often do you see, in s.f. and fantasy, dark-skinned Mongolian/Arab/African-inspired characters presented as a complex society populated by individuals with varying agendas, interests and goals?

          My point is that from the 10,000 ft perspective, Medieval Europe and Medieval Mongolia don’t look that different. But storytelling tends to only come down to sea level to closely examine the intricacies of behavior for only one of those groups, which results in an unbalanced presentation of the relative merits of those cultures.

    • Citric

      The thing with Arrested Development is that everyone is kind of broken sexually. Sure, the gay people are treated in a kind of odd way – though in most cases the joke is that they’re all kind of warped closet cases – but the straight people are trying to bone their cousins, or their mothers, or someone suspiciously similar to their mothers…

      I think it would be weird if the gay people weren’t ludicrous, everyone else on that show is.

      • Effigy_Power

        It is often a slippery slope anyways. You don’t want to point at gay or potentially gay characters and treat them like more screwed up, unless of course that’s the plot of the movie or show. You also don’t want to give them a pandering blanket-immunity from being messed up, because that’s just as bad.
        But I agree with Citric. Everyone in AD has multitudes of issues. Everyone is dealing with problems large and small. To make Tobias potentially confused or unsure about his sexual orientation and not make it an issue for him would be like tip-toeing around the fact that sexuality can screw people up big time and that it’s totally okay for a gay character to be a freak, just so long as he’s not a freak because and only because he’s gay.
        So yeah, there’s plenty of portrayals of LGBTQ people in the media that are screwy, but AD doesn’t really strike me as in any way worse than it should be. LGBTQ characters shouldn’t all be villains, but equally there’s no need to represent them all as positive rolemodels.

  • Samantha Nelson

    A lot of good conversation here. I guess my biggest problem with the artwork was, as NakedSnake said, it’s really grotesque. I play a lot of Japanese games, watch a lot of anime and read a lot of comic books so I’m used to seeing scantily clad and ridiculously proportioned women but this was one of the rare cases where I thought the art was just gross and weird. 

    I had to fight the first boss, a harpy, a few times when trying out different classes and thought it was being drawn as a giant bird with a wattle until I realized it’s most of a giant bird with a tiny, giant-breasted woman stuck on top. I have never seen a mermaid wearing a thong before this game and then there was the ludicrous spread-eagled nun. But none of them bugged me as much as the Amazon because your time with them is pretty fleeting. The Amazon fit my play style best so I spent a lot of time staring at her ugly butt. That didn’t keep me from enjoying the game overall, but I wish it had been different.

    • MonsieurEek

       Interesting. My reaction is just the reverse where the art feels actively hostile in it’s depiction of women but is slightly mitigated by the style and technique on display. I love the style, I just wish it wasn’t in service of banal misogyny.

  • Halloween_Jack

    I don’t really buy that this is just the artist’s “aesthetic”, as if that’s some sort of symbiotic organism that’s so deeply incorporated that it couldn’t be removed non-fatally. He’s an artist, and he makes artistic choices, and should be called on his bullshit, no less than Frank “Whores Whores Whores” Miller.

  • Halloween_Jack

    Also, it’s not as if I relentlessly scrutinize every game I get and pitch it if there’s the slightest hint of sexism; I am, after all, a huge fan of Mass Effect, despite Miranda’s genetically-engineered tactical booty and Samara’s Cleavage of Vengeance. But even if those occasionally pull me out of the game, I can usually get back into it without much of a problem. Not so much here, where the fanservice seems to be a bit more of the game than the reviewer wants to let on.

    • DrFlimFlam

      Aria never seemed to stop growing throughout the series. And I don’t mean taller.

    • Effigy_Power

      I’d go one step further. I like Miranda’s magic tactical booty and I like looking at it. I don’t want every female character in gaming to be wearing Victorian swimwear. I like female bodies, a whole lot. And I am sure the same goes for men.
      But when the character-design is basically reduced to a single sexual characteristics, the way Amazon is ass and Sorceress is impossibly gigantic, pendulous but still floaty boobs…
      Sorry, I lost my train of thought there. SEE HOW AWKWARD IT GETS?
      Sex is fine. Bouncing bits from Dr Snakeoil’s Wondrous Hall of Anatomy are not.

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

        While Mass Effect definitely could have done without every female character looking and dressing like a swimsuit model, Miranda’s ass is a national treasure and must be preserved.

        I feel similarly about Power Girl’s cleavage hole.

      • Neitto

        But if games should be understood as a mature or maturing media, such that their content can reflect adult interests, why is the penchant for ultraboobs any more controversial than Tom of Finland? 

        (It’s my impression that ToF is not intended to be viewed exclusively with one hand occupied, but is more of a cheeky aesthetic of sexual power)

        Separate issue, when it comes to the extremes that make ToF (and ultrapenises in general) generally more appealing to men than women, couldn’t there be a degree of women “not getting it” with preposterously cartoonish bodies? Or in other words that your not finding other people’s fantasies tasteful isn’t entirely relevant, and doesn’t accomplish more than judging those that hold them?

        • Effigy_Power

          I am not really sure I get your point.
          I think my main issue regarding the “cheeky aesthetic” is that it seems odd to massively over-accentuate sexual characteristics when their actual shape is so ‘scary’ and all but unseen in any actual mature and adult form.
          I am not saying they shouldn’t make games like this, and they are obviously not targeted at me, so yes, a big part of that is my personal opinion. What else could it be?
          That said it appears that this stuff is a ton more ubiquitous than decent, realistic erotica and that says a lot about how skewed the perception of men and women alike is in gaming.

        • Neitto

          @Effigy_Power:disqus  Is this how I’m supposed to respond to deep nested comments?

          “That said it appears that this stuff is a ton more ubiquitous than decent, realistic erotica and that says a lot about how skewed the perception of men and women alike is in gaming.”

          I think we might be talking past one another. This game clearly was unusual, or we wouldn’t be talking about.

          Your concept of “decent, realistic erotica” is such an aggressively normative concept that I can’t help but think you don’t mean that the way it sounds. (ie “there’s a correct, moral way to fantasize, and it should mirror reality closely”)

          My comment about Tom of Finland is that you, and most everyone else, don’t seem to feel a need to draw up cultural critiques of extremely unrealistic portrayals of male bodies in homosexual men’s erotica. — and that “grotesquely” disproportionate sexual features are reasonably common in male fantasies and seemingly less so in female fantasies. 

          I understand that these body images are not your cup of tea; they’re not mine either, but when you say that this some stuff is “fine” and this stuff “is not”, it sounds like a condemnation of the existence of the material, rather than just a discussion of teacups. Imagine that you had said the same thing about homosexuality or a fat fetish. (“Curvy is fine, but these sweaty blubber bombs are not”)

  • Effigy_Power

    The monsters and backgrounds are drawn so beautifully that the weird, bawdy characterstyle seems like an immense waste.
    Again, I have no issue with sex in games. On the contrary, there isn’t enough of it and what is there is usually in the hands of people who regard it with the immaturity of a Benny Hill episode. Almost every single game with adult content seems to want to point at a pair of heaving breasts, call them “hooters” and then giggle embarrassed, which just doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that there’s anything meaningful on the horizon.
    In the case of this game, which looks really grindy and repetitive btw, but then so does Torchlight or Diablo, the nudity was so clearly injected to create either a red-faced sigh of repressed perviness or the debate we and by extension the entire internet are having now. The game’s questionable aesthetic has catapulted it into the public view far beyond what a side-scrolling button-masher should, if you think about it.
    So yeah, once again a game makes gaming seem to be ruled by repressed sexuality that erupts in double entendre and bouncy almost-nudity.
    I mean, just go for it then. Make some of the characters fully nude. Have them have full-on sex. That’s obviously what is implied here, the desire for eroticism. The thing is that you can’t replicate eroticism with raunchy knock(er)-knock(er) jokes and expect to get the same reaction.
    Dragon’s Crown is another game in the long line of “dirty jokes my inappropriately pervy uncle tells at family get-togethers” and that hasn’t been funny or erotic since the mid-70s.
    Stop doing half-assed (pun) things, gaming. Either pounce straight for the clitoris or leave sex out of the game, but stop tantalizingly and thereby frustratingly and pointlessly waving your frequently self-handled balls in our faces.

    • PaganPoet

      Well said. If you want to make a sexy game, why not just go all out? Why settle for a hormonal preteen boy’s fantasy of what sex is? I mean, the obvious answer is they don’t want a Mature or Adults Only rating, but that’s just such a boring reason. Have the cojones and just do it, hombres!

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       Ironically, playing as an actual naked woman who has lots of sex would probably make much of the target audience feel uncomfortable.

      • Effigy_Power

        That’s really the core of the problem. The constant enticing promise of sex without the eventual payoff. It’s a frustrating practice and likely the reason why our society is so on edge. Eternal mental blue balls.

        • Enkidum

          Well… that’s kind of how temptation works, right? It’s not tempting anymore once you’ve got it. I mean, this is how burlesque or stripping works – it’s the process of getting the clothes off that matters, not just “woooo! tits!”

          So in that sense, I think most games will (and honestly should) keep it “half-assed”. Because, as you say, it’s about the promise of sex, not actually getting laid. I agree that they could be a lot more mature and genuinely sexy about it, but that’s not necessarily just including full-frontal and dp or anything like that.

        • Effigy_Power

          I see your point (hurr hurr), but I am all for variety. There are of course X-rated games, but my god are they horrible. Choices between rape/stalking games and racist, shoddy crap like Bonetown isn’t what people deserve.
          If anything, I want some mature and creative people to take a stab at the X-rated genre, just in order to show what we are missing out on. Of course there’s room for burlesque, but man… I’d love to play a well-made game with tons of sex in it.
          There is some great erotica in other media and if gaming wants to pull even, they have to gap that divide as well. I just think we can’t leave that content matter to mod-makers and repressed perverts.

    • Neitto

      I feel like you’re dropping too much US-centric thinking on this. 

      Japan is full of porn games. “PC gaming” in Japan is practically synonymous with porn gaming.

      This game was rated “C” (recommended 15+) by the Japanese ratings board, which is pretty much the raciest you can get while still avoiding sales restrictions. This game seems to skirt that line much more than it skirts any US distinctions. 

      In the US, a niche game like this can be rated AO and still theoretically make enough to recover distribution, and I imagine that the developer has comparatively little at stake, and lower expectations. 

      I expect it will do well in other Asian markets as well.

      TL DR: money.

      • Effigy_Power

        Well, “tl:dr: money” may be the right answer, but it’s also a very bleak one. And I don’t think that market-research and focus groups should be the main drive for making games. At least not games that want to be taken seriously and as anything more than fast-food entertainment.
        Of course they will always be there, but those are not games I care about and I know plenty other people don’t either. By that definition this game is actually worse and more detestable for its callous and soul-less marketing crap than any other issue with the aesthetic.

        • Neitto

          I think you’re reading this sort of backwards from how I envision it (but maybe not). I suspect they covered things up, and limited the sexualization of the game for money, rather than emphasizing it as much as they might have liked.

          I wouldn’t make this argument, but you could just as easily claim that the artist is caged by social expectations in the realm of sexual expression, especially in video games. In that case, why not label this game as a brave rebellious act?

          I know it seems to perpetuate things a lot of folks don’t care for, but what better way to challenge those beliefs than to create discussion thereof?

          (Icky MRA-ish comment: this all really boils down to my distaste for categorizing, evaluating and circumscribing the contents of human libidos and fantasies — most prevalent in criticisms of the heterosexual male libido.)

      • DrFlimFlam

        Good luck getting Sony or Microsoft to license an AO game. I do not believe they have done this thus far.

  • Andy Lopez

    I fucking love everything about this game. I hate how people feel the need to first say how much the art offends them so they can later get away with enjoying a fucking video game. 

    • Enkidum

      Zzzzzz.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Yeah bro no one is ACTUALLY offended by the problematic character designs, they just say it to cover their ass. 

      • Andy Lopez

        My point exactly. 

    • DrFlimFlam

       This game has been a good point to discuss the portrayal of women (and dwarves) in video games during a time when the discussion of the roles women have in games is under greater scrutiny than at any time since Custer’s Revenge (it’s better than THAT, but we’re not there yet).

      It’s interesting to talk about these issues. There’s a game there that is said to be somewhat repetitive but lots of fun with friends. That’s cool. We can talk about the art and it’s portrayal of women separate from the gameplay.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Crassmusson Good Night Noodles

    So refreshing to see an intelligent discussion of this game’s weird issues. I preordered it and am loving it so far (it really plays to my genre preferences), but it really has some pretty gross elements to it. And no “gamer” seems willing to talk about it. Just take a look at the breathtakingly mindless defensiveness of the Kotaku or Polygon commentariats.   

    Anyway. It appears I need to make The Gameological Society my go-to gaming blog (well, aside from Rock Paper Shotgun).  

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Welcome aboard! I have even phased out RPS, but I’m not as big into videogamin’ as I was even a year ago, and I never really thought the comments over there were any good at all… 

      Hm.. Join our Steam Group! 

      • http://www.facebook.com/Crassmusson Good Night Noodles

        The commenters over at RPS are pretty good, but more than anything I just love their writers. Plus, I do most of my gaming on PC, so it covers a lot of interesting stories you don’t get on many other blogs. And yes, I’ll be happy to join the group!

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          Yeah, I mostly play PC stuff too lately, and the RPS writers are great! Quinns, who previously wrote for RPS, has a boardgame blog that I love and has helped me get into those as well.

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