Beneath the wit and insight, a game review should answer one simple question: is this game worth spending your time and money on?
In the case of Dragon's Crown, the answer is a resounding "yes".
Arcade-style brawlers are making a resurgence lately, particularly on handhelds, but Dragon's Crown is a breed apart. It's deeper, more developed, and more engaging than your average beat-'em-up, and it's a welcome addition to both the genre and the Vita game library.
Before you set out on your adventure in Dragon's Crown you'll need to pick one of six characters to play as - three suited to beginners (Dwarf, Amazon, Fighter), and three to more advanced players (Sorceress, Wizard, and Elf).
Each of these characters feels and plays differently, even within the categories of melee and magic users.
The Amazon, for example, is a whirlwind of a damage-dealer that never stops attacking and can easily juggle enemies for crowd control, while the Dwarf is more of a lumbering tank that can shrug off blows and hurl goblins around the screen.
Once you find a character who suits your tastes you can compensate for his shortcomings by recruiting NPCs into your party. This lets you play a support character from the beginning without any issue and, as a happy coincidence, also gives you some much needed firepower later on.
While Dragon's Crown might see more play on the PS3, it feels like it was positively built for the Vita.
Controlling your character with the analogue stick and buttons frees up the touchscreen to direct your companion rogue, Rannie, to open locked chests and doors for you.
In the midst of a busy fight - and there will be plenty of those - it's a simple matter to tap on the screen to send Rannie to unlock a door that's keeping you stuck in a room full of skeletons armed with flamethrowers.
Level with me
The most surprising aspect of Dragon's Crown is how refreshingly deep and multifaceted the skills progression system is.
When a character levels-up, he earns Skill Points that you can use to learn a new skill or hone an existing one. I chose to spec my main character, a Sorceress, toward MP replenishment and support, but she could have been a capable nuker if I had spent her points on direct damage spells like Blizzard and Rock Press instead.
You'll never spec an Amazon to be a distance fighter, and nor will your Wizard ever stand shoulder to shoulder with a fighter on the front lines (not for long, anyway), but the variety of skills available allows you to finesse each character so that it's closer to your optimal playing style.
That said, each character has his own quirks and limitations - like running out of MP or arrows - and while these may feel a bit constraining at first you'll quickly adapt and create an effective combat rhythm around them.
Once you do, Dragon's Crown really takes off and you'll find yourself taking on every available side-quest you can to experience more of the game.
Similarly, the bosses of each level are all challenging in their own ways, and there's a great sense of accomplishment to be had in defeating them.
I've slain plenty of dragons in countless other fantasy games, but Dragon's Crown is one of the first games to make me feel like I've really done something special.Graphic imagery
Going into Dragon's Crown, I admit that I was a little turned off by the exaggerated body proportions of the characters - but I completely stopped noticing the anatomical deformities within a few hours of playing.
Like a night spent at a black tie gala or an afternoon at a renaissance festival, eventually you just get used to the strange clothing that everyone's wearing and learn to enjoy the experience.
The supporting artwork is nothing short of gorgeous on the Vita's screen, and it's supported well by a stirring soundtrack that adds a welcome depth to both fight scenes and cutscenes.
Letting it all hang out
Ultimately, Dragon's Crown will be as deep and challenging as you want it to be.
If you're content to clear the Normal difficulty with one character, you can wrap up your time in Dragon's Crown in about 20-30 hours. But if you want to go further and dig deeper, you can easily spend weeks playing in its rich and complex world.
Want more? Check out our growing collection of Dragon's Crown articles!