The nostalgia Dragon’s Crown intends, even though it’s only five years old at the time of this remaster, is for a fantasy melee. Instead, it’s Gamergate. The percolation of Gamergate anyway. On Dragon Crown’s initial release, critics called out the pulpy, distorted female forms for their sexism. Things didn’t go well in terms of the response.
The critical lashing was deserved. It’s difficult to verbalize the absurdity of Dragon Crown’s character designs. One female has a toosh that stretches further than her breasts. At rest, she stands in an awkward position for maximum show. How she walks with that bone structure is something the animators awkwardly solved. Another woman, a witch, runs forward. Her hand holds her hat in place. Her breasts, shaped like record setting watermelons, bounce freely. Visiting a shop? The barely clothed owner pushes her breasts forward at the screen, as if in a 3D porno.
Of course these designs have defenders. It’s part of pop fantasy art. Even in prior videogames, say Golden Axe from which Dragon’s Crown pays homage to, women wear nothing. Barrel chested men look down from their power status.
It’s all historical. Fantasy cinema follows suit. Films decorated by the stop motion of Ray Harryhausen, replete with all manner of reptile, cyclops, and harpies, used buxom females in distress. Caroline Munroe, Raquel Welch, Jane Seymour; all of them wore costumes with the focus on skin. Or cleavage. Mostly cleavage. The poster for One Million Years B.C. featured Welch in a fur bikini in the forefront. The dinosaurs were behind her, shrunken into the background. The main attraction was obvious.
Vanillaware’s game has defenders. The art maintains fantasy tradition; it’s not sexist because the men have sexy muscles; lol bewbs. That’s the defense, mostly stemming from a fear of change as social standards equalize. Slowly. None of those excuses consider how screwy these designs look no matter the intent. Vanillaware’s astonishing ability to push color and digital paint enhanced Odin Sphere. In Dragon’s Crown, it’s to a detriment. A 4K “Pro” makeover isn’t a solution. Watching these characters move and attack is naturally stiff and crude. Playing as them? More so.
The arguments exist for the sake of argument. Looking at the ghastly designs of Dragon’s Crown doesn’t elicit a sense of power. It’s well beyond fantasy too. Because of a small, percolating backlash, Dragon’s Crown is forever soured by these artistic decisions. It started here. Revisiting isn’t pleasant.