With DVD sets of defunct television shows coming out and countless remakes of classic movies, Capcom is assuming this mantle for the gaming portion of this media business. They have experience. After all, it was their idea to remake the Resident Evil titles. Defender of the Crown was a great game in the 1980s. Can they work the magic once more?
Crown was one of the most popular titles back in 1986 and it built a lasting legacy on what was, at the time, in-depth strategy and fun gameplay mechanics. Since then, purists may argue that strategy titles haven't changed all that much. Much of Crown's original ideas are carried over in this remake. It is a turn-based strategy at its core that works very much like the ones we find in the Koei published titles or recently in games like Rise of Nations and Medieval: Total War.
England is divided into many provinces. As a result of Prince John's attempt to usurp the throne, Robin Hood is forced to play his hand by taking over provinces in the name of the absent King Richard. Each province you take over will net you taxpayers, and taxes will help your armies grow and build strongholds. Eventually, you'll have to pay off the ransom to King Richard or you can drive Prince John off the British Isles. Each turn you can elect to: conduct a raid, attack a province or participate in a joust.
Conducting raids are directly related to gaining more money. If you have few territories, fat cat opponents, raids are probably the best way to even out the odds. Being the bandit that you are, you can opt to shoot down an enemy convoy using your famous archery skills, or you can swashbuckler your way through a castle to steal directly from your opponent. Just make sure you choose an opponent who has some money to steal.
Attacking provinces is the traditional way of winning the game. You'll use the armies you raise in the various provinces to execute this task. Each province is linked with another (usually adjacent) piece of land. You can launch an attack from one tract of land to another. Depending on what you come up against, this can be an easy skirmish or if there is a stronghold present, it could be a tough task suitable only for a well prepared army. Gameplay resembles a simplified version of the Koei titles or for PC fans, Heroes of Might and Magic. There are only a few units: peasants, footmen, knights (cavalry), archers and catapults. The battle is executed in a pseudo real-time mode, so it plays a bit like speed chess as you move your pieces to counter one another to make sure that the softer siege and ranged units don't get overrun. Victory is when you force the other army to retreat or if they become exterminated.
If you encounter a stronghold, there is an artillery portion of the game where you will direct your catapults to destroy the walls of the castle before committing to battle. Castles aren't defenseless objects waiting to be smashed though. They will fire projectiles back and the longer you take to disable the defenses, the lesser of an army you'll have at your disposal to rush the remaining defenders.
Lastly, most people will remember the original Defender of the Crown for its jousting sequences. This personal outing is tougher since jousting is two games in one, unlike the raids. You must win the battle with the horse charging down the barrel first and then you must aim your lance to hit the opponent. Fans of Heath Ledger's A Knight's Tale will recall that one point is awarded to a body blow, two points for the head and three for sending the knight flying off his horse. There are three things to be won: one for prestige, one for money and one where you can take someone's county away from them; the medieval version of the Thursday night poker game.
By now, you might be thinking Crown sounds like a fantastic product, but there is a 'but' to all of this. It's not deep enough. For starters, there isn't enough depth in the turn-based strategy portion. Crown is focused on the isle of England, which is like a small playground to larger titles like Medieval: Total War. There aren't enough random events going on. It would have been nice if you could train lieutenants, cultivate the land or do some other domestic tasks to expand the depth of the game. I understand the developers wanted to keep the original pick up and play fun, but what was pick up and play two decades ago isn't the same level of pick up and play now.
There could be more minigames too. Crown really boils everything down to three modes of play: archer raid, sword raid or jousting. If you count the catapult battle sequences, that's four mini-games and lots of chess battles. The Robin Hood mythos surely could have afforded us a few more scenarios than that. And the thing is, much of the time, I found the minigames more engaging than the actual battle. What about some scenario where you will steal from the corrupt church? What about having another feudal lord bribe one of your merry men and he backstabs/challenges you to a personal duel and you have to prove yourself?
This touches on the last fault: the turn based battles that Defender of the Crown was famous for. In this day and age, with Heroes of Might and Magic and Age of Wonders, the countless Koei titles and so on, there has to be more than the few paltry units you're given on screen. Other strategy titles are talking about experience levels for individual units, raising units to lieutenants, bestowing special items on them, so on and so forth. Couldn't some of that make it into this title as well? Sure everyone copied this model from the 1980s onwards, but there's no shame in taking a few ideas from the games that have been developed ever since.
If Capcom's aim was to create a simple turn-based strategy title in the vein of the original Defender of the Crown, it succeeded. There's no doubt about that. This is a good rendition of the core fundamentals that made Crown fun and continues to make Crown fun this day and age. I'm not coming into the game expecting Europa Universalis level of depth, but I can't close off without commenting how many of our expectations have grown since then. Some of Crown's achievements may have been revolutionary before but they are considered standard now. It doesn't cause a twinkle in our eye anymore. If you can put those expectations aside, though, you'll be thoroughly entertained the first time through.