Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dragon's Crown or, the fan service singularity approaches

(Source: Pixiv/final)

Fan service can be a wonderful thing.

If you don't take it or yourself too seriously, fan service is a great excuse to giggle behind your hand when gratuitous panty shots and male/male shower scenes are tossed into an otherwise amusing anime/game/manga.  So long as it keeps its metaphorical tongue planted firmly in cheek, fan service is a wonderful comedic device.

When it's handled well, fan service results an extra layer of material that helps you appreciate the humor behind the story more. When it's handled poorly - and relied upon too heavily - the results are somewhere between disturbing, confusing, and really fucking disturbing.

But what happens when a game or anime relies almost exclusively on fan service to sell itself?  Can such a piece of source material overload itself with fan service and Gainax-ing bustlines to the point that the viewer begins to completely ignore it?  Can there come a point where fan service actualizes into something more?

The answer to those questions is yes.  Also, Dragon's Crown.

I've been immersed in the world of this so-flouncy-it's-good brawler since the end of July when I started reviewing it for another site. I was no stranger to Dragon's Crown and the controversy that surrounded its gorgeous, male-focused artwork, so I knew what I was getting into - a magical land where Amazons charged off to war wearing thongs instead of armor while a Sorceress' bosoms heaved in time to the rhythm of battle.

The proud, if unrealistic, portrayal of the female form served as the fodder for many internet comics (and nightmares...), but it also served as a touchstone to distract many critics and prospective players away from the otherwise gorgeous background art and excellent beat-'em-up combat.

Yet there comes a point in Dragon's Crown where you just stop noticing the ridiculously exaggerated female forms and treat them as little more than set dressing.  Sure, you'll still see heaving breasts every couple of seconds and you'll need to take cover from the occasional hailstorm of airborn asses... but eventually these capitulations to fan service transform into a fluid part of the unquantifiable whole of the Dragon's Crown experience and actually help drive its gameplay forward.

Not in any real mechanical sense, mind, but when combined with the evocative soundtrack, immersive artwork, and general tone of the world Vanillaware created, the fan service-y females feel like they're a part of Dragon's Crown's world no different from the armies of goblins that lurk just off-screen with crossbows at the ready.

If I was a woman, I might feel differently about this issue, but as a dude I just learned to go with it and accept it as a love letter to the Ralph Bakshi era of fantasy art.

Amazingly, Dragon's Crown handles its fan service in a mature manner throughout the game.  In a fantasy world where at least one boss is a giant tentacle monster, the female characters are treated the same as the menfolk are.  Neither sex is violated more thoroughly or forced into more compromising positions when they're getting the snot kicked out of them, and at no point does Dragon's Crown give into the siren's song of battle damage armor loss.

Looking at the official artwork, you might be hard-pressed to believe that fan service takes a back seat to action and gameplay in Dragon's Crown but it happens and it's wonderful.

So, throw up your hands and rejoice noble otaku - the fan service singularity has arrived.