After finally finishing with my internship, I decided to celebrate my newfound freedom by barricading myself in my room & playing video games all night. And because of that, I finally finished Dragon’s Dogma. Dragon’s Dogma is an interesting experience, & could be viewed as an Eastern take on Western RPG’s. While playing, it’s hard to avoid getting impressions from games like Dark Souls, Shadow of the Colossus, Monster Hunter & even a bit of Resident Evil. But how coherent can this mashup of games be?
Dragon’s Dogma takes place in the fantasy work of Gransys. You play as the “Arisen,” a title given to after you have your heart ripped out by a dragon… yet somehow survive. In order to take back your life, you must confront the dragon Grigori. But Gransys is a strange world, full of turmoil. Some people will need your unique abilities, while others see you as a force that needs to be stopped. The world is full of monsters, but also strange beings called “Pawns.” Pawns, while appearing human, lack their own will & have been awaiting the Arisen to give them purpose in life, which they do by fighting at your side.
All of the mechanics of the game would be too long to list here, but I’ll briefly cover the most important. Combat & exploration are the largest part of Dragon’s Dogma. In combat, you can choose from one of nine vocational classes. As you fight enemies & complete quests, not only do you gain experience to level up, but also vocational points, which you use to purchase skills & abilities related to your vocation. Pawns also play a huge role in the game. You get to design your own Pawn who will travel with you through the whole game & whose vocation, skills & equipment you get to manage. You can also recruit two additional Pawns, but you can’t control their stats. If you’re playing online, these Pawns are the main Pawns from other players; if you’re offline they’re computer generated. If you liked a Pawn, you can send it back with a gift. The same goes for if someone uses your Pawn.
Narrative: To be completely honest, I didn’t find the world of Gransys that compelling. The main quest is interesting enough to get you through, but it doesn’t really pick up until you deal with the Seneschal, which isn’t until the very, very end of the game. There are some interesting concepts in the game, but I never felt that they were fully explored. The most impressive part was how Capcom actually worked the idea of multiple game universes into the game world quite naturally. Even the function of starting a New Game + has a legitimate lore-based reason to exist. But I didn’t find most of the questlines interesting. I think a large part of that is for two reasons. One, most the NPC’s have no personality. Only a handful of the characters you meet have unique & compelling personalities, & even they get dropped by the end of the game. Like, what happened after the Duke tries to kill you? I don’t know. The game never says. Most of the NPC’s in the world just feel like filler. The second is that I never felt like I had any agency in the game. It never felt like I was in control of the story, which is a big part of a role-playing game. The Arisen never talks, & aside from refusing a quest or one or two times when you can choose to kill someone or not, you never have any options. This was the biggest strike in the game for me. A lot of time it just felt like I was mindlessly moving through the quests without any real control. I’ll give an example from the part of the game that made me the most upset:
The game makes a big deal during the fight with Grigori about the Arisen’s Beloved. This is an NPC in the game that has the highest like status towards your character. You improve characters’ disposition to you by either giving them things or completing an associated quest. I knew this ahead of time, so I was working towards getting a certain character (Ser Maximillian, if you’re curious). However, being the completionist that I am, I completed two quests for the Duchess Aelinore. The second quest ended with my Arisen (a female, mind) having sex with Aelinore. I was very annoyed by this because (a) I had no say in the matter and (b) I wasn’t trying to role-play as a lesbian. And because Aelinore disappears from the game after that, I couldn’t get her disposition down so she ended up being my Beloved.
Sorry for the long example but it continues to annoy me. It annoyed me when Aelinore had a big romantic scene with my Arisen after the fight with Grigori. It annoyed me every time I went home & she was there. It just really took me out of the game. Because of these issues, I can only give the narrative an average score. None of the quests or storylines were bad, per se, but Capcom seemed to miss out on giving the players freedom. Score: 3
Mechanics: As I mentioned, the three biggest parts of the game are combat, exploration & Pawns. The combat, for the most part, works really well. It’s very fast & fluid, & involves mechanics you won’t see in other games. If you have the strength you can throw enemies off cliffs. You can catapult yourself in the air. The boss fights are the biggest draw. Monsters can get quite large in this game, & often you’ll have to climb on them to reach their weak parts. These fights are very exciting & you can’t help but feel pumped every time you take down a chimera or ogre. I also liked the vocation system. The fight with Grigori is an excellent example of a boss fight well done, with different stages & strategies for both. The vocations are all varied enough to feel unique & everyone should be able to find something that fits their style. I personally played as a strider for the first half then switched to an assassin. You can also change your Pawn’s vocation, although they can only be one of the regular or advanced vocations (not a hybrid). The only downside to the combat is that you’re limited to three skills per weapon style at a time, & you can’t change them at will. The exploration fares a little worse. While Gransys itself is interesting to explore, with lots of treasure to find, it almost seems like the game doesn’t want you to explore. This is mainly due to the enemies. Enemies don’t scale with you, but there’s no way of knowing if you can take something on until it’s kill all of your Pawns. The game is perfectly happy letting you flounder into danger. And while some may say this is a more organic experience, I say that if you still can’t get to an area because the enemies are too strong, even if it doesn’t say it outright, the game is still guiding you. I felt that, in general, there were too many enemies period. Getting anywhere is a pain, especially because there’s no fast travel. It doesn’t help that the exact same enemies spawn in the exact same locations. So essentially, once I’d explored everything once, I just stuck to the roads & killed things as I needed. The other major part is the Pawn system, which overall I felt was both interesting & well implemented. For the most part, Pawns behave competently in combat. They used appropriate tactics. But there were a few hiccups. I found that they were prone to jumping when they shouldn’t, like off cliffs. This led to one hilarious incident when my Pawn, Hector’s, AI broke & he got stuck jumping back & forth over a log. You have little control over the Pawn, limited to giving “Help” or “Go” commands. It’d be nice if you could be more direct. Also, supposedly the Pawns learn from your own behavior, but I never saw this. Pawns are supposed to develop different “personalities” based on what you do (like sticking close to the Arisen or offering support to others), but I never saw much learning. I couldn’t for the life of me get the Pawns to harvest resources even if I stood them on top of them. But Hector did learn to use group healing items. Unfortunately, he’d use them as soon as anyone got hurt, so I took them away & gave him the single person items, which for some reason he’d never use to heal himself. Other positives are that Pawns can’t die unless you leave them dying for too long & that you can upgrade equipment (so if you find something you really like it won’t necessarily become obsolete as you gain levels). Other negatives are lack of fast travel (seriously, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to so why not just include it?) & that you can only have one save game at a time. So overall the game works well, but issues with respawning & enemy difficulty hold it back a bit. Score: 4
Aesthetics: Visually, the game is pretty good. The character customization options for both the Arisen & your Pawn are pretty extensive. And it’s always nice to see your custom character during cutscenes. Gransys looks pretty nice. While I wouldn’t say the graphics are groundbreaking, there are some really nice details. I really liked the way the grass & trees sway. The game also has some fantastic lighting. You might not notice it a lot, but just check out the sunset or the light streaming through a cave entrance. I also have to give the game major credit for the variety of enemies. They use a lot more than just your standard giant spiders and goblins. Some of my favorite creatures are the griffin, cockatrice, hydra, lich, beholder, chimera, hellhound & succubus. As a fan of mythology, it’s always nice to see larger gambit of creatures. Character models for the most part look nice, but I did notice that there’s almost no lip-syncing. When you talk to people (outside of cutscenes) their mouths almost never move. It’s odd. Music-wise, the game is pretty quiet. Music only plays during combat, but it fits the mood. The voice acting is okay as well. At least I don’t recall anything obnoxious & I don’t remember any voices repeating for most NPC’s. Score: 4
Replay Value: Moderate. Once you beat the game, you can play New Game +, which starts you from the beginning but with all of your equipment & skills from before. Just be sure you follow the game’s instructions for starting NG+ or else you’re overwrite your old save. Other than that, nothing actually changes about the game, but some people will enjoy trying new things, vocations or quests that they missed out the first time. Score: 3
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: For me, the lack of a good narrative & limiting how much control I had over the game really took me out of the experience, but the combat kept me playing. If you’re a fan of challenging games or want to try something new with some unique mechanics, I think you’ll enjoy this. Dragon’s Dogma has a steep learning curve & can be frustrating, but it keeps pulling you back to try something new. Just know what you’re getting into.
Title: Dragon’s Dogma Console: 360 & PS3 Rating: M Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom Release Date: May 22, 2012