Most people love a good RPG, plenty appreciate the Western style, such as an Elder Scrolls variant; the JRPG also gets a large following, despite the Final Fantasy debacle over the past few years. So why not create a hybrid of the two? The mechanics and heavily stat driven gameplay of the East, along with a setting chocked full of mythical creatures and locales from the West. The result? Dragon’s Dogma.
You play as a nameless townsfolk known hereafter as The Arisen, mainly due to a great big dragon delicately plucking out your still beating heart whilst intoning in a foreign tongue. You awaken afterwards, a little shaken up regarding the ordeal and rightly so. It’s not long however before you suit up with a rusty sword and some cloth armour to seek answers, truth and of course, the fate of your heart.
Right from the off, it’s clear that this is of Capcom’s doing, elaborate CG cut-scenes along with visceral, meaty combat and a menu/inventory screen that would make a statistician sigh. Straight onto the character creation screen we go; as you may expect, pretty much anything can be altered to create what you think would be a suitable, potential dragon slaying warrior. At this point, however ridiculous as though you might appear, being either very large, or very small could have an advantage or two in the future… Nevertheless, I opted for a generic space marine build along with a garish beard to suit the times.
It’s not long before you’re thrown into a seemingly impossible battle once more, this time a whopping great Hydra, are there no easy fodder around here? After a little progression, you are introduced to your pawns; the summoning of them. Essentially, you get one main follower with whom you may determine what they look like, what skills they have and what mind-set they uphold. You may also recruit two more followers to accompany you, unlike your main pawn however, these two do not level up, nor change their equipment or appearance. It’s best to try and fill out your party with talents and skills that you do not possess, eventually creating a balanced squad such as a healing mage, an archer and a couple of soldiers. Either way, don’t get too attached to them as you’ll be trading them out for new models fairly often.
Once you’ve created your own team of unnecessarily hard nuts, it’s time to quest, level up and repeat. You’ll very quickly discover that indeed, you’re not all that. Even the most basic of enemies will beat you down with relentless force for the first few hours of Dogma. You’ll take what you can get and be glad for it! After a while of grinding levels from wolves and goblins (JRPG influence right there!) you might be able to venture out further afield. To reference epic, Eurovision Song Contest winners Lordi, ‘they only come out at night’ is morbidly apt in this game. Even at your higher levels, of which there an eyebrow raising 200, the enemies that lurk off the beaten trail at nightfall, will make that arduous trek home feel a whole lot longer at dusk.
Without access to any form of fast travel until later on in the game, (and it still costs you money every time you do it) walking is quite literally, the way forwards. Due to the dynamic day/night cycle and the wariness regarding any foe you’ve not already tackled, it really makes you feel vulnerable at the start. Not only that, it makes you learn enemy positions, spawns and shortcuts from the word go. Everything you do in Dragon’s Dogma feels like progression and learning to know your limits.
The main irritancies fall in line with the whole ‘user friendly’ aspect. Not much is explained, you are expected to be able to figure things out yourself. In most circumstances, this is usually a benefit, however I would warn you to complete any and all side quests before progressing with the main narrative. Certain side quests can become locked out, automatically failing them and therefore abandoning any further quest lines associated with them. Perhaps a rare occurrence, but because I technically failed a quest through no fault of my own, a certain area of the map and it’s tragically valuable treasure regarding fast travel is now inaccessible to me. There are a few instances such as this that would be solved if multiple save slots were permitted.
The auto-save is relentless in activating at tragic points such as a mission failure; if you think you can catch it out via a quick reload you’re badly mistaken! The only way to reload is to quit to the main menu and continue, a process that takes an arduous amount of time. The main get out clause of this, is that the game runs on an ever continuing cycle of ouroboros. New game plus is encouraged to iron out those missed quests, continue levelling up and further your character on their quest to both see and do everything on offer.
Online integration is done well, though potentially not as well as it could have been done. The wish is for some form of co-op, that could potentially be included in a sequel along the line seeing as the game is practically screaming out for it. Instead, you can hire other peoples main pawns as your tertiary ones, making a much more effective squad than otherwise. You may gift items and rate the hired pawn for constructive reasons should you so wish. The main draw being the almost immeasurably powerful Ur dragon boss. You may fight it in offline mode for a potentially easier fight, but that could be a curse in itself as there are a lot of interesting ideas involving the battle and online mode that you’ll have to find out for yourself…
Not the largest world map around and certainly not the best looking either, yet it’s the little things which impress the most. Character and enemy animations are fantastic to watch and feel weighty and deliberate to control. Jumping on the back of a Chimera and separating the tail from it’s host never gets tiring, especially with the accompanying fanfare kicking in once your folly is at deaths door.
A fantastic RPG with great mechanics, an interesting locale and potentially immense replayability despite it’s monstrous length comes very close to perfection. If that’s not enough for you, how about swinging your sword futilely in the Dark Arisen DLC pack for a while before running off from the incredibly high levelled enemies that dwell here? Being limited to the one save is an unfortunate design choice; constantly swapping out pawns for slight upgrades after removing all their ill-gotten loot is a necessary evil that I cannot help myself whinging about! Either way, If you’re into RPG’s of any kind, Dragons Dogma will almost certainly sate your appetite and is well worth a go no matter which type you prefer.