Review by DarkSymbiote

"Has trouble following the dogma of good design"

It's rare to see a Western style RPG from a Japanese developer, the other recent ones being the Soul series from From Software. Comprising of a development team that worked on the previous two Devil May Cry titles as well as past Resident Evil games, Dragon's Dogma gives the impression of amalgamating basic action gameplay with Shadow of the Colossus' method of scaling large enemies. Director Hideaki Itsuno of Devil May Cry fame even mentioned this was his dream project since his school days.

These new gameplay implementations in an open world environment sounds a bit revolutionary. At least on paper. Capcom's recent endeavours have put them on undesirable terms with their fans however. So, does their take on a dominant non-Japanese sub-genre put back them on good graces or does this adventure make an impact as big as a goad in a behemoth's palm?

Story

And then you, Arisen... You came to us, and the dragon with you.

According to a great prophecy, every once in a while a powerful dragon arrives and chooses a worthy being by jabbing their heart out. The most recent Arisen being your customisable character. A normal day at your village as a fisher until the red dragon chooses you after you put up a pitiful fight. As the new Arisen, you have the power to guide pawns to assist in fulfilling your quest to kill off the same dragon in addition to thwart other threats plaguing the land.

Despite the decent premise, the plot is bare and makes very little sense. Characters are unremarkable and some events seem to occur at random without any sort of explanation. The dialogue is strange, not because it uses archaic English but the wording and sentence construction is not good in the least. "Aught" is extremely overused and will begin to grate your ears after the first few hours.

Regardless of being able to choose your Arisen's gender, Dragon's Dogma is one of those games that simply ignores this and treats you as manlike as possible. A few "she"s may be placed at parts but that's it. The Arisen does his best to act like a complete fool who is seemingly surprised and enchanted by nearly every threat or what have you he comes across. It's difficult to enjoy the journey as a hero when the avatar is cringeworthy. This culminates in an unexpected, but very brainless, ending along with an abrupt love interest that you may not even remember or showed no sign of affection towards.

Design and Gameplay

I couldn't abide living in this cursed land any longer...

The land of Gransys is home to a lot of monsters including cyclopes, goblins, dire wolves and a host of other fantastical creatures. Sadly the land itself offers minimum variety. The path from the starting village, Cassardis, to the nearby military encampment is the basis for the entire game world. You may find a spring at times but get used to seeing cliffs and generally linear paths. The capital, Gran Soren is the only place worth of mention.

Combat comprises of basic slashes, archery and magical projectiles. With Fighter, Strider and Mage along with their upgraded hybrid vocations. What sets this game apart is the grabbing and climbing mechanic. Giants be climbed on fully and this makes for an easier time in attacking their weak points. Unfortunately, enemies shake far too much and stamina drains an annoying rate. The stamina system would be ideal if even minor special moves and running didn't drain it so fast. After, your stamina has been depleted, the Arisen stops in the middle of battle to catch breath for at least four seconds unless a pawn helps you out. Enemies also do their best to attack you from off-screen and bosses often have an ungodly amount of health. Every time you receive the satisfaction of felling a behemoth the game throws unfairly superpowered bandits capable of ending you in a single combo. It also doesn't help that aiming both as a mage and an archer is poorly executed.

Speaking of pawns, they are basically followers like in other RPGs except here they more or less essential. Your main pawn is your only constant one who levels with you. The other two needs to be replaced from time to time either by speaking with travelling pawns or by accessing the Rift, a dimension of pawns only. Your main pawn can also be uploaded to the servers if you are connected online gaining knowledge and assisting others as well as exchanging gifts. When you are not connected online, however, the game gives you an illusion that the pawn assisted some other Arisen. Pawns at first may seem like the ideal A.I. controlled party members but you'll soon be wishing you had full control over them. They rarely respond to the 'retreat' command, instead, deciding to fend themselves against mighty foes and getting killed in the process. They also never keep their mouths from ranting about the same exact tips over and over again.

For an open world game with no mounts Dragon's Dogma stupidly lacks a default fast travel feature. You can make your own fast travel points with Port Crystals in conjunction with Ferrystones but these are extremely rare and expensive. Trudging through the same bland environment where fixed enemy encounters await you every 10 meters gets tedious and serves only as padding.When it's nighttime though, the routine changes fairly. You'll need a lantern to see clearly, though only to a certain extent, and most enemies are replaced with stronger variants. It does present a daunting feeling and you'll be wishing for the sun to rise faster at lower levels.

For some reason the voice cast is credited much longer than at the end. The second part of the story hands out overpowered enemies and most of the time you'll be collecting a bunch of items in copy/pasted locations. The whole story is assigned to mostly the south and south-west segments of the map. Finding locations on your own doesn't feel like an enjoyable thing to do since the game does its best to discourage exploration. The game also constantly reminds you that a problem in one quest may be rectified if other quests are undertaken. In spite of this message, you'll fail quests unknowingly as you progress.

A huge problem is the inclusion of only one save file. For an open world game that encourages experimentation this is simply unforgivable.

This wouldn't be a modern Capcom game without on-disc DLC. Although not necessary, you will still be paying for an incomplete game.

Visulas

I must make a pitiable sight...

This is not a beautiful game. Objects only a meters away look blurry and conspicuous black bars cut out the top and bottom of the screen even on a widescreen television. Besides this is the sudden character and object pop-in. You'll be swinging your sword and accidentally hit a character that appeared out of thin air. The lighting ranges from decent to atrocious. The Sun's glare often looks good but when night falls and you switch the lantern on you begin to see the poor effects. There is no point in lowering the brightness in the menu since it makes daytime look significantly dark.

Aside from these issues, the game has below par animations and some of the worst lip movement this generation. With these sub-par production values, one has to wonder: Is this really a core Capcom game?

Audio

Listen. The sound of battle carries from afar...

The music can be decent at times. But still, it's rare. Usually while traversing the world it's generally quiet and only when when a big battle comes does something heavy kick in. The main menu theme does not even try to fit in. Slashes and blasts sound fine but the voice acting is as bland and boring as the world. Only Mercedes' actor puts some effort into it.

Pros:

- Climbing a giant can be exhilarating
- A good enemy variety
- New Game+ offers replayability

Cons:

- Gransys is an unimaginative and stale place
- Bad design choices
- Story often makes no sense

Final verdict

As long as you've the will to fight, I shall see you are granted the opportunity.

Dragon's Dogma is hard to recommend to anyone who looks to try something new and exciting in an RPG. It has its unique flavour for sure but those are held back by bad design. It can be worth a try but don't assume this will be your new favourite open world.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/05/12, Updated 08/13/12

Game Release: Dragon's Dogma (US, 05/22/12)


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