Review by Morpheme
"Dragon's Dogma: You stole my heart, then ate it."
There was one ring, one ring to rule them all... Wait, no there wasn't. Actually, there was this dragon, and you can absorb his soul--WAIT, he actually eats your heart. The conventional wisdom with regards to fantasy influence involves NOT putting them through a blender, but...Dragon's Dogma is a fantasy RPG published by Capcom, in what at first glance seems to be an attempt to capture that all-important Skyrim demographic of open-world enthusiasts. But with trademark Monster Hunter giant enemies. And Dark Souls difficulty. Oh, and that one cool climbing mechanic from Shadow of the Colossus, and a leveling mechanic similar to both Final Fantasy Tactics and Devil May Cry. At this point, one begins to see a pattern form, but do not be dismayed. newly Arisen: Dragon's Dogma is a fantastic experience that somehow manages to combine many disparate influences into a coherent and engrossing experience.
Gameplay: This reviewer climbed on top of a Griffon and named him Falcor.
Dragon's Dogma is the story of a person and their pawn: but not in a kinky way. The game stars YOU, the Arisen, and your own personal steward, your Pawn. Arisen finds himself on a quest to slay a dragon (surprising) to regain what was lost (more on the plot in a bit). However, this surface simplicity belies an inner depth of gameplay and brutatlity. Simply put, Dragon's Dogma is not a game to be trifled with, be it with your time or your efforts: you must remain vigilant and strong. While not as intensely punishing as Demon's Souls and its ilk, this game does not hand out the soft and cuddly participation trophies of a game like Skyrim: failure is punished, brutally, by both the loss of time and sanity
Gransys is a huge, open world that begs to be explored, but with caveats and roadblocks that may stifle the unprepared. Still, the countryside is littered with the requisite mobs of things to slay, and loot to find.
Combat in DD seems basic, but it has the depth of a 3D fighting game such as Devil May Cry (and rightly so, given that the remaining Capcom team for DMC worked on this game). Players are given a light and a heavy attack, and then the choice of three skills. While seemingly simple, the combat rabbit hole manages to be surprisingly deep. Every weapon type has a different base moveset (that is, heavy and light attacks are different) and every weapon has unique skills that are tied into that weapon type, but that are also, in some cases, married to the current class the Arisen is playing as (more on the class system in a bit). The fights are truly fun and challenging. Hitting an enemy feels palpable and sweet, while enemies deal enough damage to keep the pressure on the player to use all the items and skills at their disposal. The main thing that this game is missing is a lock-on system for the melee classes; all too often one will find a dagger hit missing at a key moment, and find yourself stunlocked into a brutal combo from a very powerful bandit. Another thing that would have fixed the lack of accuracy found in melee combat would have been some sort of UNIVERSAL dodge roll (since as it is, only certain classes can do this). The game allows you to pause and heal at any time, but this just smacks of being a bandaid on much larger issues. Land-based movement options would have kept the combat OUT of menus and more IN to real-time action. These are nitpicks on a much larger experience; after many hours in, the combat still remains fresh and satisfying.
Upon my first arrival in the main hub city, Gran Soren, I set out to explore my surroundings only to be murdered by lowly bandits. When I returned a few levels later with a stronger party and better gear, I reveled in my sweet, well-earned victory. Then I went a little bit further only to be utterly mauled by a stray chimera. Enemies are not leveled to the player; they are their own creatures, ready to be challenged by a strong force and a brutal opponent to those ill prepared.
The most unique thing about this game is the pawn system, which allows the player to create their own helper, and enlist the pawns of other players into their own game, and use them to form a party. This system is a great twist on the usual mechanics of party-building in western RPGs, and injects a layer of personality into this vast, beautiful game. It also manages to distract from the desire of many players to have a multiplayer mode, which I believe would have been unnecessary. Pawns are created from scratch, and the personality is defined by the player. After renting a pawn, the player is allowed to give feedback and even include a gift, which allows for a great community to develop so long as everyone contributes.
The RPG mechanics of this game, that is to say, leveling up, are a decent effort from Capcom. Leveling occurs in to distinct ways: Vocation level and Player Level. Player level is earned by gaining EXP, and the stats the player gains are determined by the player's current vocation. Vocation level is determined by how much the player has played, as that current job, which unlocks new skills, skills that are earned by using Discipline points. Looting is almost like Dragon Quest, with everything of value being found at shops after key story moments.
Story: There's, like, a Dragon in it.
One might have already noticed that the combat portion of the review eats up the bulk of the alotted space: this is because the gameplay of Dragon's Dogma is the primary attraction; the story, while thematically interesting, is a little hamhanded and a bit, well, unimportant for the vast majority of the game. The greater portion of the game will merely hand you quests to string along the action from one point to another; this is by no means unenjoyable, but it does injure the storytelling somewhat and detract from the epic scale that the world offers. Until the ending, at least. Not to divulge any details, but it's awesome. Mind-numbingly awesome on a scale I haven't seen in a long, long while. If you do pick up this game, and enjoy it, you will find the ending a satisfying conclusion to your Arisen's story, even if the rest of the tale was not so enjoyable.
Presentation: Screen Tearing Ruined My Life, But Smooth Jazz Paid My Mortgage
The graphics of this game are merely passable; they convey the images of bleak ruins, scary monsters, and foreboding forests well, but without much panache or style, the way Kingdoms of Amalur managed to present itself. Instead its mostly a pastiche of western RPG tropes filtered through the japanese lens of Capcom; character designs and monster designs are top notch, even though the muddy textures and theatrical presentation lines do little to highlight this fact.
However, in the sound department I found myself pleased: this game does more than strum a lute on repeat. Smooth jazz, silly anime rock, and orchestral themes all managed to blend together in a flurry of styles to create a unique and interesting soundtrack. If only more developers had the courage to experiment musically, we'd find such awesome tunes elsewhere, too, instead of in DD.
Replay Value: The Cycle Continues
Play through the game twice; not just because you'll be so addicted to it that you won't be able to help it, but because there is plenty of post-game content to keep you hooked. In particular, the online cooperative Ur-Dragon fight is a great diversion for power levelers and loot addicts alike, offering a huge jackpot of rare items to the lucky one that lands the killing blow. Starting from scratch is also a great decision; the game's stat system encourages at least a modicum of specialization, and will always leave a faint sense of What if? that will manage to encourage a new attempt at a new class.
Verdict: You Aught Buy This
Though not without a few technical flaws, Dragon's Dogma is a brilliant idea that manages to captivate and enthrall almost entirely. I dream of customizing my pawn. If you're a person who likes JRPGs, and Western RPGs, and likes to loot and grind and kick major monster butt, this game is your thing. Buy it and support the development of refreshing games like this, where you can surf on top of a Griffon. Go forth and rock, Arisen!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 05/29/12
Game Release: Dragon's Dogma (US, 05/22/12)
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