Dragon's Dogma Review
publisher: Capcom Entertainment
developer: Capcom Entertainment
|ESRB rating: M
release date: May 22, 12 (released)
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Capcom's RPG Dragon's Dogma hit the gaming scene facing tough competition from titles like Skyrim and Diablo 3. Nonetheless, this game presents an important milestone for RPGs because it's Capcom's first attempt to tackle the genre, fusing Western themes and JRPG elements in what's truly a lengthy and, well, intriguing experience. Is it worth your time and money? Well, that's what you're about to find out.
In Dragon's Dogma you play a young adventurer/adventuress living in the village of Cassardis. When the village gets attacked, a colossal dragon moves in and strikes the hero directly, consuming his heart using what appears to be some seriously disturbing dark magic. Shockingly, the hero lives to tell the tale and is puzzled by this mysterious encounter with the dragon. The hero now has an uncontrollable urge to fight back and seek out his heart (well, who wouldn't, eh?). The hero has been revived as an 'Arisen' a warrior tasked with finding the heart and slaying the dragon that took it from him/her.
Capcom's first mistake was dragging players into an epic beginning and then losing the thread of the story way too quickly. What happens is that you start exploring the vast countryside, towns, caves and valleys, completely getting sucked into the exploration aspect of the game, which is fine. Terrific. That's one of the appealing points of an open-ended RPG and it works well in this game (to some degree). However, as soon as you level up and get tired of running around and killing enemies, you're gonna want to discover more about the story and characters. Sadly, the game's plot and characterization won't offer anything remotely interesting. You can't grow to appreciate or like the NPCs and your traveling companions, because you know precious little about them. The dialogue is sparse and dull to trigger any interest or emotional attachment one would normally expect from the type of setting. In a fantasy-themed RPG, a good story is an important component of the whole experience and if it's just not there, you're surely going to feel unsatisfied at some point. It's mostly just poor dialogue, too few character backdrops, rare cut-scenes that explain nothing and a disappointingly flat story arch. This is one of the biggest flaws of the game.
Is this what they call Purple Haze?
Another thing about Dragon's Dogma is that it might take a while to get into its unique mechanics. You're absolutely going to want to spend a lot of time practicing the combat, regardless of the character class you chose to play - Fighter, Mage or Strider. Each class relies on different skills and combat tactics, so it's crucial that you learn them well. Mastering these skills in real-time battles is essential to achieve victory. Not only do you need to master your own abilities, but you need to coordinate your party as well. That's right, every time you set out to explore the land and complete quests, you will be accompanied by traveling companions. It's up to you to choose the class of each companion and to fine-tune their abilities and manage their equipment. At this point, you'll pretty much be sucked into the game's intricate RPG facets. Believe me, there's plenty to enjoy in this game when it comes to RPG features. Skills, items, trading, quests, you name it. It's all there. It's a time-consuming experience, filled with new discoveries, adventure and tough battles.
Okay, when I say "tough" I don't mean too tough. Enemies usually appear throughout the land in packs and will use different tactics to get the best of you and your companions. This is where it's important to balance your attacks and defense moves, so each one of your companion assists in some way. Cooperating with your party is the key in boss battles, which are, without a doubt, the best part of this game. Encountering a boss creature represents a challenge for your character's skills and judgment. You'll fight creatures like giant Ogres, Chimeras/Gorechimeras, Golems, Griffins, Cockatrice and more. Attacking each one of these monsters requires a number of tactics; you have to look for the enemy's weak spot, in addition to timing your strikes. The best part is when your character jumps and actually climbs the body of the creature to deal more damage and weaken the foe as much as possible. The battles are long and difficult (again, not too difficult). In fact, Dragon's Dogma features some of the best and challenging boss encounters we've ever seen in a game. That alone deserves praise.
Even so, there are issues that might piss off even the most patient of players. For instance, when you scale the body of a huge boss creature, there are times when the camera completely flips out and gives you the weirdest possible angle. This frequently occurs when the boss fights take place indoors (mines, caves and such). Another problem is that it takes way too long to cause damage to a big creature, whereas you can die instantly if they so much as scratch you. Yes, like we said earlier, the bosses are challenging and often exhilarating, but the aforementioned bugs ruin the experience somewhat.
There are other downsides to this game that ruin its tremendous potential. While the world is vast and offers plenty of story-related quests and side-quests, there's still the major issue of repetitiveness. You travel from one side of the world to the other, having to deal with enemies you've slain many times. There's a fast-travel system, but it just wasn't implemented well enough to allow for carefree travel across the world map. You need a teleport stone, which isn't easy to come by and it almost seems like they hid it in a remote shop as far away from the player as possible. You won't be able to fast-travel very often. So, in order to return from a tough and challenging quest to grab your well-earned reward you have to do a lot of backtracking, killing the same groups of enemies you've already dealt with. You fight, kill and explore and enemies continue to respawn. It gets tiring very fast.
Exciting boss fights, generally unique gameplay mechanics, a beautiful-looking game, all in all a valiant effort on Capcom's part;
Lack of an easier and more intuitive fast-travel system, irritating remarks from NCPs, sparse story-telling, no characterization, technical issues.