Up Up Down Down: Dragon’s Dogma
By the courtesy of our resident Up Up Down Down-er, David Sanchez, I’m here to fill this week’s UUDD slot. I’ve promised not to burn the column down while I visit, so I’ll get right to the point.
May 2012 saw the abrupt release of Capcom’s action-RPG Dragon’s Dogma, an unexpected title from a studio that’s typically busy ruining Resident Evil or working hard on the next Monster Hunter or Devil May Cry. To the surprise of many, after the dust settled and critics got a bite of the game, the strange and not-so-little title was praised across the board. Fortunately for Capcom, Dragon’s Dogma managed to build an impressive sales record, becoming the 55th Capcom game to hit the one-million-units bar. The game also managed to break first-week sales records in Japan, and as such was quickly confirmed by Capcom to be becoming a “major franchise.” I’d go as far as to suggest that the game’s success strongly influenced Capcom’s next-gen poster child Deep Down, which likely took inspiration from the high-fantasy of Dragon’s Dogma.
But enough about numbers; let’s take a look at the good and bad that this underdog RPG has to offer.
Up Up: A world worth exploring
Not hard to look at either.
In all my years of RPG-ing, from Elder Scrolls to Dragon Age to The Witcher and even Kingdoms of Amalur, I’ve never found myself so drawn to scrounge, break and inspect as when playing through Dragon’s Dogma. Every inch of the game’s expansive map is filled with gatherable items and resources to fuel a palette of crafting and upgrading—all of which is backed by the tried and true Capcom flare of inventory management. What’s more, the game truly delivers the value that, if you can see something, you can spelunk your way to it and through it. Every forest hides new predators, every cave new loot, and every village new NPCs to interact with. Better still, the inclusion of a proper (if a bit dodgy) climbing system turns the untamed wilderness into a perfectly negotiable puzzle that asks the player to find their way around. The day-night cycle is icing on the immersive cake, as it further emphasizes exploring wisely, lest you be caught without daylight and with little lantern fuel, hungry wolves around every boulder. And I mean every boulder.
Because damn are there are a lot of wolves at night.
Down Down: A difficulty curve that quickly flatlines
As is often the case in modern video games, Dragon’s Dogma is just too easy. It’s clear that the difficulty system failed to account for side-quest completion on the player’s part, and even modest exploration and basic RPG know-how will leave you ready to take on the world after a few dozen hours (yeah, so buckle up). As a result, the motivation to leave no rock unturned burns out around halfway through the story missions, and the level pacing becomes inconsistent. This issue was eventually addressed in the addition of a “Hard Mode,” over the default “Easy” and “Normal”, which proved to be entirely worthless—it simply allows enemies to one-shot you and makes your attacks burn through stamina alarmingly quickly, without addressing the ludicrous damage you’re capable of dishing out—and was quickly removed.
Up Up: A fresh side of high-fantasy lore
I sympathize with dragons for the same reason I pity zombies: They’ve got to be tired given how flippantly they’re thrown about in games. Luckily, although the primary antagonist and end-game boss is indeed a dragon, Dragon’s Dogma is also rife with the unspoken titans of fantasy. You’ll encounter everything from Cyclopes and Griffins to brilliantly realized Chimeras and Cockatrices, which is to say nothing of the Lich Kings, Hydras, Ogres, Arcane Golems, and Drakes. Collectively, these creatures form a colorful boss lineup that forces you to treat each new field and forest as a true threat, ever wary of the creatures lurking within and above. And being able to literally climb on these beasts in order to target weak points or sever limbs (which is particularly important in the case of the three-bodied Chimera) is a lot more entertaining than incessantly hitting a beefed-up bandit.
Down Down: A storyline unworthy of the word story
Presumably as a result of the development team spending all of their creativity in the creature department, Dragon’s Dogma‘s plot is packing all the levity, wit and originality of a damp sock. Every trope and cliché in the fantasy book is rubbed raw throughout the uninspired tale, beginning with the evil dragon Grigori stealing the hero’s heart, thereby forcing him/her to assume the role of Arisen and pursue the beast in order to reclaim his/her human life. Despite a handful of amusing characters, the cast is a mass of grey, including the game’s ad hoc love interest, which you are more saddled with than interested in pursuing. Just do yourself a favor and look past the cringe-worthy dialogue and charitably named plot twists—go fight a Cockatrice or something; it’ll cheer you right up.