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I was excited when I heard that Hiroyuki Kobayashi (Devil May Cry 4 and Resident Evil 4) and Hideaki Atsuno (Devil May Cry 3 & 4) would be working on an open-world RPG together. Their ideas became Dragon’s Dogma, an entertaining but flawed game that needs to iron out a few kinks before it can truly compete with, say, the Elder Scrolls series.
After a brief tutorial mission, Dragon’s Dogma begins in a peaceful village that is soon ravaged by an enormous dragon. Your newly made character bravely charges in to attack the monster and defend his fellow villagers, but the dragon makes quick work of your avatar. The beast then steals your heart on the condition that if you want it back, you will have to hunt him down. With this, your quest as the Arisen begins. An epic beginning to be sure, but the game that follows doesn’t contain the same excitement.
Compared with other games of its ilk, Dragon’s Dogma visually isn’t so hot. NPCs look as blocky as a last-generation game and gesture like marionettes. The various environments and dungeons you can explore lack graphical detail and more often than not look very drab and boring. Your character, large beasts like the hydra, and the cut scenes are easily the best-looking parts of the game.
Questing isn’t much better. Exciting quests are few and far between early on and with no way to tell whether or not a quest will advance the main storyline, players looking to finish the main quests first and then explore will find themselves doing mundane tasks that have no bearing on the game whatsoever. Couple this with a lack of any meaningful fast travel option (the expensive ferrystones don’t count) and I spent too much time trekking back and forth across the map completing missions that amounted to nothing but filler. The story moves at a snail’s pace until about ten hours in when you are assigned more exciting tasks that have you trying to down more dangerous beasts.
Thankfully, combat made those first hours a little more bearable. An interesting vocation system allows players to choose from pure fighting, ranged, and magic classes or a combination of two of the three with classes like the assassin. Discipline points earned in battle can be used to buy new combat moves for primary and secondary weapons; these moves can then be assigned to different buttons for use in battle, activated by a simple button press. Despite the lack of a true targeting system (which enemy you hit with spells often felt like a guessing game) and little enemy variety in the smaller skirmishes while exploring the map, combat was able to remain fresh and exciting thanks to the occasional run in with the larger and mythical monsters, like ogres and the aforementioned hydra. Dragon’s Dogma employs a climbing mechanic ala Shadow of the Colossus that allows players to leap onto the legs, arms, back, or any other part of these enormous creatures and hack away. This can even be used strategically to unbalance an enemy and land free hits as it falls to the ground.
Another large component of combat and the overall game is the appealing “pawn” system. Your three party members are comprised of pawns, humanoid beings with no motivation other than to serve the Arisen. Aside from the main pawn you create near the beginning of the game, the other two pawns in your party can be exchanged at any time for any pawn you meet along your journey or in the pawn’s world. This allows for upgrades to your party with out actually spending any money; if you spy a tough looking pawn, simply recruit him or her to your cause. Pawns can also be used to compensate for your own weaknesses if need a tough warrior or a powerful mage or anything in between. Your pawns can also travel online and aid others in their quest as the Arisen. However, problems arise in the pawn system during actual execution, especially with the AI. Pawns are entirely too chatty, often overlapping each other in conversation with the same useless information given not even five minutes before. While exploring, they will literally pick up every single item regardless of its use, including skulls and rocks. In battle they actually perform quite competently, healing and buffing when needed and killing their fair share of monsters. But the option given to change the behavior of your created main pawn produced little to no difference other than in the aggressiveness in its dialogue.
Overlaid on your quest through Gransys is a good soundtrack that I didn’t mind listening to through hours of play. Unobtrusive and peaceful while meandering across plains, the music was able to build in the tense situations of battle and heighten the overall combat and adventuring experience. The main theme isn’t half bad either, if only for comedy’s sake.
As the first real Japanese attempt at a Western-style open world RPG (to my knowledge, anyway), I felt that Dragon’s Dogma is a good foundation to more forays into the genre. Hopefully the next try, or even a sequel to this game, will fix the problems of this outing and build on some of its better concepts.
Note: The Xbox 360 version of Dragon's Dogma was used for this review.