Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen! The long awaited PC port finally happened. I actually used to have a running joke about this and Red Dead never happening with my friend, but hey I’m glad it did. Dogma got a pretty big surge of hype upon the ports release, but I was a fan before it was cool on the original version, before even the expansion. Let’s talk about it in some more detail as I return to something both old and new, is it a Critical Hit, or Miss?
Dragons Dogma: Dark Arisen
Reviewed on PC, also available on PS3 and Xbox 360.
Developed and Published by Capcom
Released in 2012, Dragon’s Dogma had something of a subtle release to my memory. It was announced, it came out….and then mostly it went by, either unnoticed by a large amount of the gaming world, or simple tried and given up on. Those who DID stick with the game found something of an odd egg…. the quiet forgotten cousin of JRPG’s that was secretly doing amazing things in the corner while the rest of the family played inside their box of old toys. Dragon’s Dogma does however have a cult like following in the west, this little, yet dedicated, following was largely due to people going out of their way to voice their praise of this little diamond in the rough, the very rough, and encouraged people like me to give it a go, when even japan seemingly weren’t trying very hard to push to the western market.
However you may be wondering about the “Dark Arisen” part of the title, this was for a long time, also unknown to me. Several months after the release of Dragons Dogma, Capcom announced an expansion called Dark Arisen, but much to my extreme disappointment, this was neither a downloadable add-on nor a separate purchase. Dark Arisen was only purchasable with the entire game of Dragons Dogma….again, you had to buy the game again to get the expansion with it. Capcom apologized but apparently the game was simply not built to work any other way. Regardless of my love for the game, I simply did not want to buy the game again purely for the expansion content, so I didn’t, until now.
So what makes Dragons Dogma so different? Well, a lot of that is due to its weird and unique charm. Is it because your party members, known as pawns, endlessly yell strange and constant advice and warnings to you as they stumble around world like drunk robots? Is it the strangely placed ye olde English dialogue that somehow manages to feel alien merely by existing within this world? Maybe even the strange failings of logic that make you laugh and die inside at the same time, like when you jump off a cliff, levitate safely before landing, then slamming into the ground full force as if your momentum never changed. Or is it oddities you find where you least expect it, or characters that shine above the others like Dogma’s resident meme, Caxton, the games main blacksmith who yells “Masterworks all, can’t go wrong!” every time you need new gear? Well it’s all of these things really. Dogma is such a strange little egg you can’t help but love even the dumb elements that grate on you at first, until you start to smile on the one thousandth time your pawns tell you “Strength in numbers Arisen!” More than anything the world feels like it’s truly its own game, and that makes it stick with you in a way you won’t expect.
Before we get further though let’s address the Chimera in the room, the graphics. Don’t get me wrong, as far I can tell the game runs perfectly well, no bugs and few if any performance issues that I noticed, but that said…the game can give mixed feelings on visuals. Sometimes when you’re adventuring around the world of Gransys and the sun looks juuust right, with some great scenery in the distance as you look over the world from a vista, Dragons Dogma can indeed look beautiful in its own way. Until you move from that spot or see something off, or enter a cut scene and see some horrible texturing, models that clearly don’t blend in or just look into any of the gormless blank faces of what passes as human within the game and remember that this looked bad at the time, and age hasn’t helped it. Does this ruin the game? No, not at all, but it is going to win any awards for visually fidelity, god no.
Combat and Classes
Everything feels solid during combat, magic feels slow and powerful, making you vulnerable in exchange for some truly devastating powers. Rushing into a fight with a sword and shield giving you strength and hard hitting physical attacks at the cost of more versatility, while playing the archer gives you precise deadly blows with mobility to match at the cost of the same raw power the other classes offer.
As you progress however not only do the classes become great in their own right, but you can then choose to “evolve” them into two directions, either an advanced form of the previous class with differences in skills, or literally taking two of the base classes, fusing them together and creating something completely new and exciting. Love warrior but hate the lack of mobility and range? Become and Assassin and have the combined power and skills of a warrior and a strider, with its own unique moves thrown into the mix. If you’d rather stay true to your roots with mage, simply evolve into a sorcerer and become…well…I’m not joking here, basically a god. Advanced classes like sorcerers remove an aspect of their old skin in favor of focusing on one element, in this case, stripping most of the supportive powers to become a living natural disaster. The nine signature classes can also learn augments, basically passive buffs you can slot in to your base character, this means you can take an assassin’s augments and add them with your strider augments to make something that works for you. Between the augments and classes, you might wonder why you even need this much power, that brings up the very best part of Dogma, the large monsters.
Unlike many JRPG titles, Dogma not only features a far more European setting than expected, but also pulls strongly from a lot of Greek Mythology. The large monsters have a sadly small number of variation but are all easily the strongest part of Dogma’s gameplay. With monsters like Cyclopes, Chimera’s, Hydra’s and more I’ll let you discover yourself, you have two basic approaches to large monster combat, ranged and close combat, and I mean close combat. Dogma has a mechanic I’m not sure I’ve seen used the same way in any other game, as you can grapple onto the monsters and physically climb them like some shadow of the colossus close quarters, high action, scramble over their bodies to avoid their attempts to counter you as you go for the weak points, acting as some kind of giant spider with a sword and a death wish. With nine different classes to experiment and combine with, no matter how many times you fight the same creatures, it honestly doesn’t get stale.
I recommend taking your time with the game however, because starting quests in and around the early towns not only eases you into the world, but is really…the only time you can. It’s time to address the worst part of Dogma, beyond some truly great mechanics and ideas, the game is far from perfect. Progressing too far to satisfy your hunger for plot can often simply cancel out quests you have active, NPC’s can and will show up and vanish within very precise windows of time, and some quests flat out fail after so long just…because. Frankly the world of Dogma can be rather finicky, with many of its systems and quest interactions feeling so outdated compared to it’s truly stronger elements in the background. Inventory management and base systems can feel convoluted and the quests rarely amount to more than “kill thirty goblins” or “escort the merchant to the next town”, to be honest a lot of this manages to be forgiven simply due to the fun of the combat, but that crutch doesn’t excuse everything.
The Pawn System
Adding to your own prowess is the ability to recruit a party of three pawns, the meat of the online interaction and your tireless combat support. Pawns are apparently a race of empty human like creatures from another dimension, which only really exist to follow commands and therefore basically function to do as they are told, kind of like how Capcom treats their customers with their DLC policies. Accessing rift stones allows you to create your very own pawn, who you can customize equally to your own character creation, this pawn with be yours for the whole game and will be seen by other players, so make someone you can stand being with. Pawns are not merely NPC’s generated by the world (well, they can be if you want to be offline) but every pawn was created by other players and uploaded to the rift. Hiring other pawns to fill your party will teach them how to fight monsters, provide support from other classes you will need in combat and generally help you as you adventure.
The same applies to your pawn, as each rest at the Inn uploads and updates your pawn, and once hired out by friends and randoms alike, they will learn strategies from other people, yelling out weaknesses and knowledge you may need to survive a tough fight. They also earn a type of currency just from being used call rift crystals, and can be rated by players and even deliver gifts from generous people the next time you log in. Other people hiring your pawn out won’t take them from you, they can be with you as your friends are hiring them as the party healer or whatever you make them as, not only giving the player base a sense of community spread across the many dimensions in play, but also encouraging you to build upon your own pawn to earn rewards and help your friends.
Before you say how weird and gamey all this dimensional stuff feels, there is actual purpose to everything tying the world together. This all ties into the story, how? I will only say you need to find out. Before I mentioned what I consider to be your personal story, because from here on out, it is. There are threads and plots of story in the world, but they get treated like a necessary part of the adventure and less the focus of the game. Mostly because this game is basically that, an adventure of your story. The lackluster quests and lacking systems honestly can get away with their failings, because now the world really becomes an adventure, something a lot of RPG’s seem to lack these days. Exploring the world, conquering huge monsters, helping the people of the land, finding shortcuts and twisting paths that take you to unexpected places are all part of just…playing the game, everything feels so naturally intertwined, which all fits together with the real story of the game in the end. The story of Dogma is one hell of a ninja, because you don’t see any of it until the interesting lore slams you in the face all at once, resulting in one of the most memorable twists and turns I’ve had from an RPG, J or otherwise, and it would be criminal to say any more than that.
The Infamous Expansion
What about the expansion you may ask? Dark Arisen takes place on a new island called Bitterblack Isle, a charming place to be sure, because unless you really powered leveled yourself to glory, the new island will kick the snot out of you exactly around the point you think the game has lost its bite. This not only renews your interest will once again exciting and dangerous combat, but expands on the world and brings a new story into the game with it.
Dark Arisen doesn’t really add much to the existing game honestly, but there are some additions such as new monsters, new “secret” augments, some new bits of gear including a system to purify cursed loot and several new uses for rift crystals such as upgrading gear beyond the previous max ranks. If you liked the core game of Dogma and wanted some extra story, and dip into a little more of the lore, than Dark Arisen fills that heart shaped hole in your chest, but if you were looking for a brand new experience, you might be let down with more of the same despite the tweaks and additions. It’s more than worth playing, especially since you will have it regardless with the complete package that is the PC version. This also includes some neat items like an infinite teleporting item and many more port crystals which act as portal locations you can place around the world at your leisure. Those new to the game have no idea how easy they have it in this new remaster.
Is It Good?
You can probably tell from my review, but yes, Dragon’s Dogma is a good game. Dogma may be a flawed game, but it also manages to feel fresh in many ways that I want to see developers pick up on more often. The port isn’t a massive change to the original release of Dark Arisen, but it needed to happen, if only for the people who never got to play this little gem. If you want a solid RPG that deserved far more than it got, you should definitely pick this one up.
So who actually played the original game before the expansion? We can swap war stories about having to walk everywhere before travel became easy. I’ll be coming back next month with another JRPG, but something quite different this time. It was a first entry into the series for me, and one I’ve wanted to explore for a long time. I’ve made a website as personal hub now, if you want to contact me in any of my various ways, you can find me at https://drenik.wordpress.com/. Until next time!