Dragon's Dogma has certainly looked nicer, but it manages to retain much of its raw charm on the Switch.
Capcom's Dragon's Dogma has been around for quite a while at this point. Originally releasing in 2012, the game has been released on multiple platforms since then and now the massive open-world RPG is heading to Nintendo's hybrid console. There's something special about Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen. It's a charming game that looks and feels like many other RPGs while at the same time it's also completely unique. This split follows the game in many ways though, and the Switch version shows both promise and problems.
Since its release seven years ago on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, some parts have aged more gracefully than others. The first cutscene, for example, shows off both the charm and the glaring issues of the game at the same time. It's hard to focus on the content and take it seriously since the facial animations are so horrible. These animations were undoubtedly easier to forget and forgive back in 2012, but today it's a tougher task. It's when the dragon emerges that you get pulled back in and the game shows what it's actually capable of.
This opening cutscene ends with you taking over, immediately getting to battle a massive dragon and even though the battle is in vain and you lose before you get to deal any damage, it sets the tone as for what to expect later on in both the game's story mode and its crucible-style DLC, Bitterblack Isle.
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The combat against larger monsters in Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (and there are many) could be compared to Monster Hunter in a way, only more fast-paced. If you storm into your enemies headfirst without thinking about tactics you will quickly get yourself killed, resulting in you having to use a revival item or listen as your pawn screams your name while in agonising emotional pain. As a ranger, we were provided with a bow and arrows and quickly we learned that a well-directed arrow in the eye of a cyclops makes the monster cover its face in pain. If critically hit, an attack will also make it fall to the ground, letting the player slice and dice until he gets back to his feet. Another useful tactic is grabbing onto a towering opponent, crawling up to a weak spot and beating the living crap out of the Colossus. These factors were surprisingly epic back in 2012 and are equally as satisfying today.
The fact that the combat system is great actually brings us to an important point - it's mainly the battles and the system in general that will push players forward in the game. Some RPGs may have a hard time captivating the player without a deep main story but Dragon's Dogma never really gets the player excited about its narrative, especially since the mission givers don't have much personality. You don't feel committed to helping an NPC, you feel committed to getting stronger and progressing through the battles of the game. This is true for a lot of RPGs, however, since the release of CD Projekt Red's The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its great storylines (both side quests and main missions), filler tasks created solely to make the game longer just aren't as acceptable to gamers.
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Every player gets to create a so-called pawn when starting their game and these are, like most characters in the world of Gransys, lacking in terms of personality. This time, however, there's a reason behind it. You can ask your main pawn to speak more or speak less when out on missions - whichever you prefer - but as well-written dialogue was low on Capcom's priority list, don't expect deep conversations with a friendly companion. The lack of great dialogue, however, doesn't mean that your pawn will have nothing to say, and they can be used to gain a tactical advantage. Sometimes, your pawn will warn you of danger on the road up ahead or guide you in combat, and it's actually really helpful most of the time.
Speaking of helpful, your pawn will deal damage alongside you in combat and while they're not great at seeking cover, it's easy enough to get them back up if they happen to get incapacitated.
When the game was originally released it was plagued by various technical issues. On the Switch, you'll get a more solid framerate but there are still some occasional spikes. The game looks better on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One but the charm of the Switch, and the main reason you'd buy a game like Dragon's Dogma on the console in the first place, is the ability to take it with you wherever you go in portable mode. Capcom has something special on hand here, in particular because of the quality of the combat, which lifts the game up high even to this day, especially when you're fighting enemies in the endgame DLC, Bitterblack Isle. It's hard not to recommend this charming RPG, even with its very raw edges.
7 / 10
Great combat, unique pawn system, works well on Switch.
Plenty of "filler" missions, strange facial animations.