Nintendo Switch has had a brilliant run of ports to date, with most of them thoughtfully refined to fit onto the docked/portable hybrid system; Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is no exception. Though Capcom’s action-RPG has been re-released several times in the past, it’s position in the world of action-RPGs remains firmly as an underdog – a cult-loved classic that, despite mixed critical reviews and a lukewarm commercial performance, deserves to be resurrected and presented to a new generation of gamers.
Smooth Sailing, Most of the Time
The most glaring consideration with Switch ports has always been the actual performance of the game. Thankfully Dragon’s Dogma runs fairly well, with a 720p resolution handheld and 1080p when docked. 30fps is very consistent throughout, although there is a noticeable drop – albeit slight, let’s say 25fps – when the screen is overstuffed and the action is especially heated.
Though performance is great, the graphics driving Dragon’s Dogma are not. Design is incredible on enemies and beasts, especially the big bads, but many NPCs look woefully dated and generic. Locations are similarly so-so, with plenty of atmosphere, particularly at night when difficulty ramps up, but overall plain models that lack any character at all.
Animations are clumsy at best when in the overworld, like thrusting to break crates for items, but during battle they actually pop and are much more impressive. Which furthers the notion that Dragon’s Dogma is at its absolute strongest when you’re actually in combat.
Combat, Combat, Combat
While Dragon’s Dogma recalls similar action-RPGs like Skyrim and Monster Hunter, Dragon’s Dogma actually leaps forward when it comes to its simple but effect combat system, which is always engaging and fun, and even has some neat tricks like the ability to climb onto monsters in order to target certain vital organs or exploit hidden weaknesses. This easily leads to more dynamic gameplay, especially when coupling your protagonist – “The Arisen” – with what the story refers to as “pawns”.
Pawns are essential to the game’s core mechanics, and are basically subservient NPCs that follow your every command and help out immensely during battle. This takes away some of the worries of being a solo player, and gives you plenty of dynamics to work with and tweak to make gameplay even stronger.
Pawns work a bit like Pokémon, I guess. You train them, customise them, and can even trade them online. You have up to 3 others at a team – so a team of 4, including you – and they often turn the tide of battle without making things ridiculously easy (although they can be overpowered if you work at it enough).
Though they are necessary to the game, they can be quite mouthy. They talk over each other, repeat things ad nauseam, and can often physically get in the way of things during battle. You can’t really help that last issue, but you can turn off their dialogue, which is highly advisable if you don’t want to go insane.
Despite faults, pawns are easily one of the most valuable aspects of Dragon’s Dogma. The fact that you can build them carefully to suit your playstyle adds a brilliant layer of strategy to these often weighty battles that would otherwise be hack-and-slash tests of endurance.
Tough, but Fair
The levelling system is elegant enough, simple and straight-forward with a great deal borrowed from classic JRPGs. And it’s great returning to that kind of ease given there’s so much else going on in the game – including a frustrating carry-capacity mechanic that constantly requires disrupting the pace to swap and offload between your character and the pawns.
Though linear, the game is balanced well enough to constantly refine difficulty so that you’re almost never wanting for a challenge (unless on easy mode). The day/night cycle helps out a lot here, with those who want a bit more grit having the option of trudging through the overworld at night. A frustrating part of the difficulty also includes magic; and if you want to mess with the various spells, expect painfully long casting times.
If it still isn’t challenging enough, you can dive into the included expansion content, Bitterblack Isle, quite early on in the story. You’ll be rewarded with great weapons and gear, but the additional island, which was initially DLC in older versions of the game, is inordinately tough even after you’ve finished the main story.
A Dragon Broke My Heart
As for the story, the stock-standard “good enough” will do. There’s nothing particularly original or groundbreaking about Dragon Dogma’s narrative, considering it was initially released in 2012, but there’s nothing offensive about its concessions or tropes either. A talking hellspawn dragon raids your village and rips your heart out at the beginning. You miraculously remain alive, following which you regroup, retrain and set off to avenge your own murder. While the story is delivered with great depth and some interesting cut-scenes, it’s still a wonder as to why Netflix are making an anime series based on this narrative.
Although it’s a great mark for the game that Dragon’s Dogma does a good enough job actually making you want to explore its vast universe, which remarkably maintains its own identity despite its largely by-the-numbers design.
Though a niggling omission, I would have liked to see the Nintendo Switch version distinguish itself in some ways. Perhaps this could have been done with motion or touch controls. I know the latter isn’t necessarily at the top of the priority list of Nintendo, but given the device’s excellent motion controls, having this incorporated somehow would have been welcome.
Take My Money
Based on the above, I would have given this 4/5 stars. It’s an excellent game with some glaring issues that can be annoying at times. It’s not the best experience in this genre, but it’s far from the worst. However, you’ll see that I’ve given Dragon’s Dogma a solid 4.5 below. Why? The value.
This game is long, and while its story may feel repetitive at times, the generous action and elegant levelling system keep things constantly exciting. There’s a tonne of content included in this release as well, so the fact that it’s only $39.95 AU on the eShop bumps this score. You’ll find better value here than with most full-priced AAA titles.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Dynamic “pawn” system; excellent battle experience; elegant levelling system; tonne of content; amazing value.
Lowlights: graphically dated; story can be dull at times; pawns can be annoying if you let them.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Available: Now (on the Nintendo eShop)
Review conducted on Nintendo Switch using code provided by the publisher.