As I pointed out last week, Japanese role playing games have a habit of lazy game design taking away whatever points are earned by conceptual originality or gameplay depth. As a result of Western properties dominating the AAA role-playing scene in recent years, some Japanese developers have begun abandoning their native established anime format and borrowing heavily from us with good results.
FromSoftware has become a perennial favorite amongst hardcore gamers for combining Western fantasy mythology with ruthless old-school video game difficulty and exceptional combat mechanics, but at one point last gen, Capcom produced a true gem as well. Dragon’s Dogma became the fastest-selling new intellectual property in gaming for the PS3/Xbox 360 era and featured some mechanics that could have been real game changers. The expanded edition, Dark Arisen, has recently made its PC debut after all this time, but the late port has just served to raise the question “where is the sequel”?
Well technically, there has been a sequel, albeit a free-to-play multiplayer title only released in Japan last summer. The results are encouraging, with Dragon’s Dogma Online’s success leading Capcom earlier this month to reaffirm their statement after the first game’s release that they are discussing plans to continue the franchise. This is potentially great news (if you can call such a vague declaration news), but I think it’s about time we started asking for more than possible plans.
Personally, I’m a little baffled that after over three years of anticipation, the best they have to offer Western gamers is a PC port and some maybes. The first game was a true breath of fresh air; a rare innovative JRPG that was thrilling all by itself, but seemed to promise so much more to come. Dragon’s Dogma is a flawed but rock-solid foundation to build a franchise to rival Dark Souls, Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, and The Witcher for fantasy role-playing supremacy. It just needs Capcom to commit to it.
In case you need a refresher or haven’t yet played it, let’s review what made this game stand out from the competition. Well, there’s the combat, for one. What Dragon’s Dogma brings to the table here is borrowed from the PS2 classic Shadow of the Colossus. instead of lamely hitting and running while hacking at gigantic beasts’ ankles or whatever, you can actually climb onto the larger enemies and attack them that way, which makes for a very epic feel to monster battles. I’m surprised that this hasn’t already become as standard in real time melee combat as cover mechanics have become in shooters. I miss it already.
But the most important and tantalizing innovation that makes me pine for more is the pawn system; Dragon’s Dogma’s persistent multiplayer element and the AI that drives it. Basically, every player creates his or her character along with a single “pawn” to accompany them. Each player’s pawn learns as it adventures and this is where it gets interesting. They’d remember enemy weaknesses, quest objectives, hidden treasure locations, and the like. And each pawn is placed in an online pool from which other gamers can add them -along with their skills and expertise- to their own party. This was an awesome experience.
If you had a pawn in your party who had experience fighting a given enemy, they would not only choose appropriate attacks, but they’d shout out their weaknesses and also pathfind on quests they’re familiar with. You could review other players’ pawns based on their performance and receive reviews of your own pawn from players who’d borrowed them as well. This player-driven companion system might be the most promising innovation RPGs have seen in a long time and coupled with the intense party-based combat, made for a truly engrossing game in spite of a pretty small world and meager story.
That is to say that while Dragon’s Dogma was one of the most exciting games of 2012, the most exciting thing about it was the prospects for the future of the franchise. As great as it was, there was plenty of room for improvement. More pawn customizations, a larger persistent world, better characters and story, co-op multiplayer, even better AI; in some ways the original game almost felt like a precursor to a forthcoming game that would take the role playing genre to another level. And although Capcom has been beaten to that punch by The Witcher 3, I for one am still waiting for them to continue what they started with the first game and deliver a proper AAA sequel to us.
I’m haunted by memories of in-game nights spent lost in the darkness and being ambushed by unseen horrors, delighted by recollections of running up a path to a rocky precipice while my pawns engaged a huge armored cyclops and leaping onto its back from above, causing it to rip off its helmet in a rage to get at me as I stabbed at its neck, and nostalgic for the time I journeyed with Tyrion Lannister in pawn form, eventually sending him back to his owner with the message “It was an honor”.
But I’m also itched remembering constant backtracking across a small map, bland characters, and so many pawns ending up looking pretty alike due to a pretty small number of outfits. That, and Tyrion should’ve had an axe, not a sword. More weapon variety would be awesome. These are the sorts of things that would likely be remedied in a sequel, and some were already addressed in Dark Arisen. But damn it, we still want more.
Capcom is a major studio with the resources to make a massive mark on the RPG market with a series as exciting as Dragon’s Dogma. It’s bad enough that Western PlayStation and Xbox owners are deprived of Monster Hunter, but I really can’t understand their tentativeness to go all in while FromSoftware continues to garner accolades and rack up sales. They’ve explicitly stated that the reception of and feedback from the PC port is going to be a deciding factor on whether or not we ever see a new game, so if we’re going to support this franchise and encourage Capcom to make it into the rampaging genre behemoth it could be, now’s the time.
If you’re a PC gamer and you haven’t checked it out yet or are looking to relive your time as the Arisen and take a fresh new generation of pawns out to slay massive beasts once again, that’s plenty of incentive to travel back to Gransys. The rest of us can commence begging Capcom to please allow us to give them $60 for a new installment -or at the very least, a localization of Dragon’s Dogma Online .
It’s been almost four years and although there is not a shortage of quality games vying for our time and financial attention, my mind keeps wandering back to the theoretical sequel to a RPG that is too seldom discussed. It’s time we started discussing it in order to help make that sequel a reality.