Tribute to Dragon’s Dogma, My Favorite Game
There will be some spoilers, so be warned. If you’re just here for art, scroll to the end.
This is a game mostly about the “ever-turning wheel,” and how a hero and a dragon keep the wheel moving. The question at the core of the plot is, what do you want your hero to be? Will you accept the cycle and your place in it? Will you become a cowardly king, a lonely god, a monster, or a memory held by the next hero? It’s a deceptively deep story; on its surface it appears simple, but unwinds into something quite interesting.
I’ve discussed Dragon’s Dogma before in the video game section of our forums (here), but wanted to do something more in depth. It’s my favorite game of all time, so I think it deserves some more discussion and a couple sketches. I hope some day, Capcom will decide to make a sequel…but in the meantime, I’ll keep singing the game’s praises anywhere I can. It wasn’t a massive hit on the level of Elder Scrolls Skyrim or the Witcher 3, but it sold decently well overall.
So, why do I like it?
We will get to some details shortly, but here’s the trailer Capcom released for Dragon’s Dogma back in 2012. Most people will probably think it’s cheesy, but every time I watch the video I get pumped up to play the game.
In my opinion, Dragon’s Dogma has the best combat system in any RPG. It uses the common class trinity of sword/shield, dagger/bow, and magic user, dropping in hybrid and advanced classes for variety later. The three systems play quite differently, but all of them make for tight, precise action. The game has a soft targeting system which is extremely well implemented. There is no hard lock on to enemies; instead, your character passively turns to face the closest enemy, but the player can instantly override that and manually position.
Magic combat is a revelation for the genre. Honestly, magic is usually not very fun in RPGs, and often just involves target -> wait -> boom. Dragon’s Dogma actually makes magic combat fun, and manages to implement active elements. Mages have weak and strong button attacks, along with charged moves by holding down the buttons. Spells have a mix of manual and semi-auto targeting, and are activated using the triggers plus face buttons. I’m a huge fan of this trigger + X, Y, B process for skills; you can have quick use of six spells this way, and use them as soon as the mood hits you (without going into menus).
Combat with a sword or dagger has weak and strong attacks, plus abilities tied to trigger + X, Y, B just as magic users do. A new wrinkle for swords and daggers though; actions change based on the timing of your button press. Multiple rapid taps versus slower regular presses change the attack, allowing for timing combos. For example, with daggers equipped, rapid presses go into a spinning knife combo, but delayed rhythmic taps becomes roundhouse kicks. It’s very deep, and highly satisfying. Since pictures are worth a thousand words:
One of the biggest complaints I have though, is that despite the combat being extremely fun, overall I think the game is too easy. In the main story on normal difficulty, you somewhat quickly find yourself over-leveled and steamrolling everything you come across. You can delay this to some extent by starting the game on hard mode, but that makes the game even more uneven (hard at the beginning, not so much at the end).
The expansion area Bitterblack Isle is a noteworthy exception; it can be very difficult even at high levels. The fights on Bitterblack are not quite Dark Souls, but definitely ramp up the tension and feel “fair” despite the added challenge. In other words, when you lose it doesn’t feel cheap. Challenges similar to Bitterblack Isle are what I’d enjoy seeing in a sequel’s main story progression.
The Plot and World
I have come to really like the world of Dragon’s Dogma (Gransys). It’s relatively small, especially compared to huge maps found in games like Skyrim or the Witcher 3. Unfortunately there are only two real towns in the game, so if there is a sequel some day I’d like to see something much bigger. But, the people are interesting and the terrain is beautiful and fun to explore. When you’re roaming across Gransys with your party, it has a real “create your own adventure” feel to it. Many times I’ve forgotten about whatever real quest I was working on, and become distracted exploring or battling huge monsters. Simple, but enjoyable.
Another fantastic wrinkle to the game: Night time. In Dragon’s Dogma, all characters carry lanterns (even your combat party), and it’s up to you to make sure you have oil for it. This is important because when night falls, the monsters become much tougher and the undead come out. I love the open world darkness/lantern aspect; the feeling of danger at night is quite fun. It makes you plan before you go on a long journey, and you legitimately worry as the sun starts to set. Unfortunately, this becomes an afterthought once you’ve out-leveled the content…but early on, it’s very tense.
With all of this cool stuff, Dragon’s Dogma really could be the ultimate sandbox game if it had a development kit for modders. Imagining Dragon’s Dogma gameplay, with Skyrim’s modding community…wow, that would be a dream come true. If Capcom could give me a Dragon’s Dogma sequel with a bigger world, more people/towns, and varying enemy spawns? Just copy the existing systems and graphics, I’d probably never play another game for years.
Characters and Pawns
Next, I want to touch on the characters. The character creation system is extremely deep; I know I keep saying this, but it’s the best I’ve ever seen. You could easily spend an hour or two making your main hero, but it’s well-designed enough that you don’t have to do so to make good edits. There’s also a wide variety of armor, and everything you wear shows up on your characters. That’s a nice touch, because some games still just give you either one look or unchangeable/limited “outfits” (hello Final Fantasy XV).
There aren’t many characters in the game, and not much development…but it is an interesting cast. Duke Edmund, Mason, Mercedes, and Julien are all standouts, and the Dragon has some incredible voice acting. The various townspeople and villagers have good designs as well, and the styles fit the game’s aesthetics. Also, big thumbs up to my favorite merchants Asalam and Caxton – if you play the game, you’ll become very familiar with them. “They’re masterworks all, you can’t go wrong.”
Now, last but not least – the pawn. Pawns are a cool concept, and something I’ve never seen in an RPG. Basically, your hero has the power to recruit these soulless warriors called pawns. You create one who can be rented by other players, and in turn you rent other players’ pawns. Their cosmic reason for being is to help the hero defeat the dragon…and they have another role, which you learn at the end of the game. Because pawns don’t permanently die, I must admit I have tossed a few off cliffs:
The main weakness with the pawn system for me comes from their “inclinations.” Inclinations are the pawn’s tendencies in combat, and there are some strange useless ones like “Guardian” (stand next to you and do nothing) and “Acquisitor” (pick up items during combat). Additionally, giving pawns commands changes inclinations; calling for help causes your pawn to become a useless Guardian. But there are some really valuable ones, like preferring strong or weak enemies, attacking casters, favoring special actions (holding enemies for you so you can clobber them), etc. It would be great if inclinations were more transparent in their customization and easier to manage.
The last piece to this extremely lengthy tribute is some art! I did a couple of drawings from Dragon’s Dogma, based on my character and pawns I’ve adventured with. The first is a close up character portrait, and the second is some combat against a chimera (a large lion/goat/snake creature).
The basic standing portrait wasn’t too difficult. It was much like my usual stuff, just some people who aren’t moving. It was actually pretty fun to draw the character I’d played as for so long, and trying to capture the armor style from the game. The second drawing was actually much harder to approach. Most of the coolest monsters in Dragon’s Dogma are quite large, so it’s a challenge to depict detailed character models with them. If I try another (which I might), I should make better use of perspective to get the smaller person in the foreground and the creature in the background. I had a third sketch too, but it was so similar to the chimera battle, I didn’t get much farther than the outline.
I did a couple progression .gifs too, but the second doesn’t have many frames:
I may not be entirely finished with artwork from Dragon’s Dogma. I really enjoyed this write-up and creating the sketches along with it. It’d be nice to draw something with the Dragon, because he’s such a compelling character…he’s massive though, so he’d be the ultimate challenge to fit on a page with a hero. There’s an amazing gryphon fight in the game that would be fun to recreate, so that might be good to try some perspective ideas.
My hope is that this post convinced even one person to try the game who has never played it, or put a smile on someone’s face who is already a fan. And if by some incredible accident of chance Hideaki Itsuno (the game’s director) happens to read this – thanks for such a great game! I’ve gotten a ton of fun out of it.
Note on the .gifs: They were all made by me. That’s my character from the game you see!