Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen review for Nintendo Switch – Stupid deep

Capcom /

Capcom’s attempt at a Western-style open-world RPG comes to Switch; does Dragon’s Dogma make for a good experience on Nintendo’s portable console platform?

Title: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (version reviewed), PC, Xbox One, PS4
Release Date: April 23, 2019 (Nintendo Switch)

Though a highly-praised and decent-selling game, Dragon’s Dogma, a Japanese developer’s (Capcom) attempt at a Western-style RPG action adventure rarely gets the high praise along the same lines of a game bearing the moniker Elder Scrolls or Witcher. It’s a shame, too because Dragon’s Dogma offers a lot of nice middle ground for those that want to get into those series and some others but have some understandable issues.

Don’t like the underwhelming combat in those games? Dragon’s Dogma offers intense and varied action. Heck, always wanted to try Monster Hunter but getting several people together for long sessions on a regular basis sounds near impossible? Dragon’s Dogma offers those huge monster battles with a party of your choosing and makeup.

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In Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (the “Dark Arisen” refers to included DLC of an island with monsters you can access not long after the start of the game but given their high-level should probably not try and fight till the post-game), you are “The Arisen.” An especially nasty dragon attacked your village and took a personal interest in you and ripped your heart out. Somehow, you survived. That means you are the chosen one who can enlist the aid of beings known as “Pawns,” stop the dragon and of course stop the end of the world.

If the story sounds fairly boilerplate, it is. If there is one massive flaw in Dragon’s Dogma, it’s that nothing in the game is particularly appealing on a purely narrative level. The main quest is relatively boilerplate, and none of the sidequests boasts anything remotely resembling a compelling story. Admittedly, if you are looking for a great story (or at least some decent small ones) to compel you to move forward on your adventure, it’s one area where Dragon’s Dogma indeed fails to deliver.

Capcom /

One area where Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t necessarily fail but might be considered underwhelming (especially on the Nintendo Switch) is its graphical presentation. While the game moves reasonably smoothly and big enemies such as cyclopes, griffins, golems, etc. have an impressive sense of scale as they tower over your party, this is a game that wasn’t a stunner when it initially hit the Xbox 360 and PS3 and just looks straight up ugly now compared to similar games.

There’s no getting around that most of the colors are drab and a lot of the reasonably vast open world just does look like some generic budget version of a AAA Western-developed RPG. Specifically to the Nintendo Switch version, I played several hours docked but have spent a large majority of my time undocked. The game runs fine in both but I felt the camera doesn’t pull back quite far enough in undocked mode but it wasn’t deal breaker since as I stated I’ve spent most of my time playing it undocked.

The same luckily cannot be said of the game’s soundtrack. It’s great, and every track fits the moments incredibly well for a fantasy-RPG whether it’s trying to evoke a mood of a colossal battle, a creepy cave adventure or just something ominous looming about.

Capcom /

Given its lacking story and presentation, you might be surprised at just how deep and varied the actual systems are in Dragon’s Dogma and how they interact incredibly well, but that’s where the game’s greatest strengths lie.

Firstly, there’s your hero. There’s a pretty standard set of classes to start with, but more advanced classes and specializations unlock quickly, and a lot of stuff can carry over from one class to another, so the level of customization of your hero is pretty varied.

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  • Besides, if you don’t like the path your character is heading down it’s easy to change classes, and you don’t suffer a penalty because your actual level and class level are entirely different things which allow for a lot of experimentation if you wish. Each class also lends itself to a very different playstyle. Some are more aggressive and demand you charge forward, others you need to hang back and pick your spots.

    Your hero is not attempting this journey alone either; you get access to “pawns” which are A.I. party members that act on their own in battle. Sometimes this can be a disaster, but the A.I. in Dragon’s Dogma is incredibly smart, knowing lots of advanced move and tactics and even doing tandem attacks in battle. The one issue I have is that you can’t use items on your person to heal pawns; they have to heal themselves by you giving them the item, but it’s a minor thing since you can access inventory at any time.

    There is one Pawn you can create just for your hero, but you can recruit two more through a special portal. You can find other players’ Pawns through this portal, but honestly, you’ll be switching out so often (because recruited Pawns don’t level with your party), it’s hard to get attached to any in particular.

    You can recruit Pawns higher than your level, but those require “rift fragments,” and while I found them throughout the game, it was rarely more than a few so if you are going to try and recruit higher-level Pawns, it’s really best to save it for if you need a little edge on a hard boss fight.

    Capcom /

    This would all mean nothing if when it came time to fight the various bandits and monsters inhabiting the world of Dragon’s Dogma, the battles sucked. The battles are what makes Dragon’s Dogma, however. That’s where the stories come from, and it’s because of how surprisingly deep the fighting system is and might be one of the most fun (and, honestly, kind of wacky) battle systems I’ve seen in a game.

    … it’s because of how surprisingly deep the fighting system is and might be one of the most fun (and, honestly, kind of wacky) battle systems I’ve seen in a game.

    Key to this is the “grab” mechanic. You can grab most things that aren’t pinned down, including people and monsters. What does that mean? It means things like I can pick up an explosive barrel and hurl it at an enemy, but depending on their size, I can also pick up that enemy and hold them while my teammates stab them to death or even hurl them off a cliff. Huge enemies? I can hold onto their legs to limit movement, climb up their body to reach more vulnerable spots, such as their neck or their eyes.

    In addition to grabbing, you can launch enemies and allies in the air, reflect attacks, augment your swords or arrows with elements. The variety of ways you can attack is frankly mind-boggling and since you have to adapt tactics to different enemies it helps keeps things fresh finding out what works best.

    Dragon’s Dogma is also all about exploiting enemy weaknesses as well, and it’s an important strategy. Just hacking away might work on some goblins, but most enemies are made of much sterner stuff. However, they might easily fall prey to say a few well-placed fire arrows or become less of a threat if you shoot them in the eye or cut off their tails.

    Essentially, preparing for battle can make the odds it will go your way a lot higher, and while you can’t prepare for everything, much like a particular series regarded for its difficulty, you have to be not afraid to lose, learn what you can and apply it the next time.

    Dragon's Dogma tainted mountain
    Capcom /

    How does Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen stack up on Nintendo Switch though, a system that already has a pretty healthy assortment of RPGs of just about any flavor? If you are still deep into the likes of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or just about any other sprawling RPG on the console I don’t think this is a game that will pull you away from those.

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    However, if you are looking for something new in that vein that does its spin on the genre successfully (and at a pretty attractive price point), give Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen a whirl; it could quickly become the next obsession you spend dozens and dozens of hours upon, beating its deadliest beasts and uncovering its every secret.

    7.5. Though lacking the polish you see in AAA open-world RPGs, <em>Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen</em> boasts an incredibly deep class and a battle system that makes for potentially dozens of hours of fun and at a great value for what you are paying.. Capcom. . Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.