venerdì 18 maggio 2012

The most hardcore RPG on Nintendo consoles - Dragon's Dogma

Capcom delivers a hardcore, rewarding, and authentic role-playing experience

There's no sense of danger in modern games. Dying has become a minor setback rather than something to be feared. That's why Dragon's Dogma is so inspiring. Its enormous world is rife with danger, and death lurks around every corner. It's an adventure in the truest sense of the word, rich with mystery and peril.
On the surface, it's a fairly bland fantasy setting. Capcom have taken their visuals cues from a litany of Western fantasynovels and films. But thebrown, uninspiring environments betray a game of remarkable imagination.
Broadly speaking, the game is reminiscent of the Elder Scrolls series. It presents an open world filled with towns, cities, NPCs, quests, shops, dungeons, caves, forests, and everything else you might expect from an RPG.
Dragons Dogma Screenshot
The third-person combat occurs in real-time, and varies depending on your class. It has a satisfying weight and physicality to it, which has led some to compare it to Dark Souls - although it's not quite as brutally precise. You can attack from afar with a bow and arrow as a Strider, wade in with a sword and shield as a Fighter, or hurl spells as a Mage.
It's a fairly standard RPG class system, but the biggest innovation, and the real core of the combat, is the pawn system. Pawns are magical, sentient creatures that are human in appearance, but exist only to serve as hired mercenaries for a hero known as the Arisen.
Every generation, a dragon arrives in the land of Gransys, bringing with it a scourge of terrible monsters. These creatures roam the countryside, terrorising and killing the locals. But whenever there's a dragon, there also appears an Arisen: a hero destined to drive the beast back to whence it came. Naturally, you are the Arisen, and your arrival has stirred the pawns to life, who are sworn to help you defeat the dragon.
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What's really interesting about the pawns is that there are an infinite amount of them - either randomly generated by the game, or downloaded from the internet. In most RPGs you form your party from a selection of NPCs, but in Dragon's Dogma you create it yourself.


Using a Rift Stone, which you can find in most towns and cities, you access a slick interface that allows you to browse through a vast archive of pawns, many of which (providing your console is connected to the internet) are creations of other players. When we reviewed the game, the servers were full of pawns with Japanese names: presumably belonging to the development team. When the game is released there'll be many, many more to choose from, which is an exciting prospect.
Dragons Dogma Screenshot
Say you need a healer. You can search through a list of Mages, studying their stats and abilities to see whether they're right for your party. Some may specialise in offensive magic, while others are tuned for support and healing; there are limitless combinations, and you have to make sure you have the right team for each quest. Pawns don't level up, so as the Arisen's skills improve, you have to constantly change up and reshape your team. They're designed to be expendable.
You can hire two pawns at atime, in addition to one main pawn that you create yourself from scratch, and who travels with you for the entirety of the game. Ours is a tall, blonde, pointy-eared Strider named Anna, who's a mean shot with abow. Once created, other players will be able to download her, earning us in-game items and currency. Capcom even say we'll be able to share our pawns on Facebook, although we were unable to test this.
As you fight, your pawns are incredibly vocal, yelling out strategies and suggestions that are genuinely useful. In fact, listening to your pawns is vitally important to surviving the game's many tough boss encounters and dungeons. It's not the usual stock dialogue of an RPG party; the stuff they say is actually important.
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As the hero, you don't have to be on the front line: you can easily play as a support character (a healer or archer, for instance) and let your pawns do all the heavy hitting. You can also use the d-pad to issue basic commands, like shouting for aid,or telling your party to charge the enemy. It's basic, but it works well.
Pawns get an experience rating, both for quests and enemy types. So if you're struggling with a boss, downloading a pawn who has already encountered it (in another player's game) will reveal specific weaknesses. "I've met this creature before! Strike it with fire!" they'll yell. It's an incredibly clever use of internet connectivity, and feels like an evolution of the similarly imaginative message-leaving system from Dark Souls.
Dragons Dogma Screenshot
The quests themselves aren't quite as inventive as the combat system. They're all variations on a limited pool of mission types: fetching items, escorting NPCs, clearing dungeons. Nothing here stands out as especially imaginative or original.


Your pawns, who have unique, spoken dialogue for almost everything you come across in the game world, keep things entertaining, but big, thrilling moments - like battling a flying monster atop a castle during a raging storm - could have been more frequent.
It does have a great sense of humour, though. For all its Western stylings, there's still plenty of the quirk and insanity that defines Japanese games. You can pick up any NPC, including your own pawns, and throw them. One mission sees you chasing a fleet-footed burglar through a city at night. A specific type of enemy goes into a wild frenzy whenever it sees a female character. In another mission you have to dress your male pawns (and yourself if you're a guy) in ladies' clothes to infiltrate a camp of all-female bandits. It's absolutely mental.
It's the challenge that makes Dragon's Dogma special. It's an incredibly ruthless game, and never tells you if an area, enemy, or quest, is too tough for you: you have to find out for yourself, which usually ends in an unceremonious death. But there'sa great satisfaction in getting utterly trounced by a boss, only to return when you're a few levels stronger and totally destroy it.
There's something weirdly intoxicating about this constant fear of dying. When you venture into a new area of the map, you're filled with trepidation about what beasties may be lurking in the bushes, but will be compelled to keep going. Your curiosity and desire to discover loot, or a path to a new area, or a quest, makes you risk everything by venturing into dangerous, uncharted territory. Like we said earlier: it's an adventure.
Dragons Dogma Screenshot


This makes Dragon's Dogma one of the most hardcore, rewarding, and authentic role-playing experiences on Nintendo DSi XL consoles. But the difficulty can be obstructive at times, and we found ourselves regularly quitting in frustration.
There's a distinct lack of direction, and you'll often waste your time trekking halfway across the map, only to discover the quest you're on is at too high a level for your party to handle.
So while the utterly merciless difficulty and lack of signposting does make the game tense and unpredictable, it can also be massively annoying. How this affects you depends entirely on your temperament as a gamer. Ifyou want quick thrills and (relatively) easy accessibility, stick to Skyrim.

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