I heard a lot of good things about Dragon’s Dogma. I read a bit about it, watched videos, and eventually picked it up on the cheap. Sadly, though my expectations were set at a reasonable level (I was expecting to be underwhelmed), the game shattered them. And not with a rocket to awesomeness – but with a drastic drop that I can only describe as the least fun I’ve had playing an RPG since I don’t know when.
I think the major fault of the game is a terribly poor implementation of leveling up. So let’s take a look at the king of leveling up: Dragon Quest, and compare it to the experience I found in Dragon’s Dogma.
Dragon Quest functions off of a simple concept. At a time when many of the games for the Famicom required playing over and over and over again in the hopes that you could develop the skill needed to complete each level and win, Dragon Quest tried something very different. Instead of investing time for twitch reflex and stage memorization, you invested time for additional power (side note, good job Souls series for making it possible to invest time for skill or power or both). As long as you could continue to invest time in exchange for victory and levels, you could eventually become powerful enough to win.
The game pretty much pioneered the entire genre of Japanese RPGs. That’s darn cool if you ask me. Now, honesty time. The game had some problems. Walking in the wrong direction ending in crushing defeat being one of the biggest. Now, this being the pioneering game in a genre gives it a lot of slack. It was still a learning experience (granted, JRPGs still have a lot of learning to do, but that’s a story for another time). Dragon’s Dogma is a bit more recent of a game, so design elements like “Wandering in the wrong direction results in fighting enemies that are too hard” isn’t really as easy to forgive.
Even worse, there are enemies that appear to be way out of sorts for the appropriate level in the area. I’m not talking about wandering powerhouses that you need to avoid until late in the game (Final Fantasy 12 seemed to have a much better handle on that sort of thing a while before Dogma came out). I’m talking about enemies in groups (that you’re at level for) which deal out insane damage and a nearly impossible to kill. When I looked online to see what the solution was, it boiled down to level up more or don’t engage with the content. Not much of a solution.
Dragon Quest was a game about leveling up until you could win. Gaining levels was in many ways the solution to the puzzle. Dragon’s Dogma is a game about leveling up until you can win. Gaining levels is the only way to progress.
To be fair, I may have made a mistake in coming to this game after Demon’s/Dark Souls. Playing a game where leveling up is an option that can help rather than a requirement (even though the mechanics are geared around active play) set me up for a special sort of disappointment. Dragon’s Dogma is a game that appears to be about action but is instead about leveling up.
The bottom line of all this? Play Dragon Quest, it’s a vital part of gaming history. Skip Dragon’s Dogma, it’s all the least interesting parts of Elder Scrolls and the Souls games.