What I got when playing Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (one of my favorite “pretty good” games from the last generation) on Switch was exactly what I expected. There’s no fancy new features, no huge performance boost (it runs at a smooth 30 FPS with a few stutters), and you can still accidentally romance the merchant Fournival without even realizing it. This is a fine port of a fine game, warts and all.
The story is unremarkable and isn’t the reason you should want to play Dragon’s Dogma. You should play it for one of, if not the best realization in gaming of being an adventurer with a band of adventurers who explore dangerous, unknown places and realms. Fights can last upwards of whole in-game days, often as huge in scale as they are in length. The combat is meaty and satisfying, and landing a blow comes with massive hit-stop and a rather crunchy sound effect. Magic, unlike most RPGs, focuses around summoning nuclear hellfire and torrents of elemental forces to slay massive amounts of foes.
The combat is given depth by the vocation system, allowing you to choose from either simple melee combat, ranged archery, magic, or a blend of any of the three. Gear and equipment accompany each vocation and hybrid vocation, and these can also be chosen from when selecting your Pawns, the game’s main innovation.
If you play Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen with the “Pawn chatter” option set to “Off,” you are denying yourself the full experience of insanity-inducing dialogue that is ceaseless in its frequency and hilarious in its banality. These little twerps that follow you around, flinging themselves to their death to protect you and casting megaton spells from off screen, are owed everything that is good and gentle in this world. I do not grow impatient with them, I do not simply tolerate them, I love them.
The Pawn system is basically what would happen if you took the co-op from Dark Souls but cloned yourself so your disembodied character could assist others when you aren’t around. You can make all manner of monstrosities, craft them to be as bumbling and worthless as you like, then set them free to disappoint and generally bother other players foolish enough to hire them into service. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I’ve heard that by breaking items (like pots and crates) with attacks, your own Pawn also learns to do so, going out of its way at all time to smash miscellaneous objects instead of doing anything useful.
Because I am a bad person, I try to hire actually useful Pawns for myself. Capcom provided a number of pretty competent Pawns for reviewers to use, so I got the full faux-party experience. This is when Dragon’s Dogma shines: it’s combat. What the world lacks in flavor or identity it makes up for with larger-than-life encounters with monsters that are luckily huge and slow enough to hit with the Warrior vocation’s five minute long windups. These creatures can also be scaled ala Shadow of the Colossus, allowing for tense moments of accidentally clinging to their crotch and being unable to move anywhere else.
The graphics in Dragon’s Dogma are, like everything else about it, a little uneven. When in dark, cramped caves or dungeons they shine – exceeding in the use of light and shadow in the way the original Dark Souls 2 trailers did. When the foliage of forested areas is blowing in the wind, outdoor areas can look nearly as impressive, especially on the Switch’s handheld screen. But this is all taken through the lens of an early 2010’s game, with all the washed out color and muddy texture work that implies.
The feeling of conquering a new cave, dungeon, or quest after a brutal outing into the unknown outweighs — if only moderately — any feelings of “God please stop trying to tell me a story.” Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen has plenty of content to dig into, and offers massive amounts of depth for those willing to explore its endgame content and DLC (even featuring leaderboards for a late-game fight). If you can tolerate the budget feeling that lingers over everything but the game’s combat, this is a fantastic action RPG experience sure to instill feelings of unbridled awe in anyone with a heart of adventure. I can only hope that after all the renditions, Capcom will hear fan’s pleas for a sequel.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the Game. A copy was provided by Capcom.
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen arrives on Nintendo's portable console, warts and all. It's more than worth playing, if only for the combat alone, and it's one of the best mediocre games ever made. If you long for the feelings of adventure that often only come when imagining a good Dungeons and Dragons campaign, this should be up your alley.