On Feb. 26th, at the Xbox 360 event in Akihabara, I got a chance to take a look at Dragon's Dogma, Capcom's upcoming game for the Xbox 360 and Playsation 3. When news first broke of the game, I had assumed it was just a fantasy-based Resident Evil or Devil May Cry, but after a little close encounter with the demo provided at the event, a new truth about the game was revealed: Dragon's Dogma is, in a way, a Japanese take on the Elder Scrolls series.
Emulation of foreign game genres is nothing new. Vanquish and Binary Domain are both recent Japanese adaptations of the shooter genre, so, considering the popularity of the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, a Japanese open world RPG is only natural. Granted, Dragon's Dogma is billed as an "Open World Action" game, but it is far more Oblivion than it is Assassin's Creed. What's more, Hideaki Itsuno, the game's designer, has said he's wanted to make Dragon's Dogma since he was a kid. But video games are not made in a vacuum.
The game features all the staples of the genre: customisable main character, large sprawling world where the player can go anywhere, side quests galore that have you playing fetch for stagnant non-playable characters with no drive to find their own stuff, an overarching plot/threat with world-changing consequences that can be followed at the player's leisure, etc. Aside from the basic setup, fantasy world, and general palette of browns and grays, Dragon's Dogma follows the Elder Scrolls method of increased attention to certain mundane objects and a high level of interactivity with them. The overall aesthetic of the game is also very reminiscent of games like Oblivion or Skyrim with sprawling detailed landscapes and the look as though somebody sprinkled a layer of dirt onto everything in the world. The demo was just a dungeon, but the footage was Capcom showed vast open spaces -- spaces I wanted to get lost in like The Elder Scrolls.
The game also includes features (particularly action elements) that make it feel like a Capcom game. The action is very well balanced and satisfying. Taking a note from Monster Hunter, enemies have damage points that can be broken or sliced off to weaken them. (The chimera in the playable demo was rendered all but harmless once its tail was removed.) There is a cling mechanic where the player can grab onto something. If it's light enough, the player will pick it up, but if it's heavy (like, say, a large monster) the player can cling to and climb up to attack from a better vantage point. This feature also lends itself to one of the more satisfying gaming experiences: being able to literally throw enemies and small animals off of a cliff.
The game feel like it aspires to be Skyrim, but Capcom's developers are also aware that they aren't Bethesda, and many portions feel dumbed down as a result. Character development, which Capcom showed at the event, is limited to only one race (Although you can give your character pointy ears and pretend they're and elf), and player class is limited to the basic three (fighter/mage/rogue). But where the game lacks in intricate detail, it makes up for in system features. There is a party/follower system that allows for a party of four, leading to tactical scenarios. And there is a network feature allowing players to share their customised primary party member with other players.
Overall the game looks and feels solid, (as most Capcom games do) but nevertheless, as with most things, it's what's on the inside the counts. As lacklustre sales of Binary Domain have shown, "looking like" is often not enough. By venturing into the open world RPG genre, Capcom is reaching out to the West while simultaneously trying to appeal to an Eastern audience. But will they be able to have their cake and eat it too?
Dragon's Dogma is set for release on May 24.