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Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: April 23, 2019

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Switch Review - 'Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 29, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Set in a huge open world, Dragon's Dogma offers an exhilarating and fulfilling action combat game with the freedom to explore and interact in a rich, living and breathing world. Alongside your party of three, you set out to track down and destroy a mysterious dragon.

Buy Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Dragon's Dogma is the definition of a cult classic. The original release met a positive reception but was overshadowed by other releases at the time. The updated re-release, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, ran into a similar fate. Over time (and thanks to ports to other systems), the game has gradually gathered a cult following that considers the title to be one of Capcom's hidden gems. It's no surprise that the Nintendo Switch is the latest console to get a chance at Capcom's other monster-hunting game. Fortunately, the Switch port is one of the best ways yet to experience the game.

Dragon's Dogma is set in a rather standard-looking fantasy world. Life in your peaceful village is shattered when a malevolent dragon appears, slaughters everyone, and seemingly kills you. For unknown reasons, you return to life as an Arisen, a legendary being who has the potential to kill the evil beast once and for all. Thus, you set off to avenge your own death and save the world from the evil fire-breathing lizard.


Dragon's Dogma has some fun bits of world-building, and there are a couple of cool plot twists here and there, but it's largely an excuse for gameplay mechanics and cool set pieces. With that said, it does at least one thing that is somewhat ridiculous when you reach the conclusion of the game. I can't say what it is without spoiling it for newcomers, but it's certainly memorable, if nothing else.

Dragon's Dogma is an action-RPG with some history in Capcom's action games. The game was directed by Hideaki Itsuno, best known for the Devil May Cry series, including the recent Devil May Cry V. That pedigree shines through in the core gameplay, so while it's a traditional action-RPG on the surface, it shines by having a significant amount of hidden depth and style that sets it apart from the rest of the genre. Be warned that it takes some digging to reach that point, though. The early game feels rather standard, but once you have some time and new skills under your belt, you see how the gameplay shines, particularly with each available character class.

The Fighter class is the best example of the game's Devil May Cry roots. Rather than beating enemies to death by mashing an attack button, you're better off playing the game like one of the aforementioned DMC titles. You can knock enemies into the air and juggle them, cancel your attacks into one another, or generally style on your foe. It makes what is otherwise the "default" class in an action-RPG feel much more engaging. When I originally played Dragon's Dogma, I preferred the Strider class, but upon replay, the Fighter is easily one of the most enjoyable variations on the traditional slash-and-bash archetype.


I expect most people will gravitate toward the Strider class. Striders are bow-and-dagger users who are similar to rogues in other action-RPGs. They can move swiftly, attack enemy weak points, weaken and debuff their foes, and climb on them to stab them. They're an interesting class because they're basically dirty fighters. They can and will attack the enemy in any way necessary, and that's a fun twist. I loved using bows, and this class in particular excels at fighting from a distance, but you can also do well with up-close grabs and slashes.

The magic-using class is probably the most straightforward, but don't mistake that for being boring. They have access to a bunch of magic spells ranging from simple buffs to massive deadly tornados. They lack the more interesting combat of the other classes but make up for it with overwhelming power. They were my least favorite class to play, but they fulfill the fantasy of being a powerful wizard more than most games do.

The classes can also be combined to form hybrid classes that have the strengths of both classes. If you like magic but don't like being a squishy mage, you can become a Mystic Knight, who combines the swordplay of a Fighter with magic buffs and support abilities. You can also unlock improved versions of the classes that focus on specific attributes, like archery or tanking. There's something for pretty much any play style, and in a small miracle, almost all of them are fun to play.


Dragon's Dogma lacks traditional multiplayer, but instead, it has what is probably the game's most defining feature: pawns. Pawns resemble humans but lack free will. You create your own pawn, and it joins you on your quest as effectively a second AI-controlled character. Generally, you'll want to set up a pawn that works with your main character's build: a tank to draw aggro, a mage to buff and heal your fighter, etc. You can customize the pawn at will and recruit other players' pawns to flesh out your adventuring party.

The thing about pawns is that they're really dumb. At first, they'll seem almost useless, but they're designed to learn as they fight. A pawn gradually understands an enemy's weaknesses, and in doing so, becomes more adept at fighting them. Early game pawns might as well be meat shields, but by the end of the game, they feel like competent partners. A neat part is that you can send your pawn online to help other players and also recruit other players' pawns. This helps your pawn learn and can give you an advantage, since a well-trained pawn can reveal a new enemy's weaknesses.

I like the pawn system, arguably more now than when I originally played the game. It has its flaws. The lack of personality makes it difficult to like a pawn as anything more than a gameplay mechanic. That's consistent with the lore, but I would've preferred an actual personality. (There is a Japan-exclusive Dragon's Dogma Online pseudo-sequel, but sadly it was never released elsewhere.) It's great for playing alone, but a sequel that replaces pawns with online multiplayer would be a genuine delight.


Dragon's Dogma originally came out in 2012, and it isn't a bad-looking game, but it has definitely aged. On the other hand, it has aged reasonably well, and for a game that started life on the PS3, that's an impressive achievement. More to the point, it feels like a game-changer to have the game running well on a portable system like the Switch. One of the complaints about the original version was that it was repetitive, but being able to turn the game on and off at will means that its repetitive nature gives way to short, quick bursts of gameplay. The Switch is the ideal system for it. Unfortunately, the pawn dialogue is still as repetitive as ever, but the soundtrack is enjoyable enough.

All in all, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is fun. The combat is enjoyable, the exploration is entertaining, and the story is amusing in a ridiculous sort of way. It's just a great game. It has flaws, including inconsistent difficulty and repetitive content, but on the Switch, these aren't serious enough issues to drag down the excellent gameplay. It's an aging game that you've probably had the chance to play on another system, but it's still incredibly enjoyable, and the Switch's portability arguably makes it the definitive version. Dragon's Dogma on the Switch is a must-have for fans of action-RPGs.

Score: 8.0/10



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