Dragons Over Inaba
If we ignore Lollipop Chainsaw, something that I'm very keen to do, then I've played only two games so far this year: Dragon's Dogma and Persona 4 Golden. Capcom's action RPG has dominated the TV while P4G has provided entertainment both home and away. I've sunk over 70 hours into this time consuming pair in the last two months; I finished Dragon's Dogma the night before last night but am still busy in Persona land, increasing my popularity and preventing people from falling into TVs.
Thanks to price issues and Post Office thievery, my Dragon's Dogma experience was long delayed. By the time I had a copy, it was already December and my summertime enthusiasm had waned. However, my wife jumped straight in and has been recommending it ever since. I eventually heeded her advice, and dedicated the last month or so to angry ogres and fantasy beards.
Despite wearing its influences on its sleeve, Dragon's Dogma is a relatively unique and memorable experience; I can guarantee that you've never played a fantasy, action RPG with a theme tune from Japanese rockers B'z! Rock music aside, combat is DD's greatest strength. Various enemies roam this picturesque but relatively compact open-world, from giant Chimera to lesser Goblins. It’s not always possible to gauge the strength of these creatures before you engage, though the ability to save almost anywhere makes reckless charges less of a risky proposition. Loot is plentiful, the leveling system relatively straightforward and the varied classes make for very different experiences. As a Strider, I could switch effortlessly from ranged, bow attacks - archery is supremely satisfying - to my dual blades, charging in with a view to mounting bigger foes and hacking them to pieces.
Your party consists of three companions, known as Pawns. Your main pawn is your own creation, and may be employed by other human players, via the Rift server (my lovable comrade is a level forty-something mage by the name of Cassandra). While they will never leave your side, their likeness may aid other arisen, and will gain items and knowledge to benefit your own quest. This is a great system, and one that adds a very Japanese, detached form of social interaction to what otherwise would have been a very lonely game. The other half of your ever changing party is made up of pawns created by other players, which you select from the Rift. My favourites included a hulking male warrior named Elizabeth, a Big Boss lookalike and my wife's high-level companion, Vivi, who proved invaluable.
Although you cannot directly control their actions, you can bark out basic orders as well as shape the personality and traits of your lead pawn. For the most part, they'll act intelligently, but sometimes they'll go a bit wrong in the head, more interested in collecting rocks than seeking out the next enemy or refusing to heal themselves at a critical moment. They soon learn their lesson, however, once you pick them up and throw them off a cliff, which is something that never gets old.
While the combat soars, the story barely registers. Your role as world protector and dragon slayer is established at the outset, but the vast majority of the game sees you bouncing between missions that appear unrelated to your overall goal of murdering an oversized lizard. The narrative did come together towards the end, before finally going a bit mental, in a good way, during the final stretch. After thirty hours of pawn pimping and goblin genocide, I reached a wonderfully bizarre and obtuse finale which followed an ending that wasn't really an ending at all. The end game game was probably my favourite part of the game game, with its focus on mini-bosses, looting and free-falling.
I can't remember the last time I played a debut as ambitious as Dragon's Dogma. While it doesn't get everything right, it remains interesting throughout and I look forward to Capcom's continuation of the series. I'm not sure if I need the forthcoming expansion, Dark Arisen, as I still have more than enough left to keep me busy throughout a second playthrough, but the prospect of a next generation follow-up is certainly intriguing. Whether that sequel is Deep Down, a "DD" fantasy romp revealed at last month's PlayStation 4 press conference, is yet to be seen.
When I haven't been playing Dragon's Dogma, I've been busying myself with Persona 4 Golden on the Vita. My thoughts on the game haven't changed all that much since I last wrote about it at the end of January. The characters and narrative are exemplar, and I'm still surprised by how much I've enjoyed the high school setting, which was something that put me off initially. I really enjoy the characters, especially Kanji, and find the chemistry and relationship between them to be believable and endearing.
I haven't been playing P4G quite as religiously of late, partly due to the distraction of Dragon's Dogma, but also because it has started to drag it's heels. The school summer holidays were far too quiet and clearing the Void Quest dungeon required some concentrated grinding. To say that dungeon crawling is not P4G's strongest suit would be an understatement. I'm also concerned that I may have another 30+ hours to go before the end, when I'd much prefer more immediate closure. Persona 4 Golden is inspired and, if it ended now, would rank as an all-time-favourite handheld game, but I’m concerned that it's going to drag on and on and begin to outstay its welcome.
Person 4 Golden and Dragon's Dogma perfectly complement one another, able to compensate for each other’s deficiencies. DD has provided the gameplay and combat thrills, while Persona has sated my thirst for coherent narrative and likable characters. Together they have thoroughly dominated my gaming in 2013, at the expense of newer titles. I'd prefer to have experienced a wider sample of games through the first quarter, though I haven't really felt any great desire to play any of the latest new releases of note (DmC, Ni No Kuni, Dead Space 3, Tomb Raider etc.). I started playing Metal Gear Rising last night, but it took all of twenty minutes before I was pining for Cassandra, meetings at Junes and, of course, B’z. Mostly B'z.