Most fans of fantasy RPGs are aware of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, but for the uninitiated, here’s the skinny: Dragon’s Dogma was released in 2012 and the Dark Arisen version — essentially, a graphically enhanced and more polished re-release — made to then-current consoles in 2013 and PC in 2016. By the time it landed on PC, the game looked much sharper and more detailed than ever and more people began to discover what was really a cult classic. Although very much in the mold of the Elder Scrolls or other, D&D-inspired RPGs, Dragon’s Dogma had — and still has — a very distinct personality. It’s sloppy, janky, and still not as polished as some big budget games, but it has an interesting story, excellent combat, a ton of content, and a few unique mechanics that no other game has copied.
A “hero staring down the apocalypse and saving the world” scenario drives the story, which slowly builds to a genuinely surprising finale. Dragon’s Dogma is an open world game and while there are some expanses of scenery empty of content, generally exploring the environment during the day and very dark nights is interesting and often filled with danger. Dragon’s Dogma — not unlike Skyrim — has a wide variety of humanoid and flying reptilian monsters, not to mention hordes of human enemies.
Doing battle means choosing one of nine classes, which only grow more powerful and nuanced as the game progresses. Dragon’s Dogma includes a rather impressive range of combat styles, physical and magical weapons and spells and all manner of specializations. But no hero travels alone, and so the game introduces one of its most interesting innovations, the “pawn” system. Pawns are NPC party members that begin life as a rather blank slate, but grow in experience and ability as they go. Even more interesting, pawns may be loaned out to other players and continue to gain insight and experience in other players’ games. It’s both cool and a little creepy. Pawns also serve as an occasional game guide, giving the player hints and suggestions.
On the Nintendo Switch, Dragon’s Dogma joins a number of other classic RPGs like Dark Souls and Final Fantasy X. Once again, it is both amazing and exciting that those massive, multi-hour game experiences have made the journey to the Switch, but once again it’s true that the graphical limitations of the handheld dampen down the experience just a little. In the case of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, the crisp clarity of the PC version is nowhere to be seen. Colors are less vibrant, the textures less sharp and the overall feel is decidedly last-gen.
But maybe it doesn’t matter. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen was never a looker on the same level as other RPGs, and it has legions of devoted fans thanks to its unique mechanics, combat, story and not-quite-mainstream vibe. All those come across just as clearly on the Switch. This might not be the ultimate way to play the game, but everything that made Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen stand apart from cookie-cutter RPGs is still there and still a lot of fun.