Dark Arisen Review: Yay Dragons again!

   With the release of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen we see a little deeper into the growth of console RPGs. So I intended to continue this review a while ago, I moved to playing another game: Atlus’ PS2 game Persona 3: FES. This game had been on my Sunday playlist for several months, and in a few weeks I finally finished the experience. That lead to me hitting up Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and finally the last 2 days where I’ve been playing Vagrant Story. Long story short, I now think Dark Arisen needs to be appreciated in terms of where console RPGs are.

One merely has to look at TV Tropes laundry list of “Console RPG Tropes” that there is definitely a history here that should be appreciated, and much of it comes from Japan. With Japan not quite getting anything similar to a gaming PC revolution, more a retro move towards handhelds, their developers were not afraid of creating primarily for consoles. While the current state of the nations developer population might be questioned their past is not. And in my estimation progression of the system is really key to this history.

Dark Arisen is a pocket of energy. Good, bad, Dragon’s Dogma was definitely a mix of fun combat and repetitive backtracking/dull storytelling. Dark Arisen is more focused by leagues. While the story behind Dogma seems to be that development realities only allowed a portion of the planned game to materialize. However, Dark Arisen actually used a stripped down experience to accentuate the experience. Using text to get atmospheric stories of pawns and arisen from the past, all called to the dungeon and finding themselves trapped on this evil island.

I guess I jumped past a few facts. Dark Arisen, the re-release of Dragon’s Dogma with a new dungeon is Capcom going back t the console RPG space. The game is unique, in that the new content isn’t really useful until you’ve leveled your character up enough in the original content. That original content so polarized people that it instilled a strong fan-base. Those that could play past the main quest and its fairly cliché sequences were able to open up the final dungeon and when the awesome monster fights were now constructed one after another the game created a unique tension and challenge most games inhabiting this sector, or genre, couldn’t match. This particular aspect is what fans demanded, and Capcom’s Dark Arisen is the answer.

With a dark sense to the new landscape new gear also arrives. While the addition of new skills was in reality just skill rings, the new weapons and armors continue the issue of power-creep in late game RPGs. The real problem with the original game was that eventually everyone leveled past any difficulty. Even with the new content’s inherent difficulty once I finished my first run through the dungeon’s 3rd stratum I didn’t have any problem progressing through all 3 stratum a second time. The new weapons and armor are all way more powerful than what the game had in before. While all the games gear has the same upgrade balancing, the better gear always requires more rare items from more dangerous areas with the new additions requiring players attempt many kills of the most powerful enemies in all of the game, the very act of getting the upgrade materials will level your characters up.

Granted, I like the ease to which players can advance with the new content. Where the original game would have players going on 20 minute hikes across the entirety of Gransys looking for a particular creature, like a dragon, the new content just introduces dangerous enemies randomly. The idea is that the air is heavy and monsters can smell the blood from fresh kills, but the reality is every kill slowly changes the probability that a monster appears. If one wants to just run past the enemies if the spawns are causing trouble.

The game, while not perfect, is an attempt to draw some fresh blood, see what I did there, into the console RPG scene. While many developers are attempting to create bigger worlds this team has instead focused on going deeper, creating an environment that requires players to explore and adapt to the subtleties inherent within the combat system. With this release I hope this team has cemented how to leverage environments to test mechanics because any further releases could surely be impressive. Lets just hope along the way their storytelling grows some too.  

Lead up to Dark Arisen

So I picked up Dark Arisen, the re-release of Dragon’s Dogma.  I wanted to try it out, but I didn’t use my old system-so no save data.  That means no infinite ferrystones-not as big a deal now that they’re 900 caps, but still, I had to start at the beginning.  

I’ve never really pushed myself this hard to get a playthrough of a game in, I had to really try to get to a decent level to take on the new content. Basically they “listened” to fan feedback and created new content for later in the experience.  One of the games core issues is that

the game isn’t set up really well for getting higher leveled characters.  What most people found playing this game is that if you made it through the vapid and poorly written main questline you had a chance to say “screw the pleasantries” and engage in really genuinely fun combat that was challenging in a portion of the game called the everfall-only open “post-game”.  

 

What happens is, once you actually choose to jump through to the next playthrough the enemies are still as difficult as the first time.  No bump in damage, no higher defensive stats-just killing wolves instead of hellhounds.  Good move if you are moving from a powerful and methodically crafted warrior into a magic class without any stats yet, bad for people who have built up their characters at all.  The new game plus spectrum is a serious let-down.  Though the main-quest was always a chore, with the plus that any gear you wear through the final dragon battle would become upgraded to the highest tier-Dragonforged.

Yeah, a lot of effort for that free gear.  So they made something to do while finishing your chores, a difficult dungeon filled with randomness and exceptional gear to roam ad infinitum while finishing any new playthroughs.  

I pushed myself to finish the main quest, quite early I thought, but still a bore-espescialy so when there isn’t any “wonder” in the situation.  One of the reasons this game reviewed so poorly was what it looked like.  It appeared to be an open world RPG on par with what many western developers have begun to create, like Bioware or Bethesda.  In reality the open world was just to make the battles free range.  In an attempt to ‘out Dark Souls Dark Souls’ the developers created a larger world with trappings like relationships and side-quests, all while forgetting to express the dungeon crawl mentality behind it all.  And to top it off the game was cheap.  What probably should have been a larger world, with more interesting quests and more dungeons to explore was often going back to the same places for a new quest.  Exploring lost it’s umph once a gamer realized there would always be a chimera here, a cyclops there, the randomness only felt like it because some monsters moved based on your quest progression.

Replaying the game this has been really apparent.  It’s kind of sad, a unique game so completely hampered, likely they didn’t really intend to create the end product but changes had to go in.  I don’t know, but one thing I found out is that a huge amount of quests, or side-quests I should say, are able to be bugged.  It never happened to me before, probably because I was attempting to do some of them, but if you skip a couple you won’t be able to do a lot of the quests later in the game.  

Not a bother now that there’s Bitterblack Isle.  This is the chance for the development team to do a dungeon crawling homage, this time with actual random battles, less rote story, and even less art assets somehow.  The modular level design is unique in it’s ability for gamers to feel like they know the best way to deal with a situation.  Considering that this area will be just like a previous one you can do things like scope out the situation stealthily even on your first attempt.  Unless your pawns get their own idea.

Yes, the big “advancement” of the game really falls on it’s face in this expansion.  The pawn AI, the characters who you create, choose a class and skills/spells, and loan out/rent from friends, that AI has real problems with this new content.  Being that the new content has new monsters a huge amount of people whose pawns you pick up don’t have the content, so they haven’t “learned” anything about the new monsters.  This means they choose less than ideal tactics constantly, all the while spouting off about aught and naught, et al.  

Whoever decided on this voice acting direction is just a bad person.

While the new content is difficult, it’s the pawns that give you a huge headache.  Unless they are just uber-powerful it’s quite difficult to keep them from killing you.  They don’t work well with the new smaller environs, and when they start dropping you constantly find yourself trying to keep everyone from dying.  The idea that only the main character can revive the fallen AI allies makes less sense in this dungeon than ever.  

As well the “new skills” are actually rings.  Randomly generated rings, so if the skill you want doesn’t come up you can’t use it, and often you have to choose between one skill or another at the cost of lowered debilitation resistance.  And whoever decided that debilitations or status ailments should be such a big part of the game should have made a few quests detailing the way to deal with this stuff.  I have, from my last playthrough, found so much of my carry weight comprised of medicine to heal one debilitation or another I barely have the average weight limit.  

While the new gear does fundamentally change how people play, where you used to need to balance what classes you played as to have decent health and stamina, or health and magic, you can now(if you get the right rings/armors) just push for what you wanted in the first place be it huge stamina and attack or health and defense…But this is all super random.

While people perfected finding the right box to get their “loot” in the Everfall dungeons last year, now your items are vouchers.  Cursed loot needing to be purified at the start of the dungeon, so get your items however and reconvene with Orla to purify your gear and possibly get that ring, that sword that allows you to deal without he new super damaging enemies.

The first breakthrough for me was that you should probably not kill every enemy.  For one thing I was too low level to kill many enemies when I first entered, but after several encounters with Elder Ogres I can say that I can’t beat the things and they only show up if I have a pile of corpses around.  That’s another element of this dungeons randomness, every corpse raises the odds that a powerful enemy will spawn.  So, it took me a while to realize that this ogre that was grinding my gears wasn’t a permanent part of the level, he just showed up because I killed some enemies I should have ran past. 

For the long term players, the level 120s or 180s, this isn’t a problem, in fact it’s music to their ears considering the ONE SAVE FILE POLICY.  Yeah, they haven’t been able to enjoy a challenge, outside of the original games online boss, for a long time.  Considering a new game would mean no playing around with all the gear they had found it would be a huge waste.  

So, while I have’n finished the title, I can say it is a unique venture.  Shining light on the pawns means the stress and wear of the system shows.  Expanding the difficulty means there is a long time new players have to play before the new content is available, and many early adopters still won’t find it as challenging as expected.  The new skills and gear aren’t what they seemed, but it’s Capcom, so…

Capcom took a unique venture with this game, and pushing out this new content means they must have future plans regarding role playing.  Or that they wanted to turn a planned sequel into a re-release and give up.  But based on the PS4 demo titled “Deep Down” with a dungeon crawl motif I feel they want to continue down this path, whatever the obstacles may be.