Forgotten fantasy: after 11 years, Dragon’s Dogma makes an unlikely return

Director Hideaki Itsuno and producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi guide us through the rebirth of Capcom’s fantasy epic on PlayStation 5

Capcom has made some of the world’s most famous games, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing Dragon’s Dogma. While the house of Street Fighter shifts millions of games via the furious fists of Ryu and co, the shuffling undead of Resident Evil and beast-felling Monster Hunter, its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 medieval RPG simply came and went in 2012. Yet much like the heroes that Dragon’s Dogma depicted, over the years, this once underloved adventure’s stature only grew in legend.

This peculiar game saw players cast in the role of a chosen hero, pursuing an apocalypse-heralding dragon – accompanied by a little AI buddy that you designed yourself, known rather harshly as a Pawn. Dragon’s Dogma is one of the last decade’s best-kept gaming secrets, because what at first appears to be rather generic fantasy quickly reveals itself to be delightfully weird. Those who gave it a chance 11 years ago came away enraptured by its quirky charm. An expanded version, Dark Arisen, arrived in 2013, but the announcement of a full sequel was a very pleasant surprise for fans. Its creators are just as delighted that it’s happening.

“I think that Dragon’s Dogma stands out because it’s not just a game where you save a monster-infested world, but you actually change the destinies of the people living in it,” reflects director Hideaki Itsuno on the original’s enduring popularity. “This really makes the player feel like they are part of that world, and we’ve focused on that element in particular [for] Dragon’s Dogma 2.”

While open world games are ten a penny these days, 11 years on, Dragon’s Dogma is still Capcom’s only attempt at the genre. “It was our first attempt at an open-world style game and so we took on many challenges in developing it … and I think our efforts paid off … [it’s] become a beloved favourite for a lot of people.” says producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi.

Boasting a map that’s four times the size of the original’s fantasy world of Gransys, and promising to take advantage of modern consoles, what we know so far about the mystery-shrouded successor suggests the typical bigger-and-better approach to sequel craft. Yet in a post Zelda: Tears of The Kingdom and Elden Ring world, the bar for sprawling adventures has been substantially raised. Capcom’s solution is to double down on immersion, says Itsuno.

Better known as the director on gothic action games Devil May Cry 4 and 5, Itsuno has spent the decade between entries honing his craft: delivering best in class playable action. “I want to make a world and characters that feel completely real to the player,” he says. “To achieve this, I will be building on my experience with action games as well as our AI and physics technology, which will let players engage with convincing characters and monsters, all acting of their own accord,” he says.

Is he looking forward to returning to this complex genre after a decade making more linear action games? “To me, games are entertainment that allows one to experience a life different than one’s own. Within that idea, RPGs are perhaps the best kind of ‘other world simulator’, letting you create a version of yourself and explore a place completely different from the real world,” Itsuno says. “Dragon’s Dogma 2 is all about creating this kind of experience with the cutting-edge technology we have today. Adding in a world-class action game to that experience makes it even better!”

Dragon’s Dogma’s Pawns were always a crucial part of your quest: your permanent partner developed alongside you much in the way a human co-op buddy would. You could upload your Pawn for other players to download and adventure with, and download other people’s weird pals to fill out your team – for example, constructing a party of wizard and elven comrades styled after the various eras of David Bowie. It’s a bizarre mechanic on paper, but one that Dogma devotees will attest works in practice, mimicking the feel of an online multiplayer adventure with real people.

“This is a game you can play at your own pace and to your heart’s content without worrying about aligning schedules or getting a party group together,” Itsuno says. “That said, Dragon’s Dogma 2 still lets you feel like you’re in an adventuring party, as your Pawns join you on your journey and you build up experience together. Players get a taste of each other’s adventures through the medium of each other’s Pawns.”

Both open-world and fantasy in general have changed enormously since the first Dragon’s Dogma: when it came out, Game of Thrones had only just aired its first season. Can Capcom keep up? “Let’s just say that I think each player will have a different kind of discovery and surprise waiting for them as they play the game,” Itsuno says. “We’ve taken all the things that made the original Dragon’s Dogma special and brought them bang up to date using the latest technology, building on all of our experience gained in the interim decade.

“I’m happy I’ve finally got the chance to make the sequel I have had in mind all these years … The longer I’ve been in the industry, the more I realise how lucky I am to be able to make games I’m really passionate about.”

  • Dragon’s Dogma will be out on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X and PC; release date TBA

  • This article was amended on 3 August to correct Itsuno’s role on Devil May Cry, and reflect that the original Dragon’s Dogma was released on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Contributor

Tom Regan

The GuardianTramp

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