CAPCOM.  Whilst enjoying Dragon’s Dogma, that’s the word to hold onto.  CAP.  COM.  Now don’t forget it.  Okay?  It’ll crop up again later.  Promise. Initially that’s precisely what I did.  Forgot CAPCOM.  And it almost spoiled what turned out to be a wickedly enjoyable game.  Read on, brave adventurer, if you dare…

Boasting a name like “Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen”, a game is bound to carry a certain amount of, well, baggage with it.  Dragons?  Overripe evil?  Some kind of awakening, perhaps?  On all three counts you would be absolutely right.  From this sturdy foundation it’s tempting to extrapolate, to try your hand at predicting what other staples of the RPG genre might also be making an appearance.  Go on, give it a try.  I’ll give you a little hint:  All of them.

This is a game constructed entirely of tropes.  The first half hour in front of the monitor is spent with face in hands, groaning inwardly as you check them off one by one.  The opening scene involves your sleepy little village being attacked by an Oh No, A Surprise Dragon Whose Voice Only You Can Hear.  From this point onwards even the most slow-witted of readers would be able to make a pretty good guess at the next half dozen or so howlers.

Does it have, for instance, bizarre and stilted dialogue?  Yes, in spadefuls.  Mown wholesale from the kinds of fantasy novels that bear cover art that only Saddam Hussein could love.  The sort that usually end up being finished hurriedly and guiltily like an entire family bag of Haribo, and then relegated swiftly to the bottom shelf of the local charity shop lest a visitor to your home unwittingly sees the evidence.  Bringing the dripping fruits of these bewildered authors’ prose to life is tackled with gusto and a miraculously straight face by the many members of the Dick Van Dyke School of People Trying to Sound English.  To hear them gamely churning out hackneyed dialogue whose inanity rarely leaves the realm of the hilarious is simply heartwarming.  “Valour”.  “Harbinger”.  “O Arisen One”.  Priceless stuff, just priceless.

Does it have Quests too?  Yes.  Oh yes.  Go fetch some healing herbs from some dark forest; escort what’s-her-name to the castle; kill the mysterious creature in the well.  Need I go on?  A lot of it is a dangerously narrow and rickety step away from “Clean my windows, feed my dog, mow my lawn brave adventurer.”  There’s a lot of filler and meaningless claptrap that everybody except the most green and novice of gamers will take one look at and avoid like trench foot.

Surprisingly this morass of tried and tested cliché never manages to depress, confound or infuriate the player.  Instead its familiarity is more the familiarity of your old warm coat than, say, the sour reek of yet another sticky nightclub floor.  Even more surprising is that despite showing off nothing new, the game is really quite good.  The geography is engaging.  The combat is refreshingly frantic.  The plot is simple and linear and directed by the game, not the player.  It’s sweet like cider, not like honey.

And suddenly it all makes sense.  Remember?  CAPCOM!  This is a game both designed and published by the worthies who brought us practically every arcade classic of the past two decades.  Games that are as big on button-mashing and manga hair as they are small on introspection and pointless distraction.

Viewed from this new angle, what previously seemed to be liabilities now become assets.  It’s not a half-arsed, failed shot at aping Skyrim; instead it’s Golden Axe dragged into the 21st century and fed with steroids.  It’s straightforward and two-dimensional because it’s supposed to be.  The plot, the landscape and its denizens are trite and reductionist because they’re supposed to be.  You’re supposed to beat them up, not try and make friends with them.  Freed from the heavy expectations of almost every other modern RPG, it’s immense fun. 

There are also a handful of other neat features that raise it in my estimation.  It’s a PC port of a three year old console game, which means system requirements are very light.  The gameplay is a healthy challenge.  It’s good value for money.  All in all it’s such a charming and engaging piece of work that as soon as I’ve wrapped this review up I’ll be straight back on it.  So farewell.