Despite some rather optimistic musing from Capcom about target sales figures, not many people had Dragon's Dogma as a high priority on their radars. With an art style that drew thoughts that it may be a simple cash-in on the success of Namco Bandai's Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, it wasn't ever considered as likely to make much of a splash. However, the team behind it managed to eke out a distinct place in the RPG spectrum with a combination of stellar gameplay and the interesting pawn system. That it managed to be among the more notable RPG experiences of the year means it receives the award for Biggest Surprise of the Year.
The biggest strength for Dragon's Dogma is its gameplay, and this is where it surpassed all expectations. Capcom's expertise from Devil May Cry and Resident Evil has been very well utilised to create an incredibly enjoyable real-time battle system that really comes into its own when taking on the game's bigger monsters. Players' ability to grab onto and climb around any large creature in order to better attack weak points or simply get out of the way of any particularly dangerous body parts creates some exciting and memorable encounters. The customisation options also provide a pleasantly surprising amount of depth. All shapes and sizes can be created in Dragon's Dogma's world and these attributes actually have an impact on gameplay where often these choices would be cosmetic only. Capcom even went so far as to provide a way to show off creations to the world and create a sense of community despite the single-player nature of the game by allowing created pawns to go off and join the party of players anywhere in the world.
There are times when gaming companies want to focus on bringing revolutionary ideas, and how otherwise gaming will just stagnate. Dragon's Dogma is a refreshing reminder that there is still no substitute for pure fun factor and that RPGs needn't baulk at taking inspiration from other genres at a time when "RPG aspects" are all the rage. There are still flaws, such as the unfriendly save system and rather lacking story, but the game has clearly been a big success with Capcom announcing its intention to turn it into a franchise, starting with the substantial Dark Arisen expansion to be released in April.
Pokémon Conquest and Silent Hill: Book of Memories both represent a play on expectations. When these titles were originally announced, gamers were excited at the prospect of playing a new Pokémon spin-off and handheld Silent Hill, but no one ever stopped to think about how the formula would be changed. When details were more plentiful and it was revealed that Pokémon Conquest would be a tactical RPG and Silent Hill: Book of Memories would be an isometric top-down dungeon crawler, there were fans of both franchises who assumed the worst. Thankfully, the changes made in both titles breathed life into otherwise stagnant series while paying respect to what made those franchises good in the first place. Truth, in time, tells all.
by Alex Fuller, Trent Seely