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Dragon's Dogma takes Capcom into triple-A RPG combat

Capcom's Dragon's Dogma is to take the company into the brutally competitive world of the big budget RPG. We got a first look at Captivate in Miami earlier this month.

A heartless hero and a meddling dragon

The game begins with a dragon attacking villages and cities. Mr Lizard hasn't been seen in decades and no one knows why it's appeared. You, as the protagonist, have been chosen by the dragon, and the monster literally captures your heart. You're still alive, and can now hear the dragon's thoughts.

“If you want to get your heart back, you come to me," the fire breathing behemoth tells you, so off you go on a quest to retrieve your organ and find out exactly what the Sam Hell is going on.

During what looks to be a long quest, you'll hear the dragon's thoughts and teachings (dogma) and eventually figure out your destiny.

While the premise of the story sounds both strange and typical fantasy fare, it's a game that director Hideaki Itsuno has wanted to create since he was around 12 years old.

"I don't know if you can tell, but I am really excited about this game, because I have been dreaming of making this game since junior high school," he said. "This is the type of action game I have always wanted to make. We finally have the technology and now I finally have the staff to finally be able to make it.

"All the pros who have worked on our action games at Capcom are working on this.

“When I was in junior high school, I was really taken with The Lord of the Rings; I am sure it really influenced the look and feel of this game. But the typical creatures from your usual fantasy sagas - like Greek mythology - were influences as well. What you expect from a fantasy setting, you'll see lots of those types of creatures in the game."

“This is a sword and sorcery game set in a fantasy setting, and what we have done is create an open world for you to explore and have many adventures," added Kobayahsi.

“As you play the game, you will find out why the dragon has come back, why the dragon is here and why he took the protagonist's heart.

“'Dogma' could mean teachings, and this is what the dragon is doing. He's teaching what his thoughts are, and you as a player need to discover why he's telling you these things.”

A total departure from Devil May Cry and Resident Evil

You may be wondering how a development duo known for action series like Devil May Cry and Resident Evil would become interested in creating a medieval style fantasy game. In fact, Dragon's Dogma is not really that much of a leap for either Itsuno or Kobayashi.

"The main idea of this game was to create a large, expansive world where the player can go on adventures and be engaged in all the action that you would expect from a good adventure game," said producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi.

“We both worked on DMC together. When Itsuno presented this idea to me I thought he was joking at first, because it was completely different than anything we had been doing together. But I could see the passion in his eyes, and he was really excited about it and really wanted to make it, so I said: 'Alright, let's do this.'

"We are making the greatest action game ever. We're really excited about it.”

Battle with the pawns

While the game comes off as an expansive single-player affair, players will not be alone: three companions will be traveling along. When in battle, you have up to three "pawns" available in your party. These AI controlled characters can take commands such as "come," "go," and "help".

Pawns appear to have decent AI. They give you tips during combat, such as more effective weapons or actions, or weak points on a boss.

Whether your aides can be controlled by friends over XBL or PSN has yet to be determined by Capcom, but there are multiplayer plans in the works - but the team's saying nothing on that yet.

Watch on YouTube

The Captivate reveal trailer.

“Once you've customized your character, that character will be with you throughout the game," explained Itsuno. "As far as multiplayer is concerned, we are trying to work on a new system, and will be making announcements regarding that in the future.

“What we really like about the game is that these AI characters are fully-voiced. They will communicate with you through voice, and with instructions and such. If you also want, you can also turn on the text box so you can read what they are saying."

Key moments will appear during battle, such as a pawn needing help. The camera will automatically change focus on the stricken party member as a signal.

There are three classes on offer. The demonstration we saw in Miami showed the Strider class, which is similar to the Ranger class you're probably familiar with. He has two types of weapons: two daggers for melee, and the bow for ranged attacks. The Strider class was called “the most balanced” of the three classes and the one people will wish to choose if they want to just get into the game and start fighting right away.

Fighter and Mage are the other two classes. The three pawns in the group shown during the main battle demonstration was made up of another Strider, a Mage and a Fighter.

The Mage doesn't have magic points. If you want to use a very powerful spell, you just have to make your Mage chant longer. Shorter spells will have smaller chants.

“We want to make sure that this is an action game, and that it's realistic action,” said Itsuno. “So we gave the Mage a chant-based system instead of a points-based system.”

The Mage can regenerate the health of your party, so if you happen to see him cast a green circle upon the ground, go stand in it to regenerate. This class can also use elemental spells, and can infuse weapons with these powers by chanting.

"The way it works with the pawn system, is when you add those people to the party, it mainly effects how you fight in the game and how you beat enemies," said Kobayashi. "In the greater scheme of things, yes it they will affect the story in main parts, but the main way it works with them is how you fight.

“The pawns themselves pass information to you during the battle, and that will make you make the decisions on how you wish to play. So the focus is on you, and you control them. If you are in the middle of a fight, sometimes you might decide that the pawn you have isn't good enough and you may want to replace it."

There are some encounters in the game where you might not have the appropriate party for that type of boss, and you will want to go and find other pawns that will be more useful in the fight.

You can also solo. If all of your pawns die in battle you can just go and do what you want on your own, but the game's been designed for the lead character and at least one pawn.

You will be able to upgrade your character by getting different weapons and better armor, and you'll be able to stat-up. You can also upgrade your pawns. The way you upgrade everyone in the group will ultimately affect the party as a unit.

Battling the Gryphon

“One of the things we are proud of is the grab technique," said Itsuno.

With grab, you can pick up smaller enemies to carry and throw. You can also use the grab attack on the larger enemies, like the Gryphon. This allows you to grab on any body part and climb around him, looking for weak points.

“A lot of action games with big boss fights only let you attack a certain part of the boss,” said Itsuno. “Usually it's the shins or ankles, or something like that. We want to give you a full, realistic, 3D experience so that when the big bosses come out, if you can grab on to them, you can attack it anywhere you want and how you want. It's all up to you. We want to give the player freedom when fighting a boss.

"You can play this game as a straight-up action game and go from start to finish: it will be around 30 hours, the length people would expect for a solid, full-tilt action game."

“We worked really hard on these graphics so that when you fight, it really feels like you are there,” said Itsuno. “And its not just the graphics were worked really hard on, but also the player's actions and the way they move and interact with the game. We tried to make all of that as realistic as possible.

"It's not just the enemies which interact with you realistically, it's also the members of your party. Capcom is known for its action games, and now, we are taking all that action experience and pouring it into this title."

The world

Itsuno admitted that creating an open world game was “a challenge for Capcom,” because it usually doesn't develop games of this nature. He went on to explain, pointing at some distant mountains on the screen, that you can explore anywhere you can see.

“Say, for instance, you see off in the distance some creature attacking people and you are thinking about helping them – you can,” said Itsuno. “You can actually go off into the distance and fight that creature. It may even actually be bigger that you thought it was at first, too.”

One of the main cities in the game was also shown, and it was large. There will be quite a few cities ranging in size, but for the demonstration we were shown one of the biggest.

This city has over 200 NPCs “living” in it, all fully-voiced by 70-80 different actors, and each with its own time-cycle. Each goes about its daily life on a 24-hour clock, and when you interact with them at different points in the day they'll be doing different things.

To a point, you will also be able to customize the types of NPCs you see in the world, and the kinds you wish to encounter you can make inhabit a certain city.

When you are roaming about town, you'l be able to purchase weapons from merchants, revive your party, and also add or subtract members of your group. If you see a fellow who looks as through he would be a good pawn to have in your party, you can add them.

The way you interact with people in the city, just from simple things like item exchanges or goods they give you, or even the way you treat them, can have an affect on the story later on in the game.

We saw different areas within the city: the lower class area, the upper class section, and the fortress in the middle where the king resides. Players will also be able to pick up quests while visiting a town.

The main game itself appears to be substantial, and will include a lot of major quests. There'll also be many side-quests.

“You can play this game as a straight-up action game and go from start to finish: it will be around 30 hours, the length people would expect for a solid, full-tilt action game," said Kobayshi.

"But if you want to explore everything in the game – all the side quests and all these areas you can see to explore – you can up that to as long as you want.”

Itsuno said that two minutes in real-time equals about one hour in the game world, which has a 24-hour clock. Inside the city, we were shown just how dark it can get, even in inhabited areas, so your trusty lantern will come in handy. Plus, according to Itsuno, it can get a bit "scary" when night falls.

The game's clock isn't just for the sake of prettiness: at different times of day, different creatures come out. This provides the player with different quests, and so on.

"We are making the greatest action game ever. We're really excited about it.”

Whether fighting it out with a Gryphon or interacting with NPCs, there are going to be a lot of decisions you can make during your time in the world, and those decisions will have an effect on later elements in the game. And, yes, there'll be different endings.

The pesky Hydra

The final scene shown to us during the demo was a boss battle with a Hydra. Different moves cut off its head, but the dratted things grow back. You'll need to be cunning.

“The Hydra's favorite food happens to be humans, so you will see him eating people around him as you fight,” said Itsuno. “When a human gets swallowed by a Hydra, there are ways to rescue that person, but you will need to figure out how. Also, there are ways to stop the heads from regenerating, but how you do it is up to you.

"How you fight, your playstyle, however you want to do it: there's no set way to beat the thing."

Dragon's Dogma releases for PS3 and Xbox 360 in early 2012.

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