Capcom is probably most famous for franchises like Street Fighter and Resident Evil, but in Japan their main cash cow is Monster Hunter: the co-op multiplayer action RPG dominates Japanese sales charts, selling well into the millions of units with every single iterative release, and it wouldn’t be unfair to credit Monster Hunter with the popularity of the PSP in Japan… But while Monster Hunter is big business in Capcom’s home territory, it maintains, at best, a cult following in the US. The PSP entries in the series never managed to turn a profit in America, and while the Wii release of Monster Hunter Tri strangely sold slightly better in the US, the game remains a niche product in the West. Capcom is hoping to change that with their newest game, Dragon’s Dogma.
While Dragon’s Dogma isn’t part of the Monster Hunter series in name, it is Capcom’s attempt at reworking MH into something more palatable for Western audiences. The anime-influenced fantasy/prehistoric aesthetic of Monster Hunter is replaced by a more Tolkien-esque high fantasy setting, and Monster Hunter’s infamously complicated controls and mechanics have been simplified into something a little more accessible. Capcom is also promising that Dragon’s Dogma’s setting is an one massive, open world, rather than MH’s mission-based hub set-up. Furthermore, one of DD’s unique traits is the ability to climb and scale monsters, Shadow of the Colossus style, something which you’ve never been able to do in Monster Hunter.
Despite the changes, the core aspect of the game still revolves around teaming up with 3 of your friends (or AI partners, called Pawns in the game, if you’re playing solo,) and hunting massive boss monsters. Like in Monster Hunter, the bosses are absolutely gigantic, and battles against them are long, drawn-out, tense affairs, but unlike Monster Hunter, there’s a lot less minutiae to micromanage: you don’t need to worry about things like weapon sharpness or stamina, and that lends Dragon’s Dogma a far more simple, arcadey feel. MH fanboys will likely miss some of the depth in combat that’s missing here, but Dragon’s Dogma is still far from a casual game, as timing and reflexes are still definitely important, and the demo I played still had Monster Hunter’s trademark high level of challenge intact.
While I enjoyed the demo, it remains to be seen whether Dragon’s Dogma will be able to recreate the addictive qualities that made Monster Hunter so great: the big draw of MH was always in how you’d customize your character slowly and gradually over time, getting stronger with every mission and eventually having a custom character that was pretty bad-ass, and that’s not the type of thing you can convey in a quick E3 demo. But at the very least, Capcom has shown that Dragon’s Dogma at least manages to recapture the scale and intensity of Monster Hunter’s best boss battles, and for many, that alone may be enough to warrant a purchase. We’ll find out for sure when Dragon’s Dogma is released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 early next year.