Games

‘Dragon’s Dogma’ and the Curse of Bitterblack Isle

Since time immemorial, boss battles have been a vital part of video games. A challenging adversary at the heart of a dungeon or the end of a section became the staple of most game genres, with RPGs and other story-driven titles leading the charge. Throughout the years, gamers got to experience a pantheon of memorable boss battles, but few games were as ingenious as Dragon’s Dogma.

From the mind of Hideaki Itsuno (known mostly for Devil May Cry 2, 3, and 4), Dragon’s Dogma is a fast paced action RPG highly praised for its dynamic combat and overly criticized for a poor world design, washed-out graphics, and loose storyline. The project was something Itsuno wanted to work on for years, but the technology necessary to fully realize his vision didn’t exist until the seventh generation of consoles came around.

Unaware newcomers will be welcomed to a limited fauna as well as chimeras, cyclops, and griffins, which provide great a challenge early on. These encounters are awfully common around the world of Gransys and become potentially terrifying as the main objective presented in the beginning of the Arisen’s journey is fulfilled. As the dragon falls, the scenery changes and all sorts of nefarious fiends prowl the vast plains and thick forests of this cursed world, from hell hounds and gargoyles to the stronger gorechimeras. Dragon’s Dogma‘s post-game is refreshing when compared to other RPGs, but it’s not the only thing the title has to offer.

Developed and published by Capcom, the game comes with an expanded version dubbed Dark Arisen. This version (released for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in 2013 and later in 2016 for Microsoft Windows) includes the DLCs available for the original release as well as a new area, the mysterious and alluring Bitterblack Isle. These ruins, a place forgotten by time, are where Dragon’s Dogma‘s mechanics and designs truly shine as the claustrophobic hallways and expansive courtyards are inhabited by dangerous enemies.

Dragon's Dogma

Cursed halls

Located near the shores of Southern Gransys, Bitterblack Isle is a massive dungeon comprising several floors. Newcomers may first perceive it as an unworthy short DLC-like adventure, but it doesn’t take long until the scope of the place becomes clearer.

The ruins consist mostly of a grid of narrow corridors and vast courtyards. While designs are often repeated, they all have subtle differences that make each floor unique and easily recognizable. The isle’s inner halls present the sort of asset limitations and creativity lacking in Gransys’s overworld, where bigger areas feel linear most of the time.

It’s dangerous to go alone

The architecture and loot are not the main attractions to be found in Bitterblack Isle, however. The extra scenario puts an added focus on Dragon’s Dogma‘s combat by throwing players at increasingly dangerous enemies. The earlier levels may seem easy enough, but it doesn’t take too long until there’s a gap between player skill and the character stats recommended to advance.

Instead of scaling to the character’s stats, sections of the isle are optimized for certain level ranges with lower floors becoming deadlier the weaker the Arisen is. In some cases, the blow of a seemingly ordinary foe or the regular attack of a mage can nearly kill an unprepared player. It’s a place meant for multiple visits throughout the course of the Arisen’s journey or a continuous run once they feel strong enough.

Dragon's Dogma
An eliminator and an elder ogre ready for supper.

Bitterblack Isle becomes available from the start of the game, but visiting it then is a risk as its halls are crawling with elder ogres, garms, eliminators, and other such fiends. Elder ogres and garms, in particular, are attracted to the stench of death and decay, so the more enemies defeated in a determined area, the higher the chances an eerie rift will let out one of the former or a pack of the latter.

These encounters can easily be described as mini-boss battles and they’re far more common than cyclops and chimeras across Gransys. On top of that, specific rooms house actual bosses such as the Gazer, the Dark Bishop, and the Living Armor, all of which amount to memorable fights where the game’s dynamic combat shines even brighter.

Until Death do us part

All these possible boss encounters only become scarier at the sight of a towering cloaked figure bearing an enormous scythe and a ghostly lantern. The Death lurking around Bitterblack isle is an accurate depiction of out own Grim Reaper, albeit creepier.

On the Arisen’s first trek through the ruins, Death appears at specific points and provides a tricky challenge that will most likely result in the temporary loss of pawns. With several health bars, this foe can put its enemies to sleep and land a killing blow with its scythe. Its abilities are also effective against the isle’s inhabitants, being a viable and dangerous strategy against tough enemies.

Defeating Death requires careful prevention and multiple encounters. Despite the greater dangers, accomplishing such a task becomes easier after the final boss of Bitterblack Isle is defeated as Death will appear more often.

Dark Arisen

Bitterblack Isle tells a sad story that sheds some light on the affairs of Arisen and pawns. What transpired before the player character arrived raises questions regarding the role of humans and myrmidons and just how much different those born from the rift are from mortals. The end of the base game is confusing enough to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, but the storyline in the isle helps explain it.

Needless to say, the last boss is directly tied to the events. The demon Daimon gives further meaning to the story and, on top of that, provides one of the best boss battles in the entire game. His speed demands quick thinking as his skills can overwhelm those too slow or squishy to sustain his blows. It can be a difficult or entertaining fight depending on the character stats, gear, and the player’s skill.

Dragon's Dogma
Daimon in his first form.

Defeating Daimon for the first time concludes Dark Arisen, but much like the base game holds a surprise after the credits: Bitterblack Isle becomes more interesting. There’s no drastic change in scenery, but the upper levels of the labyrinth will be home to foes often found deeper within. Additional mini-bosses such as gorechimeras and drakes will also make an appearance and, as mentioned, Death may spawn at random. Finally, in great Final Fantasy fashion, Daimon makes a comeback with a second phase, delivering a more challenging fight with greater rewards.

With the video game industry leaning toward generic titles with predictable plots and enemy encounters, the way Dragon’s Dogma handles its battles is refreshing—although it’s nearly five years old by now. Be it the fearsome creatures roaming Gransys or the occult dangers of Bitterblack Isle, Dark Arisen is a title for RPG fans and those looking for memorable boss battles should experience it at least once.

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