I played Dragon’s Dogma shortly after the game came out, back in 2012 (has it really been that long already?). The gameplay was enjoyable, and the setting felt just right: dark, but not overly gritty, showing a world with little hope but without trying to shock the player or plunge them into the depths of despair.
And though I might have missed the initial news of Netflix preparing an animated adaptation, once I’ve learned about the project, I was, well, hopeful. My expectations weren’t particularly high: a decent show capturing the game’s best aspects would do. And now, over a week after the series’ release, I can’t get over my disappointment.
The promise of the first episode
At first, the show was promising. It followed closely the introduction from the game, where the main character confronts the dragon laying waste to the character’s village, becoming the Arisen—a person whose heart was stolen by a dragon. That alone made me overlooked the added drama of losing a pregnant wife and little brother to the said adversary.
I was also eagerly waiting how they would solve the matter of Pawns – in-game companions tied to their Arisen in a special way. Although initially, the show didn’t get into what they are, at least they tried to hint at some aspects of their personalities.
Sin of the Week
Sadly, after the first episode, the show took a sharp turn, straying from the story presented in the video game. Each subsequent episode felt like another showcase of one of the main monsters from it. Each episode is somewhat self-contained, with the side characters serving no other purpose than illustrating one of the seven mortal sins—each a theme to one episode, and the main characters being there solely to fight the monster.
Less than little story
The over-arcing story of the series could be summed up by one sentence: “The Arisen travels through monster-infested lands to find the dragon and get his revenge”. Not very enticing, is it?
The game itself had already been criticized for a lacking narrative, especially in comparison to such storytelling giants like the Elder Scrolls or Dragon Age series, but it did have a story complex enough. At the heart of it was a mysterious cult trying to bring forth the dragon and a sinister Duke who had his own secret tying him to the dragon, but there were also other stories tied in, adding more flavor to the world.
Netflix’s series trimmed the nonexistent fat, leaving bare bones… or even less. You will find no cult, no Duke, and none of the things that kept your attention in-game, and with the series being pretty much standalone, it hardly can be considered a base for the future.
All tell, no show
Despite the lackluster story, there was a concept behind it, so Netflix’s Dragon’s Dogma could have been a decent show. Except that execution lacked even more than the plot itself.
Almost every episode focusing on side characters, and many of them won’t reappear later. Thus they only have those pockets of time between action for development, and most of it is handled in a crude way. Dialogues feel artificially dramatic, and the characters themselves come across as nearly grotesque in their depiction of the sin being the theme of each episode. A lot of the backstory necessary for development or justification of the characters’ actions is handled in info dump dialogues, so their sudden shifts in behavior or moments of being pushed over the mental edge look unrealistic and frustrating.
The main character suffers from the same problem. Being there only to slay a monster and having no other drive than “I’ll kill the dragon”, he displays no growth nor change. Sure, the two side characters who reappear in another episode announce “You’ve changed”, but the audience gets to see neither the process of the change nor the process. Since the main character never reflects on previous or even current events, we are forced to believe that they affected him… somehow.
I mentioned the concept behind the story which the series creators decided to tell, and it’s a decent one. Even though it doesn’t stay true to what the game says about the link between the Arisen and the dragon, it’s interesting and echoes the game’s looped concept.
Unfortunately, as with everything else in the series, it’s not deepened enough, and instead of being thought-provoking, it becomes laughable.
In one of the scenes in the final episode, the dragon explains that it doesn’t consider itself evil as killing is in its nature and it is simply following it… except that just a few moments the same dragon was shunning humans who succumb to their instincts, giving in to lust, greed and other sins—thus following a side of their nature as well. So instead of philosophical depth, we get a pot calling the kettle black, as if no one in the creative team had time to think the idea through because they were too busy making sure the final battle matches the in-game sequence.
Any redeeming qualities?
Sadly, the animation doesn’t make up for other lacks. A mix of traditional and computer graphic, it doesn’t mesh the two well, and the 3D monsters the series focuses on showcasing look less real instead of more when set against the flat graphics of the characters and everything else. Even music seems unmemorable, which is a step down from the excellent music score the game had.
But despite all my complaints, the show isn’t a horrible mess. It’s just a flat “monster of the week” setup that you can watch in the background, without having to pay much attention to it. You won’t miss any cues or character development anyway. And as sad, as it is, the best of all of Netflix’s Dragon’s Dogma is the opening sentence—I watched it several times instead of skipping and paid more attention to it than to the episodes themselves.