In recent years, Netflix has had some big video game adaptations with Castlevania, Dota, and The Witcher. Next to these behemoths, an adaptation of Dragon’s Dogma has felt like an odd choice. I am a big fan of the original video game, and hearing that it would get a Netflix adaptation had me worried. Due to hearing some mixed things about the show, I put off watching it until recently, after a year has passed since its release. My opinion is mixed at best, despite my already low expectations.
The series starts the same way as the game does: set in a fantasy land, a dragon steals the heart of the protagonist, making him the Arisen, who is destined to take revenge and claim back his heart. The Arisen is accompanied by an emotionless Pawn who serves their master. The main characters Ethan and Hannah act out these roles but are quite uninteresting aside from some oddly paced character development. The story here takes concepts and monsters from the game but the journey to the dragon is rather different. The tone is very dark, with deaths and betrayals happening constantly for shock value. There is sex, drugs, and most of all, violence, so viewer discretion is advised. I usually like dark shows, but in a short series such as this there is little to no emotional connection to anything happening, and the constant barrage of tragedy feels unnecessary and brainless. The ending is also mediocre, changing the most interesting parts of the game’s plot in favor of a more easily digestible finale suited for newcomers. Overall, the story and its characters are a bit boring, but also serviceable enough for what the series is trying to do in its short runtime.
Each of the seven short episodes revolves around a deadly sin. This is a weird choice and clumsily executed, and many events feel forced and surprising in a bad way, seemingly happening just to cater to the current theme. The short stories remind me of side quests from the game, though none of them are straight imitations. Each episode also introduces a boss monster that is familiar to players of the source material. I generally dislike monster-of-the-week type shows, but at least I got some joy in seeing familiar monsters get their time in the spotlight. The first and last episodes are the ones with the most effort and resources put into them, whereas the others are very uneven in quality, which can be seen in their stories, direction, animation, and episode length.
The show uses CGI (computer-generated imagery) instead of being hand-drawn, which I have always disliked. Here, character movement is janky and confusing at times. They can be seen facing the wrong way, with emotions uncannily portrayed in their faces. Luckily, at least the two main characters who get the most screen time look fine and animate nicely. I am also not a big fan of fight scenes, but they are the highlight of the series, much like the combat was a strong suit of the game. Portraying a giant monster’s movements from far away justifies the use of CGI, as it looks surprisingly fluid in motion. The battles do not always make much sense, but they can be enjoyed as dumb entertainment. The best thing about the show, the soundtrack that is very similar to that of the game, enhances the fights even more. Overall, in a surprising twist, the CGI fight scenes were the only moments I looked forward to in each episode.
My final judgment is that people should just play the game instead of watching the series. This is not a good showcase of the things Dragon’s Dogma can offer, and at worst it could turn potential players away. The game’s smooth gameplay and fantastic boss fights can clearly not be translated into a series. The direction and writing range from bad to mediocre, which is the biggest reason I cannot recommend the series. While it is not outrageously bad, it does feel like a waste of time.
Title: Dragon’s Dogma
Director: Shinya Sugai
Writer: Kurasumi Sunayama
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Available on: Netflix
Pictures: Screenshots from the show, taken by the author. Header from IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10011298/mediaviewer/rm151364353/
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