Aftershock: Why Dragon Age 2 is a Bad JRPG
“Aftershock” is a recurring feature column on Game Front. We take games we’ve already reviewed, and give them a sober second look once the post-launch dust has settled.
I had a serious feeling of de ja vous while playing Dragon Age II. It felt like I had played this game before, and recently, too. Something about fighting endlessly repetitive battles while crawling through the same dungeons over and over again seemed familiar for some reason.
Oh, right, it’s just like every cheap JRPG ever made.
As part of My Year of JRPGs, I’ve mostly been playing the cheapies — this isn’t surprising as the majority of JRPGs need to be profitable with a small number of units sold, and so most of them are pretty cheap. And what I’ve found time and time again is that battles are mindless and very much not dynamic, and they’ll send you time and time again through a handful of dungeons, both in main story missions and side missions.
For a lot of these games, side missions would be indistinguishable from main story missions if the menus didn’t state which is which. With everything, these games are hella long, lasting as long as 100 hours, and rarely will you be able to finish one in under 50; this despite not one of these games having nearly enough real content to support that length.
The last two paragraphs describe Dragon Age II perfectly, although that isn’t all DA2 is. It’s also got that whole talking thing, which serves as the only part of the game that might be considered appealing. Might be.
I’m making this silly yet intensely appropriate comparison for two reasons: It was really weird to play this game during my brief break from JRPGs; and to highlight all the ways in which Dragon Age II is a horrible game.
I tried to like Dragon Age II. Hell, I expected to like it, seeing as I haven’t disliked any BioWare games yet, and so I had no reason to doubt the validity of Ross’ high grade or believe the internet haters. But it turned out that the haters were hating because it deserved the hate.
What, a game where there are only about 10 different areas to visit, and you’ll visit each place like eight dozen times? OK… But, then it feels like there are even fewer areas when you discover that this one cave is actually several different caves, and that every mansion in Kirkwall has the same layout. What’s this quest? Oh, go to this one place and fight some dudes, and then the quest will be done? Haven’t I done that quest 132 times already? Oh, those were all different quests. How many more of these are there? 500???
That’s Dragon Age II in a nutshell, but even that isn’t the worst thing about it. The worst thing about it is how it emulates cheap JRPGs in a way I haven’t discussed yet: bad writing. The game has no single story arc, it has the worst major character death scene you could imagine BioWare would write, and all the small-ish stories that make up the game are boring as s–t and full of whiny expository dialogue. Everybody complains about everything, even when they’re explaining a bunch of nonsense I don’t care about.
It’s one thing to be bad. It’s another thing to be bad-JRPG bad. And it’s a third thing to be BioWare, the best authors of RPG video games, and deliver a game that is bad-JRPG bad. And yet, somehow, that’s where we’re at right now. This really happened. Sigh.