Last week, I talked about singular moments in video games and how, no matter what kind of game you’re playing, there is always the chance for you to engage with that game in a special way and have a totally unique experience. I ended by saying that I had a very vivid memory of a time I broke a game and found a moment that never really should have occurred. For those who have been waiting, here it is.
The memory that I have is of the time I tried and failed to romance a man in Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. I mention the subtitle because when this particular, singular instance occurred, I had been to Bitterblack Isle and picked up some new gear for my character, resulting in my assassin Arisen dressing up as the angsty cousin of Robin Hood.
Now, for those who are unfamiliar with Dragon’s Dogma, you need to understand that the romance system in this game is a little… broken. The game itself is a lot of fun to play, sporting a solid combat system that lets you climb on larger enemies as you attack them, and the ability to create a truly unique character thanks to the most sophisticated character creator I have ever seen. To counterbalance that, the storyline is amazingly generic, the fast-travel system could be much, much better, a lot of the female armor is… questionable at best. AND the romance system is broken. That’s the only way to describe it. As the player, you can romance pretty much everyone, which is interesting in and of itself, but how you go about it is very bizarre. You can romance people by completing their seemingly platonic quests, and no matter how many times you tell them it’s just a carving and you were only in it to unlock better swords and fancier cloaks, the shopkeeper will be head-over-heels for you. You can also romance people by showering them with gifts of dubious quality. You want to charm the woman hanging out in the sketchy abbey in the middle of the woods surrounded by goblins and a random chimera? Give her a bunch of sticks and you’ll eventually woo her. And finally, you can endear people to you just by talking to them. Which you need to do in order to do pretty much anything else in the game. Which also means you can land yourself a husband or a wife entirely by mistake.
I’m serious about that. By the time I put the game down, I had managed to collect a menagerie of amore consisting of five men and five women. I knew who all of the women were thanks to the game being skewed towards female romance options, but two of the five men were–and still are–a complete mystery to me.
I will never forget the man who got away, though.
Following my first play through of the game, I found myself dissatisfied with the love interest I had chosen to be The One. I’d gone through a very bizarre romance ritual, one that required me to kill him and then resurrect him from the dead, which caused him to fall in love with me.
You read that right.
Problem with this guy was that while he was one of the most attractive, scripted, male romance options in the game, he was also a total egoist, and even after I literally shot him full of arrows, stabbed him for good measure, and then wasted a precious item to bring him back to life, his zombie ass continued to be an arrogant jerk. So I left him to tend the fire and what I assume is a perpetually boiling pot of soup at home, set out across the total hellscape that was the post-game country, and kept my eye open for a new romantic prospect as I finished up some lingering quests.
This personal mission eventually brought me to a quarry that I had cleared of ogres earlier in the game. I was pleased to find that the workers had returned to the quarry and were bustling away, earning a living and contributing to society. Someone had made the intelligent decision to post guards throughout the quarry to watch over the workers and make sure no other creatures came wandering in and tried to eat anyone, as had happened last time. So, while jogging through this quarry, I happened to pass a guard that caught my fancy, and I decided to try to romance the man.
At this point, I should mention that in Dragon’s Dogma, you are given a party that travels with you. This system is pretty cool as the members of your party are all characters that other players from around the world have created (though you’ll get mixed results when it comes to maturity levels… proceed with caution). These people, called “pawns,” run around the world with you, helping you fight and carry your stuff. They often do things of their own accord, like pull levers to open doors or pick up items that you might find useful, along with items you might not find useful. Such as a large quantity of human skulls. Which is what my pawns had managed to collect. They ignored the healing items and went straight for the skulls.
I guess the game never promised an intelligent AI, but still. Nobody needs that many skulls. They just don’t. And WHERE did they even… You know what, that’s a question probably best left unanswered.
At any rate, after discovering that my pawns had been collecting human skulls, I decided to try to offload them on whatever poor sap I chose as my next romantic interest. So, upon finding this aesthetically pleasing man guarding the quarry workers, I decided to begin the intricate dance of the Dragon’s Dogma courtship.
By the flickering, golden torchlight of the quarry I had taken back for the workers, I began to gift human skulls to the guardsman. One. By. One.
Dragon’s Dogma does not allow you to gift multiple items at once. If you’re going to romance someone with gifts, then damn it, you are going to work for it. The romance blooms faster if you manage to gift the person an item that they like, but if not… Well, let’s just say I could hear the disgust in this man’s voice every time he said, “You needn’t have,” in response to my grisly gifts.
Since I was giving this man gifts that he did not like, I was taking the long road to his heart. And after about twenty minutes of gifting skulls to this man and getting grimaces in response, I was making progress. The little chime was sounding, he was blushing whenever I initiated a conversation, and that rosy pink aura signifying love was within my grasp. Unfortunately, this is when I made my fatal mistake.
The way you give gifts in Dragon’s Dogma, at least on the PS3, is by initiating a conversation by hitting the circle button, then hitting square to select the Give Gift option. Dragon’s Dogma, like most other PS3 games that incorporate a fighting element, also happens to have a melee button that you can use whenever you are not in a conversation. And that button, as in most other PS3 games, just happens to be the square button.
This was a very poor design choice, but I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.
Perhaps it was the excitement of locking in my new paramour that caused me to miss the crucial first step of conversing with my love interest. Or perhaps it was being so tired of going through the same mundane sequence required to shove a human skull into this poor man’s hands and demand his affection in return that resulted in my eyes glazing over and my thumb skipping past the circle button. Whatever the reason, maybe what happened next was inevitable, and alas, my romance with the unnamed guard was just not meant to be.
I hit the square button, and then watched in horror as my angsty Robin Hood of an Arisen drew her sword, and slashed the guard across the chest.
As in most games that incorporate a fighting element, there is no button for “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m SO SORRY!” As such, I watched helplessly as this man, now bleeding from the chest despite his hefty amount of armor, stumbled backwards, looked up at the woman who had just gifted him close to 100 human skulls before attacking him with a sword, and then made the second-most intelligent decision I have ever seen an NPC character make.
He turned and ran as fast as his legs would carry him.
I admit to not thinking clearly at this point. I had not just spent 20 minutes forcing skull after skull into the hands of an aesthetically pleasing man to be stuck with the zombie jackass I had left at home. So, without considering the consequences, I yelled, “Baby come back!” slammed my finger on the joystick, and sent my Arisen sprinting after him.
Remember how I said you get a party of pawns in this game? And how they follow you wherever you go, helping you as you complete quests and fight monsters? Yeah. So as I’m running after this bleeding, fleeing man, I, an angsty Robin Hood look-alike with a bow and quiver of arrows on my back and a Dragon Forged sword on my hip, am being closely followed by a much taller man in full body armor with a sword even bigger than he is strapped to his back, and two magic-channeling women in dark robes carrying massive sticks that shoot ice and electricity for no other reason than it looks cool. One of the quarry workers happens to look up at this point, and sees this horror show barreling towards him. He proceeds to make the most intelligent decision I have ever seen an NPC make: he drops his tools, jumps to his feet, and runs as far away from this mess as he possibly can.
Now I am chasing two men through the quarry. Since I have taken my pawns’ collection of skulls away from them in order to try to romance this guardsman, they are now all lighter than me, and are therefore faster. As such, when we come to a fork in the path, my pawns are just ahead of me, and must make a decision regarding which path they will take. They take the path on the right, choosing to pursue the innocent quarry worker who was just trying to nope his way back to the sunlight and the chance to hug his children again. Not being in a completely rational frame of mind, I scream, “Leave him! He’s not the one we want!” at the television, and charge down the left path, after the bleeding, fleeing guardsman.
Having been through this quarry before while on a mission to slaughter horny ogres (no, really, that’s actually what they are), I am very aware of the fact that the path that this bleeding, fleeing guardsman has chosen to take just happens to be a dead end. With this knowledge resting comfortably in my still-not-totally-rational mind, I am bent over the controller, urging my angsty Robin Hood Arisen onwards, breathing like Darth Vader and muttering, “I have you now.”
As we approach the solid wall of rock that makes up the dead end of this quarry path, it dully registers in my mind that this fleeing, bleeding man–who I just wanted to give skulls to so a dragon would kidnap him and I could save him so he’d willingly live in my house and cook me soup alongside my zombie jackass and whoever else I might manage to accidentally collect on my second play through–is not slowing down. He is charging headlong at this solid wall of granite, angsty Robin Hood hot on his heels. I guess he was carrying more skulls than me at this point so I was a tiny bit faster and able to gain ground on him. As we near the end of the path, he’s within arm’s length of my charging Arisen, and just as it occurs to me that I have no plan for when this man is forced to turn around and face me other than desperately trying to force another human skull upon him, the guardsman–through what I can only assume is the sheer force of his artificial willpower–glitches right through the wall.
This man was so desperate to get away from me, he broke the game’s code and Shadowcat-ed his way through a wall of granite.
I was so surprised that I failed to release the sprint button. My Arisen slammed into the wall, obeyed the code of the game as well as the laws of physics, and came to a grinding halt. As I stood there, staring at the spot where the guardsman had charged straight through stone, my pawns caught up, having given up the chase for the innocent quarry worker. They skidded to a halt around me, kicking up dust and very much not slamming into the wall. They looked at the wall, all turned simultaneously to face me, let a moment of silent judgement pass, then proceeded to turn and walk away like they had no intention of ever acknowledging this quarry chase ever again.
I went back to the quarry, after my second playthrough, hoping to find the aesthetically pleasing guard and make amends by offloading all of the rocks and branches my new party of pawns had collected (something about sticks and stones and sorry about your broken bones and the giant gash I left in your chest?) but alas, it was not to be. The quarry worker who had witnessed this spectacle had returned, as brave men and fools often do, and while he very pointedly ignored my gaze, my main pawn—the man with the giant sword strapped to his back—lingered to watch him work, as though yearning to relive the day he had run this man down. Choosing to ignore the predatory inclinations of the pawn I had personally created, I searched the entire quarry, checking and rechecking the guards, but the object of my affections and accidental violence was nowhere to be found.
And that’s the story of how I tried to romance an NPC, terrified him into breaking the laws of physics as well as erasing himself from the code of the game, and simultaneously had one of the most entertaining and horrifying experiences I have ever had while playing a video game.