header is screenshot from Dragon's Dogma 2
The Pawn
Kazuma Hashimoto

I sit in the Dragon’s Dogma II character creator for an hour. I mull over hairstyles and facial hair. I turn my character from right to left and back again as I examine his nose, the shape of his brow, the curve of his lips. Once I am satisfied I move onto the second character creator, as Dragon’s Dogma II has you create your very own companion: your Pawn. This is not unique to the series, as the system existed within the first installment of the game, and is something particularly daunting to players that are already overwhelmed with creating their own player character. The Pawn is presented as an accessory character of sorts. They are a party member created by you, for you. And with that in mind I dive into the character creator for the second time, mulling over what I want to make.

I know I want to make someone that can carry a greatsword. I want a tank, someone to protect me as I run through the game for review. Magic is powerful, so I know I will play a mage and I want something to balance that out. I decide he will be a warrior. So I make him tall and broad, since he will also be shouldering the burden of carrying camping equipment and reagents for crafting. I make his skin smooth, I give him a head of wavy hair that falls over his forehead, parting slightly in the middle. He has a perfectly trimmed mustache.

He looks like Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina

I am not aware of it until I am in a call with a friend who points it out. “He looks like Count Vronsky,” they say and I can feel my face flush red in embarrassment. I laugh and tell them it was entirely unintentional. Three days later I remember that during review period for Dragon’s Dogma II, in my loneliness and want of something comforting, I was watching Anna Karenina on an seemingly endless loop that would clock in at roughly one third of my total playtime. A total of twenty or so hours of watching agonizingly beautiful ballroom scenes shift and spiral into tragedy and death while I killed my first, second, and third griffon—until I killed and killed to such a degree that my eyes became bloodshot.

In a state of exhaustion as I stagger towards the finish line of my second playthrough, my movements become sluggish, my reflexes wane with each passing hour. The guest Pawns I have hired to assist me comment on how often I stumble. But every time I do, my own Pawn rushes forward to catch me. He tells me that we should rest. I head to the nearest camp to cook and replenish what bits of my health have been whittled away by harpies and dragons and cyclops that seem to populate the land endlessly.

I continue to play the game, looking at my clock as I write another series of guides. I want to be done with the game, but my Pawn is my bulwark. He is strong, capable of felling dragons and minotaurs with ease. Without him, I would be lost. I give him the best armor available, I upgrade his weapons before I even consider my own. I hand-pick his skills so that he works best with the Vocation I have chosen for myself.

We fight yet another griffon close to the desert city of Bakbattahl and as I leap from the back of the dying beast my Pawn rushes forward to catch me. I am in a Discord call with another friend who is also reviewing the game. “He caught you!” they exclaim. I squint at my screen, watching as my Pawn carefully sets me down before he draws his greatsword and charges forward, landing a powerful enough hit to knock the griffon to the ground and land the killing blow. I catch myself thinking about how romantic that is. The catching, not the killing.

Every passing hour, I grow more and more endeared towards him. I made my Pawn to my taste in terms of mechanics and aesthetic. He is everything I want—to some degree. I consider that Capcom, the game's creator, has done a better job this time around at endearing the player to their Pawn and more clearly defining the role the Pawns themselves play in the journey of the Arisen than they did in the first game.

In the original Dragon’s Dogma, the Pawn’s roles were vaguely defined. They were servants of the Arisen. They were open vessels that lived and persisted in a shroud of darkness—eager to serve without question, always adoring and always pleased to see you. The Pawns served a purpose more mechanical than narrative. At least until the release of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, a definitive version of the game that included the optional area of Bitterblack Isle. There, the player becomes acquainted with the tale of Grette, an Arisen, her Pawn Orla, and Ashe, a young man saved by Grette who is doomed to become an Arisen in her place. The story is a tragedy. Grette becomes the Great Dragon, her Pawn Orla falls under the ownership of Ashe. Ashe falls in love with Orla and she becomes his beloved. He cannot kill her. He dooms himself. He dooms Olra. The cycle cannot be completed.

Dragon’s Dogma II takes place in a different place, in a different time, but is beholden to the same rules. The Arisen is given a Pawn, that Pawn is a reflection of their own desires, and the Pawn becomes the sacrifice necessary to see the world begin anew. There are other paths you can go, more selfish paths as illustrated through the use of Dragonsplague, a disease that Pawns can contract from coming in contact with corrupted dragons or other Pawns that harbor the affliction. The only way to remove Dragonsplague is to kill the affected Pawn or to pass it along to another player’s Pawn.

During review period, I summon a Pawn and the tutorial window for Dragonsplague pops up. I immediately exit out of my game. I hope I didn’t contract the plague. I don’t want to hurt my Pawn. I reload my save and hope for the best. A day later another friend who is reviewing the game sends me a DM over Discord: “Your Pawn had the plague.” Two days later, I get a similar DM. This time my Pawn had killed several NPCs. I apologize and load up the game to look at my Pawn. I know I can kill my Pawn and revive him to rid him of the plague, but selfishly I dismiss one of my guest Pawns and pull another Pawn into my world. I pass the plague along. I don’t want to hurt him.

Come the final confrontation with the Great Dragon, my Pawn is not my beloved Count Vronsky. Instead he is the young Elven Archer I had become acquainted with earlier in the game. I do not sacrifice him and instead usher in near destruction of the world. Catastrophe strikes and I lose consciousness. I awake without my Pawn. I am afraid I have lost him. He was strong. He protected me. Inadvertently, I have formed an attachment to him, just as the game had wanted. We reunite and I am afraid he will leave, or at worse, die.

As I push back against the scarlet blight that threatens to overcome the remains of a decaying world, I near the final encounter. I go to fight the Great Dragon for what I assume will be the last time. My Pawn lurches forward in pain. He transforms, his body a mass of black ichor and eyes glowing red. He turns into a dragon, lesser and malformed, but a great black beast that flies me to our shared adversary. He tells me that my will has imbued him with a will of his own, and in one last act of desperation he writhes, clutched in the claws of the Great Dragon as my beloved was, the aforementioned Elf, during my initial encounter with the Great Dragon. He allows me to make the final blow, plunging the Godsblade into the breast of the Great Dragon.

I destroy myself to create a new cycle. But I know my Pawn will persist. That is the nature of the game, not the story. Even if I never load the game up again, he will exist, helping other players with his knowledge and swordsmanship. There’s some relief in that. And when the credits roll, the sun shining over the world I have died for, I start the game again. I begin a second cycle. My Pawn is there. He greets me. “I knew you’d come back,” he says, cheerful, oblivious and omniscient and handsome all the same.


Kazuma Hashimoto is a half-Japanese trans man and translator who sometimes moonlights as a media critic. You can find him on BlueSky where he talks about what media he’s currently enjoying, or on his Podcast, Burnout Culture, that he hosts with his friends.