Is story really important to the enjoyment of a video game? As evidenced by the Tetris, Street Fighter, and Mario franchises, it isn't necessarily the case. It is a silly question when applied to the entire industry, but what if it is just narrowed to role-playing games?
RPGs have story in the very forefront of the genre formula. From the very early RPG progenitors like Bard's Tale, Ultima, and Dragon's Quest to the contemporary examples of Dragon's Age, Mass Effect, and Fallout 4, story, plot, character development, emotional connections is very foundation of the RPG. Players cared about Cecil's quest of atonement, if Commander Shepard will save the galaxy in the end, or whether Crono and friends will ever defeat Lavos.
However, can even an RPG be entertaining with little, inconsequential story? Dragon's Dogma; Dark Arisen certainly tries to make the case. Dragon's Dogma was released back in 2012 and just recently received a PC port. The battles are fun and engaging with great control and progression. After several hours of running from almost every encounter, eventually you become strong enough to stand against previously impossible encounter. Like the Dark Souls games, the power feels earned, and there is a tangible feeling of improvement.
Mechanically, Dragon's Dogma is satisfying, but story and character development take a definite backseat. Without the grace of the engaging gameplay, Dragon's Dogma would just be a mediocre RPG with a weird story. The utterly crazy story involves a dragon eating your heart and a quest to retrieve from said dragon. There are some allusions to a greater conflict, other factions, and even political strife, but, after 17 hours played, dialogue and story bits are skipped outright. I would much rather be climbing a griffin and lighting it on fire.
The non-story RPG reminds me mostly of a well-playing MMO. No offense to the devotees to Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, or Warcraft lore, most players skip through dialogue when receiving and completing quests. Star Wars The Old Republic spent millions of dollars on developing a cohesive and engaging MMO story, but side-quest details would wash over a player like a barely noticeable breeze. In a MMO, you never really cared why you were collecting 10 goblin skulls, or 7 eagle feathers, or 15 warg collars. Your character needed to do it to gain levels and loot. It was enough in a MMORPG, but, strangely, not in a single-player RPG. One wonders if it is merely the presence of other players that makes this more tolerable.
While it certainly takes some stylistic queues from a Dark Souls game, it is more focused on the traditional party based RPG genre. Almost like a modern take on Secret of Mana pushed to the absolute extreme, you'll only have direct control over your main character. The other three members of your party are computer controlled. While there are ways to influence and guide their behavior, for the most part at the whim of the surprisingly half-way competent AI. There are still maddening times where your NPCs are just erratic and nonsensical.
Unlike other RPGs, the party NPCs are mostly interchangeable and forgettable. There is one permanent party member that you'll level up and outfit, but the other two are constantly replaced with better and stronger minions. Called Pawns, the party members are randomly generated by the game or player created and shared online. It is a nifty system that Dragon's Dogma takes great pains to explain in its own complicated lore. This isn't a Bioware game where you form real relationships with NPCs. Pawns, like their namesake, are fodder there is no story or emotional bond grounding interactions.
Dragon's Dogma is a strange game that reminds me of a Dark Souls-lite, party-based version of an open-world RPG. Any serious consideration of the absurd story is nonexistent, but it plays so well that the experience is still rewarding. Even a role-playing game can misplace a story and be an enjoyable video game.