FGC #020 Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

The usual suspectsSo here’s why Dragon Quest sucks.

There’s two kinds of games in this world: games that rely on skill, and games that rely on luck. Games that rely on skill are the likes of chess, checkers, or pretty much any game where the random element has been eliminated. Games that rely on luck are where God does play dice games: everything from Candy Land to poker to anything involving the Pop-O-Matic bubble relies on an element of chance for the player to succeed. You might be the greatest Monopoly player in the world, but you’re still doomed if you somehow land on an opponent’s Atlantic Avenue every damn time.

With that little definition out of the way, it becomes clear that the majority of video games fall into the “skill” category. Super Mario Bros, Mega Man, and even modern games like… what do the kids play today… Batman: Everybody Dies are all based almost exclusively on the abilities of the player, and not at all on random coincidence. In fact, as has been proven by people more skilled than I, one could literally memorize Super Mario Bros. and play the entirety of the game blindfolded. There are variables in these games, but the variables are insignificant compared to the skills of the player.

And God help you when you try to add random elements to skill based games. Want to have a fun evening? Show up at a Super Smash Bros Melee tournament and ask why there aren’t any items in play and they’re only ever using the same level over and over again. The game where the flying fox man fights the eskimos is a serious game for a serious Earth, so we will have none of this silly luck hampering our play experience.

And to take it even a step further: luck is the enemy of nerd culture in general. Let’s debate who would win in a fight: Batman or Superman. We should spend all day carefully cataloguing all their appearances across nearly a century of media, all their skills, all their powers, all their gadgets. Or, we could present a scenario where Superman v Batman begins, Batman notices a woman that looks surprisingly like Martha Wayne in the crowd, is distracted for just a second, fumbles over his own cape, trips into an open manhole, and cracks his skull before Superman even makes a move. Or Superman loses the bout because his super hearing allowed him to overhear a random passerby chatting about Game of Thrones, and spoilers, now Superman is depressed because he was going to watch that episode with Lois tonight, and now he’s going to have to spend the rest of the day acting like he’s still excited, and that’s just such a super hassle, and Batman just whams him with a chunk of kryptonite while he’s there hovering like a doof.

BeautifulRandom is the enemy of every gamer. It negates skill and facts and the cold rationality that keeps gaming going.

Except, you know, gamers didn’t invent gaming.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the only real “video games” out there are the AAA blockbusters or, for the retro coverage, any game that received a Nintendo Power strategy guide. Super Mario Bros 3? Mortal Kombat X? Halo? These are game’s games, big crazy blockbusters that rely on skill and finesse and you could teach a full semester course on Samus Aran’s beam variations alone.

But if you ask my mother about gaming? My grandfather? Something like 95% of office workers? Tetris, Solitaire, Candy Crush: all games that, yes, involve skill, but are primarily based on luck and randomness. As has been mathematically proven, you could be the best Tetris player in the world, but eventually you’re going to be tossed too many square blocks to survive. And solitaire? You’re not always going to win due to the occasional (frequent) bad shuffle. The very idea of a game that can be lost and “pointless” from the first moment makes my skill crawl (screw you, Sierra On-Line), yet this is exactly the case in the number one played video game in the universe (citation needed). Psychological studies prove this to be true: without even being conscious of it, the majority of people prefer luck based games. And don’t even get me started on slot machines…

Dragon Quest is not a “casual” franchise in the same field as solitaire; it is a series of games in the JRPG genre. JRPGs are, by and large, more prone to luck than most video games, as the majority include concepts like critical hits and random encounters (literally, random) that mean those six steps between you and the dungeon exit could lead to a battle with a roaming pack of bubonic rats. Or one of these jerks…

Gaze upon terror

That’s a cyclops. They appear in DQ 2, DQ 8, and DQ 9. Why do I remember that? Because they kill me every damn time. And, yes, they’re strong, but they’re not that strong. That problem? They are critical hit monsters, and my poor DQ parties are just never all that lucky. And that’s the problem here: in something as simple and numerous as a random battle, you need to know why you failed. Were you underleveled? Were you wearing the wrong equipment? Did you use an inappropriate spell? When the answer is “well, that guy just got lucky” you learn nothing, save that your failure wasn’t even your fault.

And it’s not just the random encounters, luck is a crazy significant factor in every facet of Dragon Quest. As if the frequent appearances of casinos and slot machines weren’t a dead giveaway, nearly every noteworthy action in DQ relies on chance, from criticals that will make or break a party, to a casting of “zing” that should revive a party member failing over and over again, or even the terrible incidents when you’ve spent three rounds pumping up your party only to see a boss distortion wave it all away. You’re going to remember every single time your luck failed you, and if you’re anything like me, you’re going to hold it against the franchise and its designers.

But luck goes both ways, so why don’t I acknowledge all the times I hit the jackpot? Well, duh, because fortune doesn’t work like that, despite the fact that the only reason I’m writing this post and you’re reading it is completely random chance. Come to think of it, here’s the reason you’re reading this post…

  • Sometime around the late 90’s, a friend of mine linked me to, I believe… memory is hazy here… I want to say Adventurers, but it may have been RPG World, or even possibly Penny Arcade. One of those webcomics from the old, old days of the web.
  • At one point, the author of whichever site I’m thinking of linked to Toastyfrog’s review of Mega Man X6. Not because they wanted to call attention to the review itself, but simply because the review itself made mention of the Magic 8-Squall, and the author was paying the frog credit.
  • I enjoyed the Toastyfrog review, and checked the site frequently for years. Given the X6 review was posted in 2001, we are talking about ages here.
  • The good ol' daysNote that Toastyfrog aka Jeremy Parish continued the site and writing about video games for years. I still want to say that the initial link came from Adventurers, which is a webcomic that ended nearly a decade ago now. RPG World? I think the author is writing about rock women now or something.
  • Sometime around 2009 (so eight years later?) a Let’s Play was started by Brickroad and McDohl (clearly their real names) featuring a solo Final Fantasy run of White Mage vs. Black Mage. If that sentence didn’t make any sense, just insert “a fun thing happened”. This Let’s Play was taking place on the Revenge of Talking Time forums, which Parish started years prior, and, in this case, decided to link to from the main page. Thus, for the first time, I encountered TT, and would continue to lurk around the forums for years.
  • Because this kind of thing is logged, I officially signed up for the forums on March 9th, 2010. I believe I promised someone cookies to gain entry; cookies that were never delivered. Amusingly and ominously, one of my first posts was bemoaning Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.
  • As mentioned in the KH FAQ, after generally just bumping around on the forums for a few years, BEAT, a friendly skeleman, asked of the recently started Kingdom Hearts thread “Please tell me who Anslem is.” I answered to the tune of 1,500 or so words with a detailed rundown that can be found elsewhere here on the site. This was 11/17/14. I’m still not certain exactly what possessed me to type that out, and, while I was rather proud of the post, I didn’t give it too much thought. It was just something I did on a Monday night for lack of anything better to do.
  • About two months later, on a Saturday night that I had blocked out to organize my library (uh, actual books, not video games) (I am an exciting guy), another question was posed regarding what, exactly, is Kingdom Hearts. I distinctly remember writing this post, as I was so damn sick of alphabetizing that I leapt at the chance to do something else.
  • JigglypuffFrom that point on, writing ridiculous posts about Kingdom Hearts kind of became my thing, because a bunch of strangers I had never met seemed to enjoy and encourage it.
  • Fastforward to July of that year, and I created the website Gogglebob.com (though I had owned the registration for years, because of course I did). The initial plan in my mind was simply to have a place to stick all the lengthy Kingdom Hearts and other posts I had made on Talking Time. However, because I’m just the type to need something more to do, after some deliberation, I decided to create the Fustian Gaming Challenge as a reason for the site to update and not just be a repository for stuff I’d already written.
  • Nineteen FGC posts later, Random ROB, who may or may not be powered by random.org, chose Dragon Quest 8. Let’s be generous and say this line of thought would have occurred to me no matter what DQ game was chosen, and state that there was 00.49% chance of a DQ game being chosen at all. Less than half a percent.
  • While playing Dragon Quest 8 and writing this article, I considered the very concept of luck and all the weird coincidences that led to this article being written at all.
  • And we won’t even consider the impact of my income, vocation, mobility, education, friends, or even the simple matter of a life spent avoiding catastrophic accidents. All of these items contribute to the fact that I can spend a leisurely Tuesday evening writing about a decade old JRPG.

Were you to catch me on a day I wasn’t thinking about luck? I’d tell you that this article and everything related to it is my sole brainchild and accomplishment. But when I’m considering chance, my mind boggles that we live in a world where Yuji Horii and Akira Toriyama even exist, left alone ever became accomplished enough to produce a game as fun and, let’s face it, realistic as Dragon Quest.

Dragon Quest is far too based on luck, and that sucks. When the dice just don’t roll in your favor, it always sucks. But sometimes? Sometimes
everything rolls right, and you never know what kind of wonders they’ll bring.

FGC #20 Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

  • System: Playstation 2, and 3DS sometime soon in some kind of wondrous fantasy world.
  • Number of Players: One, with a pet rat.
  • Ouch!How about you try to actually talk about the game instead of the franchise: Fine! DQ8 is probably as good as a DQ game can get without the “real” job system ala DQ3 or DQ9. The overworld map is a thing of beauty that I’d like to see every JRPG for the rest of time emulate. Riding a sabrecat around the planet never gets old. As always, the franchise is brimming with characters that overflowing with personality and dammit I’m talking about DQ as a whole again.
  • Goggle Bob Historical Fact: I explored the majority of this game’s dungeons while rewatching a marathon of Star Trek Voyager episodes. Miraculously, this did not diminish my opinion of the game, though, for some reason, just booting up the game makes me think of Robert Picardo.
    Favorite Character: Everyone but Angelo. Angelo, please go sit with Ringabel in the corner. You know what you did.
  • Did you know? Back in the ancient past when this game was released, Square Enix actually had a major marketing push for the game. Hard to believe but true! Among items that were available stateside was a PS2 Controller that looked like a DQ slime. I happily purchased this controller, and still have it in a place of pride above my 16-bit collection. The ironic thing? Over the years, the plastic has become… slimy.
  • Would I play again? Only if it were portable and maybe offered two additional playable characters. Costumes would also be nice.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Galactic Pinball. For the Virtual Boy. There was a 00.27% chance of a Virtual Boy game ever being chosen, yet, here we are. Way to be article relevant, ROB. Well, we’ll see how this goes… Please look forward to it!

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