Tag Archives: dragon quest

FGC #514 Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

LET'S QUESTToday we’re going to talk about videogames and how you engage with videogames. Actually, screw that, we’re going to talk about how I engage with videogames.

This odyssey into madness was prompted by Random ROB choosing Dragon Quest 9: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. You may recall that ROB is now picking games from a truncated version of my master inventory of videogames, so, ultimately, DQ9 was no accident. Today’s game was always going to be picked eventually, as it is fondly remembered as one of my favorite games. In fact, I could toss out a few basic, personal facts about DQ9 immediately:

  1. It is one of my most favorite videogames
  2. It is absolutely my most favorite DS game, which is significant, as this is the system that hosted Flammole the Moleroid
  3. It is absolutely my most favorite Dragon Quest game, and the title that got me to enjoy the franchise after years of issues.
  4. I played Dragon Quest 9 for 197 hours, apparently. Given my general ADD and the wealth of alternative games I have available at any given moment, this is significant.
    That's a lot of time
  5. I never want to play Dragon Quest 9 ever again.

Considering the hours involved, that last point seems… peculiar.

To be clear, this is not a matter of burnout. For an easy example of that, consider Secret of Mana, a game that I played and replayed approximately every other day back in 1994. That was a game that, after I was wholly “done” with the experience (likely because Chrono Trigger was finally obtained), I was in no rush to repeat all over again. I had beaten the Mana Beast so many times with so many different sword techniques that I felt I was good and done with the title. But did I ever play the game again? Of course! Secret of Mana doesn’t hog my entertainment center as often as Mega Man 3 (which sees a replay at least annually), but I’ve undoubtedly returned to Randi a few times over the years. I may have “played out” Secret of Mana in its heyday, but I still feel like lapping up that nostalgia from time to time.

Dragon Quest 9? Not so much. That’s my original save file up there, and, short of a battery disaster, it’s never going anywhere. And why? Because even if I wipe that file, I’m never going to be able to play Dragon Quest 9 ever again.

BOOMIn a way, Dragon Quest 9 is a traditional Dragon Quest game from toe to tip. The basic plot, that you are a guardian angel that is torn from Heaven when a fallen angel decides to go all Morning Star on his celestial home, is little more than a framing excuse for venturing across the planet. There’s an evil empire to quash and apocalyptic demons to slay, but that’s all secondary to whatever you can do to help the next town over. They have a disease raging through their populace? Great, maybe you can kill it with a sword (and you can!). Dragon Quest 9 is a game about heroes tromping across the land, making the land slightly better, buying all of the medical herbs until the land has a shortage, and then saving the land from some manner of jerk that probably has a secret form or two. Start out saving a local inn business, finish up by rescuing God. Tale as old as time.

And, frankly, the most overt change to the Dragon Quest 9 formula here is simply a cosmetic upgrade of the good old days of the franchise, too. After years of well-defined protagonists and their distinct, sometimes dog-riding companions, DQ9 returned to the “generic” party of Dragon Quest/Warrior 3. You can create your own custom hero, and then choose three companions with their own distinct complexions and professions. Want a balanced party of the typical Knight, Monk, White Mage, and Black Mage? That’s fine! Want a party that is four re-headed thieves all named “Mona” for some reason? That’s also fine! Do what you want! There are plenty of memorable characters hanging around the fringes of DQ9, so you can create your own, wholly-silent party at your leisure. And speaking of customization, much of the equipment system and its attendant alchemy system in DQ9 seems tailor fit to encourage the player to experiment and adapt their party in new and exciting ways. Sure, you could make a beeline for all that metal slime armor, but wouldn’t it be more fun to have a character or two in a surprisingly resistant bikini? Or a celestial robe? Or just wholesale steal Alena’s outfit? There are options upon options here, and you could spend an entire day gathering the right materials (“ingredients”) to build the perfect superstar’s suit for your luminary. Assembling the perfect party, in more ways than just maxing out stats, is half the fun of DQ9, and it’s the kind of fun you don’t always see in a game where you’re ostensibly trying to “role play”.

CRAFTING!And, while these “new” features certainly account for why I played DQ9 for a “normal” number of hours, it was DQ9’s other big innovation that accounts for not only the excess hours spent playing, but also why I can never play the game again.

God help me, I loved the social aspects of Dragon Quest 9.

Looking at Dragon Quest 9 from a strictly pragmatic perspective, it was clearly a trial run for the MMORPG that was the eventual Dragon Quest 10. DQ9 eschews the typical DQ experience by allowing other players to join your party as you cooperate and quest across the land. Thus, DQ9 was designed first and foremost as a traditional JRPG, but allowed for a significant amount of wiggle room to squeeze in a guest participant or two. Or, put another way, you didn’t need a raid party to conquer that impossible boss, but it sure would be easier if your level 100 buddy stopped by. And there were more passive concessions made to the concept of making DQ massively multiplayer, too. There were quests that were released on a timed basis (causing players that had “finished” the game to return), timed online shop sales (a great reason to log in routinely), and spot-pass shared treasure maps that allowed you to share randomly generated dungeons with friends… or anyone that happened to be within wi-fi range. Since not all maps were created equal, the most massive multi-playing involved in DQ9 wound up being map swapping with as many people as possible. And regardless of whether or not map swaps were meant to be the most popular DQ9 pastime, these were all baby steps to seeing what people would want (and what the franchise could support) in DQ10. But if you were some manner of DQ purist, you could technically ignore all these add-ons and still have an enjoyable experience.

I did not ignore those MMORPG-lite features. Lacking friends that were interested in Dragon Quest (Smash Bros? Yes. 100 hour JRPGs for handhelds? No.), I drove an hour away to visit a Best Buy promotion where I was told there would be other nerds sharing maps. I got maps. I got stickers. I was a happy Goggle Bob.

Tag!

And it would be impossible to replicate that experience.

I’m not going to claim I’ve never done anything vaguely ridiculous for a videogame. I’m not even going to claim that “driving an hour for a virtual trinket” is really all that crazy. But for me, it was a singular experience. It was something none of my friends were doing, so I was forced to make a solitary trip in search of some cave full metal slimes. It was the logical endpoint of logging into DQ9 every day for sales, and checking frequently to see if a fun sidequest had become available yet. It was a time when I downloaded material maps off Gamefaqs message boards, and skulked around forums looking for alchemy recipes. There was this whole “meta game” that was a significant chunk of my life for approximately six months wherein I absorbed as much Dragon Quest 9 information from as many sources as possible. From that perspective, spending a day driving to a silly Nintendo promotion seems almost… necessary. Be glad I didn’t fly to another country or join a gang or something, Mom!

Not you againBut, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone that understands the passage of time, any kind of Dragon Quest 9 fervor eventually burned out to a mere handful of embers. All the quests were released, network services were discontinued, and, in a few short years, the idea of someone using a Nintendo DS to spotpass became as esoteric as someone using AOL to change their away message. The meat of Dragon Quest 9, the main quest and its many tangential vignettes, is always going to be there and available, but those early, tentative steps into the world of hybrid online/local multiplayer are gone forever. Sure, you can finagle a wireless modem into broadcasting the old DQ network for fun and profit, but it’s not the same. You’re never going to randomly obtain a treasure map by walking around the mall ever again (and not just because the mall closed, too). There’s never going to be another Dragon Quest 9 event at Best Buy.

So, after devoting nearly 200 hours to a videogame, I never want to play it again. Why? Because I can’t. What’s real and true and memorable about that game is gone forever, and it isn’t coming back. May as well save that file full of foreign treasure maps for future generations, and move on to something else.

Dragon Quest 9, you were an exceptional and singular Nintendo DS experience. Rest in peace, and be a beautiful, blue ghost creature forever haunting your graveyard.

FGC #514 Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

  • System: Nintendo DS. One would suppose a modern remake could rectify these issues, but then I wouldn’t be replaying the exact same game, now would I? Dragon Quest of Theseus.
  • Number of players: A whole cosmos of people… but I think only four at a time.
  • It's an innnyHey, some of these screen shots are clearly from a new playthrough: Well, yes, I did give it a try for this article. I preserved my precious save file on its cart, and attempted an emulated run of DQ9, but it only proved my hypothesis: you can’t go home again. And maybe you can’t play DQ9 after DQ11, either.
  • Speaking of Maps: The whole map system leading to unlimited, random dungeons after a game full of carefully created caves is an amazing swerve that obviously accounted for a significant amount of my playtime. That said, I was downright surprised to boot up my old cartridge and find there were a number of maps I never completed.

    Kind of redundant

    I’m sure it was just because I was too busy farming every other map in the game, but those Copper Ruins of Ruin are calling to me…

  • If you liked the MMORPG-lite features in DQ9, why don’t you play more MMORPGs? Every once in a great while, I downright enjoy getting drunk with my friends. However, that does not mean I want to become a heroin addict. I know my limits and addictions.
  • Explain your OG party member names: Robyn is my usual “female” nom de guerre, and appears often in other games. Rydia the green-haired mage requires absolutely no explanation. Felicia was initially a thief class, so she was named after a familiar Spider-Man character. And Misfit was a redhead named for another comic book character, this time a star from Gail Simone’s then-current run of Birds of Prey. I’m not certain if Misfit is still bungling around the DC Universe at this point, but someone should at least give her a try at appearing in one of the CW shows. She’d fit right in!
  • Choo chooFavorite Class: I had to work the hardest for Luminary, so that’s going to win. Also, in a game that somehow enticed me into caring about JRPG fashion, I’m always going to choose the most fashionable class.
  • Retro Challenge: There are a number of maps that feature the final bosses from previous Dragon Quest adventures. Considering I don’t think I had finished a single Dragon Quest game before DQ9’s release (does Rocket Slime count?), all of these bosses were new to me, and generally about as “nostalgic” as any other random monster. And that’s cool! It wound up encouraging me to play previous DQ titles, and now I can identify a Dhoulmagus from fifty paces.
  • Getting Around: The best airship available is a choo-choo. That is the best.
  • Did you know? As of this writing, DQ9 is the only mainline title to not see a revision/upgrade version of some kind. This is a crime.
  • Would I play again: …. Seriously?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania: Rondo of Blood! That’s the good one! Yay! Please look forward to it!

Achoo

FGC #473 Dragon Warrior 4

Here come some dragonsDragon Warrior 4 has always secretly been Dragon Quest 4: The Chapters of the Chosen. And how many chapters are there? Five? No, that’s not enough chosen. There are probably at least fifty here, right? Yes, let’s count down the top fifty “chosen” in Dragon Warrior 4.

A Definitive Ranking of the Top Five Fifty Dragon Warrior 4 Characters

#1 Alena

To be absolutely clear, we are only considering “real” DW4 for these rankings. This means that items, conversations, or super moves that appear in other games or versions of DW4/DQ4 do not count. And even with that caveat out of the way, Alena wins. She’s a princess. She successfully, wordlessly jump kicks her way out of her room. She endangers/saves her entire kingdom. She tolerates her own lame sidekicks on a daily basis. The only knock against her is that time she joined another, rival gang of adventurers, but that was only in pursuit of medicine for one of her own hangers-on, so that may be forgiven. And she does this all without so much as a spell list, so it’s clear why Alena is the absolute most chosen of the chosen.

#2 Taloon

And there’s really no way that second place can’t be Taloon. Taloon is so high on this list for the exact opposite reason as Princess #1: he’s a terrible JRPG protagonist. He might gain levels well, but, aside from his plentiful HP pool, he has practically nothing going for him. Forget magical armor boosting his stats, Taloon can barely handle an apron. But, while he might not be the most amazing protagonist, he is the most unexpected, as he starts out as little more than a graduated NPC. Taloon teaches the player of 1990 (or 1992) exactly how monotonous it would be to work in a weapon shop, and then goes on to educate us all on the perils of dungeon storming for your average JRPG resident. And he somehow succeeds! And commissions at least one (1) tunnel. Not bad, Taloon! Not bad at all.

#3 This Sentient Boulder

This boulder is capable of following Taloon and making 90° turns. These are pretty significant accomplishments for a mineral to achieve, and all while overcoming the obvious handicap of being an uneducated slab of rock. Literally no other character lower on this list accomplished such a magnificent feat.

#4 Neta (aka Tessie Taloon, Nina Taloon, Nene Taloon)

Taloon’s wife gets bonus points for being one of the few NPCs capable of changing her mind. She’s a dedicated wife, and, in this world of 8-bits, she would be forgiven for standing around and dispensing lunches from now until the end of time. But, when her hubby gets that adventuring itch, thus leaving the family cut off from its usual supply deliveries, she decides to take up the cause, and starts her own banking business. And, while it is unclear how this bank makes any significant money (do legendary swords naturally accrue interest? Do they… breed?) at least she’s doing something. I’m pretty sure most of the rest of the NPC army can barely get out of their chairs.

#5 Healie the Heal Slime

Okay, he might not be as accomplished as the boulder, but Healie still leads a pretty marvelous life across DW4. He starts as a humble, peculiarly friendly heal slime. He aids Ragnar on a quest to save some local village children, and is 100% successful in rescuing the kids. Healie then ventures forth with Ragnar, believing that committing good deeds will transform this monster into a human. And, years later when you encounter Healie again, he has become a human! And a bard, for some reason! So it all worked out! Good job, Healie! You successfully transitioned across species! Have fun wearing clothes!

We’ve got 45 more to goo… I mean go…

FGC #406 Beyond the Beyond

FartImagine, if you will, a butt.

But this is no ordinary butt; no, this is a butt that is, somehow, completely divorced from a body. It is unmistakably a human butt, but there is no attached human to be found, so there is simply a large butt, hovering at roughly eyelevel. And, were this merely a disembodied, floating butt, perhaps you could live with that you are seeing. Perhaps it would be simply enough to know that there are now flying butts, and that’s that, may as well get out of here and go clock in at the hamburger factory. But, once again, this butt surprises you, for, you see, this butt, despite being attached to no figure or digestive tract, has a chronic, unmistakable case of diarrhea. Butt is pushing out a constant stream of liquid excrement, and that accompanies every sight, sound, and smell you can envision. As a result, it is difficult to look at the ass in question, because… Ugh… It just doesn’t stop. Why is this allowed to continue? Where is it all coming from? Where is all of this… substance going?

And then, slowly, you realize there is an answer to that question. You understand that your senses have failed you. The sensory overload of… everything involved in this situation caused you to miss something very obvious: There is a second butt.

And the second butt is much like the first. It is simply a butt, disconnected from anything that may actually support a butt. It is slightly lower than the first butt, but it still seems to be above the ground under its own, unknown power. If you look closely, you will notice this butt appears to have a mole of some kind, so it is not a carbon copy of Butt A, but you do not have the acumen of Sir Mix-a-Lot, so you cannot see much of a difference between butts otherwise. This is just a second, horrible butt, and… Oh God… it’s doing something… It’s doing something terrible.

It is made of poopButt #2 is… it’s absorbing… eating?… It is consuming the unending stream of gooey crap pouring out of #1. And, in response to this everlasting torrent of ordure, Butt #2 is somehow puking back at #1. It’s a butt! That substance is not supposed to come out of a butt! But, no, it is unmistakably vomit, and it is shooting straight up and into the first offending ass. And, lack of intestines or not, it appears this is how these Gemini butts maintain their equilibrium. They are constant. They are eternal. And you cannot look away. Despite everything. Despite the awful sight before you, despite the smell that you are certain is going to follow you for months, despite the fact that you can almost feel flakes of dung and bile clinging to your hair, you cannot leave. You could no more turn your back on this sight than abandon a needy baby, because you know you are gazing upon something unique. It is impossible and horrible and possibly the single worst thing you have ever seen, but you know it is something that may never been seen again. It is the product of a heartless, capricious universe, but, even as the juices start to rise in your own throat, you know this image is going to stay with you for the rest of your days, and it would be folly to try to escape.

You are now in a realm not of sight and sound, but of atrocious butts. You are in the Butt Zone.

And only there, in the Butt Zone, will you understand what it’s like to play Beyond the Beyond.

Beyond the Beyond is an awful game. Let me count the ways.

• Beyond the Beyond was a JRPG released in late-1995/mid-1996 (depending on your region). This was the golden age of JRPGS! We already had glorious Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Trigger had just been released, and even “lesser” JRPGs were still unique, amazing experiences. Ogre Battle? Breath of Fire? They may not have been perfect games, but they were powerful, epic tales on systems that also hosted Rocko’s Modern Life licensed products. Beyond the Beyond is not an epic tale. Beyond the Beyond appears to be Dragon Quest. One. That may have cut it back in 1986, but not just about a year shy of the release of Final Fantasy 7.

These dudes

• It’s not just about the graphics, either. Mother 3 has “retro” graphics, but they’re some of the most expressive pixels you’ll ever see. Here, the graphics are woefully behind the storytelling, so a heartfelt scene wherein a family mourns their fatally wounded child accidentally features some manner of Mr. Potato Head.

POTATO MAN

• Beyond the Beyond apes Dragon Quest to a fault, complete with a limited, by-character inventory system, and a goddamn “TALK / SEARCH / ITEM” context menu. This could work in a 90s JRPG (it certainly worked for Earthbound), but it might have to be a JRPG where NPCs don’t continue walking while you bring up the menu, so you’re “TALK”ing to air after a villager hoofs it across town. Oh, there’s an “R” automatic check/talk button? Why not just make that the standard!?

• But that limited inventory might be the greatest sin in this title, as it pairs poorly with the other grand problem of Beyond the Beyond: the encounter rate is insane. There is a new random encounter every three to five steps. You will encounter as many battles walking from a town to the next dungeon as would normally be inside the final castle of most JRPGs. This means you are constantly depleting healing resources, and the idea of keeping anything else in your inventory is folly. Even one antidote for a poison status that never comes seems silly. But if you do wind up poisoned? Hoo boy, that’s gonna be a fun time.

• And that encounter rate also makes the mages of the party completely useless. If you must fight thirty random battles in the smallest dungeon, and your wizard blows through his fireball charges within the first seven fights, welcome to 1 HP Staff Damage Town. Your (one) healing mage isn’t much better, either, as keeping everyone topped off is nigh-impossible on her meager spell charges. Like every JRPG, MP gets more plentiful as the adventure continues, but the spells also escalate in pricing, so you’re pretty much always going to be lacking oomph from your mages.

• Look at this bullshit

Terrible

• But speaking of healing, at a normal leveling pace, monsters pretty reliably cut off about a third of your HP per hit. To be clear on that math, your chosen hero will have zero HP after three hits during any given battle. But! Beyond the Beyond introduces the LP system, which means that after your HP hits zero, you will simply be temporarily stunned, and then a seemingly random amount of LP will restore about half of your HP. That’s a neat concept! Unfortunately, in execution, it just means that fighters with low HP are stun-locked forever, constantly being “healed” by LP, but then taking that next hit, and going right down again. And LP is impossible to restore (either impossible, or I found no way to do it through the entire game) while inside a dungeon. And dungeons don’t even have floor numbers, left alone an indicator on how long any given maze might be, so good luck with rationing your HP/LP/MP.

• The monster designs might be the best part of the game. Though that is sullied somewhat by the fact that there are approximately ten monsters reskinned and recolored roughly 10,000 times. And there’s no geography to the monsters! There are the exact same monsters half way across the planet from each other, simply because the plot dictates you’ll be visiting those two locations in quick succession. And why the hell are there monsters on the gigantic beanstalk you just grew!?

I hate you• And there are like seven bosses in the entire game. Three of them are in the final dungeon. But some dungeons do end with a boss, so you never have any clue if you need to save up your assets for that final push against a dark knight, or if you’ll just get to cast an exit spell and call it a day. And, lest we forget, bosses are HP sponges that demand your mages be in fighting shape. The final boss has 4,000 HP; the average monster in that dungeon has 80 HP.

• It’s not related to anything in particular, but there’s a sewer level, and the plot mandates that you trudge through it five separate times. That is a gross affront to God.

• While we’re on the subject of trudging, the dungeons seem to be designed around punishing the player into walking more, and thus suffering more encounters. Puzzles within dungeons are constantly wasting your time (“Oh, now I have to walk back to the first switch, flip that, and then switch the third switch”), and wasting your steps. Which means more battles, and more resource drains. So every time you don’t solve a puzzle immediately, it hurts. It really hurts. You’ll be begging for really easy puzzles so your poor party can survive to the next save point… but then what’s even the point of having a puzzle at all?

• Oh, and of course you can only save in towns. Your average dungeon can take an hour, and if you wipe on its (potential) boss, you’ll be wasting another hour to skulk back through. Death in this game at least lets you save your levels and treasure… though you do restart with a completely dead party, save the hero. Good luck wasting your treasure on reviving your buddies at the only church in town!

DAMMIT!• But, through it all, Beyond the Beyond’s greatest sin is constantly chastising the player for having hope. Samson is an early recruit, and he has amazing stats, and strength enough to make random encounters a breeze. So, naturally, after three battles, he’s cursed to Level 1, and not only has dramatically weakened stats, but he will be randomly paralyzed and damaged by the curse affliction for half the game. A wise old sage gives each of your combatants an orb of light for switching party members… but it will still be another three hours or so before you get an extra party member. If you don’t recruit any of the hidden characters, you will never need this orb of light… but it still takes up a sport in everyone’s inventory anyway. Teleporting between towns is only unlocked after you’ve acquired extra party members, and is the most aggravating version of character juggling I’ve ever seen. Class changes don’t actually increase your stats, they’re simply an excuse to reset to Level 1 to hopefully gain more levels/level up bonuses. You acquire a freaking dragon as your first airship, but there is literally only one extra place that he can access. When you gain an enormous, flying monolith, you’re still only flying to one new location, and have to walk the rest of the way. And at no point in the game do you ever earn a “Knights of the Round” or “Ultimate” spell; you’re always stuck struggling upstream, and even hidden “ultimate items” seem to be all but required. There’s a revive spell! It’s nearly impossible to find without a FAQ! And the spell’s MP cost makes it useless! Beyond the Beyond hates the player.

Hm… Maybe comparing Beyond the Beyond to a ceaseless stream of shit was too kind…

FGC #406 Beyond the Beyond

  • System: Playstation 1. Somehow, this title has not seen a rerelease anywhere.
  • Number of players: You’ll have to suffer this one alone.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I’ve had this article in mind for a long time.
  • Say something nice: The localization ain’t bad for the time, and, for an early Playstation 1 game, there are barely any noticeable load times. … And that’s about it.
  • This seems niceNow for further complaints: There’s a super secret character available for going against your normal instincts during the boss of the second to last dungeon. Your “reward” for acquiring this character is a fighter with practically Level 1 stats and equipment that could barely handle the first dungeon. This game hates you.
  • Do you know about Timed Hits? There’s a sort of “active” battle system in Beyond the Beyond, and you can theoretically smack the right button at the right time for blocks or criticals. Unfortunately, it’s very finicky, and there isn’t a single tutorial or scrap of evidence the system even exists during the game proper. It is mentioned in the manual, though, so it doesn’t seem to be a Gamefaqs rumor…
  • Return of the King: This title was developed by Camelot Software, who would go on to develop the Golden Sun franchise. I’m pretty sure I never got into that series as a direct result of BtB PTSD. This is also why I can never shop at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
  • Did you know? There’s a secret opening cinema that you can view by holding Up+Triangle when the game is first loading. It’s weird that it’s hidden behind a code, as it is literally the start of the story, and the first thing referenced when the game properly starts up.

    COLD, DEAD EYES

    On the other hand, it makes the hero look like a dead-eyed fiend, so maybe there’s a reason it was ditched.

  • Would I play again: I never beat this game as a child, but I decided to finish it now simply to say I have experienced the entirety of Beyond the Beyond. And you know what? This game is appalling. It will never be played again. Ever.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Knuckles Chaotix for the 32X! Yay! It’s finally Knuckles’ time to shine! Please look forward to it!

NOW GO AWAY

FGC #377 Dragon Warrior

Shiny!Dragon Warrior (sometimes Quest) is the game that is widely credited for launching the entire JRPG genre. As such, it must be considered one of the most influential titles in all of gaming, as, even today, there is still a new game every month that harkens back to the Dragon Warrior of old (even if said game stars rejected Sailor Moon characters in a magical high school, it still counts). Dragon Warrior is indisputably the beating heart of all JRPGs.

Which is kind of amazing when you consider how much Dragon Warrior sucks.

Unless some nimrod has managed to stick these words in a book somewhere, you’re reading this post on my website. You will note that this is FGC #377. This means that, with the exception of a few “theme weeks” and medically mandated breaks every fifty articles or so, I have played three videogames every week for the last two-going-on-three years. And nearly 400 games! When I was a child, I could nary imagine that there were 100 videogames in the world, left alone that I would one day play four times that many for a silly website. At this point, I want to say that I have a fairly good grasp on what is good or bad. Even if I once only played AAA, best of the best titles once; now I can safely say that I’ve played Ice Climbers, and lived to tell the tale. After all that, I know what I enjoy, what is fun, and what is… Dragon Warrior.

The basic elements are here! Akira Toriyama, even at this earliest point in the franchise, is knocking it out of the park with monster designs that are adorable (slimes, drackys), menacing (skeletons, wizards), and occasionally somewhere in between (aw, look at the sleepy widdle golem). The world is large (for an NES game), and the plot may be simple, but it’s charming fantasy to a T. The dragon has kidnapped the princess (and stuck her with a lesser dragon), and also stolen the anti-monster bug zapper that keeps the world clean and enchanted. GO TO SLEEPThe Dragon Warrior must now quest to stop the Dragon Lord, and acquire the treasures of his exalted ancestor along the way to eventually ride the rainbow bridge and score 120 stars or something. It’s all there, it’s all exactly what Dragon Quest was made for, and, by all accounts, this should be a fun, if primitive, DQ experience.

But it’s just so, so awful to actually play.

First of all, retro aesthetic aside, there is no way that selecting STAIRS to ascend or descend steps was ever a good idea. Someone managed to program borders into every town to transition between the overworld and a castle, so why the hell is there a dedicated command for activating “go up stairs now”? Hell, you could theoretically justify the TAKE or SEARCH commands with the many tiles that hide buried treasure around the DW world, but stairs are never hidden. They’re stairs. Actually, there is exactly one time stairs are hidden, and you use the SEARCH command, not STAIRS to find ‘em. You had one job, STAIRS! And talking is equally a pain in the ass, because Loto forbid you open a treasure chest when you’re trying to talk to a townsperson that is never anywhere near a damn treasure chest. Just performing basic tasks in this game is a lesson in misery.

But it gets worse! So much worse!

This suuuuucksThe Dragon Warrior world is huge, filled with monsters of varying shapes and sizes, and at least one town that is a secret dungeon. There are optional dungeons, optional towns, and even an optional princess. There’s a lot to do in DW!… Unfortunately absolutely none of it will prepare you for the rest of Dragon Warrior. EXP and Gold values are absurdly skewed against the player’s favor. A lowly copper sword costs 180 GP, and a local slime drops… 2 GP. In only 90 battles, you’ll be ready to go! And you might be level 3 by then! And this is decidedly not the kind of game that is meant to be played with a “low level” hero (without some superhuman RNG manipulation, at least), as later monsters will absolutely obliterate your hero inside of three turns as poor Son of Erdrick whiffs over and over again with his puny punches. There is simply not enough to do in the DW world to justify the kind of gold and experience it takes to so much as make it off the main continent, and mindless grinding has never been an entertaining compromise.

So, after discovering that Dragon Warrior is not just “primitive fun” like Final Fantasy, but more “never been fun” like Wizards and Warriors, I was forced to ask the obvious question: why? Not “why does this game suck” (that is already obvious), but why did DW spawn the JRPG genre? Was it some kind of cultural misunderstanding? Was it the monster designs? Was it an unmistakable love of carrying princesses through swamps? No, I want to say the entire reason Dragon Warrior spawned decades worth of sequels, spin-offs, and that one surprisingly sticky controller is this…

Goals!

This is the first thing you see when entering the overworld. Not coincidentally, it is also the first thing you see every time you die, as you respawn back at Castle Useless. Every time you turn on the game, every time you must restart, every single time, you see this same image. You’re at the starting castle, there’s a starting town nearby, and, there, across the humblest of rivers (maybe a fjord), is your final destination, The Dragon Lord’s Castle. This means that, from the absolute moment you grab your controller, you are always reminded of what you are fighting for, what you’re fighting towards, and, even though a Wolf Lord just kicked your ass back to square one, you have a goal, and you must save this poor world of magic key-obsessed people from the sinister clutches of evil.

And that is singularly brilliant.

Very shinyThis is how you get people hooked. This is how you create a genre. The designers of Dragon Warrior enjoy gambling? Yeah, these are the kind of people who know how to keep their audience salivating for that next jackpot. Your winnings are just over that river. You might get a few bad rolls between here and there, but you’re getting better. You’re getting better, and you’re going to get there. You’re so close! And you will be so close for the next few hours!

Dragon Warrior objectively sucks. I will stand by that statement. However, it is also a brilliant game, and an unmistakable classic. It might not be enjoyable for anyone that has experienced modern conveniences like “fast forward” or “a game being actually fun”, but there’s always that drive to save the world, and that counts for a lot. Dragon Warrior might be terrible at conveying your goals on a quest-by-quest basis, but you always know your ultimate objective, and that can carry you through 10,000 slime encounters.

You will make it across that river. You will slay the Dragon Lord. Why? Because thou must.

FGC #377 Dragon Warrior

  • System: Every.
  • Number of players: The Erdrick bloodline has withered down to one dude in a silly hat.
  • What’s in a name: I’m sticking to Dragon Warrior, because it says it right there on the cart. Dragon Quests are for later generations.
  • UghLand of the Rising Fun: Hey, guess what, the game is even worse for the original Japanese release! It has more primitive graphics, so the characters always face stock straight toward the player. That isn’t so bad, but since your character doesn’t turn, you have to manually select which direction you’d like to face every time you want to use a command like TALK. So, basically, it takes an already annoying system, and makes it more annoying. Hooray for localization improvements!
  • Favorite Monster: Forgive me if I’ve confused this dork for one of its cousins, but the Starwyvern looks like a pink duck-snake-eagle that is constantly taunting the player. And it knows midheal, so the odds of ever killing it are super low for anyone not swinging around the Erdrick Sword. It effectively is Dragon Warrior in one wiggly tube of hate.
  • Speaking of Erdrick: Hey, dude, where’s your shield? You had to have one of those, right?
  • Did you know? The Dragon Quest title screen contains a little silhouette of the Dragon Lord, and a sword for the letter T in Quest. The Dragon Warrior title screen retains the dragon shadow, but drops the sword from the (absent) T. Guess which flourish would go on to become a standard part of the logo for future titles.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not under any circumstances. I don’t care if you take away my gamer card, you can’t make me trudge through those dragon swamps ever again. Erdrick can keep his damn token.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… MorphX for the Xbox 360! … Wait, what game? Isn’t that just a graphics card? Or something? Anyway, please look forward to it, I guess.

YAY