Tag Archives: mobile gaming

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

FGC #092 Rampart

For glory!Much has been made in recent years of the predatory nature of mobile games. The theory claims modern mobile gaming consists of only two types of games: those that are poorly aping their console cousins with lousy controls or graphical “upgrades”, or the more sinister “free-to-play” games that include some not-so-free transactions that pile up quickly until the player has spent this month’s rent on virtual pig feed. Modern mobile designers are clearly fleecing an unwitting public, and these games aren’t being made to entertain like in the good ol’ days, but to line the pockets of some cigar chomping business lord. Video games have sold out!

Except, ya know, it’s always been that way. From day one.

I’ve never heard anyone disparage Pong. Pong was hungry for coins, and it was willing to shake down two players at a time for an experience that could be simulated with a Dollar Store’s worth of plastic crap. The story goes that Pong’s first night out broke the machine, not because of some software failure, but because customers pumped so much cash into the device, it created a minor money bin with a teeny tiny duck swimming around in there. The wee “noise of a fowl Scotsman” is what tipped everyone off that something was wrong. The “first” video game found a “whale” customer on literally its first day out.

In a way, it never got better. Much of modern console gaming is a direct descendant of the arcade mentality, and every arcade game ever created was a few components short of just sticking a magnet in there and sucking your quarters directly out of your parachute pants. There’s a lot of hype right now for Street Fighter 5, which is the latest in the series that really got its start with Street Fighter 2. Everyone quiet down, because an old man is talking, and I remember playing Street Fighter 2 in the arcades. First of all, obviously, the “winner stays, loser pays” two player mode had to be a goldmine, as everyone in the arcade has been trying to assert their dominance since high score tables allowed ASS to show off that top score. And, of course, there’s no “practice mode” in Street Fighter 2, you have to learn the precise special move motions while being punched in the face. But, hey, same as any game, right? Not like arcade games ever give you a “safe mode” to tinker with the controls.

But the really sinister bit is the one player campaign. The first eight characters may be tough, but you’ve also gotten in some practice against the likes of Blanka and Dhalsim during two player matches. Here’s Zangief, maintain a healthy distance, and everything should be fine. So, after honing your skills against seven “familiar” characters, there’s the four “bosses”, each completely unique and impossible to fight without first conquering the rest of the world. Balrog the Boxer isn’t that bad, but he hits like a buffalo, so have your quarters MODE 7 YEAH!ready for that continue. Vega with his claw boasts a host of air attacks (and invincible cage crawl time. Should I be hitting him while he’s… oh, I’m dead), and you’re going down if you can’t immediately learn how to deal with this aerial assault. Sagat is just a damn wall: low fireballs, high fireballs, and a tiger punch for anyone that wants to try jumping. And after all that, Chief Dictator M. Bison combines the worst of Balrog and Vega to drain your moral and wallet. And, of course, the “sequential” nature of Street Fighter 2 creates a sunk cost fallacy: I spent all this cash fighting through ten other fighters, I can’t just waste it all and not throw in another ten bucks. That would be letting M. Bison win. The indignity of the thought!

Rampart might not be as well-known as Street Fighter 2, but, back in the 90’s arcade scene, its designers knew exactly what they were doing.

Rampart is, at face value, pretty straightforward. You’re a… king? General? Cannon ‘n Construction supply company? Some sort of commander of a castle, and you’ve got to defend your little fort against an Just go... whereverinvading gaggle of ships. First you choose your castle, get some “free” walls, and place a few cannons around. After that, a battle phase begins, and you’re expected to aim the cannons just right to take out the moving boats that are blasting back at your walls. This concludes with hopefully a few boats sunk, but your castle’s walls look like Swiss cheese, so it’s time to rebuild with a series of randomly selected, randomly shaped blocks that hopefully will plug up those dikes before the flood comes again next round. If you’re really on the ball, you can use extra building materials to block in new castles, and expand your territory. Then the whole thing starts again: new cannons, battling about, and rebuilding what’s left. Hopefully you take out all the ships before your walls are destroyed, or it’s game over. Assuming you win, it’s on to the next level for the exact same events, but in a slightly different venue.

As ever, the devil (that wants all your money) is in the details. When you really get down to the mechanics of Rampart, you realize it’s pretty… insidious. And by the numbers…

  1. You will take damage. There’s no dodging. If there are five enemy ships, you will take damage. If there are ten enemy ships, you will take damage. If there is one enemy ship, you will take damage. Yes, “recovering” is a dedicated part of this game, but it pairs poorly with the fact that…
  2. The enemy can, and likely will, dodge. It is entirely possible for you to go through an attack phase and never hit an enemy. You’re a sitting duck while they’re zooming about, dodging cannon fire like they’ve hacked your medieval targeting system.
  3. The rebuilding phase is the most frantic for a reason. All building material is completely randomly generated, so, while you may have a weensy square of damage interrupting your DAMMIT!perfect wall, all you’ll receive are a series of giant blocks that absolutely will not fit. You are encouraged to quickly decide that these larger blocks should be tossed into trying to conquer another castle, and maybe the next block will be helpful. It never is. This creates pretty obvious slot machine “gameplay”, as you keep hoping the next pull is going to hit the jackpot that will save your kingdom. If it doesn’t come, you instinctively blame your own poor buildmanship, and not the fact that the game is effectively block-blocking you.
  4. The only way to lose is to not properly rebuild your walls. As my friend Matt, my Rampart partner going back twenty years, put it, “Oh did you leave that little section over in the corner unprotected? Womp womp womp.” The tiniest break in your wall is cause for game over, and, once again, this is engineered to imply you’re the one doing something wrong.

That’s how Rampart gets its hooks in you. The gameplay isn’t, I don’t know, Battletoads, with its “you are dead inside ten seconds” impossible third level; no, much of Rampart seems downright easy. You shoot your cannons, you just miss, but you’ll get ‘em next time. You fail to rebuild your wall, but it was just a missing block or two, if only you had the exact right piece, you would have been saved. Better try again, I can get it next time… yeah… this time will be different…

So it goes, on and on, until your every last quarter is gone. POWNo, you never achieved victory, but you would have, you know, if it had all gone just a little bit more your way. And you’ll remember the game fondly, because, while it seemed pretty easy (but not easy enough to actually win), it was a good, challenging game. Maybe hit that cabinet the next time you’re in the area. You’ll know better what to do then.

And you’ll still get that damn cross block that you can’t place anywhere. And another quarter goes in the slot.

Ten years later, maybe you’ve learned, maybe you haven’t. It’s okay either way, really, it’s an entertaining game, right? Hell, there should be more games like it, though the genre is kind of… weird? I mean, what would you call something like Rampart? You’ve got castles, walls, and cannons. Maybe castle… defense? Yeah, that sounds alright.

Hey, you know what? I bet someone could make a good couple of bucks monetizing these “castle defense” games. Now we just have to find a medium that works like the arcades of yesteryear. How about mobile gaming? But much has been made in recent years of the predatory nature of mobile games…

FGC #92 Rampart

  • System: Technically SNES for the review, but the arcade version took center stage, and Rampart has also appeared on every system ever made. Alright, that might not be completely accurate, as I can’t find a Virtual Boy version, but I think it’s everywhere else, in one form or another.
  • Number of players: I didn’t really get into how the multi-player mode fits into the whole “fleece you but good” model, but it’s also great for stealing your wool, Who knows?as three-player mode allows one player to constantly be the loser every cycle, and then have to insert another coin to continue to participate. Imagine a fighting game where you had to insert a coin after a lost round, just to lose again to receive the final verdict regarding your massive suckage.
  • Port o’ Call: Rampart and Gauntlet were packaged together for their Gameboy Advance release. Hey, another noble quarter killer! Goggle Bob needs change badly.
  • Matt also says: “Ships are overpowered.” His is a wisdom for the ages.
  • Grunts? Oh yeah, I didn’t even mention those little buggers. They’re like the mosquitos of the game: you think they’re no big deal and just require a swift slap, but by the time you get home, you realize your right arm is one giant welt, and your blood has been replaced with malaria. It’s unpleasant.
  • Did you know? Most Rampart games have that one angry soldier shouting about incoming barbarians or whatever is going on there, but the Japanese boxart for Gameboy Rampart seems to imply there are dragons and anime knights of all genders and ages within your battered castle. It’s about at this point that I realize I would buy Final Fantasy: Rampart in about ten seconds. Then I wonder if that was idea behind the Tactics series…
  • Would I play again: So… many… modern… options… Can’t… penetrate… genre…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dynamite Cop for the Sega Dreamcast! Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president’s daughter? …. Leon, no, wait your turn. Please look forward to it!

Watch your step