Tag Archives: thar be dragons

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…


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.


Wild Arms 2 Part 16: Sea, Save Files, and Sielje

Previously on Wild Arms 2: Odessa had its own private plane, but now it doesn’t. Why? Because ARMS kicks ass, that’s why.

We received a hovercraft for our troubles, and now it’s our job to clean up the mess.

But before we do that, we, for the first time in three updates, have free reign of the planet again. We can go anywhere! Do anything! Refill our arms! Visit Ashley’s girlfriend!

This ain’t Chrono Trigger, you don’t get a rare armor for remembering to visit Lucca’s dad. Lame.

Okay, after hitting the item shop (and dropping Tim off at the Personal Skills shop), it’s time to head back out into the world.

And check out our rad new hovercraft! Let’s go surfin’ now!

FGC #310 Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below

Always plays that same music...Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is a fun little game about defending towns, battling hordes, and causing unspeakable existential crises.

DQH:TWTWatBB is a Dynasty Warriors-esque game (wow, I haven’t reviewed any straight DW games in the last 300 entries? Weird) like Hyrule Warriors. In fact, this game was likely partially inspired by Hyrule Warriors, as, after toying with Gundams for a while, Dynasty Warriors now seems to be in the cross over business. The main appeal of Dragon Quest Heroes is that Dragon Quest part of the title, and that you can battle as all your favorite characters (and Kiryl) from the DQ games that actually featured memorable characters. And don’t underestimate how appealing this can be to fans of a JRPG series! There’s an indescribable joy at seeing characters previously confined to menus and text busting out of their battle screens to finally jump kick across continents as they were always meant to do. Even the less dynamic spell casters of the franchise come alive when they’re dashing around dungeons and actually participating in their kasizziles. And those high tension super moves? Nothing more exciting than seeing a real, screen-clearing giga slash. Take that, you blighting monsters!

And, of course, that’s the other fun part of DQH. While Dynasty Warriors or even Hyrule Warriors can only hope for an interesting boss/general after mowing down swarms of unnamed and uninteresting trash mobs, Dragon Quest has literally decades worth of additions to its bestiary. And many of those creatures were designed by Akira Toriyama, the master of transforming inanimate objects and heaps of ripped muscles into beings brimming with personality by adding only two eyes and a mouth (and occasionally some dangerously spiky hair). Why fight ten thousand generic goblins when slimes, dracies, and chimeras are available? Even the more common beasts (Living Armor comes immediately to mind) are more interesting than SLASH!“anonymous guy with a sword and shield”. And is there a more iconic recolor than the humble metal slime? You’ve lost your spot, Reptile. Nobody farms you for experience.

But those monsters are where we run into problems. While I know nobody shows up to the Warriors series for the plot, DQ is a JRPG franchise (and a charming one at that), so there has to be something of a overarching story to the proceedings, and it’s a little better than “angry king wants to rule the world”. Well, okay, it does contain that, but the inciting incident of the piece involves all the previously friendly monsters in the (this) DQ world going haywire at the behest of a dark tribe/dude/dragon. But for monsters to come unraveled, they must once have been raveled, right? Yes, apparently the monsters of this world were universally friendly before the events of the game, and the opening cinematic shows gigantic golems handing out balloons, and potentially malevolent magicians putting on happy elemental shows for kids. This… is confusing.

Come on get happy

Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way: they’re called monsters. That is not a word with a good connotation, and it’s hard to believe there were centuries of DQ denizens telling their children, “Go out and play with the nice monsters, honey.” Let’s just assume that “monster” is something of a genus in this world, and be done with that line of thinking. Similarly, the more… monstrous of the monsters must have some greater, less-balloon based functions in this DQ’s society. We’ve already seen vicious saber cats used as mounts in other games, and one could argue that creatures literally called Killing Machines are maybe killing deer or cows or other living things that need killing for whatever reason. Slimes and Genie Sanguinis are likely just the hamsters of this universe, and a King Cure Slime or two probably assists in medical procedures. Trolls are just, ya know, trolls. Maybe they eat billy goats, but otherwise they’re just helpful sorts that assist in reaching that top shelf. Gigantes are there when you need to work on the roof.

But while I can forgive walking masonry and sentient puddles running around the place, there’s one monster that always makes me scratch my head.


This is a Walking Corpse. It is clearly a zombie. It is a monster known for being part of the undead class, and traditionally uses “undead” style attacks, with darkness or poison style properties. It is a mobile, rotting cadaver. By all accounts, this is a person that used to be alive, is now dead, but is somehow still up and about. This is a living dead guy.

And what the hell does that mean!?

There are monsters and humans in this world. There is a clear line of distinction between the two. With the exception of Healix the Blessed Heal Slime, every last monster goes crazy at the start of the adventure. Every single one, from wee Man o’ Wars to Marquis de Léon. Conversely, there is not a solitary human that joins the dark brotherhood. It would really help the villainous Velasco to have a human, elf, or dwarf army on his side, but he proves that he’s only capable of controlling monsters and one Lightling (and that only lasts for a chapter or two). In short, there’s an easy way to tell if you’re a monster or human (or approximation thereof) in this world: if you started rampaging the minute a dark dragon said so, you’re a monster. If not, you got a human there, fella. Very simple distinction.

Whippy whippySo what does this mean to our friend the Walking Corpse? If there is a clear line between human and monster, how does a human become a monster? Is this a simple matter of eating a brain before death, and then being cursed to wander as a walking corpse for the rest of your days? But, wait, if monsters are usually friendly in this environment, then… how would that be a curse? Eternal life for the low, low cost of always being smelly and maybe losing an eyeball? Sign me up! But is it consensual? Is a Walking Corpse summoned by a necromancer, and it doesn’t matter if you were a saint or a sinner, your body is part of the undead army now? Or is it a matter of individual spirits possessing individual bodies, once again completely devoid of any consent? Is cremation popular in this universe for that very reason? And what of remaining family members? Do the little ones play with Grandpa Zombie? Are you expected to visit your parents decades after they’ve died just because they have undead mobility? And are we expected to buy birthday presents for creatures that cannot die?

Walking corpses raise way too many questions! And I killed thousands of them over the course of the game! This raises only further questions!

Luckily, they’re the only monster in the Dragon Quest Heroes that…

'Dem Bones

Oh Goddess dammit. I’m just going to let Bjørn the Behemoose stomp that world to paste and be done with it.

FGC #310 Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below

  • System: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, PC, and… Switch? Uh… are we ever getting that port? I’m pretty sure portable would work well with this game.
  • Number of players: One. This is a point of contention.
  • Longest title in the FGC? Maybe. It’s between that and that Adventure Time game.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I’m starting to wonder if I really enjoy Warriors-like games. They’re fun for a few minutes at a time (and the levels here are blissfully much shorter than similar stages from Hyrule Warriors), but that quickly wears thin. What’s more, it seems like the only innovation the game can show for various levels is different kinds of escort missions, and whether you’re protecting a wall or a random village, it’s still a damn escort mission. All that said, I am all about controlling DQ Heroes in non-JRPG settings, and would also be down for Dragon Quest: Theatrhythm, Dragon Quest: The Platformer, and Dragon Quest: Ultra Chess. Dragon Quest: Minecraft is a maybe.
  • KICK!Favorite Character: Alena always needed a world where she could stretch her legs, and her wild combat style here does not disappoint. And her accent, like her ridiculous hat, is adorable. Contrariwise, Terry is so terrible that I never want to play Dragon Quest VI again. Shut up about your stupid sword, Terry!
  • Did you know? “Dragon Quest Heroes” seemed to just be the coverall moniker for spin-off Dragon Quest games, like the best DQ game ever, Rocket Slime. However, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below and its sequel seems to have snatched that title for the Warriors-esque franchise, as any searches for “Dragon Quest Heroes” returns almost exclusively this title. So, long story short, Rocket Slime is again ignored forever.
  • Would I play again: Nope! What? I like this game well enough, but there’s a sequel with… Angelo instead of Yangus? Oh, bullocks, I might never play this franchise ever again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Town & Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari for the NES! It’s the gorilla my dreams! Or something! Please look forward to it!

Do it!

FGC #243 Dragon’s Lair (NES)

Kind of a tubby dragonThis game is pure, focused malice.

I want to be clear about something here: I am not merely using hyperbole to refer to a “difficult” or “poorly constructed” game. No, what we have here is a NES game that, for reasons that shall shortly become clear, was designed by people that vehemently loathe anyone that happened to support the Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was designed exclusively to make the world a worse place, and it was released solely for the purpose of spite. Dragon’s Lair for the NES is hate.

You probably already know about Dragon’s Lair. DL was an arcade game by animation legend Don Bluth, and was, effectively, a playable cartoon. Considering it was released in 1983, a year when most videogames looked like Bobby Is Going Home, Dragon’s Lair was something of a phenomenon. Yes, it was a “controlled” type game, wherein the goal is basically to play Simon Says effectively enough to keep the game “playing itself”, but it was still fun to watch. And, again, this was the age of the Atari, a time when “videogame” could mean anything from Pong to controlling tanks to a game that tests your ability to press up every thirty seconds. Dragon’s Lair was an early example of graphics trumping gameplay, but it was at a time when “gameplay” could be severely lacking and have horrible graphics, so it gets a pass.

THE REAL MCCOYUnfortunately, Dragon’s Lair didn’t get a pass from technology. Dragon’s Lair ran on laserdisc tech, and, suffice it to say, it would be a long time before anything disc-based infiltrated the home videogame market. So Dragon’s Lair (arcade) begat Space Ace (arcade) the following the year, and then… nothing. Dragon’s Lair didn’t see a sequel until 1991. Just a reminder: Dragon’s Lair (1) was a contemporary of the Atari, and Dragon’s Lair 2 was released a year after Super Mario World. That’s practically an eternity in videogame time, and it was during that eternity that Nintendo conquered the gaming market. When Dragon’s Lair launched, it was the most amazing thing many people had ever seen. Dragon’s Lair 2 was practically a footnote compared to “when’s the next Zelda coming out”.

And before Dragon’s Lair 2, there was Dragon’s Lair for the NES.

Dragon’s Lair NES was released in 1990. Just so we’re all on the same page, the NES was good and established by 1990, and other games released that year include Mega Man 3, Adventures of Lolo 2, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, and Solar Jetman. While there are a few oddballs even in that list, they’re all unmistakably NES games, whether they star waddling blue balls or not. By 1990, the NES kids were all well past trying to figure out this whole crosspad thing, and onto jumping and shooting and maybe pushing blocks like a champ. This was not the Wild West of the Atari age, this was a time of the Nintendo Seal of Quality and only being moderately confused when Little Nemo started wearing a live bee like a suit. It was an age of wonders, but it was also an age where we all knew A meant jump.

In Dragon’s Lair NES, B is the jump button. A attacks. Select is pause, and Start triggers a torch “item”. This is an ominous control scheme.

Also ominous? You’re unlikely to make it past the first screen of Dragon’s Lair NES.

ARGH!To say something nice, Dirk the Daring, the star of Dragon’s Lair, has excellent animation. He probably has one of the most complicated walking animations on the NES, and he really does move like a “real” person. He even turns around! This was a time when some sprites weren’t even expected to look in a different direction (hi, Gradius!), and we’ve got a Dirk walking along in a perfectly smooth bit of animation. Good job, Dragon’s Lair!

Unfortunately, this animation doesn’t come cheap, and that price is Dirk moves about as quickly as dried tar. And, fun fact, that problem doesn’t impact any other creature. Or piece of masonry. Or, Bluth-forbid, sea dragon.

Let’s revisit that first screen. There’s a bat swooping forward, and, like the good bats of Castlevania, he will infinitely respawn. Luckily, he only takes off a bit of your energy. Unfortunately, you’re not so lucky with the crumbling bridge, which inevitably leads to a moat of sudden death. If you attempt to jump the crumbling blocks, good luck, because starting Dirk’s ultra-slow jump means he’ll be in the drink before his crouching animation is complete. And turning around is right out, as he’ll slide off the bridge that way, too. However, if you manage to make it past the crumbly bits, you’ll encounter a sea dragon. Touch the dragon, and you’re dead. Touch the fireballs the dragon spews, and you’re dead. Attempt to hurl a dagger (press A) at the dragon, and you’ll lose that fire fight, and be dead. Hop over the dragon, and you’ll find the front gate of the castle has closed, and touching it means instant death. So, what you must do is walk aaaall the way back across the decaying bridge, hide in the corner, and hurl an ungainly number of daggers at the dragon until it finally dies. Also, just for funsies, if you duck to avoid fireballs, the dragon will duck too, and he’s completely out of range during that time. Assuming you survive this gauntlet until the dragon is defeated, you can then attempt to pass the bridge and the bat again, and, finally, make it to the next screen.

DammitOh, and side note? There are no continues in this game, so every time you lose your daily allotment of five lives, you have to do that entire sequence all over again.

And you will lose those lives quickly once you’re in the castle. That bat (which, don’t worry, will appear again and again) is apparently one of the few threats in the castle that will only take off a chunk of life as opposed to, ya know, instant death. Pits? Instant death. Snakes? Instant death. Moving walls? Instant death. Floating skulls? Sometimes lost health, sometimes instant death, with no overt distinction on why. Bosses? You better believe those lead to instant death. And even beyond that, you’ve got Dirk’s anemic jump, and moving platforms that aren’t consistent at all. Some platforms have their own “gravity”, and will ferry Dirk over pits. Other moving platforms move on their own terms, and Dirk has to walk across them to avoid pits below. And you won’t know which platform is which until you’re inevitably a pile of bones at the bottom of the nearest chasm. Oh, I’m sorry, was that your last life? Back to the moat, loser!

And that’s not all, folks! There are a number of subtle bits of malice in this adventure. The main “hub” of the game is an elevator (that will likely get you killed), and if you accidently enter an area you already completed (which, incidentally, aren’t marked at all), you have to repeat the level all over again. You may collect gold to increase your (useless) score, but if you stay still for longer than about a second (which is kind of inevitable with all these instant death traps whirling around), the Lizard King will appear and steal your gold and some health, just for funsies. And, at the (inevitable) end of your game, there’s a high score table that I swear is completely impossible to top. Seriously, you’d have to replay all the levels in this game about ten times to clear the highest score.

DAMMIT!Put all of this together, and it seems pretty clear that the game is actively taunting the player. You will never beat the first screen. You will never see the ending. You will never get the high score. Why are you even playing this game, you foolish Nintendo kid?

And I can’t help but imagine that that is deliberate.

The Nintendo Entertainment System, with its cutesy 8-bit graphics and simple play styles, conquered the home console market for what seemed like forever. There was no place for the big budget, fully animated likes of Dragon’s Lair on the NES, and, honestly, nobody really cared. Contra was fun. Castlevania was fun. Mega Man was fun. Dirk the Daring was a legend in his time, but he was a flash in the pan compared to the turtle-stomper in overalls. The laserdisc fell by the wayside, and the cartridge conquered the land. It must have been… discouraging to be the curator of yesterday’s news, and then be expected to port that masterpiece to the system that vanquished your hero. What was left to do but punish the children that dug Dirk’s grave?

Dragon’s Lair NES is malevolence in cartridge form. It is revenge given plastic. And it’s also kind of a crappy game, so, ya know, try to avoid it.

FGC #243 Dragon’s Lair (NES)

  • System: NES. It doesn’t even have the excuse of being on other systems to explain the wonky controls.
  • Number of players: Technically, it is two player alternating. But, like a two man con, if two people play this game, the odds of someone realizing “hey, this is terrible” immediately shoots up to nearly 100%.
  • Port-o-Call: Turns out the Japanese/European version of the game increased Dirk’s movement speeds to much more survivable levels. Unfortunately, they also added falling boulders to the elevator area, so I’m sticking to my “this game is hate” assessment.
  • So, did you beat it: Yes, with a healthy amount of modern cheating. For the record, your only “reward” is a single “congratulations” screen.


    Daphne barely appears. Boo.

  • Favorite boss: Death, aka the Grim Reaper, is straight up the boss of a stage. I’m wondering if he just likes hanging around spooky castles. Not like he has anything better to do.
  • Did you know? You can actually reclaim your treasures from the Lizard King in a secret area at the bottom of the elevator. Considering the treasure does nothing but boost your score, and the odds of dying in practically any level in this game are infinitely high, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s not worth it.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. Even with save states, this game is nearly impossible, and I only completed it to see if there was any level of satisfaction in doing so. Spoilers: nope.

What’s next? Random ROB… isn’t being so random next week. In honor of the release of the Switch, I’ll be covering three games that are at least tangentially related to the launch of Nintendo’s latest system. So first up is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Zelda time is here again! Please look forward to it!

Grandpa, that's just Maggie