Tag Archives: square-enix

FGC #560 Einhänder

Get ready to pewHas it ever been good enough to be just, ya know, good enough?

Today’s title is practically a fetish of a bygone epoch. Square (later devoured and digivolved into Square Enix) is a game company that has been around practically from the beginning of gaming. It was the company that brought us Final Fantasy, The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner, and Rad Racer. Today, Square Enix is responsible for Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Quest, Nier, Tomb Raider, Avengers, and Just Cause. But there was a time in the early 21st Century when there was one major complaint about Square (+/- Enix): “they just do Final Fantasy”. And, inevitably, when “they just do Final Fantasy” was brought up, earlier halcyon days of lore were inevitably summoned as well. “Remember when Square used to make more than RPGs? Remember Tobal No. 1? Remember The Bouncer? Remember Einhänder?” And all involved in such a conversation were nodding sagely at the evocation of the “good old days” of experimental Square, and memories of all those old fighting games, shoot ‘em ups, and whatever the hell The Bouncer was supposed to be.

Except it was bullshit. It was always bullshit. Why? Because no greater than seven people in America ever played Einhänder! And don’t even get me started on Tobal No. 2! Admit it, you don’t have a “buddy” that can “score imports”! Oh, you already traded the disc in, that’s why we can’t play it? Stop screwing with me, Donny, I know what you’re up to!

… Er-hem.

KABAMSquare definitely had an “experimental period” around the late 90s. Mind you, it really was not all that different from Square’s earlier output of Final Fantasy games right alongside “weird” games like Live a Live or Front Mission. But by 1997, everyone was looking to Square when it struck it rich with Final Fantasy 7. With Square at the top of the heap, everyone was diving headfirst into their whole catalogue… or at least reading Game Informer’s list of Square releases. “ Einhänder, eh? That looks cool,” was evidently said by an awful lot of people that didn’t actually play Einhänder, because damn, Ein, I’m pretty sure you got outsold by the Final Fantasy 8 demo disc. There’s no shame in that, it was a good demo disc (and it may have been packaged with a game? Who knows?), but it lends further credence to the theory that goddamned no one actually played Einhänder.

And a lack of Einhänder playing is clearly the greatest shame of late 90’s gamers. Is Einhänder good? Listen, bub, it might be the best shoot ‘em up of the Playstation 1 generation by a pretty wide margin! Not only is it just a good shmup in the tradition of Gradius or R-Type, it also utilizes the Playstation graphics engine in ways that are still impressive today. This mix of polygons and whatever the hell makes a PSX disc go is a feast for the eyes, and, if this article had not already firmly established the release window for Einhänder, then it would likely be very easy to trick you, dear reader, into believing this was a game released at the established, tail end of a console’s lifecycle (and not practically at its beginning). And it is not just about the graphics here in Einhänder Land (apparently the moon and/or Earth all along), the gameplay of Einhänder is as good as a shoot ‘em up gets. You dodge. You shoot. You score the occasional powerup through shooting. Opponents have easily-understood patterns, and you are given opportunities to respond and retaliate in kind. Your Einhänder is fragile, but powerups can take a few hits, so you are not always teetering on the abyss like a Vic Viper that forgot to load shields. In short, Einhänder is gorgeous, fair, and simple enough that anyone could learn to be an Einhänding master.

And maybe that is why no one played the damn thing.

WATCH OUTLook, Square didn’t become famous because they created Mario, Sonic, or Mike Haggar. Square gameplay was and is always going to be associated with one major thing: dudes with swords using those swords in complicated ways. Final Fantasy was never a game that stood by the standard “A is jump” mantra of many NES titles, it was a game where you had to cycle through three different menus just to get your little red dude to swing his sword at anything more substantial than thin air. From there, not only did the method to make your wee swordsman to swing said sword get more complicated (what the hell is a “Runic”!?) but the worlds surrounding our fantasy armies became significantly more complicated, too. Where once we just kind of accepted that there might be a space station still floating around the relics of a lost civilization, now we had to have fictions that told long, intricate stories about these capital-A “Ancients” and how modern scientists were still trying to mate them with Pokémon for some reason. Where once your hero didn’t have a name, now not only did they have names, families, and complicated motivations, they also had identity crises wherein they debated the true nature of being loved. By the time Square got around to smooshing all its most popular swords guys against Mickey Mouse, the “default” story that had to be told was expected to contain a tale of identity theft, teenage possession, and at least thirteen dudes in cloaks that will probably reveal their true motives in approximately fifteen years. Square makes complicated games. Square seems to revel in making complicated games.

Almost the endAnd, don’t worry, Einhänder contains a plot that could reasonably be described as complicated for its time. While this is not on the same echelon as Chrono Trigger and other contemporaries pushing the boundaries of what could be in a videogame story, this is still nowhere near “princess captured, rescue princess”. Your Einhänder is piloted by an anonymous pilot that thinks they’re just doing some basic military maneuvers for the glory of their planet/celestial body/whatever, but, in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that this soldier (and all soldiers like them) is a lot closer to being on a suicide mission than anything that could ever be survivable. And that’s bad, apparently! In the end, your unknown Einhänder pilot learns the truth, rebels in pretty straightforward ways, and ends all war forever or something through sheer survivability, and we all learn a valuable lesson about reading the fine print on any potentially earned medals.

But, while Einhänder has what might be considered a complicated plot for a shoot ‘em up (the Space Invaders Ultimania guide is thinner than a dehydrated needlefish) it also has a plot that is barely there. There are cutscenes in Einhänder, and they’re almost exclusively featuring whatever giant robot or missile you’re expected to shoot next. Other than that? Any and all explanations for what the hell is happening are constrained to the opening and ending. And that’s brilliant! We don’t need another game that does not understand how some genres are completely incompatible with “now stop playing and watch a movie”. Einhänder is a white-knuckle shoot ‘em up wherein there should not be a second where you feel safe to put the controller down. It even suits the underlying plot! You are in mortal danger at all times! Sitting around and reading a data entry on your local corrupt government is only going to detract from the Einhänder experience!

… Except that means that you are probably going to miss the semi-intricate plot as a result. That means that this shoot ‘em up is going to come off as… just another shoot ‘em up.

Yo!And is that good enough? This is the best shoot ‘em up of a console generation from a time when its parent company could have greenlit practically anything (“You want a Mana game that drops all previous gameplay conceits and can barely be described using human language? Legend of Mana it is!”), and, yet, we live in a world without an Einhänder 2(: Revenge of the Moon). By whatever rubric Square had for its late 90s releases, Einhänder did not succeed enough to merit further promotion or even a spiritual sequel. To this day, the best Einhänder can accomplish is starring in a mini game or two across different Square Enix properties. Einhänder, in the absence of the “complicated”, thorny nature of its brothers of the era became slippery, and slid right out of the gaming consciousness. If you played Einhänder in the 90’s, I salute you, but it is likely only because you are naturally attracted to weird German robots, and not because someone recommended it to you. The byzantine games of the era sucked up all the oxygen surrounding Square titles, and Einhänder wound up occupying that same “I heard about ‘em before they were cool” imaginary headspace. Nobody listened to Smash Mouth’s Fush Yu Mang, and nobody bought Einhänder. It was a good game, but that’s all it could ever be. Ain’t no cosplay Sephiroths mingling with giant robot monkey boss cosplayers in 2001 or 2021.

Einhänder, you were amazing, and great at what you did. But all you did was what you did, and it looks like that wasn’t enough.

FGC #560 Einhänder

  • System: Playstation 1. Could be available on the Playstation 3, if, like, you lived in Japan.
  • Number of players: This is a game that has made “one” part of its identity.
  • There's a secret moveFavorite Ship: Screw the unlockable bonus ships, I’ll take the simplicity of the Einhänder MK III any day. I like my one-handed spaceships like I like my coffee: straight, to the point, and capable of demolishing entire armies.
  • Favorite Powerup: I am easily influenced by box art, so I love me some laser swords. There is nothing I enjoy more than getting some weird ass weapon in a shoot ‘em up, and then being rewarded for standing inordinately close to a monster spewing bullets while my sword apparently hacks away while wholly motionless. It is a beautiful showcase of swordsmanship.
  • What’s in a name: Breaking it down, “händer” translates roughly to “handed” in English, while “Ein” means “that dog from Cowboy Bebop”. So an appropriate localization of Einhänder would be “a game about that really smart puppy that now has hands”. I think it is supposed to be about the shape of the ship.
  • Difficulty Modes: In addition to the usual easy/medium/hard/dark souls difficulty modes available in Einhänder, the Japanese version also includes an “unlimited mode” that grants infinite lives at the expense of not being able to score points. And they removed it for the American release! That’s the best feature available to a shoot ‘em up, and they took it out! Those bastards!
  • Lotta pewsDid you know? There was a strategy guide for Einhänder published in Japan. I realize this was the heyday of guide books, but I would never consider needing one for a shoot ‘em up. I’m assuming it was just a few maps, some random lore/art, and every other page simply stating “practice until your thumbs fall off”. That’s a good strategy.
  • Would I play again: Put it on Switch, you monsters! It’s all I’ve ever wanted! Or at least I will claim that is true for the remainder of this article!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Network Transmission for the Nintendo Gamecube! It’s time to jack in to the net, Lan! Please look forward to it!

ROBO MONKEY

World of Final Fantasy Part 03

Chapter 7: He’s Not Family
Initial Stream: 9/29/20



1:00 – I tried to get the “futzing around in menus” out of the way before the stream started, but I also wanted to capture the evolution transfarring of BURDIEE… but it was a lot more underwhelming than I expected. And then I proceed to spend ten minutes futzing around in other menus. Dammit!

8:25 – Okay! Actually back at Soronia! This area is loosely based on a town besieged by conflict in Final Fantasy 3, so let’s discuss why maybe Final Fantasy 3 sucked. It has something to do with swamps…

14:00 – Betrayal! A villain makes an unexpected appearance (in front of a painting of Kain Highwind?), but let’s just talk about Space Adventure Cobra instead.

20:00 – The Knight in the Golden Mask has a secret identity. Is he Cloud? Zoneseek? The heroes’ father? Everybody guesses it’s that last one.

25:00 – And the chapter ends abruptly after brainstorming the best way to go back in time and destroy Pitfall.

What actually happened in the plot: This was supposed to be a simple meeting with Refia’s uncle, the thane. However, the city of Soronia has recently fallen under the thrall of the Bahamutian Army (Empire?), and things aren’t great for anybody. Worst of all, the thane has been replaced with a seemingly immortal Bahamutian soldier, and he’s backed up by the mysterious Knight in the Golden Mask. Our party barely survives the encounter, but they are rescued by Sherlotta, who has the ability to transform into a kitty cat that can shoot fire. Sherlotta imparts a magical monocle on the party that reveals that all conquered cities are literally shackled in place by (normally) invisible chains. With Soronia a bust, Refia stays with Sherlotta, and the twins venture forth to find a boat to reach other shores.

Chapter 8: This World Brought to You by the Letter Arrr
Initial Stream: 9/29/20



1:00 – This chapter is mostly dungeon, so we kick it off by discussing How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. This was apparently made into a movie fifteen years ago! Maybe you should watch that!

4:00 – This dungeon is all dire docks, and cannons launching our party across rising waters seems to be the main gimmick of the area. Cannon travel sure seems popular in a number of videogames, eh?

8:00 – Dungeons are great for discussing tangentially related nonsense. We encounter a mimic chest, so let’s look to Gogo, the best mimic of all. Want to segue into Chrono Trigger from there? Sure!

15:00 – There is some confusion over Mini Flan capturing. At this point, I’m confident in calling this a flaw in World of Final Fantasy: you’re often given precise instructions on how to capture a mirage (like “do physical damage”), but sometimes that doesn’t activate immediately, and you’re left scrambling to a FAQ to determine whether there is some additional condition, or if you’re doing something wrong. Or you send BEAT on a quixotic quest for that info. You know, whatever works for you.

24:00 – Funkos in flight! Maybe these creatures are closer to keychain charms…

28:00 – Star Ocean: The Second Story is apparently a lot more interesting than I ever expected, as fanboymaster explains its counterfeiting system here. Also, reading books written by your friends, which I’m going to claim takes us back to the book discussion at the top of the chapter.

36:00 – After a discussion of Final Fantasy 7’s Godzillas and Wutai, it’s time for moogle pirates to attack. They’re Kupirates. I annihilate their adorableness.

39:00 – Syldra and Faris make us all happy… until it turns out to be a scripted battle. And BEAT is never happy, so I guess this was a wash.

43:00 – Faris inevitably aligns with our heroes as we discuss Playonline and the aborted plans of the Final Fantasy franchise.

What actually happened in the plot: Reynn and Lann tried to steal a boat from pirates, but Faris the pirate fought back with a gigantic sea monster. Luckily (kinda), the fake thane from the last chapter followed us, and, since this revealed the twins to be enemies of the Bahamutian Army, Faris turned her considerable power toward obliterating the real monster. After that general was swabbed off the poop deck, Faris (or at least one of her moogles) provided an additional segment of the prophecy that claims the heroes have to fetch four keys and ascend to the heavens. We’re off to a “valley of fire” to find key numero uno!

Chapter 9: Red Turtle Rafting
Initial Stream: 9/29/20



1:20 – Quistis?! Why are you here?

4:45 – We take a quick break to check in on the “home dimension” and see how those side stories with Final Fantasy heroes work. They’re apparently moderately interesting. Tales of Symphonia narrative bullshit is noted.

14:00 – Talkin’ ‘bout Die Hard Arcade while upgrading monsters. During this downtime, please enjoy this article I slapped together a few years back on Dynamite Cop.

17:00 – Back to the real plot, so let’s talk about Ms. Marvel and the Avengers.

20:00 – Anime out of nowhere! For the first time since Chapter 1, we get a brief cutscene that is fully animated. While that is happening, we contemplate whether either of these characters actually have a personality. They’re at least distinct from each other…

25:00 – We save a wee turtle in honor of our hero, Italian Elon Musk.

28:00 – Rikku makes the scene in her Final Fantasy 10-2 treasure/sphere hunter incarnation. After World of Final Fantasy started off with Warrior of Light, Princess Sarah, a Crystal Chronicles cat, and a Final Fantasy 3 kinda-character, we’re now going fast and furious with the recognizable cameos. And we will have a Final Fantasy 7 heroine before the end of the next chapter! Which is coming soon!

What actually happened in the plot: Quistis provides a submarine (compliments of the Final Fantasy 8 demo disc)… which we crash, because apparently this world is a series of loosely connected floating islands. Barring the ability to do literally anything else, we save a little turtle, who reveals itself to be the child of a great big turtle. Said giant turtle offers us a ride, and we’re off to drier land.

Editor’s note: the following part is written by esteemed streamer of World of Final Fantasy, BEAT

Chapter 10: MORE LIKE FUCKO POPS AM I RITE?!?!?!
Initial Stream: 9/29/20



WAIT A SECOND YOU’RE NOT GOGGLEBOB!

0:00 – OH SHIT IT’S BEAT. That’s right dorks, I’m writing up this video! I’ve retained literally zero knowledge of this game’s plot or mechanics, and only barely paid attention to this steam while I was guesting on it. Call the cops I don’t give a fuck.

1:20 – In my infinite wisdom, I immediately derail the conversation into a discussion on how Final Fantasy Ecks Too was the sexy one, and how Final Fantasy’s attempt to appeal to teenage boys has tragically resulted in this game trying to make those horrible little funko pop people HOTTT. Fanboy is less than pleased.

05:00 – I try to recall a dumb gag from 8-bit theater. Fortunately my internet is actively trying to kill itself, so you’re all spared my evil… until a minute later when I share it anyway. We then pontificate on the cultural impact of sprite comics the joy of Gamer Dilbert, and the terrible tragedy of regular Dilbert.

06:10 – The party makes it a desolate stone wasteland, a nightmarish valley of razor sharp spires jutting out of the earth and into an uncaring grey sky. Nobody on the call seems to notice.

14:30 – Fun fact, we streamed this on the night of the first Presidential debate! That way, none of us had to watch the debate! Fuck Trump. It’ll be so cool when he dies.

21:30 – Fanboy gives us all a history of Square Electronic Arts, a very good business partnership, that lasted a very long time and created many excellent products.

29:00 – After approximately 11 million years of random battles, we finally reach what I assume is the area’s boss, Cerberus! It doesn’t look like a dog, and two of it’s three heads just float in the air. It’s not even the size of a house! This Cerberus sucks, you guys. Eventually Gogglebob captures it in a pokeball, and names it Vinnie- WAIT!

FUCKING WAIT!

ONE OF VINNIE PAZ’S STUPID NICKNAMES IS "BIG LOUIE DOGS!"

CERBERUS IS (KIND OF) A DOG!

IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!!

35:30 – The Boss is beaten, but we’re still in dumb rocky land what the shit.

SEPHIROTH!37:00 – Gogglebob’s anime siblings now have the ability to summon Sephiroth, who summons meteor and then does the whole walk into the fire thing. It’s awful. It rules. I hate it. I love it.

40:00 – Hey, remember Advent Children? No? Me neither.

44:15 – I don’t know why Gogglebob named this horrible deformed dragon thing "104." And you know what? I’m at peace with it.

45:10 – Oh okay NOW we’re at the boss. I guess Cerberus was just a midboss or whatever. Everybody is a dick about how anime boy tastes.

47:45 – Oh shit it’s cowboy Tifa. Hi cowboy Tifa. I hate the funko pop outfit version of her sexy cowgirl Halloween costume almost as much as I hate her voice.

51:20 – Tiny Midgar is in sight! It’s adorably hellish, and contrasts nicely with the adorable little town right next to it, which is also surrounded by lava pits for some reason.

53:50 – A random NPC mentions Cactuars, which is the ONLY THING any of us care about seeing.

55:00 – We make it to tiny Midgar Nibelheim. It’s Nibelheim now. You thought it was Midgar, but it’s Nibelheim. Tifa’s here. I still hate her stupid outfit. STREAM OVER!

What actually happened in the plot: the gang rode a giant fucking turtle… somewhere. They go into a giant stone hellhole, where they fight a dog and then a dragon. Funko Pop Tifa shows up out of nowhere, and guides the teens out of the boring rock quarry. She guides the Anime teens the town of Agarthir, which is right next to the futuristic dystopia of Midgard, which is actually Niblehiem for some reason. Tifa’s there I guess. Whatever.

Next time on World of Final Fantasy: Gonna take you for a Rydia.

FGC #526 Final Fantasy 7 Remake

This article contains hella spoilers for Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and a Thornton Wilder play. It happens. If you wish to experience FF7R untainted by foreknowledge, you have been warned. Now back to that play…

Let's talk about playsIn 1938, Thornton Wilder released Our Town. For anyone that has not seen or read the play, it is a deliberately simple production that showcases three different stages in the lives of the residents of Grover’s Corners. It begins with a focus on “daily life”, like children going to school and milk being delivered, proceeds to “love & marriage” with a joyous and stressful wedding day, and finally ends with “death and eternity”, a supernatural visit with the spirits literally haunting the local cemetery. The whole while, the play is hosted by the Stage Manager, a character that bleats his dialogue against the fourth wall. This “manager” separates their role between being a character in Grover’s Corners, narrator, and a congenial guy (or lady) that addresses questions from the audience. The Stage Manager and the general tone of the whole production was a result of Wilder acknowledging that he didn’t like the direction “the theater” was taking at the time, and Our Town was intended to drop intricate sets and impersonal narratives for a simple setup and direct interaction with the audience. Possibly because of this, Our Town has been popular since its premiere; however, Wilder often said the play was rarely performed correctly, as, in his own words, it “should be performed without sentimentality or ponderousness–simply, dryly, and sincerely.” Good luck with that, Thorn, as the final act of Our Town contains one of the most beautiful and insightful exchanges ever directly lifted by Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch:

“Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

“No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

If you’re curious about the context of such a statement: Emily, one of the stars of Our Town that has been showcased since her childhood days, has died during childbirth. She meets the other ghosts of the graveyard, and learns that, while she is unable to join the skeleton army, she can re-experience any moment from her past. She is warned not to try it, but she chooses to live out a mundane memory from her 12th birthday. Despite the fact that this is a typical, fairly boring day (children’s birthday parties in the early 20th Century rarely included enough N64 games to make them worthwhile), Emily can barely bear the weight of experiencing a time when her family was content, happy, and, most importantly, alive. Emily knows what happens to the people close to her 12 year old self, and she knows the hardships and death that await herself and others. Items as humble as sizzling bacon or a kiss from her mother are things Emily will never experience ever again, so this living memory of happier times is agonizing. Do people realize how good they have it when they have it? How every little piece of life is precious, and even something as routine as seeing a family member for breakfast can be lost in an instant? No. Of course not. The Saints and poets sometimes think about such, but you’re here reading a videogame essay, and gradually getting distracted by the fact that I mentioned bacon. Get a goddamn snack and then think about how good you have it, you frivolous living person.

So, after explaining one of the most important plays of the last century for 500 words, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve played Final Fantasy 7. You know the drill, right?

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