A Dragon Quest Retrospective – Part 1: The NES Era

Welcome back once again, questors and, uh…questettes?  Sure, why not.  Once again I welcome you to something a little different from me – while I have profiled various humans here in the past, as well as reviewed some games, I have never before given an overview of an entire video game series.  Quite honestly, I feel as if doing so is something that should be reserved for only the most important and influential series in the storied history of video games – otherwise it somewhat cheapens the endeavor.  I mean, you can do a profile of the “Destroy All Humans!” Series but that would only be two game that not many people have heard of.

So when I considered doing a retrospective look at an entire franchise, I knew it needed to be one of some import.  It also needed to be one that had some personal significance for me – because let’s be honest, this is my blog, and if I don’t give any fucks about a particular series, why the hell would I waste my time discussing it?  I’m evil, not stupid.  So I figured that I would go with a groundbreaking, landmark JRPG series of fantasy worlds, swords, magic, world threatening evils, and parties of colorful characters growing from relatively powerless youths into earth-shattering Demi-gods intent on saving the world.

What’s that?  Oh, no, not that one.  There are no rideable chickens or bat winged koala bears in this one.  That’s right – it’s time for a look at Dragon Quest / Dragon Warrior if you’re older than time itself (like me, goddammit).  And since this is not a small undertaking, I have decided to split it up into a few separate posts, each focusing on a different part of the overall series.  This time, we take a look at the origins of the series on the venerable NES.


If Square’s Final Fantasy is considered the father of the modern JRPG, then Enix’s Dragon Quest was the granddaddy of them all.  Originally released in Japan in 1986, and in the US in 1989 as Dragon Warrior, the original Dragon Quest was one of the first console role-playing games to take the venerable gameplay of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons and convert it into a streamline, user friendly video game by placing most of the dice rolling and number crunching under the hood and only displaying the results to the player.  The game saw a lone warrior embark on a quest to save the Kingdom of Alefgard’s princess from danger and defeat the evil Dragonlord to restore peace to the land.  Yeah, as stories go, they don’t come much more cookie cutter than this, but it was the 80s, dammit!  Anyway, the relatively simple turn-based battle system was made enchanting by the now-iconic monster designs of famed Dragonball manga creator Akira Toriyama.  The game was a smash hit in Japan, but Nintendo wasn’t sure about its chances in America, so they literally gave it away for free – a copy of the game, along with a substantial strategy guide, was given away to every person that subscribed to Nintendo Power magazine.   This brilliant exercise in marketing strategy enabled a younger, extremely poor, not-yet-esq. Evil Wizard to fall madly in love with the world of RPGS.


Following the success of Dragon Quest, Enix released the sequel, Dragon Quest II, in Japan in 1987 and in the US in 1990.  Everything about Dragon Quest II was an expansion on its predecessor, but in some ways Enix’s ambitions outstripped their abilities at that time.  The world of Dragon Quest II was huge – for comparison, the Kingdom of Alefgard featured in the original title was only one small portion of the entire map.   The story was also much more central than the barebones plot justification of the original.  Dragon Quest II featured the descendants of the Hero of the first game banding together to combat an evil wizard named Hargon.  The game featured a party of three unique playable characters, and a ship that could be used to travel between the many continents in the world – however, the combat was not as balanced as other party-based RPGS, and the necessity of grinding in order to keep your weaker characters alive reached levels of absurdity.  Still, for its time, Dragon Quest II was an incredibly ambitious sequel and pushed the series forward in every possible way.


Ah, Dragon Quest III.  Make no mistake about it – this is my absolute favorite entry in this entire series, and I love a number of these games.  In almost every conceivable way, Dragon Quest III is the absolute pinnacle of JRPG game design and execution for the entire 8-bit era, and it inspired nearly every convention of RPGs today.  Not just one gigantic world, but two, packed with colorful NPC characters, an epic, sweeping story, numerous towns, castles, towers, caves, dungeons – but the show stealer was the game’s class system.  At the beginning of the game, the Hero recruits three characters for a party of four.  These characters can be created from a number of different character classes, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses.  Later in the adventure, the player gains access to the ability for these party members to switch their current character class for a new one, beginning at level one but retaining all spells and abilities that they learned previously.  This incredibly well balanced system still holds up to this day, and has been copied by numerous other games through the years since.


Released in Japan in 1990 and in the US in 1992 as Dragon Warrior IV, Dragon Quest IV was the series NES swan song, and in many ways was something of a “concept album” for the series.   Eschewing the blank slate party building and open-ended class system of Dragon Quest III, Dragon Quest IV featured unique playable characters with their own set classes and abilities – but in a break from the past, rather than put the party together early in the game, IV instead broke the story up into individual “chapters” each focusing on a different party member.  Only n the last half of  game did all of the playable characters come together to face the common threat to their entire world.  The other main problem with IV was that it was released for the aging NES after the much more powerful SNES had come out – thus, despite being a critical hit, it failed to sell as well as its predecessors had.

Now, each of these games is more than worth a play through for fans of classic JRPG game design – and the GOOD NEWS for all of you is that each of these has been remade a number of times – most recently for iOS and Android devices.  Do yourself a favor – track down these classic gems and give them a look!

That’s all for this installment – as always, please give me any thoughts or suggestions on this topic or anything else in the blog.  I promise, even if they are critical or cruel, I probably won’t rain down terror upon you and all of your descendants for generations to come!  Next time I revisit this, we will take a look at the “lost” SNES entries in the series.  Until we meet again, kids, remember – not every Trump supporter you meet is necessarily a horrible person.  There is a chance that maybe they are JUST horrifically, criminally, incurably stupid.  Those ones can be forgiven, and then hopefully institutionalized before they can cause harm to themselves or others.  The rest are absolutely horrible people –  and this is coming from who LITERALLY wears his evil on his sleeve. – EWE

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Joking Hazard FTW!

No, children, I am NOT advocating you commit suicide by cyanide – though admittedly, the list of folks I’m tempted to give a cyanide soda to is not particularly short.  This is actually a rather happy use of cyanide – at least, if your as twisted and find enjoyment in the suffering of others as much as I do.  This is my new favorite card game – Joking Hazard, from the same talented sociopaths that brought you Cyanide & Happiness.

For quite some time now, the title of Best Card Game has been owned by Cards Against Humanity.  Joking Hazard, however, has similar complete-the-sequence-in-the-funniest/most horrible-manner-possible gameplay, but one-ups CAH by having each card illustrated by the delightfully depraved Blue and Green from the C&H web comic.  Now, you no longer need to mentally picture the insane, borderline criminal scenarios that the cards you’ve played depict – it’s right there in front of you!

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The king is dead – long live the king!

Gameplay is simple – each round, a different player acts as judge and starts a comic strip sequence, then judges which player has completed the sequence in the “best” manner.  Best can mean a lot of things – most fitting, most logical, most insane, most horrific…the possibilities are endless.  Well, until you run out of cards, I guess.  So not quite endless.  But still…a fucking lot of possibilities.

Do yourself a favor – get some friends together (or if you’re like me and nobody fucking likes you, round up some hostages), settle in with a few (lot of) adult beverages, and play this game.  You won’t be disappointed.  Unless you’re an asshole with no sense of humor – in which case, the fact that you continue to read this blog makes you some kind of masochist, so you STILL win!  Enjoy! – EWE

Why Dragon Quest VII is the Most Psychologically Scarring Horror Game of All Time

SPOILER ALERT!

The following contains plot spoilers for a portion of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past.  Proceed at your own risk.

Excuse me a moment, intrepid readers, while I finish rinsing out this latest dose of brain bleach that I have been using to try and undo the horror that has been imprinted on my mind while playing through Dragon Quest VII.  Not because it’s bad – quite the opposite, it is a fantastic JRPG.  It just also happens to be one of the most depressing, distressing horror games of all time.  Don’t believe me?  Think a game about spiky-haired, plucky youths on a journey to discover lost islands and beat up cute monsters sounds downright cheery, almost childlike?  Yeah, well, then you haven’t really thought about it enough.

I submit to you, poor souls, the utter-fucking-horror show that is the village of Regenstein.

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For the love of all that’s good, turn around and jump right back into that portal!

So the primary motivation of our young, innocent band of travelers is to restore the world’s missing islands, one by one.  To accomplish this, they journey into the past of each island and “solve” some type of dilemma pertaining to the period.  Once resolved, the island then appears in the present day for our heroes to explore.  Sounds just peachy, right?

Well, what about when our three happy kids arrive in the past to find the village of Regenstein…population: 1 living person, and a bunch of very worn statues.  Well, this seems odd.  I mean, these stone statues seem incredibly lifelike…but time has not been kind to them, and the elements have caused significant damage to them.  It’s a real shame.  Anyway, where the hell are all the people?  I mean, there is just this grumpy old man by the well, and all he will say is that this place is a cursed hellhole and we should get the fuck out of here.

But instead, let’s take a nap at the inn until nightfall.  Because in every horror film/game/novel, that is ALWAYS a good idea.

So during the night, our plucky protagonist begins to hear voices and wailing outside the inn, and like any self-respecting heroic idiot, he decides to do the brain-dead thing of GOING ALONE TO SEE WHAT IT IS.  And just in case you think “fuck that shit, I am not going out there” you don’t have a choice.  Yes, even if you see the horrible fate awaiting you, you must comply with it in order to advance.  Let the scarring begin.

The young boy soon finds one of the statues emitting a light, and he is treated to a vision of the past, on a day when the sky turned dark and a grey rain TURNED EVERYONE IN THE VILLAGE TO STONE.  Yup, all those decrepit statues you’ve been seeing – those are the villagers.  And they’ve been like this for some time.  But just in case the fridge horror hasn’t set in yet, after seeing this terrible curse inflicted, the statue of the man CRUMBLES INTO DUST IN OUR HERO’S HANDS.  So, yeah…that’s gonna require some therapy.  And as our poor boy stumbles through the town, statue after statue gives him yet another heartbreaking glimpse into the lives that these souls led, cut short by some fate they neither foresaw nor deserved.  It culminates in him seeing a vision of a young knight and his fiance, as the knight prepares to leave the village to secure food for the villagers.  Upon his return, they will celebrate by announcing their betrothal.  Guess who never saw her love again?

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At least this one didn’t die DIRECTLY in our hero’s hands.

So now, our poor, likely scared shitless hero finds the only other waking soul in the village – the old man by the well.  Now that he has seen the specters of the past, the old man decides to just dump the whole load on him.  The old man is actually one and the same as the young knight.  Yes, he left, secured food for the village, and returned just in time to see the end of the cursed rain that turned everyone he ever loved into stone.  And then he maintained a vigil for DECADES, watching over them and trying to find a method by which to end their petrification.  Sound awful?  Oh, don’t worry – IT GETS WORSE.

You see, eventually, the knight did discover a cure for the village’s condition – the Angel’s Tears.  Not only did he discover its existence, but he actually managed to secure it.  But then he realized the horrible truth – the elements had worn away so much of the stone that even if he were to use the Tears to reverse the petrification, the villagers would never be able to survive as flesh and blood.  That’s right – he had the cure in his hands, but using it would KILL THEM ALL.

But…but perhaps all is not lost – for our brave band of children discover a secret passageway leading to a high pinnacle in the center of the village, from which they release the Angel’s Tears.  The sky clears, and sun shines down…and the only villager restored is a single young boy who was trapped underground and sheltered from the ravages of time.  He emerges with no idea that any time has passed, that everyone he has ever known and loved is long since dead.  So what do you do?  YOU TAKE HIM ON A FUCKING TOUR OF THE VILLAGE.

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Way to accomplish next to nothing, hero.

You speak to each and every statue, as the boy, with growing dread, begins to realize how much they look like his mother, father, and best friend.  Finally, you bring him to the old man.  Each then finds in the other a reason to go on – I suppose because they are in complete shock as they are the only two survivors of their entire way of life.  Nonetheless, they thank our travelers and pledge that they will find a way to restore the village of Regenstein, and continue to seek out a way to cure their friends and family as well.  With that they set off.

Having accomplished (I guess) their task in the past, our three poor victims now return to the present to find…that the old man and the boy utterly failed in their task.  The site where Regenstein once stood is an empty field, devoid of any sign of the village except for the lone stone pinnacle in the center.  In fact, the player is tasked with BUILDING A NEW VILLAGE ON THE SITE OF THE OLD.  If you don’t understand what a horrible fucking idea that is, go right now and watch Poltergeist, then come back.  I’ll wait right here.

What’s more, in the present day, nobody as any idea that Regenstein even existed.  An entire civilization essentially vanished, and the only three people to have any idea are the three shattered souls who were forced to witness it for themselves.  And they can’t even share that burden because they have nothing to prove it with.

So the next time you are playing through Silent Hill 2 and thinking how Pyramid Head may give you nightmares, stop and realize: Pyramid Head can only kill one person at a time.  Dragon Quest VII killed off an entire nation EXCEPT for one, and then spent a lifetime driving that one to the brink of insanity, only to dangle a false hope of redemption in front of him before snuffing that out as well, and wiping them all from history.  THAT will leave a mark on your soul. – EWE

Must…Keep…Playing…

Good evening, my little devils/angels/non-denominational supernatural beings!  I believe that I have neglected to mention that NIS America has recently announced that Disgaea 2 is coming to PC in January 2017!  The Disgaea series is an anime SRPG dream – tons of different classes, wacky stories full of memorable and insane demons, angels, and humans, a near-bottomless well of skills, items, and equipment, and the ability to level all of those things up to level 9999 (that is not a typo) then reincarnate them with higher stats and do it all over again.  But above all else – murderous, peg-legged, dual-machete toting penguins that end every sentence with “dood” and EXPLODE WHEN YOU THROW THEM.  If you aren’t pre-ordering this now, something is wrong with you.

So, you know that one book, or game, or TV series, or whatever that just grabs ALL of your attention?  Like, you kind of want to do other stuff too, but you must continue partaking of it?  Well, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past for Nintendo 3DS is apparently that game for me.  I want to focus on writing a wonderfully witty, cutting, insightful entry for all of you out there – but I can’t stop.  I have to keep killing slimes.  I.  Have.  To.

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They all have to die.

 

But whilst I continue my slime death march, I can, in fact, bring a recommendation to any seasonal brew aficionados that may be out there.  I was in a local pub and discovered Breckenridge Nitro Pumpkin Spice Latte Stout.  Now, the name may be a mouthful, but the drink itself is absolutely superb – frankly the best seasonal pumpkin-themed beer I’ve had, and I’ve had more than a few.

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Find this, drink this, love this.

Finally, this is last call for any requests or recommendations for the next profile of a member of the gaming community!  Next one should go up soon!

Until next time friends, remember – when the best thing that can be said about you is “well, he hasn’t done anything OVERTLY racist, sexist, xenophobic, or bigoted in the last few days” then there is a better than good chance that you are both a terrible person and also not a good choice to be president.  #SorryNotSorry Trump fans. – EWE

RPG Madness; Profile Pondering

Salutations, my little whispers in the darkness (yeah, I’m running low on creativity).  It has been an incredibly busy week on the work front, which has led to a downturn in the amount of time I have had to spend here with you.  For that, I am sorry – I’m sure you have all missed me.  But on the bright side, after less than a full year practicing law, I am taking an issue before the Ohio Supreme Court.  Despite many, MANY character flaws (which if you’ve followed me this long should be readily apparent) I’m not normally one for bragging much – it feels uncomfortable.  But this is a pretty big career milestone, especially in this short of a time, so I am quite proud of it.  Given how extremely low my self-esteem has been for the past several months, it is gratifying to feel good at something.

But you didn’t come here to hear about me!  Or at least, not that bit.  I mean, this is all really about me and my thoughts.  So you kind of did come here to hear about me.  Huh.  I’ll be damned.  Again.  Anyway, another thing that has me quite excited is all of the recent happenings in the game industry, and particularly in the RPG space.  I’ll have more thoughts on some of the big announcements (PS4 Pro, etc.) in the coming days, but for now, this month is being extremely kind to my addiction to RPGs on handheld systems.

First off, we have The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II.  Yes, the name is a mouthful, but dear sweet mother of god, if you are a fan of turn-based, anime-inspired RPGs, this series is amazing.  Trails in the Sky FC and SC were two of the greatest RPGs I’ve ever played on the PSP, with amazing characterization and combat systems.  Cold Steel I took everything great about Sky and turned it up to 11.  Much like FC and SC, there is one continuous storyline across both games, and I’ve been waiting to play Cold Steel until I had access to both of them because I did not want to get to the end of I and be left hanging until II made it’s way across the Pacific.  Now it is here, and I am delighted.

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These kids will kick your ass.

Next up is one near and dear to my heart, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on the 3DS.  This is a remake of the original Dragon Quest VII released on the PS1 around 2000.  Dragon Quest is one of my most beloved series, in no small part due to nostalgia – I received the original Dragon Quest as a gift for subscribing to Nintendo Power as a kid.  It was the first RPG I ever played, and the second game I ever played after Super Mario Bros.  DQ VII is famous for it’s tremendous amount of content – finishing the PS1 original was easily a 100 hour undertaking.  I can’t wait to relive it all over again.

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I still think that hat looks fucking stupid, though.

Finally, there is Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse on 3DS.  A retelling of the story in the first SMT IV from a different perspective, the main character in Apocalypse bears a more than passing resemblance to the Demi-Fiend, the player character in the seminal SMT: Nocturne for PS2.  Nocturne is one of my favorite games of all time – I have always loved the dark subject matter and various religious themes explored by the SMT series as a whole, and Apocalypse looks to scratch that itch.

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I’m telling you right now that I’m siding with Lucifer if I can.

Before I go for now, I wanted to pose a question to anyone still with me – I am wanting to prepare another profile post of someone in the gaming industry.  I have a few ideas, but I am very curious to know if any of you have any preferences?  Let me know in the comments below.  I tend to do most of my research for the profiles from open sources, but I am in no way averse to reaching out to people to see if I can find any information that may not be easily searchable.  If nobody has a preference, I can always go with one of my own.

Fare you well this evening, boys and girls, for I must go and continue binging through Pokemon X/Y in preparation for Sun/Moon’s upcoming release as well, but remember – even if the nutjobs are right (they aren’t) and Hillary Clinton is secretly dying (she isn’t), it means that she is spending her last days and remaining strength trying to save the country from a Donald Trump presidency.  This doesn’t make her unfit to serve – it makes her a goddamn motherfucking hero.  Until next time! – EWE