Yeah. This doesn’t completely surprise me, except in the sense that it actually happened.
Handhelds are a better place for introverted, focused experiences. (See Metroid II.) In terms of the mindset involved, playing a handheld is like reading a book, whereas playing a console is like watching TV. Again, look how perfect Dragon Warrior is on the Game Boy — how much better it is than on the NES. Also: having a lengthy “novel” game makes more sense if you can pick it up and put it down at leisure, rather than being forced to sit in one place and stare at a screen for hundreds of hours. Leave the consoles for flash and fun; visceral stuff. Like the Wii, say.
Also to consider: as great as DQ8 is, there are two major abstractions left that seem kind of contrary to what Horii wants to do with the series. For one, the player controls more than one character. That’s a little weird. For another, it’s got random turn-based battles. Honestly, that doesn’t seem like part of Horii’s great plan for the series. It never has; it’s just been something he’s settled with until now.
So yeah. The DS seems like an ideal place to put the game. What’s really interesting is the multiplayer aspect — which I didn’t expect at all, yet which again sort of makes sense, depending on how it’s implemented. If players can come and go at will — join each other or set off on their own tasks, each with his or her own agenda — it’ll work. If there are too many constraints to the framework, keeping people from just playing the damned game whether their friends are around or not, it’ll be a bit of a downer.
I’m kind of undecided what this game means in the end. On the one hand it seems likely it’s meant as an intermediary step while Horii works on Dragon Quest X for the Wii. Considering how far along this game seems to be (implying it’s been in the works for at least months, maybe a year), it seems like it’s part of a long-term plan. Also considering that the sword game seems basically like a testing bed for a new battle system… well, do the math. And yet, there’s this issue about the DS actually being the most suitable system out there right now (in terms of market saturation, the nature of the format, and the qualities it has to offer).
Maybe it’s just the most suitable platform for Dragon Quest IX in particular, for everything he wants to do with the game. If X is going to work the way I think it might, it’s going to pretty visceral and showy — demanding a home system. One in particular (that being the most visceral available).
Basically, every game Horii makes appears to be just another approach to the same game he’s been trying to make for twenty years. He never quite winds up with what he wants — though lately he’s getting a little closer. From what I can see, this is just one more angle, allowing him to capture a certain aspect of his vision that he hadn’t been able to before (perhaps at the expense of some other elements, that he’s already explored). So, you know, right on. These details seem worth exploring.
The next game… maybe it’s time to assemble? See how all the pieces fit?
The thing that I dig about Dragon Quest is that, whatever the surface problems, the games are visionary. It’s a strong, uncluttered vision that all the games reflect even if they don’t always embody it. As “retro” as they seem, they’re not just crapped out according to a formula; they’re each trying to achieve something that’s way beyond them — meaning an endless pile of compromises.
I find that pretty encouraging. Not the placeholders; the way Horii isn’t afraid to use them, while he roughs out everything else. And that he doesn’t let them distract him; he just devises them, then discards them when they’re no longer of use. He keeps chugging along, going through draft after draft until he gets it exactly right. It’s a very classical disposition. Very honest, at least to my eye.
He’s a lot like Miyamoto, except Miyamoto sort of gave up a long time ago. And Miyamoto’s vision isn’t quite as focused (though in turn, it is broader than Horii’s).
The one problem I can see with going from turn-based to real-time battles is that the battles in Dragon Quest — I don’t think they’re really always meant to stand in for actual fighting, as much as they’re a stand-in for any number of hardships and growth experiences that a person like the player might encounter in a situation like the quest at hand. Some of that might be actual battle; some of it might be much subtler and harder to depict in a game like this.
Keeping the battles turn-based and separated from the wandering-around makes the metaphor a lot clearer as a compromise, rather than as something special or important in its own right. Changing to a system that makes the game actually about fighting loads of monsters… I’m not sure if this is precisely the point he’s looking for. Still, it’s a trade off. Get more specific somewhere, you have to lose a nuance somewhere else.
I wonder what other sorts of difficulties or experiences could be devised, besides semipermeable monster walls holding you back. Ones that would add to (or rather further clarify), rather than detract from (or muddy), the experience. And preferably that wouldn’t be too scripted.
I’m thinking a little of Lost in Blue, though I don’t know how appropriate its ideas would be, chopped out and inserted whole. Still, general survival issues seem relevant: having certain bodily needs (and maybe psychological ones — though who the hell knows how to address that) that, though not difficult to attend to, cause problems if you don’t. So in the occasions you do run into real immediate difficulty (battles, whatever), you’ll be in far greater danger if you’ve been pressing yourself too far; if you haven’t sufficiently prepared. Likewise, injury might be a real problem — so the player would have to think carefully, weigh cost and benefit, before charging into dangerous situations.
Not pressing out would mean you’d never learn more, get better, stretch your boundaries. Being foolhardy would get you killed. Same deal we’ve got now; just more nuanced.
I’m sure there are other ways to do it. Maybe more interesting ones.
It could be I’m reading in some things that aren’t overtly intended. Still, I’ve never felt the battles were as important as what they stood for. They’re too straightforward. They’re used too cannily, as a barrier. The trick, again, is whether there’s an interesting and functional way of more literally representing what they might stand for. I dunno. Maybe not! At least, not right now. So all right, violence. Fair enough.