What’s so good about Dragon Quest games?

  • Reading time:4 mins read

There’s no nonsense to them. Keep in mind every other JRPG is a Dragon Quest clone, and has to contrive something to set itself apart from Dragon Quest. Draon Quest is, therefore, the fundamental game that everything else is a deviation from.

And there is a certain purity and wholeness to it, as an experience. It’s balanced for a certain sense of immediacy: all that matters is right now.

For the most part, the game realizes where its abstractions are and that they are abstractions. Although it’s mostly just statistics, fighting means something in and of itself: the stronger you get, the further you can safely explore. The larger your world becomes. It’s a barrier you must butt heads with if you want to grow. Nothing to glory in; it’s just a fact. This is compared to most RPGs where you fight to make it easier to beat upcoming bosses, or to level up for the sake of levelling up, or where fighting appears to be the whole point, for whatever reason, rather than a mere fact of exploration in dangerous places — and where you move forward to get to the next area and forward the plot and finish the game.

Its simplicity and its honestness really drive home how most other JPRGs have missed the point — by slapping on extra systems, extra layers of complexity just to make themselves different, trinkets, fetishes, by taking literally things that were abstract for a reason (like the numbers, or the concept of an “overworld”), by putting the focus on petty issues rather than practical ones.

When it comes down to it, Dragon Quest is about growing up, maturing, seeing the world. Experience has meaning, because the more experience you have the broader your world becomes. Money is practical because it allows you buy tools to help you in your travels.

You will constantly be hitting your head against your limit and being forced to go home, rest, recuperate. The next day you go out and hit the world again, a little wiser, a little stronger. Maybe today you’ll see something you never saw before.

That’s more or less the focus of every game. DQ8 makes it more clear by making trees trees, making mountains mountains, giving you a horizon and putting things on it to inspire you to go out and look for them. You will still keep having to go home. Stray too far, too quickly, and you will get in over your head and you will be in trouble. And you might just get killed. Yet that danger just adds all the more excitement to every day’s travel.

Curiously, if you can get around the interface issues (like having to choose “stairs” from a menu every time you want to climb them), the original Dragon Warrior has hardly dated at all. Again, that’s just a matter of the game’s fundamental simplicity. It’s like playing Super Mario Bros. or Asteroids. They’re all complete, as far as they go. Not as complex as current games, but so what. What’s complexity other than complexity. Compare that to Final Fantasy 1, which is pretty much unplayable by current standards. It just doesn’t know what it’s doing, or — more importantly — why it’s doing what it does.

When it comes down to it, playing Dragon Quest is a meditative experience. In Dragon Quest, things just Are. When you play, you just Are. It’s a game about Being. There’s no real goal; anything that the game might throw at you is a MacGuffin, really. Something to get you out the door. It’s a joyous game, a little melancholy, all about the patterns of life and change while always remaining the same. It’s happy simply to exist, and do what it does because that’s what it was put there to do. No ambition. No glory. No drama. Just a quest. A quest after dragons.

Insert Wiki

  • Reading time:1 mins read

This is getting neat.

Tim Rogers and Goku Makai Mura

  • Reading time:6 mins read

WARNING: occasionally-foul language approaches! NO REFUGE

You know, the delay between the button press and the throwing of the lance is pretty damned evil. I asked the booth dude if it was intentional, and he gave me the canned “we’re very very very very sorry — it’ll be fixed” response. So I take it they really, seriously don’t intend for it to be like that. And he was damned apologetic.

So! Yeah! It’s most definitely a problem. And I found it quite frankly unplayable like that.

Yeah. Well. You should have picked up a better weapon. The lance kind of sucks anyway. Always has. I just took it that they made it suck even more, to drive the point home. All the other weapons work just fine. I think the first weapon I picked up was the scythe, and that was great.

I think I died twice in the demo, and both were because I just did something fucking stupid, like jump into a bottomless pit of my own volition then wonder why I just did that.

i picked up the fucking crossbow, and it was alright. it still didn’t feel “right.”

Yeah, that wasn’t the best weapon to exchange it for. The crossbow wasn’t “right” in Chou Makai Mura either. I always avoided it. Better than the torch, though. And yeah, minimally better than the lance.

the capcom dude there said that the producer — i guess that’s fujiwara — is, for the record, “still kind of tooling with the idea of making it feel like the old ones, or making it feel fresh and optimized.” or something to that effect. in that, you see. well, you know. it’s like comparing rondo of blood to symphony of the night, control-wise. when i go to meet igarashi and crew next thursday (!! — any questions you want to ask, put them here) i plan to ask him some things about this; i know that a lot of japanese castlevania fans dropped out of fandom for the series when symphony of the night hit, because they felt its smoother controls were “selling out.”

you know what i mean?

I do. For the most part, the classic controls can go fuck themselves. This still basically feels like the old games, while not making me want to kill something.

that you say the demo for goku makaimura was not difficult says that you have played a lot of makaimura, or at least more than a person who has played none.

Well! That doesn’t mean I’ve ever been any GOOD at the series, saving Yuji Naka’s version of the second one — which was really fucking playable. The third game in particular, now, is a game that’s made unreasonably hard just to be unreasonably hard. I’ve only twice ever even made it past the first level. And it’s done so just arbitrarily, in part by taking out things that should be there and forcing reliance on new things that have no reason to be there. The first game I can forgive better because, you know, it was the first game and it was made in 1985. I still don’t think I’ve made it further than the third or fourth level without cheating, and then only maybe once ever.

This is… better. It’s more like a sequel to Dai, where Chou was more like a sequel to the original. And I don’t just mean the vertical shooting, which sure as hell helps. I just mean more thought was put into how the game’s put together, and it’s made to for going forward rather than hitting your head against a wall over and over. That you are revived instantly when you die is a big difference. You’re not penalized up the asshole for a single mistake. You just lose your life and make note to next time not do again what you did.

now! i’m not saying that the game should be zelda-dumb, i’m just saying that . . . hell, i don’t know. lord knows what i’m arguing here. it doesn’t fucking matter. just that, well, the truth is, i don’t like the game. you can’t argue with me on that one — you can’t tell me that i do indeed like it!!

i really liked it on genesis, i just think that on PSP it doesn’t feel . . . right. or it doesn’t feel grown up. that and i don’t like the jumping. i don’t like over-shooting every jump. it makes me feel dumb. though i guess that’s something i could learn.

fuck, maybe i should just quit playing videogames, i don’t know.

I didn’t have any problem with the jumping. So!

Should the game feel grown-up? I mean. What can you really do with a side-scrolling Makai Mura? It is informed by just about everything the earlier games did “wrong”, and it does a good job of patching them up without essentially changing how the game feels. It’s not a total reinvention like, you know, Gradius V or something. I don’t know that it needs to be, though. Makai Mura doesn’t have this long history of clutter like Gradius, that needed to be focused away. It just needed the hate removed, and that’s happened. And beyond that, the atmosphere has been made more like what the earlier games clearly wanted it to be.

If it were polished too much or made too easy it’d lose the scariness that the atmosphere’s there to amplify. As it is, it’s basically balanced to keep the player constantly on-edge without overwhelming him or punishing him inordinately. Which is a balance the earlier games never quite found.

Is it just that the game’s a 2D platformer rendered in 3D that puts you off? A meticulous revisitation of a game last seen in 1991, with only the things fixed and added that might ideally have been fixed and added in 1996 on, say, the Saturn? Are you wondering why Capcom even bothered if that’s all they were going to do? Especially with a platform like the PSP, which should be able to do… more, somehow?

Because that’s the thing that I like the best about it. That it subverts what the PSP can hypothetically do, and simply treats it like what it is: a fucking handheld system. A handheld system with pretty 3D graphics; still just a souped-up Game Boy, with a small screen and basically 2D controls. The fanciest, most expensive, most over-the-top Game Boy on Earth, maybe. Still just a Game Boy, still just as prone to dropping on the pavement, still an intimate system for use by a single person at a time only, ever, that has no need to impress or entertain anyone else and needs to entertain that single person in a way that he can wrench himself free at any moment, to jump off the train when his stop arrives.

It doesn’t bother with the bullshit. It’s just another Makai Mura — educated by fourteen years, perhaps — made for the only platform it could reasonably be made for, made in the only way it could reasonably be made. And suddenly it’s made clear: who the fuck wants a PS2 in his pocket? Let’s make the best of an unfortunate situation.

World of Warcraft (Windows/Blizzard) 1/2

  • Reading time:2 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

This review was composed under strange conditions. I was flat broke; a reader sent me a copy of the game and said he’d pay to see my take on the game. Then after the review went up, I think four out of five responses were objections over the fishing example. Hmm.

I’ve stopped playing World of Warcraft. Actually, I stopped a few weeks ago; I only turned the game on twice in the last few days, to buy that orange tabby that I couldn’t name and to see if I had reason to pay money I didn’t have for another month of forgetting the game was installed on my hard drive and downloading a hundred megs of patches whenever I chanced to start it up.

Until I got to level twenty, I enjoyed the game. I wandered around, I improved my skinning and my leatherworking. Maybe those weren’t the best choices for a mage, since I couldn’t wear leather. Why be tidy, though.

It started out well enough. I found a nice role-playing server, where I presumed I would have less bullshit to put up with since everyone would be concerned with etiquette. The Internet is backwards that way. Give a real person a fake identity and he’ll use that as an excuse to go wild. Get into strip clubs preternaturally. Rent videos with no intention to return them. Speak in tongues, go to ren fairs, and wear fursuits. It’s a trap door from the monotony and the conformity of the suburban right-wing hate media spewing public school adolescence we all carry into our thirties.

Give an Internet person an identity, it becomes an anchor. It’s fake, and you know it’s fake. Deep down they know it too. It’s one of those lies you live with, comfortable lies, to grease the gears and keep the project moving. You all know you’re there to escape, so why rock the boat. Let’s pretend, they say. Don’t remind me of my real life. And it’s fair enough. We all have our problems. We all need to be someone, even a fake someone. The role-players are harmless and a little sad. They want to play the game right, and that sounds good to me. Let’s do it, I figure.

( Continue reading at Insert Credit )

SNK: The Future is… Coming

  • Reading time:7 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

I don’t know if this report even went live on the site. If so, it’s buried in the infrastructure. If not, well, that sort of thing happens at Insert Credit HQ. Either way, it’s here now.

Although my Wednesday plans called me to ask Akira Yamaoka stupid questions, on Wendesday Brandon called me to accompany him in asking SNK slightly less stupid questions.

We walked a dozen blocks, to a hotel decorated like a Roman bath. The door to the room was ajar; inside milled PR representative Michael Meyers, ensuring all was in place. On the enormous television to the right, the Xbox port of KOF: Maximum Impact; on the reasonable television head, the PS2 port of Metal Slug 4. On the coffee table to the left, a stack of DVD cases, the spine lettering on their temporary sleeves unified in all save size. Amongst these sleeves were The King of Fighters ’94 Re-Bout and Samurai Shodown V, and the new and unfortunate cover for Maximum Impact; to my recollection, all the sleeves were emblazoned with the Xbox logo.

While Brandon was drawn to Metal Slug, I asked of Michael Meyers questions that Brandon and I would again ask each subsequent person who entered the room.

A Week of Chaos

  • Reading time:1 mins read

The GDC has ended, winding to a calm after a week of what Sherlock Holmes might have called freaky shit. This weekend, I will tell the real story, in all its details. You know where to go for that. For now, I’ve got a half a dozen articles up on Gamasutra; a couple more will be up tonight or Monday. As far as straightforward reporting goes, it’s pretty good. I like it. Check out Brandon’s “Playing Games with Jim” piece. Gamasutra is to this year what Insert Credit was last year — which makes some sense, given that just about everyone affiliated with Insert Credit got enlisted to the cause.

Silent Hill 4: The Room (Xbox/Konami) 1/2

  • Reading time:1 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

I have been away for a few days. On the bus today, as I reflected on my return, I began to tense up. It was strange to feel; I thought I was cured of this. I haven’t had this sensation since I left home and found my own apartment. Then it struck me: bills. Obligations. I don’t have the rent this month. Reality. Fuck.

As long as I’m away, at least I am removed from these problems. I might be hit by a car, or I might get jostled by a street person or yelled at by a light rail employee or frowned at by a cashier at the market, or I might just lose my way — yet it’s a fantasy violence. I grit my teeth, shudder a bit, and move on. None of it matters.

When I come home, it matters. It’s all that matters. Home is reality. Today, I’m safe. No bills. There are no new surprises. I can relax. I am safe, for now.

This is the kind of horror that The Room depicts.

( Continue reading at Insert Credit )