Editorial: The Polarized Dragon Quest

A few weeks ago I tweeted, “I love the first 10 hours of Dragon Quest games. It’s the other 190 that I can’t stand.” While I was exaggerating a number of things, the sentiment remains true. In fact, I can think of no other series that causes such distinct binary reactions within me.

I did not play a single Dragon Quest game until my brother bought Dragon Quest VIII. I decided that as a fan of RPGs, I should give the series a fair shake. I played the game almost to completion. I finally stopped because I realized that at the forty hour mark, I was still thinking “when is this game going to get good?” That is not usually a good sign.

Jessica's bust

At least there are boobs.

I thought that would be the end of my foray into Dragon Quest, but fate would have me review Dragon Quest IV for RPGamer just a few years later. While I did not love the title, I found myself more endeared to its simplistic take on battling and leveling up.

It snowballed from there. I replayed the opening hours of Dragon Quest VIII, Dragon Quest V became the first title in the series I bought myself, and I soon considered myself a fan. However, of the five titles I have played I have only completed one, and that was a requirement for review. This is where that initial tweet comes into play. I throw myself into the games when I first begin. I cannot stop playing. I get excited to play. I enjoy myself when I’m playing. I do not feel dirty after I play. Still, there inevitably comes a distinct time when I lose any and all interest in whichever title I am playing and so I stop and never look back.

It is not unusual for me to lose interest in a game, nor is it unusual for me to no longer have the time for a game. However, it is generally a gradual process and includes twinges of regret or even longing. With Dragon Quest, it is sudden. I no longer enjoy any moment of the game in the least, I have zero desire to play any more, and I have no regrets.

Why is this? Perhaps I feel that – despite some decent plot points – I never connect with the stories or mood on an emotional level. Perhaps I feel that the characters never really get powerful enough in battle. Or perhaps it really is a less extreme version of my tweet, and I feel that the games are far too long for the sake of being far too long. If unnecessary length were the only factor, however, it would not line up; I play Tales games to completion and I definitely think those games are too long.

This is where my reflection ends, readers. I noticed that for a site with a deep affinity for RPGs, Dragon Quest is hardly touched upon, so I thought I would throw an opinion into the pot. What are your experiences with Dragon Quest, fine readers?

11 comments on “Editorial: The Polarized Dragon Quest”

  1. I played every Dragon Quest game upon release until Dragon Quest VII. And then I gave up.

    I can honestly say I never enjoyed any of them. Even despite my enthusiasm for knights and swords when I was younger, I found Dragon Warrior (DQ1) to be a grindy, interminable bore.

    They are not fun games, unless one thinks that sanding down an entire felled oak into a canoe is fun, in which case the Dragon Quest games are right up one’s alley.

  2. You completely summed up my experience of DQVIII, if that game was its first ten hours, then it would have been great!

  3. The aesthetic is just so charming, and the minute to minute dialogue is entertaining enough – but over the long term the narrative goes nowhere, and the gameplay becomes super-grindy!

  4. Well, you know I have to answer this question.

    I love Dragon Quest. See, we owned Final Fantasy 1 for NES, but it had one save slot that my brother hogged. Therefore, Dragon Warrior was my first RPG. I spent hours upon hours playing III and IV, and IV is my sentimental favorite.

    I’ve played a number of the recent games, but the remake of IV is the dearest to my heart. IX was good, but I was aggravated by the forced socialization to unlock quests and gear.

    And then there are the slimes. You know I love my slimes.

  5. @Beth: Your first-ever comment! Welcome!

    (Beth is an old friend of mine from wayyyy back in my IRCing days!)

    I have heard both good and bad things about IX. The socialisation to unlock quests/gear, which you mention, is one of the things which I am leery of. It’s the kind of thing that works great in Japan, where everyone is on the train, and everyone is playing the latest game. It doesn’t work quite as well in American cities where such widespread communal gaming is less popular, and it *certainly* doesn’t work as well outside of the cities, where public transportation doesn’t exist and the socialisation is limited strictly to one’s friends (in my case, I don’t know a single person who owns DQIX).

    @SN: You sum up what I observed of DQVIII. One of my friends purchased it, and I watched him play through quite a bit of it. Initially, I was incredibly surprised. The art style was good, the dialogue solid, and the development moved along. But over time, it became bogged down. Near the end of the game, hours of grinding toil awaited. I stopped watching because it became tedious to watch random battle after random battle.

    It is a shame really. I don’t think there is anything necessary to the games which makes them bad; I can genuinely say that what destroys the fun for me is the grindyness of it. Even back in the day I didn’t care for it (and I played FFI on the NES over and over and over again, so I had a tolerance for pain). Nowadays, I just cannot play a game where such mechanics are still employed. I don’t see why this isn’t changed. It just doesn’t make any sense.

  6. Grinding is indeed prevalent in Dragon Quest games going from the extremes of the DQ1, where you grinded until you were high level enough to retrieve things from caves, to the opposite end with DQ5 (at least the PS2 rerelease), where you basically got nearly all the EXP you needed just doing the main storyline and a little exploring. I understand people have different views on grinding. The Call of Duty fans (oddly enough given how that steaming pile’s multiplayer work) and many younger gamers will not tolerate any of it. While others will kill the same type of monster over and over for hours on end in an MMORPG or offline RPG. Others are somewhere inbetween.

    For me, at least, I don’t mind grinding so long as there’s a sense of progression. Once you play dozens of hours into DQ7 you finally unlocked the ability to set your character’s classes. And as I recall (I never finished the game and played it in…1998?) once you got to that point every few fights you’d get a new ability. A few jobs leveled? It unlocked more advanced classes. Four more fights and I get this awesome new thing. That sort of grinding I don’t mind. It’s when you have to walk in a square loop for three hours to get strong enough (and enough gold for better gear) to go walk in a square loop with slightly stronger monsters for three hours that I find intolerably boring.

    The DQs that are grinding offenders:
    DQ1 (duh)
    DQ2 it’s a vast improvement gamplaywise over the original, but still very grindy
    DQ8 every new area I got to it was grind for two hours. Took me ~90 hours to finish the game. The “I finished it 50 hours!!” reviewers are harlot scum.

    The OK by me (usually still some grinding) DQs:
    DQ3 I like basically any RPG with somewhat customizable class systems. I can understand people disagree on this one.
    DQ4 I played this about a year ago (emulated NES version of DW4) and was amazed by the production values considering it was a NES game. If you don’t do the Taloon/Torneko chapter the stupidest way possible you won’t grind much.
    DQ5 The PS2 rerelease has been rebalanced (a fourth party member in battle, for instance), so maybe the others are different but I did little if any square loop walking.
    DQ7 I didn’t finish this one, and it’s is grindy, but in what I consider the “good” way with frequent progression (once you get that far anyway. OK, it’s probably “bad” one.

    The “I don’t know because I didn’t play much” ones:
    DQ6 The DS version I only played a few hours of, but seemed OK.
    DQ9 I’ve played about ten minutes, but the street pass stuff sounds retarded.

    There’s probably fan made patches that increase the EXP/gold drops for some of the DQ games out there. (Sort of like the “Easy Ring” or whatever in the Mother remake.)

    Story in DQ games is usually, “There’s an Evil Demon King guy! Take care of it! Also, BUT THOU MUST!!!” It might be a while before you find out who the true villain is (DQ3, DQ4, DQ7, DQ8) or they might spell it out for you in the first five minutes (DQ1, DQ2, DQ5). With a few exceptions, the real meat of the story is told as vignettes as you travel from village/town/castle/abbey/whatever to village and solve the local’s plights. It’s the same structure really as Chrono Trigger which many people who bash DQ rank among the all-time greats. Chrono Trigger has much more stark changes in setting from steampunkish 1000 A.D. to the post apocalyptic future of 2400 A.D.. The narrative is nearly always focuses on stopping Lavos and you can see the same sort of urgency in DQ5 (to be fair…it’s about twice as long with a few twists genre veterans probably won’t see coming).

    DQ4, DQ5, and DQ6 (I assume for 6) all form a loose trilogy and at least the first two are quite good. DQ4’s narrative is split into chapters that all tie together at the end. It’s not mindblowing and I didn’t find myself particularly attached to any of the characters, but it’s a competent JRPG narrative and as far as I know the first game to do the chapter thing. DQ5 again reminds me of Chrono Trigger because of how you knew your ultimate destination pretty early on, but don’t see half the twists and turns that wind up getting you there. The characters were also very endearing.

    I should probably get around to finishing up DQ6.

  7. I’m glad this subject was brought up! After much internal debate, I just purchased DQIX and am currently enjoying it very much – it’s the easiest, least grind-y game in the series, and good clean fun. If you need others’s help to unlock gear or quests, it doesn’t detract from the game unless you’re a Pokemon-raised completist, or really like dressing up your characters.

    I, too, am old school and probably played Dragon Warrior III first, did I-IV in the olden days and VII when it came out. As for the latter, it was fine but if you didn’t choose your classes/abilities right you could get stuck. It was also waaay long. IV was the pinnacle of the series, but III was just as good and continues to be my favorite. I and II are more primal versions, but fun in their own.

    One fact that pretty much everyone agrees on is that Dragon Quest is an acquired taste. Inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, and an early NES game, it’s tough to judge the original games by the standards of what we expect from RPG’s today. Like the original Mega Man games, they’re all pretty similar because you don’t mess with what’s best and what you know- (just start a new series if you have to).

    The grinding aspect is what turns most people off, but I believe part of that fault is because of a very loose narrative. If you’re used to Final Fantasy games where the storyline-driven quest to get to the next town exposes you to most of your leveling up, then you sure won’t want to go off random battling simply for the joy of it.

    It’s very simple. It’s like having a tamagotchi (which must be why Japanese go nuts over it). Especially in the first one, it’s also a challenge to get all the levels or gold needed to face the next area of enemies. It’s long and slow and there’s little reward unless you love it for what it is. For whatever deranged reason, I feel like running around attacking creatures and there’s nothing better than DQ to do that in. It’s a reliably medieval-fantasy styled good-versus-evil world, where you start from nothing and learn gradually until you’re unstoppable. You don’t connect with it emotionally, it’s just a toy video game for overgrown children, and a damn fun one at that.

    So finally, I do recommend IX if you’re sympathetic to Dragon Quest but have been hurt too many times to be sure about going back to it, and III or IV if you just yearn for the good old days (and remember that times were tough back then).

  8. @EP It is also worth mentioning that I-III also form a trilogy unrelated to that of IV-VI. In fact, the first three DQ games are pretty closely related, with III being a prequel to I.

    I’ve only played the first three DQ games, and DQIX. DQ I is a decent game, II is horribly unbalanced, and III is one of the best NES RPGs ever made.

  9. @Deimosion It’s true the Loto/Erdrick trilogy is pretty decent, but the games are primative enough that they aren’t as interesting as those that follow. I can’t go back and play the first two DQ games, but the third is still pretty playable. As a person who enjoyed the first three DQ games I would really encourage you to try the second trilogy. It was great from a story standpoint and carries the subtle gameplay improvements that the series gained over time.

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