What I Really Appreciate 4: Dragon Quest I and the Journey Back Home

In my previous entry, I talked about how Bravely Default allows players to set their encounter rate.

But on the other side of the coin, I really appreciate the stress that comes from the first Dragon Quest’s journey back home.

The first Dragon Quest is divided into a series of islands.  On each subsequent island, the monsters are tougher, but the experience points are better.  Each island also has a town with an inn where the player can replenish their health and magic.  So the game becomes a matter of venturing out from town, slaying monsters to grind for gold and experience, and then returning to town before dying.  Or venturing out onto the next island and finding that island’s town before dying.

Go as far as I can go safely, and then journey back home.  It’s not only “How far can I go?” like a game of Tetris.  It’s “How far can I go while still being able to safely get back home?”  That extra part is what I really enjoy.  And then I venture to the next island, and my journey must either end in finding that next town or death.  That part is terrifying, and where the fun is.

Steamworld Dig captured this same essence for me.  The next round, I’d dive a little bit further down the mine.  It was very satisfying. I imagine this is what the appeal of Dark Souls is.[1]

In the first Dragon Quest, if the player dies, they lose half their gold and go back to the starting point of the game, Tantegel Castle.  But all experience points, equipment, and items are retained, so the player stands a much better chance the next time out.  The earlier parts are now much easier, because the player character has leveled up significantly, allowing them to tear through trash mobs with ease.

To save the game, the player must travel the entire game’s map back to Tantegel Castle.  That’s right: the player must go back to beginning of the game to save.  Every round of Dragon Quest starts at the castle, and the player must go through the same islands again, to go a little farther.

I know, I just criticized Ocarina of Time was having poor checkpointing, and here I am saying that I appreciate a game mechanic that forces me to restart from the beginning every play session.  I’m still working through my hypocrisy.  Someday I’ll figure out why the exact same thing absolutely enrages me in one case and engenders deep admiration in another case.

Part of it may be that Dragon Quest I explicitly states that the only place to save is at the starting castle; while Ocarina of Time never tells the player.  The Zelda series has never been particularly good about spelling this out.  At the very least, A Link to the Past asks the player where they would like to restart (Link’s House or the Sanctuary); Link’s Awakening has a help room that explains its checkpoint system.

Dragon Quest I is unique game in its structure.  Most Dragon Quest games work linearly through its world map.  Like most games, it’s beat the town/dungeon (level) and move on. Rarely does the player need to return to previously conquered areas.  Ocarina of Time uses Hyrule Field like a hub.  The player goes through Hyrule Field several times, but only visits each general branch twice (once as Young Link; once as Adult Link).  Once the Forest Temple is done, there’s little reason to go back to Lost Woods.

But Dragon Quest requires the player to take a full journey through the entire game.  It’s an odd structure, but it works.

Full disclosure: I’ve only played the Game Boy Color version of the first Dragon Quest (from the double-pack Dragon Warrior I&II).  This version streamlines the first game into a nice, breezy 7-hour adventure (the original NES game is much longer, due to each battle dropping less gold and experience).  Perhaps that’s why I can appreciate its structure.  The game repeats itself, but not enough to wear out its welcome.

[1] The game is a blindspot to me.  I’ve played a lot of games, but for some reason never Dark Souls.

What I Really Appreciate 3: Bravely Default’s Encounter Rate

Bravely Default has a really interesting feature.[1]  It allows the player to control the encounter rate in random battles.  The player can:

  • Keep the encounter rate at normal (like a normal game)
  • Reduce the encounter rate to zero and face no monsters (good if the player’s about to die)
  • Double the encounter rate (to make grinding faster)

Thank the stars!  There’s nothing worse than trying to get back to town and getting mercilessly slaughtered.  Or playing Pokemon, trying to find a rare, elusive Pokemon and trying to increase the number of battles per hour.  And no one will ever criticize Bravely Default for having an unfair encounter rate.

In some games, if the player’s party is wiped out, the player has to reload a save.  Any progress made up until that death is lost (experience points, physical progress, gold).  These games generally make up for such a harsh death penalty by having a Save Anytime feature.  Unfortunately, saving after every battle isn’t exactly fun.

It’s nice to be able go as far as one can go, and still make it back home.

[1] I promised myself I wouldn’t talk about a game on Left the Station until it was at least a year old.  I broke that rule 5 chapters in.