I paced around the room feverishly, deeply worried for my lovely wife Bianca. After the sudden, late reveal of her pregnancy, she went into labor immediately. The whole ordeal hit me so fast, and I felt powerless to help her in any way. Eventually, the silence of the room broke when I was called by a voice, telling me to go up and see Bianca. My heart stopped as I prayed that everything turned out okay. When I ran up the stairs, my beautiful son and daughter pleasantly greeted me for the first time. After breathing a sigh of relief, I happily rejoiced with my wife. To end a perfect moment, Bianca put her face next to mine and told me that she loved me.
It was at this moment that I became conscious of my escapism and remembered that Iíve only been playing a video game the entire time. The experience felt way too real.
To this day, Dragon Quest V has been the only game to completely engross me within its story. Itís incredibly peculiar to me, because Iíve played a ton of games before getting into this one. A lot of these games have been advertised on the basis that I would become the character, but I havenít had that experience until now. You would think that I would have fully escaped into each and every video game world Iíve seen, feeling like I walked in the shoes of every protagonist Iíve played as. However, that hasnít been the case, as Iíve never been fully invested within a video game world until this point. Thereís a legitimate reason for that too: Dragon Quest V does three things that are fundamentally different from most games on the market today. While I wouldnít want every game to play exactly like this, it was these three factors that helped me become completely absorbed within the world the game has created for me.
1. There is no placeholder for the protagonistís name on the character creation screen.
Stop me if this sounds familiar to you: youíre about to start a new file in an RPG, and as you start it, thereís already a preset name left for you.
Most developers take pride when they leave a place for you to put your name. After all, by putting your name down on a character creation screen, it would make sense to think that the player would be more inclined to believe that he is the protagonist of the game. For some people, this is exactly how their experience plays out. However, I have never been able to fill in the shoes of the main character when the character screen shows a preset name. The minute I see a name already there, I know that the story isnít mine. Iíve experienced this recently when I was playing Chrono Trigger. Not only did I already have prior knowledge of Chronoís role as the main protagonist, seeing his name already filled out discouraged me to fill my own in. Even after I forced myself to fill in my own name, I couldnít connect with the main character at all. Sure, he had my name, but his in game sprite is synonymous with Chrono in my mind, thus breaking the possibility of getting deep within the gameís world. Iíve grown an attachment to the world and characters within the game, but I have come to the realization that I am not Chrono.
Dragon Quest V, much like other games within the series, has a protagonist named the Hero. This is something more to my liking. Obviously, the Hero isnít a very realistic name for a human being. All it does is act as a placeholder for the playerís actual name. While it could be argued that Chrono is also a placeholder for the playerís name, players often associate his character with his default name. This is because Chrono is an actual name, as apposed to the blatant placeholder name given in Dragon Quest V. But even then, the placeholder in Dragon Quest V doesnít even show up! When you boot up a new file, the game asks you to fill a blank spot with your name. By doing this, the game gives you no choice but to create your own, unique name for your file. So, I was given incentive to put my own name down, leading me to believe that I was the protagonist of the story.
2. Party Chat allows the characters within the game to come to life
Typically, in a JRPG, the members of your party flesh out their character solely through the events of the story. Until some sort of cut scene is initiated, the player will not be able to find out more about the characters they are adventuring with.
Obviously, Dragon Quest V fleshes out the most significant aspects of each character through important plot points as well. However, the game takes it a step forward with a mechanic called Party Chat. While this mechanic is completely optional to use, it was certainly one of the most compelling features of the game. Upon using Party Chat, the player will hear instant reactions to whatever in game action the player has chosen to do. Spoke to a man in the town? Speak to your fellow adventures to find out what they think of that person and the information they gave out. Entered a suspicious building? Talk to everyone to find out what they think of the area. Found a rare item? Share your joy with those in your party. Almost every action the player chooses to execute can be followed up by your teammatesí two cents.
With this kind of game mechanic, itís no longer necessary to rely on in game events to completely tell the story of the game. I often found myself forming strong connections to each character that joined my quest way before a major plot point affected them. By constantly using Party Chat, you form bonds with the characters by discovering their personalities in a deeper way. Not only that, but the player will feel less alone when adventuring within the game because there will always be constant feedback from each party member for all of your actions. As a result of this feedback, I truly felt like the characters came to life. The more life-like the characters became, the more I felt inclined to jump into the world of Dragon Quest V.
Speaking of life-likeÖ.
3. Dragon Quest V is a game about life
Dragon Quest V has one of the most relatable stories in a video game, ever. Obviously, the game still deals with the typical JRPG fare: Thereís some monster that wants to annihilate the world, and you have to destroy it. If the game were solely based on that presence, then naming the Hero after myself wouldnít have been enough to delude me into thinking I was the protagonist. What convinced me to get sucked into the world of Dragon Quest V were its humanlike, real life experiences. Upon starting the game, you play as a child that learns about the world through his father. When you arenít bonding with your family, youíre hanging out and adventuring with your close friend, Bianca. However, as time goes on, the main character has to grow up and become an adult. Now that he is no longer traveling with his father, the main protagonist must fend for himself out in the world.
While the concept of growing up is relatable to everyone already, the part that truly got me invested in the story is the marriage system. At one point, you have to make a decision to marry three different women. Nera, a woman of privilege, gives the Hero bonus items that will help you along your quest. Bianca, the Heroís childhood friend, seems to make the most sense from a story perspective. Finally, Deborah, the strict and bossy prospect, can be chosen if the Hero falls in love with her lavish, revealing attire. The third choice is mainly for kicks and giggles, as the creator of the series, Yuji Horii, claimed that she is an option that, ďnobody in their right mind would pick.Ē
However, the first two options matter a great deal toward the story. While picking Bianca will fulfill the main characterís personal happiness, Nera offers a step closer to completing the quest at hand. Itís up to the player to decide what will be the best option for marriage.
The marriage mechanic is what got me lost in the world of Dragon Quest V. As I explained above, this very aspect of my virtual wife going into labor absorbed me into the game. From the moment my in-game wife, Bianca, went into labor, had two children, and told me that she loved me, I began to feel like I really was the Hero. The idea of growing up, becoming an adult, having a wife, and starting a family felt so real to me because itís a future that doesnít seem too far off to me. As a college student, Iím already preparing myself to become an adult and enter the real world. So, it wouldnít be too outrageous to assume that I may start a family in the future as well.
Oh, and you can also name your kids in the same fashion as the Hero. Without preset names, the player will be given more incentive to give them actual names that they would give their children in real life.
So, for me, this was the game that finally got me to live out most developerís intentions with a silent protagonist. With a nameless main character and a story that is based upon real life scenarios, Dragon Quest V delivers an experience that I have never had in my entire life. Has a game ever had you feel so invested that you felt like you were truly a part of the gameís world? read