hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts


lovemana23's blog

9:36 AM on 05.27.2009

Why old school RPG fans must not miss DQ4: Chapters of the Chosen

Dragon Quest 4 is sublime. Like, really sublime. Not in an earth shattering, FF6 emotional sucker-punch kinda way, but in a delightul, immensely endearing 8 and 16bit meta-RPG kinda way. If you liked SNES RPGs, the look of this game married with its scatter-shot, utterly charming narrative will have you grinning like a cheshire cat. But wait! I haven`t played the 5th game, or the 6th, or any other Dragon Quest games. So let me just clear that up first. I am, however, a huge SNES RPG nerd, and have played through all the classics and loved them immensely. Like a bear loves, er, salmon. Or is it honey? Both. Whatever. So, anyway, it was with trepidation I picked up Dragon Quest 4: Chapters of the Chosen for the DS, about 6 or so months ago, as the reviews had been luke-warm. Kinda 'it's good, but not that good'. Even Collette, uber old school RPG lover as she is, didnt seem overly enthused, but i`d imagine it was because she perhaps might not have had the amount of time to get stuck into it, with all the reviews she has to get done etc. Though, to be fair, she was catering for the whole community. I`m figuring if you are reading this, you love old school RPGs. That was the intention of my header, anyway. This review is for RPG fans, specifically. And, when you play this game, you will realise where a lot of your more recent RPG fun has got its inspiration from....

Because, what struck me as I played through it, was the amount of RPG conventions just stacking up in the game. Story twists, plot threads and side quests that were all very familiar. And this was kind of the reason I posted this blog, to highlight the raw ingenuity and narrative originality the games creative team mustered, being as it was a NES game released in the 80s. So, in other words, i`m writing this article out of respect for Enix and the original dev team that made this game, because, boy, has it been imitated.

For example: at one point in the game, you play as two sisters, hunting for answers about the death of their father at the hands of some rogue beastie, and finally discover said beastie. A fight ensues, a tough-ish one, which you (hopefully) win. Then, the REAL boss is revealed, and proceeds to utterly destroy you. But! You wake up, ok, and the story continues. This would of been a very fresh and tricksy gaming idea, to throw a pseudo boss at you that you attempt to fight, but that is way above your exp level. I have seen this replicated in every Final Fantasy game I have played. An effective moment of gaming trickery, that moves the plot along nicely. Because you feel immediate loss, followed by relief. For a game in the 80s, this was very fresh. You see? There are a myriad other small little RPG conventions like this peppered throughout the game. For instance, there is the games multiple plots, multiple characters, seperate narratives that all converge at the end. This is something of a 'just the done thing' in modern RPGs. I`m seriously impressed by DQ4s meandering story and cosy, culturally diverse world. The story grabs you, the characters are diverse and lovable in the extreme, and the narrative constantly suprises. Journeying from town to town, as a Knight, or a confused princess, or a trader with huge aspirations, or as one of the many other suprisingly endearing characters, you get a real feel of immersion in this games world. I havent felt for a long time a desire to 'live' in a 2D games world, invited by its depth and warmth, but this game managed that. And, yes, i`m a little odd.

Also, another source of grin juice in this game (as a kind of bonus with this updated translation) comes from it featuring regional dialects - something that inbues the adventuring with suprising amounts of humour AND adds cultural weight to the different areas you travel to in the game, further making the games rather large world even more alive. The silly accents channelled into text certainly brought a smile to my face many a time, especially coming from the UK (as i do), where a lot of these odd accents have been lifted from, and not necessarily well or accurately, to great comic effect.

And let me mention the DS versions gorgeous, gorgeous graphics. Beautiful sprites sit against a wonderfully colourful, 3D spin-o-matic background, that is rotatable with the shoulder buttons, to exceptionally eye pleasing results. That tiny interaction with the way the world looks increases the immersion, as peaking round the back of castles and buildings is something you always wanted to do within a 2D environment, but couldnt, of course. The 3D, though, is beautifully bitmapped, and sits with the sprites beautifully. The map you move around on, is in full 2D, and looks great. This is like a SNES RPG with bells on. Delicious on the eyes! Check it out on youtube when you get a moment.

The music, also, is exceptionally good, though obviously limited by the DS`s soundchip. Koichi Sugiyama`s score is a delight, and adds to what I would describe as this games most prominent 'character' trait: it is SO endearing. Really though. You will be humming the music before long, and it never gets annoying, except perhaps the battle music, initially, but you`ll grow to love that too. The sound effects, or at least the majority of them, seem to be straight out of the NES version, or emulated fairly accurately, to add to the old school feel. This may grind initially, but the games charm will soon erase any misgivings you have with its sonic quality.

It is slow to start, takes a bit of plodding and levelling up to get into the story, but, trust me, it is a superb game, and evidently set a benchmark that all RPGs would follow. I can`t say how many of this games unique elements were present in previous incarnations of DQ, so please let me know. I just couldnt stop thinking as I played that Sakaguchi (of Final Fantasy fame) must of adored these Dragon Quest games, and basically put a lot of their best elements into later Final Fantasy games. Whatever the case, for fans of old school RPGs, and especially for people who adore the SNES era 'look' (as i do), go and get this game, you will have a ball. Great characters, an engrossing, multi-stranded narrative and supremely attractive visuals and music all equal a stonking new school/old school RPG experience. And on the go too!

RPG Fan Rating: 9 out of 10

Now for DQ5!   read

11:37 AM on 01.08.2009

The role music plays in making good games magical

Magical games (my description): games that I consider to have an ability to take you outside of yourself, outside of your life and problems, but somehow deep into your emotions and imagination, and to shine a wonderful light over your life. They affect you on a level akin to a great film, sometimes infused with the depth a book offers, though differently, as you interacted with them on a much more personal level. And the games themselves, from the core design to the aesthetic approach, are magnificently cohesive in a way that could almost be described as magical, as all the parts are synergistic like an organism. Examples from the world of films like this would be Lord of the Rings, or the original Star Wars trilogy. It is like the creators made something bigger and more resonant with people then they had originally imagined, and the factors that play into this are mysterious, hence 'magical'.

This is my first blog, so, it may meander a bit. This is a subject i've considered a lot over the years, so I figured it`d be a good subject to deploy my first d-toid blog based musings on games. Right....

Music adds emotion to a game. A lot.

When I first saw screenshots of Secret of Mana way back in the early 90s, I remembered being overwhelmed by its leafy green, earthy, ethereal gorgeousness. However, at the time, screenshots of most JRPGs made me salivate, and it was always the green pastures, little cosy towns and the promise of fantastical adventures in strange, wonderfully cute 2D landscapes that ignited my desire. I thought I wanted every RPG ever. But when I eventually played Secret of Mana, it was the music that entranced me. And, later on, when I did get to finally play other RPGs (Breath of Fire, Illusion of Gaia, Romancing SaGa etc.) they never drew me in as much, and it seemed frustrating, with no realisation why this was the case, as the games themselves ticked off all the RPG convention boxes, and had nice designs etc. However, it was only after a while that I realised why this was. For a while I just thought SOM was the greatest thing ever, without any dissection of why. But, on consideration whilst playing the game, I realised that half the reason I was so willing to sit there and play it for hours and hours, and wholeheartedly wish I was living in 'mana land' (I was 12), was the music. That gorgeous, gorgeous soundtrack by Hiroki Kikuta. It had become more than just a game.

And I think what makes the great RPGs (of that time) so great was (is) their music. To a large extent, anyway. This is why Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6 (or 3) are the best RPGs of their time, if not the best RPGs ever. They had an uncanny ability to transport you away, to engage you on a deeper level then most games, to make you believe that this world exists on some level, and, most importantly, to evoke emotion in the player. And their music played a massive, perhaps somewhat covert, part in this, i believe.

Music is almost an entirely emotional thing. A collection of sounds that resonate with us on a level so deep and meaningful, yet so intellectually unobtainable, that it is more like a life form itself that we communicate with daily, out of emotional necessity. After all, it is a mystery why music effects us the way it does, or why we are drawn to create it, and it plays a mysterious role in our lives. Intuitively, one would say it is obvious what music does: it connects with your 'soul', your emotions. It 'speaks' to you. We all know, that on some level, we need it. It does us good. Yet it can be so subjective: one piece of music may communicate a mass of strange feelings, and trigger powerful perceptual changes and stir deep positive emotions in one person, while doing nothing for another, maybe even irritating them. And i`m not talking about 'oh, my parents liked Pink Floyd, so i grew up to like it too', or any surface issues of what styles or genres we like : i`m talking about the universal, biological and, perhaps, 'spiritual' factors that make music indescribably connect with us on levels beyond our present understanding of existence. And so it is obviously a powerful tool in the arsenal of any creative who wants to present to people an experience; an immersion in a whole other world. And to speak, directly, to their emotions. Like the medium of film, or our beloved medium of video games. And this is why i`ll be mentioning music a lot in this blog entry, as I am putting it forward that it plays such a massive role in taking a good game up to the level of being a 'magical' game - where the game becomes something greater than the sum of its parts. And we all know just how magical this can be, as gamers. Its just that the medium is only slowly being recognised for its potential to deliver life-affecting, emotive pieces of interactive art (which is what games are on some level). And its a shame that at this time, music is often overlooked in place of graphics.

So, magical games then. This is where this blog becomes personal, i suppose, though i intend to find some universality in what i`m describing, as i see it as almost a given that truly 'magical' games must usually have a great soundtrack. And that is my point to show you. And, i might throw out there, that this might be the reason the SNES was such a legendary console........

The following is a list of my 'magical' games - games that have stepped outside of just being a fun play thing to affecting my whole life. And i`ve listened to all their soundtracks outside of playing the games.

My magical games:

Secret of Mana
Chrono Trigger
Fiinal Fantasy 6
Legend Of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Streets of Rage 2
Super Mario World & Super Mario World 2 (Yoshis Island)
Sonic the Hedgehog
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Castevania: Aria Of Sorrow
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

I may well be being too broad here with this list, as some of these are just the soundtrack trumping everything else. But all these games, in general, drew me into their world more because of their soundtracks, the first three especially so. And it`s only looking back that you realise: maybe the reason they were so special was their respective soundtracks. Like, take Secret of Mana. I truly believe this game wouldn't be the special, ethereal gem it is without its soundtrack. In fact, it definitely wouldn't!!! It was a great game by itself, but the music gave it the 'mana vibe' that is so unique to the game: that ethereal, folky, earthy vibe that is both uplifting and stirring, and so very synergistic with the games visual aesthetic and story. And anyway, how could we even tell if we would of liked it without the music being as it was? Maybe we wouldn't of liked the game anywhere near as much, and this is my point.....

Like, imagine Star Wars or Indiana Jones without John Williams` majestic score, would they have been as hugely popular, and resonated so deeply with people? I think not. And i know many of you will probably disagree, but think about it. And this is my point, and one i've heard few people talk about: I really believe music can often make or break games, and certainly films. It is like the emotional dressing for the games story, and either 'draws out' emotions from us further connecting us to the characters, stories and locales; or it puts us off subconciously (initially), putting us in an immediately un-emotional, non-receptive state and thus less open to the game. And a lot of newer developers would do well to realise this!

Case in point: Seiken Densetu 1 on Gameboy, remade as the rather tasty looking Sword of Mana for GBA. The music on the GBA was basic, passable but generic, and in no way emotive or attention grabbing. Sorry, but in other words the composer was less then talented, and just churned out something obvious. So, in other words, a million miles away from Hiroki Kikutas gorgeously emotive, serene, other-worldly soundtrack in Seiken Densetu 2 (Secret of Mana).

So, then, what if Sword of Mana had had Hiroki Kikuta score the game? I believe the game would of not only resonated massively with SOM fans (as sword of mana looks like SOM graphically) but it would of made the whole experience more enjoyable, and would of drawn out the facets of the games story that made the GB version so popular with people. It would of carried the Mana vibe once again, and infused the game with it, especially if H.Kikuta had decided to make a similarly ethereal soundtrack like SOM. This really bugged me when I played the game - some people just said 'it's missing something'.....well, let me tell you, its the music!!! It seemed like such a shame, especially as the original Seiken Densetsu is held in such high regard. If Sword of Mana had a score by Hiroki Kikuta, i bet it would of gained 10% on its review scores, and would of been a very enjoyable entry in the mana series. Damn!

Ultimately, in RPGs, a lot of wondering around is needed, and so it goes without saying, (and becomes fairly obvious with consideration), that the game will be far more enjoyable if it has a soundtrack that is both enjoyable, and synergistic with the games 'vibe'. Because, after all, you`re going to be hearing a lot of it. Yes indeed you could listen to your favourite band or whatever whilst playing, but this is like watching a film with the subtitles on, whilst doing the same: yes, you've seen the film/played the game, but you haven't experienced it in its entirety, and you certainly haven't allowed yourself complete immersion in the world it's offering up. It's an issue of atmosphere. Yes, this doesn't perhaps apply to more action orientated titles, but, I suppose i`m kind of leaning towards taliking about JRPGs, just because they`re often the most immersive and grand games you can play. But, in general, the soundtrack is one of the first things I look for in a game, after its general story/style. It is always a joyous thing to discover that what is reportedly a great game for gameplay also has a superb soundtrack to boot. The games soundtrack has to be unique, suited to the game, and it has to enhance the games appeal to me. And when this is achieved, then there`s every chance the game could become a 'magical' game, if all the other factors of great game design are in place.

So, i`m meandering a bit, need to refine my point here. I suppose i feel the need to talk about this, because most of the time I find modern games to be less then inspiring musically. Often they just use generic bands and established artists, or ramped up arcade style gimmicky music that has no long lasting or emotional appeal. Maybe this is why, overall, and perhaps counter-intuitively, older games seem to have more depth and feeling; more soul. Anyone from the 'SNES era' will fully agree with me. Most games back then always had a dedicated soundtrack composer, who clearly worked hard at what they were doing, with limited resources. Chip music clearly brought out the best in these composers, as Nobuo Uematsu surely hasn't surpassed some of the work he did for the SNES Final Fantasy incarnations (specifically FF6), even though now he has access to all the orchestras and resources he wants, and few technical limitations. A banal melody can be overlooked if an orchestra is playing it, but will be glaringly obvious when expressed through limited chip technology. Though I haven't played FF8 - FF12 so I can't comment too accurately. And the Castlevania series is one of the only other franchises to take its music really seriously, and specifically its composer, Michiru Yamane, making sure that every single game can be looked forward to for its soundtrack. I mean, really, would Symphony of the Night been as immersive and gothic an experience without that gorgeous orchestrated soundtrack? No! And I may well have given up on Ecclesia's tough difficulty if it were not for the superb music drawing me to seek out the next area. To be fair, the Mario series, and to a lesser extent the Zelda series, have musically kept up a consistent vibe and quality too (Super Mario Galaxy springs to mind). And bear in mind i`m fully aware there are plenty of games with great soundtracks, i`m just highlighting when the soundtrack becomes the 'final piece of the puzzle' of a games design - completing the game, so to say, and making it the unique piece of holistic interactive art it is.

I hope my point isn't too vague. Maybe I will return to this topic, as it goes deep. Maybe this is all obvious to you guys. Maybe this is all just a lament for a time when more feeling and emotion was injected into games, and you felt like you really were enjoying and interacting with something of a unique, shining gem of creativity, from the graphics right through to the soundtrack. Or maybe it just bugs me that developers overlook or take little time with the music side of things these days. Because, like I said, it is this special, essential ingrediant that takes a game from being good to being magical. It is the factor that raises a game from being fun, to something that your 'soul' benefits from playing, and will remain, cherished, in your memory for ever.

There are plenty of good games around, but few that could be classed as 'magical' or unique. So, to any developers reading, pay more attention to your creations soundtrack!!! After you've refined the gameplay, of course.......

That was quite a serious rant.....I shall do something more lighthearted next time, like an article on the merits of marios testicles' width and height ratios compared to Luigis, or something :)   read

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -