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1:50 AM on 08.12.2013

Hidden Star: How a Sega Genesis fanatic finally discovered Phantasy Star II

(Warning: I know it's hard to avoid spoilers for a game from 1989 anyway, but in case you do care, major Phantasy Star II spoilers are on their way.)

On Christmas Day, 1991, I carefully removed the tape from the colorful wrapping on the big box. I know that most kids just rip away, but that was always how I did it. I was already pretty sure I knew what was inside, but when I actually saw it, my heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest.

Here is what I saw:

I got Quackshot at the same time. I could have sworn it came in the box, but that seems like the sort of thing they'd advertize, and this is definitely the box I remember.

I set it up as quickly as I could; I'd been waiting for this for months, which was an eternity to a six-year-old. When I turned it on, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was as if some kind of magic had possessed our television set. It looked like this:

I made this GIF. It was harder to do than I'd have thought.

It's impossible for me to express today why something like that was so mind expanding, but I'll try. I was used to video games looking like this:

I was late to the NES party, being 5 and all, so yes, I went directly from this to Sonic.

It changed my entire concept of what a video game could be. The effect was instantaneous: from that moment on, I was a Sega Kid. I'm 27 now and I still am one. I guess I always will be. I've talked about this before (For the record, Sonic 4 was a huge disappointment, but Sonic Generations finally did bring the series its first great game since 1994). To me, being a Sega kid means remembering the Genesis as my favorite console and refusing to forget how much Sega did for video games as a medium during its glory days, which a lot of people in the community have either forgotten or aren't old enough to remember. When the Internet seems to have adopted either the SNES or one of the first two Playstations as the consensus best console, it gives me a kind of identity.

It also puts me in the past. Honestly, it's hard for me to relate to today's gamer, and a rather small portion of new games interest me. That's another article, though.

But as readily as I might have jumped on the Sega train, I never forgot the NES. One of my favorite games as a kid was the original Dragon Warrior. I sank what felt like ages into it, gradually advancing further and further into its vast world. At least, that's how it seemed at the time. As primitive as that game was by a modern standard, I still appreciate the trick they pulled off. They made it feel epic by making the world incredibly dangerous and your grind a long and tough one. You had to work hard for your victories, and that made them satisfying. I am still a huge fan of the oldschool JRPG; I think that the very mechanics that are widely dismissed as outdated enable the genre to evoke feelings and create experiences that are impossible in any other kind of game.

It's kind of odd, then, how long I went without ever really playing an RPG. As a kid I didn't even know what Dragon Warrior was the start of; to me it was just a very special game. I was dimly aware, as the years passed, of the existence of things like Final Fantasy and Earthbound, but I failed somehow to make any mental connection between these games and my fond memories of beating up slimes. If you'd mentioned the term "RPG" to me I'd have stared at you blankly. This lasted until 1997, when I got caught up along with everyone else in Final Fantasy VII's marketing blitz. Soon afterward I got into the genre in earnest, picking the Dragon Warrior series back up on the Game Boy Color, emulating the SNES greats on an early DOS version of ZSNES, and so on.

You might think that five-year-or-so gap is easy to explain - I was too tethered to my Genesis to notice. All the RPGs were on the SNES, right? Of course, as you're already aware if you read the title of this blog and recognized the game title in it, Sega had its own flagship RPG series.

It's weird that nobody ever told Sega how to spell "fantasy." I guess they just didn't want to embarrass them.

I don't know how it is that I never heard of Phantasy Star or the Genesis's other RPGs during its heyday, but somehow they totally escaped my notice. I wish I could tell you about my cherished childhood memories of these adventures; I can feel the ghosts of what they might have been in my mind. The fact is that I didn't even know Phantasy Star existed until the Genesis was dead and buried and I had a Dreamcast. I'd beaten Skies of Arcadia more than once before I ever played an RPG on a Sega system made before 1999.

In 2006 I set myself to the task of building a new Genesis collection, having long ago sold my original one as children do. That was a great time to do it - retro game stores were still around and Genesis games were cheap as Hell. I picked up Phantasy Star II at one of those stores, excited to see what I had missed. When I got it home, though, I didn't take to it at all.

After a couple of false starts, I was sure I was never going to finish Phantasy Star II. I got frustrated with the early part of it, it seemed bland and uninspired to me and I wrote it off. It seems that some people feel (look at GameFAQs user reviews) that this game is massively overrated due to nostalgia and console loyalty - that we Sega fans have to like it (or even pretend to) because we missed all the great 16-bit RPGs, which were on the SNES. I kind of was one of those people.

I was mistaken. Phantasy Star II is a fiercely challenging and addictively fun epic, as I found out when I decided to dust off my copy in order to beat it as part of a forum project to beat every officially released Genesis game in 2013.

It's easy to see why people don't like the game. Aside from the enemy graphics, which are very good and fully animated (an impressive thing to see in an RPG at the time - this game was released in 1989!) and the portraits and cutscene stills, the game's graphics are quite primitive for the system. The lack of battle backgrounds is disappointing, and those pipe overlays are annoying. Grinding up front is definitely required, most of the dungeons look practically identical, and the layouts are overly complicated and full of dead ends (To properly enjoy this game, use maps - they were included with the original release anyway. This was the main problem with my initial attempts at the game). In the early part of the game, the story is very sparse, and you rarely encounter much text before trudging off to the next dungeon.

Coming at the absolute beginning of the 16-bit era, the game might not grab you at first.

However, forced to give it a serious chance, I found out that I had barely scratched the surface of a massive old-school RPG classic. I'm kicking myself for only having played through it now; this game was MADE for people like me, people who ground their way through Dragon Warrior and loved it. If I'd gotten this game with my Genesis in 1991, it would have blown me away - I can only imagine. Better late than never.

The story comes along as you get further in - it's simple and one wishes there were more of it, but it's surprisingly compelling nonetheless. Phantasy Star II is about loss. The text on the back of the box (which is fantastic; somebody had fun writing it) says "be ready to die!" and I think this sets the tone for the game. Mota is a planet where all needs are taken care of by a computer called Mother Brain (because nobody had used that name in a video game before, right?) , an Eden - until the lab that creates the planet's lifeforms starts creating monsters, the climate control stops working, and everything goes wrong. Their support yanked out from under them, the people are utterly lost.

A lot of RPGs tell you that the world is in crisis, but in a lot of them, things certainly seem to be going OK in most of the places you visit. This game does not shy away from the realities of death and ruin at all. Desolation reigns. The first town you come to is a bombed out husk, its survivors only able to despair and to soullessly ask you, "why would you want to come here?" Bandits are responsible for this, but they too have met a grisly end before you ever get to them. Their society shattered, people sink to unthinkable depths to get by and still fail. Even you, our party of heroes, are faced with a hopeless task. You don't even really know what you're doing, and neither does the authority sending you on your mission. You may become strong enough to meet your objectives in the savage world outside, but you never seem to accomplish anything. You fail to save a kidnapped girl. When you finally accomplish what you think your goal has been since the beginning of the game, it only makes things worse. You are not rewarded or thanked for your efforts. Even at the end of the game, the fates of many things remain unclear, and even those you have managed to save have hard times ahead of them. You struggle, you hope, and that's really the best you can do. But you never stop, as the human spirit is indomitable.

The game's hero Rolf and his comrades fight against relentless hopelessness, as they struggle even to find out what their task really is.

One thing that tends to undermine the impact of death in RPGs is that you can bring people back, and when you suddenly can't, there's no explanation as to why. Maybe your party members are just "unconscious," maybe they're magically revived. I think the way it's handled in Phantasy Star is brilliant. You have to make a clone of your lost comrade. The "grandma" at the clone lab looks so harsh as to not even seem human, and this underscores the feeling of unease that goes along with what you're doing. You haven't brought back your friends - they're dead. You've only made a new person with their body and memories. I have to admit that whenever a character died, I felt bad in a way I don't in other games. It felt real.

And now let's talk about the spoiler. It's hard to avoid spoilers for a game from 1989, but I wish no one had spoiled it for me. Still, I felt like I had to talk about it.

Nei's story is akin to that of the game as a whole. When you get to the source of the biomonster problem, it turns out to be a twin called "Neifirst," a genetic experiment that was deemed a failure and whose creators tried to kill her. Nei broke off from her somehow, representing that part of her that didn't hate all humans. Nei and Neifirst are the same being, so her struggle is ultimately against herself, and it's made clear that she knows this all along. She also knows that she is doomed from the very beginning, as Neifirst's death will mean her own no matter what. Still she fights. This is what makes her death meaningful to me. It's not just killing off a main character for the sake of doing so. By the way, speaking of how the game handles death, this is just about the only game I've seen tackle the "why not just resurrect them?" issue with plot death head-on. After Nei dies your party automatically marches straight to the cloning lab, only to be told there's nothing they can do. This is a brilliant touch.

Neifirst kills Nei before the battle really starts, but although you really shouldn't have any way of bringing back dead characters in the field at this point, there is one really obscure way. I did it. I felt like she deserved to finish what she started, at least.

Nei gets up for one last fight.

In the end, though, what's inevitable cannot be changed.

Yes, I named the main character SEGA. It's an homage to those old Dragon Warrior manuals where the hero would be called ENIX.

Goodbye Nei. I won't forget you.

In the end, of course, you destroy Mother Brain, but the result is far from the "everyone is happy" endings of practically every JRPG ever. But even though Phantasy Star II shows us a desolate world and teaches again those old lessons that life is struggle, the good life can't last forever and that loss is inevitable, its ultimate message is one of hope.

"Those who give up are doomed." This is why I didn't get to experience a classic game much sooner than I did, and it's also made me think about the struggles of my own life. I suffer from debilitating anxiety and depression, and giving up is frequently on my mind, but you can't. This is why I value stories like these, even though I can see the tropes that make them up as plainly as anybody else. The story of the struggle of the brave few against hopeless odds keeps coming up because it has powerful meaning to us in our everyday lives. The forces between you and happiness might seem so wide and tall you can't see the end, or there might be more of them than you can count, or it might just seem to be a wall made of material you can't scratch or dent. Still, as long as you can try, you try. Even if it's just for trying's sake, it's worthwhile.

Long live SEGA.   read

10:48 PM on 01.15.2013

I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 8/9

If you're just coming across this, this is a repost of writeups I did when a friend and I played through the Dragon Quest games in 2010 and 2011. Here's my short treatment I did for the last two games in the series.

Week 30


Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)

A King, his daughter and their castle are cursed into other forms. With their best castle guard and others they meet along the way, they travel seeking a cure and revenge on the person who caused it. Such a pity it won't be that simple...

Boy, I can't believe we've made it here! This project felt insanely huge when we took it on, but we're almost there. VIII is another big game, though.

So, DQ8 is a big change for the series in many ways. Most noticeably, it's the first game in the series to be fully 3D, and brings the series forward in other ways, such as showing the characters during battle and allowing the player to pick which enemy to attack, not just which group. It introduces the alchemy pot, a clever way of acquiring new items that would return in 9.

It was also a big shift in localization. Squaresoft had just merged with Enix. The Warrior name was finally abandoned in favor of Quest. We finally got something above and beyond the Japanese original - the international version is fully voice acted. This was also the first game in the series to make it to Europe. A lot of people were introduced to the series with this game, and a lot of people were brought back - I was one of them. I loved the original on the NES as a kid, and the GBC remakes of I - III in middle school, but it was this game that made me take the plunge and become a diehard fan.

It's really a beautiful game with an impressive scale and some of the series's best villains in Dhoulmagus and Marcello (unfortunately, the final boss is another typical Big Boring Demon).

We managed in our first session to get just far enough to complete the full party, having both Jessica and Angelo join. If we make good time we might make it, optimistically, as far as Dhoulmagus next time. Here's hoping.

Week 31

OK, so I hadn't played this game since 2006, and my memory of it is all messed up. Dhoulmagus isn't until halfway through, and we're not even close. Still, we made good progress! We unlocked the Monster Arena and beat the first three ranks.

VIII is a beautiful and fun game that in many ways is a step forward for the series. However, its one downside is that the writing, while not bad, isn't up to the high level set by entries like IV, V and VII. Those games never would have settled for "typical RPG" scenarios, which this game does repeatedly. It can get a trifle dull at times. Some amusingly eccentric voice over performances help.

Let's talk a bit about the characters. This game does have a pretty interesting selection of them.

*Castle Guard Ocho - The protagonist is even more mysterious than usual. You don't learn his backstory until the bonus dungeon.

*Yangus - The lovable bandit. Yangus's good-natured cockney ruffianism is good for a lot of laughs. Cor Blimey!

*Jessica - Known mainly for the way her big boobs come almost entirely out of her improbably low-cut shirt, Jessica is unfortunately rather flat in terms of character development, a shame after excellent female characters in IV, V and VII. I actually really like her character design; it's just too bad there's not a lot beneath it. Her backstory about getting revenge for her brother's death is never adequately developed.

*Angelo - Angelo is so awesome. No matter what the situation he's always a cool customer. He always manages to look a gentleman no matter how much of a scoundrel he's actually being. He maintains a cool evaluation of everyone and takes nothing for granted. A Templar from Maella Abbey, the grudge held against him by his half-brother Marcello, Captain of the Templars, is the game's most compelling plotline.

*King Trode - A short, stout king turned into a short, stout green monster by a curse. His reactions of dignified outrage to just about everything are good for quite a few laughs, as is his constant verbal sparring with Yangus, who addresses him as "granddad."

*Dhoulmagus - The evil wizard jester. Okay, so he's a bit of a Kefka ripoff; he's still awesome. He wears a creepy smile while tutting and pronouncing "Such a pity... such a pity that human life is so fragile." Genuinely menacing and always several steps ahead of you, he's a compelling villain.

*Morrie - This flamboyant Italian runs the monster arena with GUSTO and PASSIONE! I friggin' dare you not to be amused by his bombastic enthusiasm. The monster arena is great all around, also featuring a really great announcer voice-over - "Let's get it on!"

Somebody on GameFAQs once observed that Morrie's dialogue is extra hilarious if you substitute the word "balls" wherever the word "pit" appears. This is true.

"The sights, sounds, and smells of... MORRIE'S MONSTROUS PIT!"

"You give my pit a good licking, ay, ragazzo?"

And so on. But then, some of his quotes stand perfectly well on their own:

Week 32

Progress was slow here for some reason. We made it to Argonia, which isn't quite to Dhoulmagus, but stopped short of doing the quest there.

I really recommend Dragon Quest VIII. Although I do like 7, if you don't you should know that this game is almost nothing like it. Though almost as long it's brisker and does not contain 7's frustrating elements that seem designed to get you stuck (fane pieces).

Week 33/34

By now we have made it as far as Empyrea, the giant bird that turns out to be the same giant bird from III. Apparently it travels across dimensions.

Dhoulmagus was a tough fight, but not as tough as Empyrea. I have no CLUE how we managed to beat that bird.

Week 35

We beat Dragon Quest VIII after six weeks, the second longest of any installment so far. For comparison, VII took nine weeks. Next week we'll take on the bonus dungeon and the Dragovian King before refighting Rhapthorne for the alternate ending.

Regarding IX: Though we both owned this game, we had to buy extra copies to run through it again because it has only one save file.

Thank the Goddess for Marcello, a fantastic villain who saves VIII from predictability. While other antagonists are singular and blunt, Marcello thinks a few moves ahead and uses the selfishness of others to set himself up for a rise to power. The evil Rhapthorne, trapped in a staff, enslaves those who pick it up in sequence - Dhoulmagus, Jessica, the dog Sir Leopold. You can see the next event coming, but for once VIII surprises you with an awesome scene in which Marcello stabs himself in the wrist in order to shake off Rhapthorne's control. Then, he actually has a real motivation in coming to power - he wants to topple the kings of the world, gaining power through nothing more than inheritance. What have they ever done for us, he asks. While his methods are blatantly evil, you honestly have to admit that he has a point. This is compelling stuff!

While the actual boss fight with Marcello is a bit easy, there's another great scene afterward. Showing off what a cool character he is, Angelo saves Marcello's life just to piss him off. It does, too. When Marcello swears revenge, Angelo brushes him off with an awesome line - "You know, I really don't care. Do whatever you want, you can't hurt me anymore." ICE BURN.

We're almost there! This is exciting.

Week 36

VIII has one of the series's best developed bonus areas. You finally get some background on the hero as he turns out to be the child of the star-crossed relationship between a human and a member of a secluded race known as the Dragovians, who can change between human and dragon forms.

After we made the timbrel of tension, we used it to make pretty short work of the Lord of the Dragovians. (Honestly, Empyrea is the game's hardest boss for when you fight her.) After that we beat Rhapthorne again, which gives you a slightly different ending. It's not much and the first ending is honestly better, but it's nice to get something out of winning the bonus fight.

You can fight a series of harder dragons which really make you grind out the highest levels, but we decided that getting the second ending was good enough for this run, which we finished at level 41.

One more for the road - "The tension is building in my monstrous pit!" - Morrie

And now, at last...


Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky (DS)

Oh guardian, can you hear my voice? I shall keep asking You.

I told you! I told you I could count to nine. I didn't go to Kindergarten for nothing.

There's a feeling here of coming full circle. Around the time we started this project, we were attending official Dragon Quest IX events sponsored by Nintendo, to whose consoles the series has returned after a two-game stay with Sony. It wasn't so long ago, really...

DQIX is a story about the complicated relationship between guardian angels and the mortals who pray for their protection. Even pure altruism can be tainted. Anything good has cracks beneath the surface, like the beautiful white sheet covering a frozen lake. Also there's a flying golden train. CHOOO CHOOOOO

Notably, after all the time my companion and I have spent playing single-player games together, this game features actual multiplayer, allowing your hero to join the game of another and gallavant about with them. We are playing through the game in this manner.

Because IX is an easier game than the others we played to get here, we're sticking to a two-person party to make things interesting. We also decided to use only alchemy recipes found in game and to stay away from all DLC content. I'm Ni, a weird little bald dude, and my buddy is Ne, a cute pink-haired girl. It's kind of funny for a Monty Python fan going through the game as "Ni." It seems like an aside people add to the end of their dialogue, and when one character jumped out and shouted just "Ni!" I felt under attack!

In our first session, we learned some things about co-op play, which we'd done before but never this much.

*Some plot-relevant characters have special dialogue when talked to by a guest. "Oh, you're a member of Ni's party?" and things like that.

*You aren't allowed to use your host's alchemy pot if you haven't unlocked the pot on your own cart.
*You can't accept or complete quests while visiting another's game.

*For the most part the host gets all the loot from battles which both players participate (I mean items, not gold, which is split). However, some equipment drops (those from bosses, maybe) give the guest a copy as well.

*You CAN use the bank in your host's world and it will work as your own.

*If you have different day-night states and enter the same area, the game will sync to the host's state.

*You'll never lose gold for dying unless everybody dies at once. If you're fighting separately and you die, you can get resurrected in the church for free. Alternatively, you can wait around in your coffin for your companion to resurrect you with magic or a leaf.

Now, on to the run.

Obviously, play up to the arrival in Stornway was two totally ordinary games, since that's the first point at which you can enter another game.

The Wight Knight, whom I never really noticed as a challenge before, made extremely quick work of us with just two characters. Battle strategy is seriously limited by the small party size as well as the fact that at this point, we can only have minstrels. We ground up to level 12 before fighting him again and winning. After this, Morag was not a significant problem. The Ragin' Contagion, however, again handed us our asses, and we ground to over level 20 in order to put him down. It's a great grinding strategy to split up in the Quarantomb in order to increase the odds of finding a Metal Slime. When one of us found one, we'd confront it and wait for the other to arrive. Using metal slash, we made good exp here. After beating the Contagion, we wrapped things up in Coffinwell and called it a night.

Here's my battle records after one session:
Time: 5:30
Multiplayer Time: 4:03
Battle Victories: 127
Times Alchemy performed: 1
Accolades Earnt: 8
Quests Completed: 2
Defeated Monster List: 14%
Wardrobe: 2%
Item List: 14%
Alchenomicon: 1%

Week 37

This week, we learned that, like the alchemy pot, Alltrades Abbey will not allow visiting characters to change classes if they have not yet unlocked that ability in their own game. This is why my friend's been playing "catch-up" on his game, solo, between sessions. Also, as I've been corrected, battle drops do in fact go to everybody.

God is really a jerk in this game. And we thought he was bad in 7! At least there he tried to save the world. Here he was pretty gung-ho about destroying the mortals, and these heavenly fruit turn out to be nothing but trouble. I'm glad he got split up into a bunch of monsters that hang out in deep holes.

The major difference in our strategy so far has to do with herbs. A two-man party drastically reduces the amount of healing you have available, so we've gotten by by making loads of superior medicines to have available at all times. This won't hold up forever, so one of us may end up being a priest.

We got 5 Fyggs in this session, fighting Master of Nu'un, the Lleviathan, Garth Goyle, the Tyrantula, and Drak. We beat them all by attacking and healing conservatively, and didn't have many problems. Actually, some of the dungeons were a bit of a problem - encounters are a lot harder to avoid with two players.

I changed to Warrior at Alltrades and we did some grinding in the Quarantomb to catch me up before moving on. After beating Drak, I did the quest to unlock the Paladin class, then switched to Thief because I'm using swords and Paladins don't. We did more grinding in the Quarantomb and Bad Cave until my Swords skill was maxed, then I switched to Paladin and we did more grinding. Ne is now level 36.

We got some use out of the steel equipment, and I'm gearing for magic resistance, wearing magic armor, magic mittens, red tights and an enchanted shield. Ne went for a cloak of concealment and a flame shield.

Again, my battle records:

Time: 15:01
Multiplayer: 12:58
Victories: 275
Alchemy performed: 12
Accolades Earnt: 23
Quests Completed: 4
Defeated Monster List: 31%
Wardrobe: 5%
Item List: 28%
Alchenomicon: 2%

Week 38

We didn't beat Dragon Quest IX this week, but we did get very close.

At this point, Ni is a Paladin and Ne a Priest, which seems to work well. Sometimes I use Whipping Boy to protect Ne. Ni does most of the damage with UFB + Falcon slash (before getting the ultimate key, I was wielding a fire blade) while Ne keeps us alive with multiheal. When not healing, Ne uses Egg On, which tends to increase damage more than attacking would.

The moves Magic Mirror and Helm Splitter are big elements of our boss strategies. Some of the bosses in this stretch could do well over a hundred damage with magic, so protection is key. And it may be obvious, but having an Yggdrasil leaf in Ni's inventory saved us several times.

We got the last couple of Fyggs from Larstastnaras and the Dreadmaster without much trouble. After the non-fight with Aquila, we got up to Upover before having trouble against the Gittish soldiers there - we beat them, but barely, as their ice breath nearly did us in. Therefore, we did some grinding in the Bowhole (Is it just us or does this sound nasty?) until Ne learned Insulatle before continuing.

When you go to get the Dragon Warrior gear from Greygnarl and see the cutscene, you're required to close the Rapportal and stop playing with friends. However, before long you get the chance to leave the Goretress and get them back. In fact, only one battle occurs while you're required to be alone, an easy fight against an Aggrosculpture. Interestingly, back at the Goretress a visiting player, unlike a main player, can't walk through the shield panels. Maybe this is just because Ne didn't have the Gittish seal!

Of the three Gittish Knights, Hogg was easy, Hootingham gave us some trouble, and Purrvis tore us up, forcing another grinding session until Ne got to level 50 (Ni was 46). After that, we managed to get past, and Godwyn was not a major problem. In the Realm of the Mighty, however, you have to refight the knights, and Purrvis again blew us away. That upward slash move that stops you from acting is so unfair (it even gets right past Back Atcha), and it ruined our strategy. We're going to make sure to each get the shield scroll before next time, since Purrvis's stupidly common criticals were the biggest reason we lost.

Battle Records:

Time: 26:51
Multiplayer: 21:34
Victories: 453
Times Alchemy Performed: 19
Accolades Earnt: 37
Quests Completed: 7
Defeated Monster List: 58%
Wardrobe: 10%
Item List: 39%
Alchenomicon: 3%

Week 39

We saw the credits roll (interestingly, you can actually get the ending sequence while on somebody else's game), but we're not done yet.

Between sessions, we did a lot of preparation. We both got the shield scroll, and I got the Warrior and Gladiator scrolls and went through the Warrior, Gladiator, Paladin and Armamentalist skill trees for their stat bonuses. We also got our main classes up to level 60. There's a huge jump in difficulty from the main game to the post game, and we didn't want to get caught off guard.

Returning to our old nemesis Purrvis, he was now a blink-and-you'll-miss-it joke, which was satisfying. As for Corvus, I'm not sure he even ought to qualify as a final boss - what a wimp!

Before you can properly start the postgame, you have to complete a little quest that involves fighting a stronger version of the whale boss, Lleviathan. He's arguably tougher than Corvus, but gave us absolutely no trouble.

We're hardly intending to shoot for 100% here. Our goals are to beat all 12 Grotto Bosses and to beat all 13 Legacy Bosses. The legacy bosses will be level 1 or close to it. To facilitate this, we transferred maps for each boss from my main cart to my secondary cart by tagging, removing from the guestbook, and retagging. In this way, you can get as many maps as you want from the same other cart.

The grotto bosses are supposed to each represent a part of the split-up Zenus - Equinox is the legs, Nemean the head, Sir Sanguinus the blood. If that's true, then what part does Greygnarl rep... ewwwww, no.

The first three grotto bosses were extremely easy, but the fourth (Trauminator) gave us our first hint that they weren't all going to be pushovers, and the difficulty ramped up steeply from there. The grottoes themselves also got tough, and took quite a while to push through. At first we'd split up to save time, but later we resolved to stick together, as getting caught in battle alone could lead to a quick death. On the bright side, once we encountered two Metal King Slimes and took them both down, causing both characters to jump from level 64 to level 66!

Against the grotto bosses, I tended to use a Fource to boost damage, followed by Falcon slash while Ne used Helm Splitter to reduce their defense and healed when necessary. This got us through the first eight grotto bosses okay, but we really hit a wall with Fowleye. Fowleye loves to use Disruptive wave, making effective attack or defense difficult. Particularly, it's tough to defend against his powerful attack magic. We tried to keep Magic Mirror up, but it was futile. What really did us in was his sleep attack that never misses. He used it twice in a row, and there was nothing we could do but watch as he killed us. Obviously, we're going to have to do even more preparation for next week. We did have a grinding session at the end, but bad luck kept us from getting much of anywhere, and we only made it to level 71.

Battle Records:

Time: 48:24
Multiplayer: 28:44
Victories: 751
Times Alchemy Performed: 40
Accolades Earnt: 94
Quests Completed: 25
Grottoes Completed: 9
Guests Canvassed: 24 (lol retagging. This doesn't count toward building the inn.)
Defeated Monster List: 73%
Wardrobe: 13%
Item List: 46%
Alchenomicon: 6%

My completion Accolade was "Socialite," for "saving the world in the constant company of friends and allies." So the game does recognize co-op runs, in a way.

Week 40

Our odyssey through the main Dragon Quest series is COMPLETE!

The normally hated Shimmering dress, which reflects back spells, came in handy on a few bosses, particularly Fowleye. I mean, it's not like Ni was casting spells on Ne.

In preparation for this session, I covered all the relevant skill trees and leveled up to 99, which went shockingly fast without party members.

Our strategy against the game's strongest bosses involved the following moves:

Falcon Slash
Dragon Slash (Greygnarl, Dragonlord)
Feel the Burn (this was a major component!)

Healing (Moreheal, Fullheal, Multiheal, Omniheal)
Helm Splitter
Egg On
Disrupting Wave
Wave of Relief

The hardest part of this stretch was getting through the high-level grottos. Vanish helped. After getting wiped out several times we realized we had to split up so when one of us inevitably died, the other could revive them. We also learned something obscure about multiplayer when I got to Greygnarl while Kux was disconnected. He connected and I called him to me, but all of the blue chests I'd opened were still empty for him. You have to be consistently connected for the blue chests to offer each player an item.

Fowleye, Excalipurr and Tyrannosaurus Wrecks were not a big deal, but Greygnarl was the hardest boss we faced. He's a real tough one with three powerful attacks and disruptive wave, and it took us two tries to win.

We went through the legacy bosses in the order they appeared in the series, reminiscing about those parts of our run. By putting Ni in front and using feel the burn, damage output got fierce and was over 4000 on a few occasions. Helm splitter also moved things along, though against the tougher bosses Ne had to stick to purely healing. We didn't lose to any boss, though Nokturnus gave us a seriously close call, killing Ne at one point with Ni at pretty low health. Mortamor was also a real pain, taking us an aggravating 23 turns to beat. The easiest boss was surprisingly Dhoulmagus, who went down in 3 utterly effortless turns.

Thanks to everybody who bothered to read these. I recommend playing DQ9 this way; it's great to share these games with a good friend.

Final Battle Records for Ni:
Time spent: 60:50
Multiplayer: 35:25
Victories: 854
Alchemy: 44
Accolades: 122
Quests Completed: 34
Grottoes Completed: 28
Defeated Monster List: 83%
Wardrobe: 21%
Item List: 51%
Alchenomicon: 7%

Final equipment for Ni:
Weapon: über falcon blade
Shield: Metal slime shield
Head: Metal slime helm
Torso: Pallium Regale
Arms: Ethereal Gloves
Legs: Dragon Warrior Trousers
Feet: Elevating Shoes
Accessory: Elfin charm

Final Battle Records for Ne:
Time spent: 80:52
Multiplayer: 35:26
Victories: 1549
Alchemy: 238
Accolades: 102
Quests Completed: 32
Grottoes Completed: 32
Defeated Monster List: 87%
Wardrobe: 30%
Item List: 53%
Alchenomicon: 20%

Final equipment for Ne:
Weapon: Bad Axe
Shield: Silver Shield
Head: Spellward Circlet
Torso: Xenlon Robe
Arms: Heavy Handwear
Legs: Transparent Tights
Feet: Pixie Boots
Accessory: Meteorite Bracer

Playing through the Dragon Quest games with a friend was an experience I'll never forget - all the laughs, excitement, and emotion. Sadly, extending this run will never be possible due to Squeenix betraying us with a "Dragon Quest X" that's actually an MMO.   read

11:34 PM on 01.14.2013

I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 6/7

Well, it's disappointment time.

When we got to DQVI, this project seriously ran out of steam. This is partly due to the fact that my friend and I don't like VI very much, and partly because interest had mostly died out at this point where I originally posted these writeups. I gave up on writing about VI pretty quickly, and although I like VII much more (if that 3DS remake makes it over, I will buy a 3DS), I couldn't muster the energy to keep doing the longform writeups I did of the first five games. Looking back, I wish I had, but since the writing was all about the shared experience we had playing the games together, there's no way to go back and fix it. So here's what I did write about 6 and 7, for what it's worth.

Week Sixteen


Dragon Quest VI (SFC)

What if your dreams took place in another, real world? Or is it only your dreams that are real? To be honest, I'm as confused as you.

I can't quite do my usual intro here because this was my first exposure to this game. Back when we did this, DQVI still held the distinction of being the last game in the series not to make it out of Japan. By the time we'd beaten it, however, the DS version had made it stateside.

For this game, we had to use an English patch by NoProgress that was never quite finished. As such, there are some untranslated strings here and there. Despite this, it's still a pretty good patch and our hats are off to the fellows who made it.

Right away, this game is a huge step up technically. It FINALLY introduces the bag (called the Sack in this patch) and enemies are finally animated. Where V looked like it had one foot in the NES with simple sprite work and primitive environments, this one is much more detailed and makes use of all the psychadelic SNES tricks. I'd liken the atmosphere to Chrono Trigger, a game that reminds me of this one in more ways than one (Akira Toriyama's distinctive art obviously doesn't hurt).

So you're this guy we decided to call Hex:

Gotta have the blue hair. And the purple undies, apparently.

Hex is a very forgetful guy. He can't ever seem to keep a handle for long on where he is, what he's doing there, or even who he really is. A good portion of the skills he learns - Recall, Remember, Forget, Unforget - are designed to help him manage information, but in the big picture they don't help much.

The game begins with Hex and friends planning an assault on the castle of Mudo, a final-boss sounding villain. There's actually quite a bit of buildup to this - you ride a dragon directly to the inner sanctum in a cool scene. When you get to Mudo, though, it's not much of a fight since it seems he can lift the whole party into the air with his mind and make them disappear in puffs of orange smoke. Bummer.

This, however, seems to be a dream. Hex wakes up in the small village of Lifecod, where he seems to live. Next to him is a girl named Tania who seems to be his sister. This is a disorenting way to start a disorienting game, if you ask me.

*After some preliminary grinding (this game has a unique slime type - yellow with brown spots. The frig?), headed south through the mountains on an errand for the village Elder. Hex is to sell some goods in the town of Shiena in order to buy something called the Spirit Crown that Lifecod needs for its festival. Shiena has a bazaar where you can haggle to your heart's content, and playing two chumps against one another in a bidding war nets you much more gold for your goods. Unfortunately the maker of the Spirit Crown went off to get wood for the task and hasn't been seen since.

*Saved the carver, who was hanging over a... big old hole in the world. Hex falls in, though. Whoops! He lands in another world, where he seems to be transparent. Sure enough, in a nearby village he can't quite get anyone to see or hear him. He takes the opportunity to walk right into people's houses and steal their stuff - oh wait, that's how DQ heroes act all the time. Before long he finds a glowy well that takes him back to his world, where, instead of thinking he's tripping, people seem to know what he's talking about and say he visited the "Phantom World."

*Hex gets the spirit crown (It's made of wood! Forget Zenithia, this is the wooden hat trilogy!) and heads back home for a village ceremony and festival. The ceremony is interrupted, however, by the appearance of a spirit who tells Hex of the world's impending plunge into darkness and his mysterious destiny. Oddly, this causes only minor disruption and soon everybody seems to have gotten over it. These villagers take partying VERY seriously.

*Not quite sure what "destiny" the spirit was talking about, Hex heads to nearby Reidock castle and decides to join the royal army. Initiates must undergo a test at the nearby Tower of Trials, which has a pretty nasty boss at the end for this early in the game - thank goodness for Sap to lower defense. One of the other initiates is one of the people from Hex's dream!

Hex's new partner is our first party member, Hassan.

That's as far as I got. 6 is, I'd say, the second-weakest installment - it feels incomplete being sandwiched between the likes of 5 and 7, and doesn't have near the storytelling depth of either of those games. 7 has more effort put into the story of one small island of people turned to stone (for example) than 6 puts into anything, really.

Our jokes about 6 involved Hex forgetting everything, Hassan sounding like Nappa from Dragon Ball Z abridged and thinking Chamoro was a Pokemon, Chamoro having a Jerry Lewis voice, and Muriel looking like a dude. We also laughed ourselves silly over singing along to the flying bed theme: "Flying Bed Song! Holy crap it is the - flying bed song!"

We stuck it out and beat the bonus boss, who took both a huge grinding session and some extremely fancy wagon-switching strategy to wipe out.

Week Twenty (Yeah.)


Dragon Warrior VII (PSX)

In the world, there is only this island. Nothing but sea lies in all directions, as far as you can sail. But all it takes is a few kids to question reality and the whole thing begins to unravel...

It's pretty amazing that this release even exists. Enix America managed to muster up the resources for one more Dragon Warrior localization before vanishing for good. A 2001 PS1 release, with primitive graphics and an extremely drawn-out story? It's a wonder it sold as well as it did.

Boy oh boy is this game LONG. Two hours solid to your first battle, a good 15 before you whiff the class system, figure 90+ to actually finish. Talk about epic, though - in this game you rebuild the world, kick the devil's ass, and for good measure, head up to heaven and kick God's ass too. I mean really, who does he think he is?

Our hero's name is Lucky. I think it still fits the number theme, and in many ways it suits the fisherman's son from Fishbel well - He kind of blunders into heroism, it was never really his idea. Heck, he's even been called "lucky" twice so far in the game, which is amusingly redundant. He's a naive, agreeable sort who actually really likes fishing and is sad his dad won't take him on fishing trips.

Keifer - another rebellious prince, this series is full of 'em! - is ambitious, but a bit thick. Believe me, the party chat (a feature introduced in 7) bears this out. Nevertheless, it's his dog-headed persistence that gets the whole restoring the world thing on track.

Maribel is one of our favorite characters from the entire series. She may be snotty and self-absorbed, but damn she's witty in demeaning the less-than-bright Keifer and Lucky. And honestly, she's right, too. A favorite: "Your brain is a planet, orbiting around a star. That star is named Idiocy, and its light shines upon you always."

What makes 7 really terrific is that each new area has its own self-contained story. These stories aren't your bog standard stuff, either - they're complex, interrelated and don't always have happy endings. People have motivations more complex than good and evil - they're vain, fearful, prideful, devoted, loyal, stubborn, tragic. We're not far in and already there's a real gem in the form of the story of an island whose inhabitants are turned into stone - it's too late to change them back, and an old man who tried to save them blames himself. Going up to each of the statues in turn, you're told the village's story piece by piece through the memories of each villager - each gets a name, a bit of personality, and a bit of background. In the end, you cannot save most of the villagers, but you are able to restore one, a small boy, and you also restore an old man's hope for the future.

I mean, compare that one very minor location to Gandino in 6 - a city where you do literally nothing. No quests, no plot. Okay, I'm done complaining about 6.

Week 21

Although we dedicated an extra-long day to making headway in 7, we still had to stop just short of unlocking the class system. There is a really nasty fakeout where you walk up to Dharma temple, select a class, and then get your magic and skills stolen and thrown into a really tough area. We got there, but not past it.

Kiefer has left the party permanently - the only major party member in the entire series to do that.

We did get Gabo, though - an excitable young boy who is actually a wolf pup transformed into a human. Gabo only says his own name at first before learning to talk, and learns moves like Bite, Growl, Tackle, and Howl - uh, we joked about Chamoro, but I'm pretty sure we have an actual Pokemon here. Gabo!

There were some more really interesting stories in this segment, including a kingdom that wars against evil robots of mysterious origin. Begrudging help comes from a robotics expert who treats his robot as a substitute for the woman who left him - yikes, man. It's as disturbing as it sounds.

There's another town turned to stone, but after you cure the town (and you can, this time), there's a story about a girl who has to marry someone other than the man she loves in order to help her indebted family. She tries to get her sweetheart to elope with her, but he won't because he knows that both their families would be ruined by this act. Desperate to get him to agree, she begins to verbally abuse him in the hope that anger will cause him to act - but it doesn't in the way she wants, as he runs away from town to avoid hurting anybody and escape his "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. It's a painful scene that leaves a heavy feeling in your heart - you might save the world, but you can't help everybody.

Speaking of saving the world, the actual plot of the overall game starts to poke its head in around this time. It seems that long ago, the Demon Lord sealed all the parts of the world away, and he and God fought a tremendous war with armies on their sides. Both were so depleted by the battle that they rest in a death-like state. You actually have to help a group of people called the Dejan tribe perform a ritual to resurrect God - it doesn't work the first time you do it, though. Oh well.

Week 22

Okay, I am still a big fan of 7, but I'd be dishonest if I didn't say some things in it were tedious as hell; the quest to unlock the class system is ludicrously long, and I undershot my estimate of unlocking it pretty badly - we were actually 19.5 hours in. Also, the method of unlocking new areas where you have to find all these jigsaw puzzle shards has us grinding our teeth as we keep missing one and having to figure out where we missed it.

We made Lucky a Mariner (of course!), Maribel a Cleric and Gabo a Warrior. Gabo really tears monsters up with his boomerang. Oh, and we named the Immigrant town Fishtard in honor of Lucky and Kiefer's homes of Fishbel and Estard.

Stories this week included raiding an ancient sphinx by riding a dragon (Hey, a dragon! Imagine that) down the "Nila" river and a town full of people who'd been convinced due to some cursed well water that each and every one of them was the Demon Lord. To be honest, this was more cute than menacing.

I can't believe I haven't mentioned this yet, but like in VI where most locations had a Dream world and Real world version, in this game you first visit a location in the distant past, and after you solve the problem there, the land reappears in the present and you can visit it again and see what has changed. A LOT gets lost to history.

There's a lot of worship in this game. Fire god, water god, boulder god, Terra Spirit, and plain old God - everyone keeps talking about His blessing, but it seems to me we're on our own. Yeah, we've got a bone or two to pick with God.

Week 23

Not a lot to say this week. The main feature of this leg was a "groundhog day" village where the same day repeated over and over. This same village is home to a renowned and very pompous architect who makes very strange-looking buildings that command admiration but are actually kind of hard to use.

Going has been slowed down by shard-hunt madness and bouts of grinding brought on by tough, tough dungeons. Spirits are high, though. Maribel's constant complaining is actually amusing rather than annoying, and Gabo's lessons on being human are fun. The dynamic between the two of them is pretty funny, as even Gabo has figured out that you need to watch yourself around Maribel. For a long time he said things to offend her without thinking, but lately he's been adding - "Ack! I'm sorry! Don't hit me, Maribel!" Progress!

We're also playing the new (at the time this was written) You Don't Know Jack game on the PC. We've been fans of this hilarious trivia game series since its heyday in the mid-90s, and they have still got it. I recommend YDKJ to everybody, even if you're not normally a fan of trivia.

Week 24

We got sick and tired of hunting for shards and spent all day playing You Don't Know Jack instead.

Week 25

We've gotten the remaining party members. God's legendary soldier, sealed away in a stone for ages until he was needed again... is an old man named Melvin. Yeah, really.

The final party member to join is a Warrior/Dancer named Aira. She's a fiery amazon type, but is still actually a lot nicer than Maribel. As a result of Kiefer staying in the past, Aira is actually his descendant.

We've had our troubles with areas that make you go back and forth repeatedly many times and with insanely tough bosses, but we're still having a good time because the stories are so interesting. My favorite bit from this week was a village where (after saving it from two other disasters) a man takes a HellWorm monster as a pet. The rest of the town quickly becomes fearful and tries to rope you into killing the thing, which has shown no sign of misbehavior. You're so used to taking the orders of anyone who asks you to do something, but this... doesn't feel right.

Your decision has consequences. If you don't kill the pet HellWorm, it later sacrifices itself to save the village from an invasion of its own kind. If, however, you let yourself get caught up in the will of the mob and kill the poor thing, the village is destroyed and in the present, nothing remains.

We've had to stop to grind a few times and we will again, I'm sure. Still, we are making decent headway. Maybe next week we can shoot for Disc 2.

One of Dragon Warrior VII's many touching moments.

Week 26

We made damn good headway through 7 this week (26, week 7 of DQ7), making it all the way to the swap to Disc 2, which is near the end. Next week we may finish 7 altogether. I can already see 8 coming. Cor blimey, guv!

I love 7 for its deep, philosophical stories - parables, almost - but holy crap is it dark. This game is by far the darkest in the series; not only are the twisted cruelties of the Demon Lord on display, the depths of human cowardice, selfishness and fear are also explored.

There's a village threatened by monsters which is saved by the altruism of its priest. He makes a deal with the head of the monsters - the priest and the monster will trade appearances, and in exchange the monsters will stay out of the village for so long as the priest lives. However, the villagers are unaware of the deal and only see a monster wearing priest's clothes return to town. Unable to speak, the transformed priest merely mopes sadly, staying in the temple.

Despite the fact that the "monster" never does anything to harm anyone, the villagers fear and distrust him. In their fear and anger they come to blame the monster for all of their problems despite the fact that he hasn't done anything. They soon plan to kill him, and this is where you come in; they try to get you to assist them in killing the monster. Observing that the monster isn't actually harming anyone, we caution that perhaps he isn't evil; for this, we are locked in a barn so that they may kill him without our interfering. A child who agrees with us lets us out, and we find the villagers beating up the monster, who does not even try to defend himself; sickeningly, this doesn't seem to dissuade the mob at all. When we intervene, the prefect of the village declares us in league with the monsters and runs us out of town.

Of course, we defeat the monsters and return to town, to find that the villagers are in the process of crucifying the monster - no shit, actually crucifying him; I told you this game was dark. He returns to his human form and the villagers realize their mistake just in time to avoid killing him. In the night, the priest leaves the village behind forever. We happen to know that he goes on to lose his memory and save another village, dying in the process, in an earlier location in the game - the time travel mechanic is uneven, allowing things like this - but that's another story.

The worst part, however, comes when we return to the present. You see, although the conduct of the villagers was horrible, you can sort of understand it in the situation they were in, and they were genuinely sorry afterward. No, what follows is far worse and less defensible.

A recurring theme in Dragon Warrior 7 is that the details of our past exploits are frequently lost to history. For example, the HellWorm that saves the village I mentioned last week is honored in the present, but as a man - nobody knows it was a HellWorm. However, in most cases the spirit of the story is preserved, at least. Not so with this village: when we arrive in the present, the whole town believes that when the priest saved the village, everyone rallied to support him - and that travelers came and tried to kill him, but they drove them off. That's right, WE have been made into the villains of the story. A few in the town still carry on the real truth, but they are called liars. They seem resigned; one man says that when enough people believe a lie, that becomes the truth.

Working with some children, we manage to find proof of the truth. When we bring it to the Prefect, however, he destroys it! He is so invested in the story of the villagers' heroism that he continues to maintain it's the truth, pretending nothing happened. This injustice is maddening, but it's true to life, and a brilliant piece of storytelling. In the end, due to selfishness and cowardice, the truth is never made known, as it's more convenient to believe in a lie.

There is a small note of hope for human nature, however. The children, chastised as liars by their parents, refuse to give up. They maintain that no matter how they are punished, they will keep telling their parents that lies are lies. To me, it's heartening to know there are still some who value reality over convenient narratives. I hope this is true in real life as well.

There's also a city whose curse is truly twisted - newborn babies turn into monsters and leave town - the insane grief of the parents is seriously hard to watch. That story has a happy ending, however.

The boss at the end of disc 1 is actually the Demon Lord Orgodemir, the final boss, weakened severely after a fight with God in which He was slain. Even so, we just *barely* squeaked out a win, with everybody out of MP and all our items used up. It was intense.

We've really gotten attached to the characters in this game. Aira is strong but kind; Melvin displays a decorum appropriate for God's top soldier of legend, but lets a mischievous streak show now and then as well. And Gabo, always good for a laugh with a piece of dialogue about wondering how something tastes or what, exactly, is going on, has a really touching little speech he gives right before the fight with Orgodemir. Not sure if he'll survive the coming battle, he says he's really enjoyed traveling with Lucky and has come to understand some things about human nature, its dark side and its best potential. It really is a moving little moment.

And I ramble a lot. Hopefully next week we can finish up 7.

Week 27

OK, I was pretty dumb to think we had a chance of finishing this week. After reviving God and getting a nice ending fakeout, God goes nuts and seals the world back away (spoiler alert: it's really the demon lord). We then have to wake the four elemental spirits for help, which we're still in the middle of doing. Still, we made some progress and the end is in sight: if not next week, then the week after.

The Wind spirit turns out to be kind of an airhead bimbo, leading to a fantastic party chat line:

Aira: That was the Wind Spirit? Seemed more like a tornado. I mean 'slut.'

Week 28

This week, we beat Dragon Warrior VII! The final battle with Orgodemir was even closer than the one before, with one character down and everybody else out of HP and MP - we were just a turn or two away from annihilation when we won. What a rush!

We're not ready to move on to VIII yet, though. Next week, there is still the matter of the bonus dungeon and taking on God, one of the most insane bonus bosses ever. He can attack up to five times per turn!

I forgot to mention that this game has an awesome subplot about a badass pirate named Sharkeye. His ship has a goddamn castle on it! I'm serious, a real castle! Is that sweet or what?

Week 29

It took us all day (almost entirely taken up by the longest grinding session of the project, getting everybody up ten levels to 50), but we beat God! Now Lucky's story is at an end.

Next time: the travels of Castle Guard Ocho!   read

9:47 PM on 01.13.2013

I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 5


Dragon Quest V (SFC)

Stop me if you've heard this one: many generations after the last installment, a descendant of the previous Hero will become the new Hero of Legend when the Ruler of Evil awakes again. Our story opens on the birth of a boy - a prince, naturally. But here's the twist - this boy is not of Ivy's line. He's not the Hero - not the Legendary Hero, anyway.

Don't worry. He'll marry into it.

In a series as consistently great as Dragon Quest, it's hard to single one out as the best. At a Nintendo-sponsored DQIX event this year, I discussed the series with some other fans and heard 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 as favorites. There's really no bad choice (OK, there's one - don't think I don't see you over there, II). My personal favorite is 3 - it's a blast to assemble a freeform party and rock through two well-realized worlds. 5, however, is probably the one that comes up the most often, and for good reason. I'll not mince words - DQV is a storytelling masterpiece that stands as a testament to the video game medium's potential in that area.

This game follows the life of the hero from when he is a small child as he grows up, gets married and has children of his own (one of whom turns out to be the Legendary Hero, incidentally). DQV understands that story, in a video game, doesn't have to be something that happens in between gameplay. A true role-playing game, it uses the unique strengths of interactive storytelling to immerse you in the main character's life and evoke genuine emotion toward the supporting cast. Let me break it down like this: This game knows exactly how to poke a gamer to tug at their heartstrings.

V is the first game in the series not to make it outside of Japan - not until 2009's DS release, that is. Hence, say goodbye to that "Warrior" moniker, but not too fond a goodbye - we haven't quite seen the last of it. Fortunately, in 2002 DeJap translations came out with an English patch that really stands among the greatest achievements of fan translation. It's well-written, imaginative and professional, leagues above the still-serviceable patches we used for II and III. There are some typos, but I'm betting that's our fault for not using the latest patch version.

It's cool to see the series move into the fourth console generation, but this one still has a foot planted in the NES. The bag, an inventory convenience we're used to from later games and remakes, STILL hasn't shown up yet. Monsters still aren't animated, either. However, the action button (R) is finally introduced, and this game has another stellar soundtrack. V also makes the bizarre move of scaling the active party back to 3 members, which is never done again including in the remake. Again I strongly recommend the DS version, which improves on this classic in nearly every way.

Nobody Reads This Productions presents:

Dragon Quest V: The Many Trials of Quint the Fated

~A saga in three generations~

Generation One: Travels with Papas

Introducing Quint, Age 6:

Isn't he cute? This wandering vagabond has no clue he's a prince, as he accompanies his Dad on a worldwide search for his mother, who was kidnapped by monsters shortly after his birth. Sadly, this tragedy is but the first of a great many for young Quint.

Speaking of Dad, let's take a look at Papas:

Wow. I think it's pretty obvious what Papas thinks of the typical Dragon Quest mode of Kingship. This man of action is another dazzling spectacle of manhood in the mold of previous badasses Ortega and Ragnar (In fact, check out that 'stache - think he's got a bit of the clan MacRyan in him?). He's also got a heart of gold. He cares deeply for his son, and you'll never hear anybody say an unkind word about him.

*Traveled with Papas to the tiny village of Santa Rosa. Papas has AMAZING stats in battle. Uh oh. If you've played many RPGs, you know what that means.

*Little Tyke's My First Quest: Went into a cave fulla slimes and bugs to rescue a dwarf trapped under a rock. Yay!

*Went to Alkapa, where we met our first playmate, Bianca.

Here's Bianca, age 8:

Spunky, adventurous, and very cute. I like her.
*Found a couple of tapdancing (seriously, that's what the sprite looks like) kids beating up on a cat. They said we could have the cat if we went to the nearby spooooky castle and beat up some ghosts. There, we found the ghosts of the castle's former inhabitants were being tormented by evil ghosts. We did some ghostbusting, and got a shiny golden orb as a reward.

*Got the cat too. You only get to pick from a few names, so we picked Borongo. He becomes a party member!

*Had to bid goodbye to Bianca for now. Back in Santa Rosa, we met an elf that only Quint could see. She took us to Elf Land, where we had an awesome little adventure defeating an Ice Queen to bring Spring back to the elves. This little segment is really fun and a great way to get some serious adventuring in the game early away from Daddy's wing.

*While in Santa Rosa, an adult who looks just like Quint asks to see his gold orb for a second. He also says to "never give up, whatever happens."

*Papas is next called to Reinhart castle, where we're asked to watch the prince, who turns out to be a snotty little jerk. He gets kidnapped, though, and Quint and Papas go to a nearby cave to find him. They do, but are stopped from leaving by the evil and hideous Bishop Gema of the Order of Light. Gema has heard of Papas and wants to put a stop to him. Well, Papas easily beats the minions he summons, but Gema plays dirty, holding a blade against young Quint's throat. Papas is unable to defend himself for fear of his son's life. In a scripted battle sequence, brave Papas stoically endures as he is slowly beaten to death. It's hard to watch.

*Gema also breaks Quint's shiny gold orb. What a jerk!

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*It looked like we'd have to leave Alkapa before we could do the ghost hunt, but Papas contracts a nasty case of plotdevicitis, halting travel just long enough, however long that ends up being. Prescription for plot-related illness: Take one subquest and call me in the morning.

*Ghostly Count: You'll need a Torch to see in my basement. I left it in the kitchen.

Bianca: But that don't make any sense! We checked all the pots and drawers in there already and didn't see nuffin'!

Count: Ah yes - I believe I secured it behind an arbitrary trigger. You never can be too careful.

*Quint: That big kid said we had balls when I told him we went to the haunted castle. What's that mean?

Bianca: I dunno. We did find this big gold one - maybe there's more where it came from.

*Dwarf in Santa Rosa: You did me a big favor down in that hole. Why don't you come over here and rummage through my drawers?

Quint: Ummmm.... I need an adult?

Dwarf: I *am* an adult.

*Gema: And now that Papas is dead, you two will live the rest of your lives as slaves! Nehehehe!

Gema casts Return!

Gema hits his head on the ceiling!

Gema: Augh! Dammit, I NEVER remember to cast Outside first!

Ten years pass as Quint is forced into a life of slavery building an enormous temple. He finds a true friend, though, in Prince Harry, who quickly mends his selfish ways and turns out to be a pretty good sort. Though his back nearly breaks from the work and the flogging, Quint's spirit never does. He is driven by his father's last words...

"Your mother is still alive..."

Generation Two: From Slave to King

We rejoin Quint, age 16, hardened by a decade of hard forced labor:

During an otherwise normal grueling day of work, the boys see a new girl among the slaves; she fits in poorly. A guard lets it slip to Quint that this is his sister, Maria, who somehow offended Bishop Gema. The next day, Quint and Harry see the girl being beaten by slave drivers and they lose it and attack them. They're sure this will finish them, but they get lucky...

The guard knows that although the slaves are told they'll be freed at the temple's completion, they'll actually be killed. He can't bear to think of this happening to Maria, so he lets her and the slaves who stuck up for her escape in one of the barrels they use to dispose of dead slaves. He knows he'll die for this, but it's a sacrifice he's willing to make for just the chance that his sister might reach safety.

The barrel washes up near a shoreside nunnery, which takes Maria in and nurses the boys back to health. Soon, Quint and Harry take to wandering...

*Near the nunnery, the princes got a wagon in the casino town of Oracleberry. Now we can recruit monsters to our party! Our first joiner is a Slime named Slalin. We call him Joseph Slalin, history's gooiest dictator. Another notable monster friend is Pierre, a Slime Knight (they're little knights that hop around on slimes like those hopping balls). We end up recruiting quite a few monsters, which results in some odd sleeping arrangements. Our yeti and cactus ball are not on speaking or even not-killing-one-another terms after the former sat on the latter during an inn stay.

*We return to Santa Rosa only to find it laid to waste. It seems the Queen of Reinhart (not Harry's mom, she married the King after the first Queen's death) ordered soldiers to destroy it, blaming Harry's kidnapping on Papas. What a ****! In the cave, we find a note from Papas and the Zenithian Sword, which was found by Papas but can only be equipped by the Legendary Hero. Quint can't equip it. Oh well...
*After hearing Reinhart trashed by everybody in Alkapa, Harry decides we'd better go back and set things right. We had to fight our way into the castle through the dungeon, only to find that a monster impostor has replaced the Queen. You know what that means...

*It's off to a tower south of the Nunnery - where we have to stop to get Maria, because only nuns can open the tower - to retreive the Mirror of Ra yet again. Yep, Mirror to show true form count = 3.

*After defeating the fake, Prince Harry refuses to take the throne even though it turns out his kidnapping was arranged by the Queen - the real one - to make her son inherit the throne. Harry does stay behind, though, to help his half-brother rule. It's just Quint and the monsters now.

*Took a boat ride to Port Selmi, where a hick is looking for someone to help his small town. It seems a monster is ruining their crops; he pays us 1500 gold with a promise of 1500 more when we solve the problem. Well, the monster turns out to be Borongo, who rejoins and gives us Papas's sword. Unfortunately, now the whole town hates Quint because they think it was all a scam. They still pay the 1500, though!

*In the nearby town of Ruraphin, a crazy old man is trying to recreate the ancient spell used by the Legendary Hero known as "Return". After having us run an errand, he succeeds! Quint can now use Return.
*Next stop is the town of Salabona, where we meet a charming young lady named Flora. It turns out that she's the daughter of local big shot Ludman, who announces he's offering her hand in marriage to anyone who can bring back the Circle of Fire and the Circle of Water from some nearby treacherous caves. Notably, whoever does this also gets his family heirloom, the Zenithian Shield!

*On our way to get the Circle of Water, we have to stop at a lock. We go to the nearby village and who do we find to help us? Why, it's Bianca:

She's thrilled to see Quint again and wants to help him get the Circle of Water. Who are we to say no to the first real party member in a while?

*The waterfall dungeon is pretty uneventful, but what happens when you get back is interesting: you get to make a choice.

Yes, the game allows you to choose whom you want to marry: Bianca or Flora. This doesn't have THAT huge an effect on the game, but it means everything to the story. The nature of the hero's relationship to his bride is up to you, the player. Do you like tomboyish Bianca and the way she pals around with the hero? Or do you prefer a more traditional RPG damsel in the demure Flora? Maybe the game pushes you a little in Bianca's direction with a character who's been desperately in love with Flora since he was a kid, but there is no "But Thou Must" here. You are free, and there is no wrong choice.

To me, the fact that the player actually picks the bride adds a whole lot of dramatic weight to the romance. For my pal Kux and me, there was really only one choice, however. Bianca just melts my heart every time I play with her rough and ready, tough-but-sweet nature. Quint and Bianca are married in the church at Salabona.

*Bianca says she looks forward to adventuring with Quint. It's heavily implied they have their first adventure that very night, if you know what I mean.

*The newlyweds land in the desert castle of Telepador, which is dedicated to a novel purpose - holding the Zenithian Helm so that the Legendary Hero will be able to use it when he needs it. Why isn't this sort of thing done more often? All we learn, though, is what we already know - Quint ain't the Hero.

*Quint learns that his father was the King of a land called Granvania, but we have to go up and down a mountain to get there. At the top, though, just as we reach a village, Bianca faints. Strange, I thought she was in better shape than that...

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Queen of Reinhart: I'll be good now. Don't worry.

Quint: Don't worry? Don't worry? You had Prince Harry kidnapped, so it's your fault my father is dead, and your fault Harry and I were slaves for TEN YEARS! You even sent soldiers to destroy the town my dad stayed in for no reason at all! And you have the BALLS to say to me, "Don't worry?" Don't worry?

Queen: happy?

*In the town of Port Selmi, there is a completely reasonable lighthouse! Just a ladder and a light. Where's the convoluted floor plan? The unnecessary empty rooms? The stairways to nowhere?

*Bennet: Now, test and see if we've revived the spell of Return!

Quint: What, in here?

Bennet: Of course!

Quint cast Return!

Bennet: All right! Not only did it work, I have a skylight now!

*Quint: Wow, this shop has perfect stuff for Slalin. A little hat, a turtle shell... madam, may I ask that you please... pimp my slime?

Armor shop clerk: They don't pay me enough for this.
*Bianca, gazing at the waterfall in the cave: Wow, I never thought I'd see anything like this!

Quint: Huh? We were at the top of the waterfall, and we went down. Of course you'd see the bottom. Man, and Dad used to say I was dense.

Bianca: ...I don't find that hard to believe, somehow.

*While climbing the mountain, you can stop at somebody's little home. She's charmingly decorated the place with skeletons, and she cacklingly asks you if you want to stay the night... well, of course! But then you hear a knife being sharpened in the night - to your horror, you can't move! However, it turns out she was just sharpening your sword - +5 strength to Quint - and cast a spell to help you sleep better. Can't judge a book by its cover, huh?

*I don't mean to be glib about the Hero and Bianca, by the way. When she says "Now we can go traveling together" and "I love you, Quint"... It gets me right here.

Week Fourteen

*The cave to Granvania is stupid hard and confusing, but we eventually came through. We hate mimics and their Defeat spell.

*In Granvania, Quint's uncle Ojiron is all too happy to hand over succession to the rightful heir, but the TOTALLY NOT EVIL YOU GUYS SRSLY Chancellor says that, by tradition, Kings of Granvania have to pass the Cave of Trials. Also Bianca is pregnant! Hence the fainty business. Quint must not be all that observant, huh?

*After retrieving the Symbol of Royalty and beating up some murderous thugs (I WONDER WHO HIRED THEM blaghsldk), got crowned King! And immediately thereafter, Bianca gives birth. Holy cow, already? Either that dungeon took longer than we thought or... though not the Legendary Hero, Quint at least delivered the Legendary Bang.

*Bianca had twins. We named them Prince Pent -sticking with the number theme - and Princess Prinny. No idea what I was going for with that one, dood.

The castle town enthusiastically celebrates the arrival of their new monarch and the birth of his children. It looks like things are looking up for Quint! Right? Right? Sigh...

Of course it doesn't last. Quint wakes up from the party to find everyone's been drugged and Bianca has been kidnapped by monsters! A maid was able to hide the babies, thankfully.

Quint gets a taste of exactly why the populace was so excited to meet him when he finds out how totally useless ol' Uncle Oji is in a crisis.

Ojiron: My goodness! Who could be responsible for such a thing?

Quint: OK, look, it's pretty obvious now, but I'm not blaming you, anybody could be blinded by their close relationship with someone. What matters now is....

Ojiron: And where on Earth is the Chancellor? Darn the luck, and just when I needed him the most!

Quint: ...See, now you're just insulting everybody's intelligence. We all know it was the--

Ojiron: Chancellor? Chaaaaancellor! Will someone go and fetch him?

Quint: He's evil! He's in league with the monsters! Just come out and say it, you daft old--

Ojiron: Fool? Yes, you there, Kevin, my favorite royal fool. Have you seen the Chancellor? You see, I never make any plans without him.


*So Quint has to go save Bianca. A pair of flying shoes (maybe the same ones used by Ragnar?) found in the chancellor's room take him near to a tower full of traps and monsters, where he finds Bianca held captive. The boss is invincible until Bianca does a scripted event, and fairly tough afterward. Tragically, just as victory is at hand, the monster is able to use his final effort to turn Quint and Bianca to stone.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Quint: I'm getting sick of all these mimics. Look at these treasure chests here - I'm just sure one of them is another one of those awful things.

Bianca: Let's see... Oi! Which one of you is a mimic?


Chest on left: Not me!

Quint & Bianca: ......

Chest: (Phew, I think they bought it.)

*Ojiron: Well, with the Chancellor gone, I guess I'll have to actually... *shudder*... DO something. You guards there!

Guards: Yes, sir?

Ojiron: Go look around or something!

Guards: Yes, sir!

Ojiron: Well, I'm exhausted.

Quint: ...Hate you with all of my hate.

*Quint finds the Chancellor rapidly expiring in the monsters' tower.

Chancellor: Hmm. It seems... urgh... throwing in with the monsters wasn't a good idea after all...

Quint: No kidding, you dumb ****. What did you expect to happen?

Chancellor: Figured it... couldn't be worse than working for Ojiron... uhhhhh.

Quint: Luckily for him, Hell probably won't be either.

Just as Quint finds a life he never dared dream of, it is snatched away. And some things, he learns, are worse than death. Unable to move, Quint is helpless to do anything but watch as he is taken away from the castle, sold at auction as a statue, and separated from his wife. The world's situation becomes ever more dire, and as the desperation builds in Quint, he cannot even scream...

...Eight years pass.

Generation Three: Hell to Pay

I can't say enough about the sequence where the hero is turned to stone. The player loses control for a solid nine minutes. I'm not a fan of games that are more movie than game (MGS4) but this is the opposite of that. No, this is a case of masters of the medium knowing how to tell a story in a way that couldn't be done in a movie. You, the player, feel the helplessness of the hero as your ability to influence events is taken from you. Sold to a new family (2000 gold? Quint isn't worth more than a friggin' broad sword?), you watch as a baby takes its first steps, knowing you'll never see the same from your own children - a stolen precious gift that can never be returned. And when that child becomes the latest to be kidnapped by monsters, you are helpless to do anything about that either. Eight years pass. EIGHT YEARS PASS. You feel it.

Finally, Sancho and the kids come to the rescue. I'm sorry I haven't mentioned Sancho before - he's a friend of Papas who appears briefly early in generation one and again late in generation two. Here, he becomes a playable party member. He's a gregarious fat man who cries at the drop of a hat. Seriously, it's embarrassing.

The kids are cute, blond haired and bright eyed (Their hair becomes blue if you marry Flora). The Prince just happens to be the Legendary Hero (also true if you pick Flora, meaning they're both Ivy's descendants - in the DS version, it's clarified that they're both adopted and actually sisters), capable of equipping the Zenithian equipment. The princess is a magician who takes her mother's place in the party, although to be honest we stuck with Slalin the slime just so we could say we had played through this game with a slime in the active party. It's rough because slimes don't get much equipment in this version (which was alleviated somewhat in the DS remake).

Speaking of which, here's a little tribute to our party monsters:

*Pierre the Slime Knight - Everybody plays through this game with one of these, and it's a good idea. Easy to get, fantastic equipment selection and good spells. We've both been there many times by now, so Pierre has been relegated to a healing battery. He's been extremely useful in that capacity, however!

*Yeta the Yeti - Second runner up for the World's Most Creatively Named monster pageant. Lost to...

*Orcus the Orc King - Our revival battery for emergencies. Comes with Vivify and learns Revive! Not a bad idea for something so easy to recruit.

*Golemath the Golem - he may be Golemath, but he drops Golem Science on his opponents. Namely, the advanced physics of the beat down. Ok stop hitting me ow ow ow.

*First stop was back to Telepador, whose name in the DS remake, Helmunaptra, I like a lot more. (Comin' atcha!) There we picked up the Zenithian Helm, and yes, it really is that simple. So right out of the gate, Pent has the Sword, the Shield, and the Helm. If only Ivy had had it so easy.

*Took a trip on a boat through a massive cave to reach El Heven. There, we learned about Quint's mother Martha - she was one of this special race of people who guard the barriers between Heaven, Earth and Hell. They're still sore about one of theirs, the last to have the special power that can open the barriers, leave with an outsider. Hey, Martha wasn't dumb - you don't just say no thanks to a man like Papas. They didn't hold a grudge, though, and we got the Magic Carpet (whee!) and the Magic Key.

*Scaled what was once (in IV) the Tower to Zenithia; it's now a tower to nowhere because Zenithia has fallen into a lake! Got the Magma Staff.

*Used the staff to split mountains (that's four times now) to gain access to a cave full of mine cart puzzles. There we rescued an odd man called Pusan, who told us he was a Zenithian and that he'd been stuck riding a mine cart loop for twenty years. He took us to the underwater Zenithia, which can't fly anymore because it's missing a Golden Orb. Yes, the same one that Gema broke. Damn!

*Went back to fairy land to seek help. After getting referred to a different fairy Queen, we got a fake Golden Orb and a chance to travel back in time...

*Back in Generation 1 Santa Rosa, we couldn't change history. Papas was dismissive of our warnings. But we did talk to little Quint and pull the old look-over-there on the gullible litte tyke to swap the fake orb for the real one. Whew!

*Raised Zenithia and got access to our very own flying goddamn castle, which we can fly wherever we want. Hell yes!

*Next up is an interesting dungeon - a tower where you start at the top and work your way down. This dungeon is really ludicrously hard, with tough, tough enemies and things that cast Defeat. Eventually we found Gema, who might be the toughest boss in the whole game. I swear we were wailing on him for over half an hour, using all our resources, before he finally went down. The nastiest part was his move that can numb party members, a very difficult to heal status affect that takes them out of the fight. After putting some jewel eyes in a giant dragon statue, recovered the Dragon Staff (A great weapon for Quint) and the Dragon Orb.

*Back in Zenithia, the Zenithians insist they've never seen this Pusan guy before. But when we give him the dragon orb, he turns out to be none other than the Zenithian Dragon! Yes, the same Zenithian Dragon who barely helped Ivy at all. Now we can fly around on him, too. This game is just full of great transportaion methods.

*At this point we fought a boss you can fight a lot earlier, Bjorn the giant moose-thing. He's pretty damn tough, liking to use lightning attacks that aren't affected by Barrier/Insulate. The fight comes down to continually debuffing his defense as he constantly raises it. I recommend waiting until here, when you need the Final Key he drops.

*We took on a punishing optional dungeon centered around the idea of pushing stones over tiles to banish monsters from the area. At the bottom is the Royal Cloak (Pallium Regale in the DS version), an awesome armor for Quint.
*Finally, it's time to take down the Temple of Light that Quint was forced to build as a slave. There we find the Zenithian Armor (set complete!), Bianca's statue, and a big underground complex. After beating up the Demon Lord Mildrath's top henchman (He looks like a crocodile), we hear Martha's voice telling us not to come to the Underworld to save her - Screw that noise.

When we get back up top, Bianca is returned to normal! Horray, the family's together at last! According to a bit of dialogue in the DS version, Quint and the kids' search for Mum takes two years, bringing the total span of time in this game up to at least twenty.

*Anyway, we went straight to hell (where Martha's voice gives Quint the very useful Sage's Stone - merry Hauskness!). Currently, we await the final charge in the game's last town - yes, there's a town in Hell, which is a cool touch. It's occupied mostly by former monsters reformed and made human by Martha. How about some levels - Quint 37, Pent 35, Slalin 38.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Granvania Banker: Welcome back, your highness! This is a bank.

Quint: Uh... really? To me, it looks like a mattress.

Banker: Things have been bad with Ojiron in charge. The Chancellor was evil and everything, but the bastard knew how to balance a budget.

*Quint: Uncle Oji, we're home!

Ojiron: Oh, wonderful! I say, have you happened to see the Chancellor in your travels? I still can't find him!

Quint: You know, I honestly can't keep hating you. It's like hating a clueless puppy.

*OK, there's a monster in the mine cart cave... it's pink, it has grey hair and it is called "Great Mamoo." We had entirely too much fun with this.

Quint: Okay kids, time to go see your Great Mamoo!

Kids: ;_;

GM: Time to give your Great Mamoo a sponge bath!

Pent: uh... okay... AUUUUGH your hideous skin is coming off in scales!

GM: That means it's working! hoo hoo!

Many years later, when asked what the toughest part had been of being the Legendary Hero, he would simply shudder, mutter "great Mamoo", and reflexively curl up into a ball and suck his thumb while rocking back and forth.

*In the complex under the temple, we found the remains of the soldier who let Quint, Harry and Maria escape. On the wall, he had written that he just hopes Maria is happy. I... don't really have anything to say. Wow.

*In the DS version, the underworld is called Nadiria, a rather clever pun on "Zenithia" (a zenith is something's highest point, a nadir its lowest).

Week Fifteen

Five down, four to go. Over halfway there? Only in numerical terms. Trust me, we're in for a looooong haul yet.

*Headed to Evil Mountain, home of the Demon Lord Mildrath. This dungeon is pretty cool; it's both a mountain and a castle.

*Briefly saw Quint's Mom Martha - tragically, she sacrifices herself in an attempt to seal away Mildrath, but fails - his power is too great. Her spirit rises and is joined by that of Papas. "You've done enough," he says, "Our children have become stronger than we ever were. Come to me, my love..." *sniff* Boy is Mildrath gonna get it.

*And so he did. We took the fight to him and although his wrath wasn't as mild as advertised, we gutted out a hard-fought win. And yes, we beat Dragon Quest V with a slime. Slime power! Quint was level 40 in the win.

*In the ending, the Zenithian Dragon takes you around the world to receive your well-earned adulation, culminating in a big party at Granvania. The last thing we hear are the voices of Papas and Martha, admiring Quint's happiness from above. And scene.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Dragons are known for being really awesome, but Hell's Great Dragon has an ugly yellow with black spots sprite that... doesn't exactly say majestic, to be honest. It's fugly.

Great Dragon: Hey, it's a skin condition! Do you have any idea how hard it is to moisturize down here?
*In Mildrath's first form, he summons a never-ending supply of attack bots for help. You'd think he'd run out...

Mildrath: I bought up the Nadiria Wal-Mart's entire supply of D Batteries, foolish Legendary Hero and his brood! Mwa ha ha!

Pent: You fiend!
*Mildrath actually has a pretty badass villain line to throw at you:

"Cry if you wish. Scream if you must. Your fears and cowardice are like prayer to me!"

...but all respect goes out the window when you actually *see* his terrifying final form. Just LOOK at it:


Good lord is he fat. He makes I's Dragonlord look like a supermodel. Watching his transformation is pretty awful - he has to pass that spiky-ass tail and it doesn't look pleasant. He's so fat, even his wings have rolls. This guy is so pudgy that he ain't raising those arms to look menacing - that's all the lower he can get them through the enormous cushion of flab. He's so heavy his gut just gave up trying to even be a gut and went ahead and was a crotch too. His ass is so titanic that if he could somehow manage to get airborne, he'd end the whole fight in one plop. In Nadiria, Yo Mama so Fat jokes all begin with "Yo Momma so fat that she and Mildrath..." and all end with an apology. That's no moon, that's Mildrath!

And talk about impractical. How the hell is he supposed to wear a hat? His body odor is probably so foul it qualifies as an attack, and having four armpits that close to his face can't help. That color scheme is really nice - for one of your grandma's cushions. And he needs braces worse than Lisa.
*Princess Prinny spent a lot of time in our wagon due to the three-party-member limit and our Slime Gambit. In that time, she got to know all our monsters very well and became inspired. After the world was saved, Prinny started the Adopt-a-monster foundation, to show the world that monsters are people too.

Her first objective was to find a home for Danny the cactus ball - all he needs, she asserted, is a hug.

Her second goal was to steadfastly ignore the entreaties of Great Mamoo to join her program.

"Everyone should have a Great Mamoo. Hoo hoo hoo!"

"Um... not even a little. No thanks."

Quint's happiness was tinged by a sliver of doubt. He'd spent his whole life running - it was all he'd ever known. How would he adjust to the matters of day-to-day life, let alone being a King?

But then he looked at his loving wife, and saw his children laughing and playing with their Uncle Sancho...

...No, this was a challenge he looked forward to. Life was an adventure, after all.


But something was left unfinished...

...Young Pent couldn't shake the nagging feeling that something was. Defeating the Demon Lord Mildrath didn't destroy the root of evil. After all, he wasn't the first Legendary Hero, yet evil had returned. Besides, he'd felt something even more powerful in the Underworld.

Something deeper...

Despite our adventure with the III remake's bonus dungeon (which was made up of parts of the main game), V is the first installment to have postgame content in its initial release. Beneath Evil Mountain, after defeating Mildrath there is a completely new dungeon, containing the totally sweet War Drum (casts Bikill, doubling attack power, on the whole party) and at the bottom waits Esturk.

Yeah, the same Esturk from IV. When you approach him, he wakes up saying he remembers nothing, and asks if you've come to destroy him. If you say no, he just goes back to sleep. Beating him earns you no extra ending, no bonus content, no special item. He grants no wishes like the Dragon God. He just sits there being ridiculously powerful and daring you to put him down.

Our first attempt, we were annihlated. Esturk is fierce with two attacks per turn, frequent use of a move that dispells your buffs, and attacks that hit the whole party for over a hundred damage. To take him on, we ground up ten more levels, reaching 50 for Quint, and replaced Slalin (he did his job) with Orcus the Orc King, who in the course of our grinding hit his max level, and had a lot going for him including 500 hit points and plenty of MP to cast Revive. The battle was a drawn-out affair that consisted mostly of healing and putting our buffs back up, but eventually we worked Esturk's 9000 (what? 9000?) hit points down.

V also starts the tradition of the bonus boss telling you how many turns it took to beat him. It took us 41, which isn't good, but it's good enough.   read

11:25 AM on 01.12.2013

I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 4

Week Nine


Dragon Warrior IV (NES)

We travel now to a new world, where a new story is about to begin. The master of monsterkind is about to awaken, but the world is destined to be saved by a child of the heavens... but let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, we'll tell the stories of those who will accompany the hero...

Now we go back, back in time... back to the NES again, back to games with "Warrior" in the title. As much as I'd like to play the excellent DS remake of Dragon Quest IV, the object of this project being to play together that's really not possible. Dragon Warrior IV is a great and ambitious NES RPG with lots of personality and one major flaw: forced AI party members. This setup might sorta work on regular encounters, but it doesn't even come close to working against bosses. This game also suffers from what we've dubbed the "ineffective" problem - attacks directed at a group that expires before that character's turn comes up will simply fail, rather than retargeting. Oh well, we knew what we were getting into, going back to the NES. It's fortunate that this 1992 limited NES release exists at all.

~Dragon Warrior IV: A play in five acts~

Act One: Save All Children
Wherein an embarassingly incompetent royal army is damn lucky Ragnar was around

Starring Ragnar McRyan:

A fearless and vailiant soldier that the Burlish Royal Guard completely lucked into, Ragnar is the man. Seriously, look at that moustache - he charges small children a quarter apiece to ride around in it. What's that you say, "but his armor is pink?" (If you've seen his NES sprite, you might also mention that it prominently features purple). Pfff. You're going to need to abandon your old notions of manliness, because Ragnar sets a new baseline that everyone else is going to have to follow from now on. Hell, I think he has to wear pink armor so the universe doesn't explode from attempting to contain how awesome he is. There's a guy in this chapter whose dying words are "Ragnar, save all children." And Ragnar doesn't protest, he doesn't start gibbering about how impractical the idea is and how many children there must be in the world - no, he just nods. Because he will. Ragnar will save All The Children. And when he's done, they'll all wish he was their dad. His world's lack of Scotland doesn't deter him from having a Scottish accent.

Also featuring Healie. Healie is a Healslime with aspirations of one day becoming a human. He befriends Ragnar and through reasoned debate they reach the conclusion that Man probably evolved from Slime anyway. Hey, it works for Pokémon.

In this chapter, the King of Burland sends off a bunch of soldiers to investigate some mysterious kidnappings and rescue the children. Most of them get lost before even reaching the next town. Naturally, it's up to Ragnar to get anything done.

*Explored a seriously huge well where we met Healie. We also met a maddeningly vague direction-giving voice. I didn't take the right path even one of the times it said "come this way". "No, not that way..."

*Used flying shoes - no, really - to travel to the top of a tower where the children were being held. Fought our way to the bottom and rescued the kids from a boss called "Saro's shadow."

*Completed Chapter 1.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor (now called that ingame again!):
*Our first adversary was the perplexing Door, which requires a command that must be specifically selected from the command menu called DOOR. Ragnar learned much from his battle with the first mighty DOOR that would serve him well throughout his adventure.

*There's a guy in Burland who is amusingly enthusiastic about his job selling armor. Every single time you walk in front of his shop, he runs to the counter faster than any other NPC moves in the entire series. He must get tired when somebody decides to mill about in front of his shop. OHACUSTOMER oh, it's nothing. OHACUSTOMER oh, it's nothing...

*Ragnar: So, armor merchant, how much will ye give me for this fine armor?

Armor shop guy: Er... 170 gold.

Ragnar: That's it?

Armor shop guy: Well... it's pink.

Ragnar: Och! I'll have ye know that this armor is pre-scented with one of a kind Ragnar musk! Anything is possible when yer man smells like Ragnar instead of a lady!

Armor shop: ...but apparently looking like a lady is fine.

Having rescued the children, and accepting the King's gracious gift of two thousand experience points, Ragnar departs to follow rumors of a young hero who will soon save the world...

Act Two: Kicking: The habit
Wherein a princess solves all of her problems by kicking them until they are no longer problems

Starring Princess Alena:

Princess Alena hails from Soviet Santeem, where princess rescues you. While still being an extremely adorable girl, Alena nonetheless sets standards of manliness that would go unchallenged in a world that did not contain Ragnar. Her response to her father making her stay in her room is to KICK A HOLE CLEAR THROUGH A BRICK WALL. Kicking is also her preferred method of opening doors, defeating monsters, winning debates, gaining friends and influencing people, entering talent shows (YOU give her a bad score), playing chess, firefighting, performing invasive surgery, and duck hunting. She decides - and YOU try telling her different - that she's going to go on a journey to show off her "feets" (boooooo) of strength.

Co-starring Cristo:

This noble young cleric is absolutely besotten with Alena. He wants, as young men tend to do, to prove his worth to her by "protecting" her, but Alena being who she is, he will settle for being her lackey. Alena thinks he and his silly macho ideas are cute and is just fine having him around to heal her while she kicks things.

And sort of starring Brey:

This old man has been Alena's tutor long enough to learn how to dodge her kicks. It's hard to say why he comes along aside from the fact that he's too pathetic to say no to. He's a wizard of sorts, but not an especially good one. Brawn-wise, he makes Princess Linda look like Ortega. This doddering old fool generally just trails along in back wheezing and grumbling disapproval at Alena. Alena has this to say about her tutor: "He is old man. Cannot teach me anything I do not already know about kicking."

Holy crap, does the game's difficulty ever ramp up here. The encounter rate is limb-rendingly brutal, and the encounters include large groups of monsters that can cast Blaze or breathe fire, wiping out this fairly low-statted group before you even really know what's going on. We did an awful lot of grinding and not an awful lot of progressing.

*Travelled to a village that was having to sacrifice people to a beast, just like the Orochi in III. However, this monster was definitely no Orochi. It did catch us off guard once, but after that it was summarily kicked into submission.

*Went to the next village where the Princess of Santeem was said to be staying at the Inn. We had a bit of a hard time believing this since Alena is the Princess of Santeem. There was a "kidnapping" of the "princess", presumably to bilk these villagers out of some ransom money. We followed them to their hideout cave, but didn't get far. After several failed attempts, we finally gave up and went on to the desert Bazaar.

*Bought all the best equipment and got to level 10. There's a fighting tournament in the nearby village of Endor and Alena's father has been robbed of the power of speech. Quest hooks ahoy!

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Some areas of the castle are not yet accessible - Father has had kick-proof doors installed.

*Cristo: Well. Onward, ho!

Alena:...I kick you for that later.

Cristo: Gah! That's not what I meant!

*Brey: I can still fight even though I'm a ghost! (his attack whiffs straight through an enemy)

Alena: Actually, is about as effective as when you are living.

*Castle Guard: Something awful has happened! The king cannot speak!

Alena: Interesting. And what has happened that is awful?

Guard: The... King can't speak?

Alena: I still am not seeing it. Father! You want me to enter tournament in Endor, Da?


Alena: See? Father is supportive of me even in his condition.

*Cristo: At last, a quest! We have direction!

Alena: I find things to kick, and I kick them. What is wrong with this direction?

Brey: Princess... some problems cannot be solved with kicking.

Alena: Name one.

Brey: Well... supposing we had to travel across the Ocean...

Alena: I'd kick the ocean!

{In Alena's Imagination:}
*Alena skips merrily across the surface of the sea, leaving Cristo and Brey standing on the shore.*

Cristo: Princess! How are we to be following you?

Alena (voice fading from distance): I am not caaaaaaaaariiiiiiing!

Week Ten/Eleven

Sorry I haven't gotten around to updating this in a while. We did play in both the intervening weeks.

Dragon Warrior IV is an interesting piece of gaming history. Both technically and in terms of storytelling, it's impressive. It has one of the best soundtracks on the NES, and only Mega Man 2 is keeping me from calling it the best outright. The music is great and there's lots of it, with a different overworld theme for every chapter and overworld, dungeon and battle themes that flow into one another with interstitial bars of music that sound incredibly natural. From a technical standpoint, this game does a lot of stuff that has me scratching my head in wonderment at how they managed it on the humble NES. Fading effects that simply do not exist on the system are approximated by carefully rearranging the entire screen step by step, pixel by pixel. I've got no clue whatsoever how they managed the ENORMOUS crowd scene at Alena's tournament with literally dozens of moving spectators without even a hint of flicker. Seriously, this game transcends the NES in a way that only somebody who's played a lot of 8-bit games can appreciate. The few seconds where the whole ship "scene" moves across the screen at the end of chapter four looks simple to somebody used to the SNES, for example, but if you're familiar with the NES's limitations you puzzle at how they did it.

Despite the praise I just heaped on the game, it also suffers from stark limitations and strange design decisions that hamper the experience somewhat. It's a great game, but a flawed one. I recommend the DS version, which fixes most of the game's problems, to anybody who's never played it.

Act two continued: The Journey to the Tourney

*Friggin' FINALLY got the golden bracelet from the dungeon south of Frenor. Exchanged it to the con-men for the Thief's key.

*Went to Birdsong Tower to get a cure for the King. This is another maddeningly difficult dungeon that took us quite a few tries. You encounter big groups of enemies that breathe fire, and if they all decide to do it on the same turn, it doesn't matter how well prepared you are, you're going to get wiped out. By the way, Brey finally gets useful when he learns Snowstorm.

*Travelled to Endor. We didn't see any Ewoks, but we did enter princess Alena into the tournament, consisting of five fights that she won handily. The defending champion, Necrosaro, didn't show up for some reason. Oh well, I guess he couldn't have been anybody important, then. (WINK WINK)

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*The party found a "Magic Potion" in the cave south of Frenor, but weren't sure what it did.

Alena: Let me drink it.

Cristo: Princess... maybe we should check it first?

Alena: Drinking is checking, no?

*Alena had to turn down an offer to run a shop in Endor. Apparently kicking customers is bad for business.

*The King of Endor is a total bozo who promised his daughter's hand in marriage to whomever would win the tournament and then immediately regretted it, although not quite as much as the Princess. Unsurprisingly, he wants Alena to bail his dumb ass out, reasoning that he doesn't have to follow through if the winner is a woman. All I can say is that I don't think he should be so sure. Alena seems pretty open-minded to me.

After winning the tournament, the Princess and her entourage are approached by a dying soldier from Santeem with urgent news. They rush home only to find the castle completely deserted. They depart looking for clues to what happened at Santeem and to rumors they've heard of an evil power overtaking the world...

Act Three: Torneko Throws His Weight Around

Wherein liberal use is made of the Frame Skip Option

Starring Torneko Taloon:

Someone once said, "If you're going to be a fat bastard, then BE a fat bastard." Nobody embodies this concept quite like Torneko Taloon. A proud, gregarious, and slightly insane man, the truest thing one can say of Taloon is that he is what he is. He begins our story as a working stiff, but nobody with the combination of ambition, optimism, business smarts and lack of self-restraint bundled up in this fellow remains in his station for long. His wife says this ambition is why she married him, "among other reasons... Tee hee!" She won't say what she means, but let's just say you don't find a tiny spigot at the end of a huge pipe. Those pajamas don't leave much up to the imagination, either. Basically, this man has to fend off both the customers and the ladies with a big stick.

*Spent several days seeing the other side of the weapons shop counter. Basically, you stand there waiting for stupid customers to wander in, ask you if it's a weapons shop while standing under the enormous sword signs (you can even say "No" and they'll leave!), and buy a club or something... if they have enough money, which it frequently turns out they don't. This is really aggravating because you work on commission. Clearly, the big guy has got to find another way of life...

*Went north to a cave with some water puzzles where we found the iron safe, which ensures your gold's safety against wipeouts for the remainder of the chapter. Handy.

*Got a bridge fixed, which involved retrieving an architect from a hallucinated village created by a fox. I don't get it either.

*Made an awful lot of money running arms between the cities of Benmalmo and Endor, taking advantage of local shortages of armor and weapons to buy low and sell high, playing both sides (who are gearing up for war with one another) like Charlie Daniels's fiddle. This is why it's really the merchants who rule the world. Delivered a large order of swords and armor to Endor for a princely sum.

*Retrieved a valuable statue from another dangerous cave.

*Bought Torneko's very own shop in Endor, then spent 60k gold (!) financing the digging of a tunnel between Endor and Branca. This man is not given to thinking small.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Mrs. Taloon thoughtfully packs her hubby a lunch every morning. Of course, lunch mostly means "whiskey." He didn't marry her for nothing.

* you see, there was a plausible explanation for why everything was so weird in that village. There really was no village - it was me, a talking magic fox. See? It all makes sense now. I'm really sorry!

Torneko: ...Aye, an' I think I may'a took a few too many lunches today...

*Apparently an abacus is a weapon, one that does more damage than a copper sword.

Torneko: I calculate that you plus me adds up ta pain, foul beast! *whack*

*Torneko finds Ragnar in the casino at Endor despire said casino being conveniently closed due to the large amounts of cash you have access to in this chapter. Sounds like somebody's got a problem...

Ragnar: Ye don't understand! I'm searchin' for the Hero of Legend!

Torneko (backing away): Sure... sure y'are, laddie. I'll leave ya to it, then.

Having accomplished his goal of establishing a major new trade route, Torneko returns to his shop and waits for the lucrative business to roll in. Naturally, fate has other plans...

Act Four: Sister Act: A Revenge Story

Wherein a quest for vengeance brings only failure

Staring Mara and Nara:

These beautiful twins, a dancer and a fortune teller, seek revenge on the killer of their father, Edgar. Edgar had discovered the Secret of Evolution (think more Pokemon and less Darwin), and Balzack, his apprentice, killed him to have it for himself. Unfortunately for them, it turns out this is just one part of something bigger than they can possibly imagine...

*Traveled from the starting city of Monbaraba through the twins' home of Kievs, to a big cave with magical elevators in it. No, really. There, we found the Sphere of Silence and Orin, another former apprentice of Edgar who shares the girls' goal, and who nicely fills this little party's desperate need of a tank. We learn that Balzack has allied himself with the evil forces sweeping over the world - big surprise.

*Balzack has taken over the city of Keeleon, but we can't enter his secret chamber without following the wuss of a Chancellor, who is known to run for his boss whenever he hears a loud noise. Instead of blowing into a paper bag or something, we end up having to travel to a mine town rapidly dying from the release of a poisonous gas, not to mention a buttload of monsters, in order to retrieve a jar (yes, a JAR) of gunpowder. Isn't video game logic grand?

*Defeated Balzack, only to have his big boss Keeleon show up and prevent us from finishing him, then utterly destroy us. The best the girls can do is to escape from his dungeon while Orin holds off the guards. They board a ship bound for Endor, and the real quest begins.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*This chapter is the first appearance of the King Slime. The battle narrator's reaction to the slimes jumping on one another and merging, "?!, The slimes--!" is pretty much spot on. Wow.

*Amazingly, we find a couple of miners still working deep in the mine at Aktemto. Now that's dedication! Guys, when your pet bird dies, you've got bigger problems than a dip in morale.

*Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to say about this chapter. It's pretty short. It does mark the first time in the series that you have to lose a battle to advance the story - like so many things in this game, familiar now but pretty novel then.

Still reeling from the impact of a far bigger threat than they'd anticipated, the twins drift off, their only hope to wait for the Hero. Fortunately, they won't have long to wait...

Act Five: All Together Now

Wherein Saro overreacts a little bit, maybe

Starring Ivy, Hero of Legend:

(Note: Yes, we DID stick to the trend of naming the heroes something related to the series number. Do I have to spell it out?)

Not long ago, an Angel came down from the Heavenly Kingdom of Zenithia and bore the child of a mortal. This child was Ivy. Soon after her birth, it was forseen that only she would be able to save the world when a malevolent force came to desire its destruction. Reasoning that this evil, too, would forsee her heroic destiny and seek to harm the child, a small group of people left their former lives to dedicate themselves to her protection. They left their friends, neighbors, professions and in some cases families without a word. While they wanted to be able to say something -- anything about the reason, the risk was too great. Though they suffered, these noble people knew nothing they ever did would be as important as protecting the future Hero.

The Hero's protectors built a secluded, secretive little village in which she would grow to adulthood. There was a long and passionate debate among the protectors on the subject of whether they should tell the child who she was, but they finally decided it would be best for her if they did not until she reached adulthood, reasoning that such a burden would be too much for a child to bear and grow up properly.

So Ivy grew up knowing only her tightly-knit village. She was never allowed to leave, but she never felt trapped. What need had she to leave? She was safe and happy there, and had all she could need, as far as she knew. The villagers played their parts so well she never had a hint of suspicion parts were being played. Her assumed parents raised her with genuine love, and she and her best friend Celia were as close as sisters through too few years of dreaming and the adventure that was growing up even in this confined setting. From the little girl whose charms melted the hearts of once-solemn Protectors, Ivy grew up tall, strong, beautiful and all too fast. Seamlessly, the old man who taught her how to read became her magic teacher, her neighbor who always made her laugh with practical jokes her jocular but firm trainer in the art of fighting. And the time fast approached...

Ivy is a good-natured kid who's surprisingly selfless for someone who, though subtly, has been the main focus of everyone she knows for her entire life. She's got a good head on her shoulders and a good heart knocking in her ribcage, but she's totally unprepared for the harsh, alien world into which she is about to be thrust. Soon, she will meet strong and resourceful people who want to help her. Soon, she will find the courage to stand against a fearsome Evil. But now...


Stop. Look. Listen.

You don't know anything about heroes, villains and prophecies. You know it's lunchtime on a spring day in a quiet mountain village.

There's Ivy. She doesn't look like the hero in the picture. She's a radiant young woman, only just no longer a girl. Her only possessions are an old copper sword and a few plain cloth sets of clothes. She's got the rugged hands and thick arms of someone accustomed to farm work. She can run, jump and climb trees with the best of them, but a hero? Are you sure you've got the right person?

Mother has told her to bring lunch to her father, but she meanders around the village a while - there's no rush. She's got all kinds of time. She says hello to the village guard, and is a bit surprised by his reply - it's less friendly than usual, and is he looking at something off in the distance? It's soon forgotten, though, as she heads over to pepper the Outsider with questions again. Ivy is deeply curious about the outsider - she's seen only a few in her lifetime. Against her usual habit, she wonders why...

"After Lunch, Ivy, I'll teach you the spell of Zap," said old Morris, her tutor, as she passed him on the way to her father.

"Okay, Morris, I'm looking forward to it." She wasn't, particularly. It's not that she was lazy, she just preferred to relax after finishing her gardening chores and dream in the shade, feeling the fresh grass beneath her feet as she leaned against a broad oak. Honestly, what does she have to learn all these spells for anyway? The old man always says it's important, but he never says why. Celia was always better at magic than her, anyway - she much preferred fencing.

"Lunch service," she chimed at her dad, handing him his plate.

"Thank you, my dear," said the kind-faced old man. He stopped her before she could leave. "Ivy... you're already 17 years old. I want you to remember to always be righteous and strong, whatever happens."

"Um... okay, dad. I will." She felt a little bit uncomfortable. Sure, her dad had said stuff like that to her lots of times, but it had never sounded so urgent. Was something unusual about to happen? She tried to put it out of her mind as she headed back to her mother.

Now there is a sharp scream, strained, short of breath, coming closer. It splits this tranquil universe like a poison arrow. The poison will spread with alarming speed, turning this world into the world to come in a matter of minutes. It starts now.

Ivy looked up. It was Nick, who had gone out for supplies. "The monsters have found the village! They'll be here any minute!"

Ivy looked off into the distance. She could barely make out some awful shapes. As they began to resolve themselves, she became afraid and tore her eyes away. Monsters? She had seen monsters before but never anything like that...

Before she knew what was going on, she was being pulled from her chair and led through the village. They were almost running, now. Like a relay she was passed from one person to the next, being told that she has to hide, and something about making her into a Hero? Everything was happening so fast she had no time to process what she was told. Now there was a terrible noise, growing louder and louder...

Watch Ivy. Look at her, her face a mask of terror and panic. Her head swims with confusion. This will be our hero.

Her father approached her and told her they were not her true parents, and that she must hide. Before she could even say "What?" she was yanked away again, down into the cellar. The noise was unbearable now and she thought she heard a man screaming.

Only when her fighting trainer pulled her into the secret chamber behind the false wall in the cellar did Ivy find her voice. "What's going on? What did Dad mean that--"

"There's no time! Listen, the monsters are here to kill you, do you understand? You're a threat to them!"

A furious mix of fear, confusion and anger boiled over in Ivy. "Me?" she shouted. "Why me?"

"You were born with a hidden power. Only you can defeat Evil. It-"

The muffled sound of an explosion shook the ground above. Dirt fell from the ceiling.

"Escape! Survive!" he shouted as he ran out, and was gone.

Celia came into the room, and Ivy's heart ran hot with relief. "Oh, thank God," she started, but the expression on her friend's face stopped her.

"Ivy, I've always looked at you as my little sister... I enjoyed growing up with you." She began to prepare a magic spell. "Don't worry," she said, "I won't let them take your life." To Ivy's astonishment, Celia became her exact double in appearance.

"Celia... Celia, no!"

The mirror of Ivy smiled sadly. "Goodbye, Ivy..." And now she too was gone, sealing the wall for the last time behind her.

Ivy collapsed in the corner, too afraid to move or even cry, as the terrible noise went on and on. Outside, the protectors fought a losing battle valiantly, but even as they died, they won.

At the end there was an awful shriek, and everything stopped except for Ivy's heart, which was beating so fast she felt like she'd die.

She heard the monsters celebrating. "We've done it! We've killed the Hero!" She bit her lip to suppress a sob, so hard she drew blood.

Why? Why had they never told her?

After all was silent for a long time, Ivy cautiously emerged from the cellar. She yelped involuntarily at what she saw.

The village was utterly destroyed, leaving only scorched earth. There were no bodies - in a world where magic could resurrect, it was prudent to burn them.

She couldn't look at it. She ran. She ran as fast as she could until she couldn't see it anymore.

Her quest began.


Game-wise, we spent loads of time grinding. DWIV requires lots of levels and equipment to overcome the utter failure of the forced AI system.

*Traveled by way of Branca (Where you see an adventuring party setting out to try to save the world... nice touch) to Endor, where we met Mara and Nara. They've lost all their money at the casino and have no clue what they're doing next, but hey, party members.

*Went to the Cave of Betrayal (Where you can break through solid rock - Ivy smash!), an amusing and pretty tough dungeon where you keep seeing fake versions of Mara and Nara that turn into monsters. Got the Symbol of Faith.

*Got the Wagon in the desert and Hector, who is notable mainly for owning the cart, joined the party. He fills a slot in the party pretty well for a surprisingly long time before departing.

*At Koneber, there's an evil infestation in the lighthouse. Taloon is there, but he's so sick of doing everybody's dirty work that he passes the buck to you. The lighthouse is of a design that, in the Reign of Double and cousins, would have the architect executed. Afterward, Taloon joins and you get the boat! Woo!

*Sailed to Mintos, where we found a deathly ill Cristo and Brey. Brey joins up here, but he's pretty useless thanks to the terrible AI. We retrieved a special cure-all root from a nearby neato ice dungeon (you also see Alena there, occupied kicking ice) and cured Cristo. Cristo and Alena Join! Hector finally leaves, just when Alena makes him obsolete anyway.

*Had to go back to the Sphere of Silence cave to retrieve the Magic Key, and we then stormed Keeleon castle with the intention of "rescuing" Ragnar, who we're told by Healie (now a real boy! Is there anything Ragnar can't do?) has been captured. Really, of course, he's just being "captured" in order to get led to the boss, and when he sees the party he knocks two soldiers out cold and barges right through the wall. SO. MANLY. Unfortunately, he fights the soldiers and WE had to fight Keeleon, which was DAMN tough and did not happen on the first or even second try. Afterward, Ragnar joins and we've got ourselves a full party. Jubilations!

*After lots of fun grinding, we went back to Santeem, where the twins finally got their revenge on an even-further-"evolved" Balzack.

*Finally, we headed to Stancia, a really cool venice-like town navigated mainly by boat, where a King wanted someone to make him laugh in order to get the Zenithian Helm. Uh... OK. You have to go get a jester named Panon, who, anticlimactically, tells no joke but talks the king into giving it to you anyway.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Ivy heard stories of Kings. She heard they were useless people who sit on their duff all day long telling you to do things and giving you no help at all. These stories are confirmed again and again and again.

*In the Lighthouse, there's an imp who wants to ambush Torneko. When he learns that he's left, he tries casting Return... and bangs his head on the ceiling, knocking him silly.

Imp: Help! Help! Thomebody help a poor imp!

Nara: No way! You'll try to eat us with that fork!

Imp: But...

Ivy: Well, do you deny it?

Imp:....I promithe to uthe low fat drething?

*Ragnar joins:

Ragnar: Well met, everyone. Do ye like me helmet? 'Tis made of wood!

Ivy: Actually, we got you something better. *hands over Iron Mask*

Ragnar: Hmm... it's not made of wood... but it's got a hole for me 'stache! Ragnar approves!

*Alena gets confused:

Cristo: Ouch! Princess, stop kicking us!

Alena: I am sorry. The monster casts spell, makes you look like kickproof doors.

Ragnar: Then why in the world would ye be kickin' us, Lass?

Alena: I like challenge.

*In Izmit, near Burland, there's a dream sequence that gives some background on Saro. He climbs a tall tower to tell a girl that the world will pay for what it's done to her, because he's going to end the world. Well, she seems less than thrilled about this, but some people just get something in their head, y'know? Saro is my favorite villain in the series - not only does he behave according to the Evil Overlord list (#47: "If I learn that a callow youth has begun a quest to destroy me, I will slay him while he is still a callow youth instead of waiting for him to mature."), he also has a motivation more complex than "I'm evil, world is mine/destroyed now."

Week Twelve

Four down, five to go. I'm honestly surprised we managed to power through IV this quickly.

DWIV is a game with loads of character and a technical marvel unrivaled on the NES (The ending contains a parallax effect, even though the NES has just one layer!) . It's just too bad Enix thought it'd be a good idea to remove control of party members from the player. I mean, strategy? Who needs it, right?

*After getting the Magic Key offa Balzack's corpse, pilfered the Magma Staff, allowing us to move mountains for the third time and reach...

*...Gardenbur, the queendom of women. There we were ludicrously accused of stealing a shiny thing of theirs; they knew we didn't do it, but held one of the party (Taloon) hostage so that we'd go catch the real thief since they were too lazy. Lame. Not lame: Getting the Final Key and the Zenithian Shield for our troubles.

*Did an optional dungeon - let's call it waterfall cave - to get the game's best weapon, the Metal Babble Sword.

*Headed to Rosaville to learn Saro's backstory. The reason he wants to kill everybody is because humans tortured his elf girlfriend Rosa, hoping to get rich off of her ruby tears. Nasty! He also makes a bunch of sentient animal friends using the Secret of Evolution. He's still evil, though, and has to be stopped, about which even Rosa sobbingly agrees. Man, out of everybody in this story she gets it the worst.

*After getting the staff of transform in another dungeon, we climbed to the top of an enormous statue, and at the top we found... controls. Hell yes! Unfortunately, the only thing you get to do with the Colossus is walk across a river so as to spy on Saro's lame little monster meeting. It turns out the Ruler of Evil is about to be resurrected back in...

*The mine town of Aktemto. Here we fought Esturk, the Ruler of Evil, more commonly known throughout the series as Estark. He starts the battle asleep, but he's so badass that even his snoring does massive damage. We were unable to beat him without a *LOT* of grinding, and as we'll eventually see, there's no way we'd have been able to stand up to him had he been at full strength.

*Our reward for beating the mighty Estark is... a can of gas. O...kay? Some guy makes a balloon for us, allowing us to fly to Yggdrasil the great World Tree, a tree so big it's a dungeon itself, although not a tough one because you can pick world tree leaves for free revival at any point! At the top, we found a Zenithian and the Zenithian Sword.

*After a trip to the castle on a cloud named Zenithia, we got to descend through a hole straight to Hell, where Necrosaro awaited. The final battle is equal parts nasty and impressive, as Saro's horrible form continues to mutate in disgusting ways throughout the fight.

For the vast majority of Chapter Five, our active party was Ivy-Ragnar-Alena-Cristo. We kept this party right up until the final boss. Now, we certainly thought that Cristo, posessing a variety of useful spells including Revive and HealUs, would be a moral lock for the final boss. We thought this until we actually tried it. You see, no matter how many times we put him in front of a blackboard with the words "INSTANT DEATH SPELLS = NOT FOR BOSSES, YOU UTTER NINCOMPOOP" on it, he remains undeterred in this pursuit. So it was that he cast Defeat on Necrosaro EVERY SINGLE FRIGGIN' TURN until he ran out of MP. We got our butts kicked, and how. Dismayed, we did what we probably should have done long ago and tossed him from the active party. But we had a hard time figuring out whom to replace him with... because we dislike the way the AI manages MP, we stayed away from spellcasters, so Mara and Brey were right out. Nara was too Cristo-lite to warrant serious consideration. We gave Doran, an NPC baby dragon you get near the end, a shot but without equipment he just couldn't hold up. That left...

That left... him.

We probably aren't the first people to beat Necrosaro with a party including Torneko Taloon, but I can't imagine we have much company, with his unimpressive stats and in-battle random antics. He didn't contribute THAT much to the fight, but you know what? His modest damage output was one hell of a lot better than Cristo's Defeat spell every turn. In fairness to Cristo, he was the only wagon member to play a part in the fight (you are allowed to switch in members during the final battle), getting pulled in briefly to revive Taloon and take a couple of hits in Ragnar's stead. It wasn't an impressive victory, with both Alena and Torneko dead when Necrosaro finally fell, but fall he did. We beat the game at a party level of nearly forty.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*The inventor who makes the balloon is REALLY excited about it. I've never had anyone so grateful when I've given them gas.

*I can't make this stuff up department: A voice from the top of Yggdrasil shouts "Help! And come in groups of three or fewer!" It's not often cries for help are so usefully precise.

*We alllllMOST managed to bring down a Metal King Slime, only to have Taloon's "Everybody calm down!" effect trigger and end the fight with no experience. Uncannily, this happened just moments after I joked that it would suck if that happened. I imagine it went like this:

Torneko: Okay! Everybody calm down! Let's not rush, we've got to think how we want to finish this battle... What? What's everyone staring at?

Ivy (shaking with rage): It... just hopped away...

Torneko: Oh! Well! I guess me work here is done, then! Uh... why are ye all looking at me like that? ...oh, fiddlesticks.


For Ragnar MacRyan, saving the world was just the latest entry in a lifelong résumé of baddassery. He returned to an adoring Burland that would be lost without him, and went on to found the Ragnar MacRyan Save All Children foundation, dedicated to helping underprivileged children, providing them with fine wooden hats, and teaching them to grow ferociously manly mustaches. Yes, even the girls.

Princess Alena, having kicked a great many things including several critical kicks to Necrosaro himself, no longer had any problems with respect upon her homecoming, her feats now legendary. Indeed, the "King" was now a formality; It was Alena who ruled over Santeem with an iron boot. Brey retired from wizardry to focus on being a full time incorrigible old coot. Cristo eventually worked up the courage to ask Alena to marry him; he was surprised when, after laughing for a good five minutes, she agreed. He is bruised but happy.

Torneko Taloon returned to his wife and very young son at his shop in Endor. There was a quiet genius about this man, who stayed uncomplainingly in the background but was ready when called upon for heroism. Unbeknownst to the party, he had become extremely wealthy running an arms shop out of the wagon as they traveled the world; after consuming a few too many lunches, he spent this fortune on the construction of an enormous money bin in Endor. He dedicated the rest of his life to filling it by any means possible.

Mara and Nara never played a major role in the quest to save the world, but they got their revenge; more importantly, they got experience, tales to tell, and a reputation that made them the most popular entertainers in the world when they returned to Monbaraba. Unfortunately they never really accumulated wealth to go with their fame due to a persistent gambling problem.

Ivy went back to her ruined village, where her friend Celia is inexplicably resurrected. This one is from the game, not me.   read

10:22 AM on 01.11.2013

I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 3

Looking back, I don't know why I said "early 2011" is when we finished these playthroughs. In actuality, the project took us about ten months.


Dragon Quest III (SFC)

And so the tale of Erdrick's descendants comes to a close. But who was this Erdrick, hero of legend, who fell from the sky and defeated evil with a ball of light? A demi-god? The toughest of fighting men? Nope - Just a teenage girl with some awesome equipment and three hired lackeys.

We move from our least favorite game in the series to my personal favorite. DQIII is one of my all-time favorite games period. This game not only set the standard for the series, it blew the entire console RPG genre out of the water, introducing such elements as the day-night cycle, tiny medals, a class system and stat seeds. An amazing epic by any standard, it's hard to imagine III came out as early as it did.

Both of us have experience with the GBC version, which is great - I love Pahcisi (it's a kind of board game where you can earn items). But I've heard the SFC version is even better, and I can safely say that's correct. The jump in graphical quality from the II remake is stunning; this game takes full advantage of the hardware with detailed settings, animated monsters and battle backgrounds that fill the screen instead of a small box. It looks fantastic. The fan translation patch to this one has some bugs too, but at least we haven't run into any gameplay-affecting ones yet.

At the start of this game, you watch the epic quest of Ortega the Unbelievably Manly as he quests to defeat the Archfiend Baramos, beating up about half of the world's bosses all by himself (That's why there aren't many bosses in this game - Ortega got to them first). Fighting on top of an active volcano might not have been his best idea ever, though.

In Ortega's absence, it is foretold that his unborn child shall be Aliahan's next great warrior. When this child turns out to be a daughter, this gives only momentary pause - they've kind of got a lot riding on this. So, while the other girls play hopscotch, she's trained to kick ass, and she's sent off to save the world and avenge her father on her 16th birthday.


Trinity, daughter of Ortega, has a lot on her shoulders. It's not easy to live up to the reputation of a father she never met. While brave and strong, she's nonetheless a little fragile, and her resolve might be better if everyone weren't constantly mistaking her for a boy. Fortunately, unlike her dad, she's not alone. Before leaving town, she recruits three companions:

Isaac, a thief. This silver-haired little weirdo is not a little creepy and shifty, but his nimble fingers come in handy.

Milo, a cleric. This holy man's hat and moustache command respect. He's protective of Trinity, who is about his daughter's age.

Amy, a mage. No matter how much Trinity protests, she is definitely the party's token girl. She's cute and she blows stuff up, nuff said.


*Got the thief key from Najimi Tower.

*Got the Magic Ball and blew a hole through the Cave of Enticement in order to gain access to the rest of the world.

*Beat up Kandar the thief and recovered the crown of Romaly. Regal'd it up for a little while after being declared Queen. This bit is pretty entertaining - Stats just display the message "The Queen was strong once" and so on. You can't do a lot, though, so we had to renounce the throne and move on.

*Recovered the Dream Ruby from a cave in order to get a town of elves to wake up the sleeping village of Noaniels. They put the village to sleep as punishment for one of theirs eloping with an elf girl, but it turns out the young star-crossed couple committed lovers' suicide. Stupid racist elves.

*Currently hanging out in the desert. Levels are 11, 13, 12, 12.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor (referred to ingame from here on out as the Adventure Log):

*Ortega needs no party - he's so awesome he takes up four slots.
Ortega needs no keys - he looks at doors and they just know better than to stay closed.
Ortega needs no class change - his class is permanently "badass".

*This game marks the debut of the bag! Oh, bag! We've missed you so.

*Rumors of Erdrick using performance-enhancing seeds are unconfirmed at this time.

*Guy in weapons shop in Aliahan: Ah, you're the son of Ortega.

Trinity: No, I'm Trinity. The Girl. Y'know, lived here all my life? The whole town celebrated my birth as Ortega's successor?

Guy: Y'know, you look a little scrawny for a boy your age.

Trinity: I hate this town.

*Trinity's mom: Hello dear! You must be tired. Your friends can sleep here too.

Trinity: There's only one bed...

Mom: Well, you and Amy can share the bed. The boys can sleep in these barrels.

*Man in tower: You can use that book to change your personality. I recommend you try it!

Trinity: just what are you saying, exactly?

Man: I'm saying you're a bitch! Geez, do I have to spell it out or what?

*Trinity: Hail, old man. What is this place called?

Geezer: Hoo hoo, this is the Cave of Enticement! *looks around* Want me to show you wh-

Trinity: No.

Isaac: Hmmm...

Milo: No!

Amy: Ewwwwww. No.

*Isaac managed to get even creepier when he stole a "Plush suit" and revealed his inner furry. Now he looks like a cat. Mee-owwww.

*Mom: Your friends can sleep here. Your cat can sleep outside.

Isaac: I miss my barrel... ;_;

Week Six

In contrast to II, III provides a rich and varied world open for exploration with tons of interesting things to do. The little stories really tug at your heartstrings, too - this week we reunited the souls of a couple torn apart by an evil curse, came across an entire town murdered and laid to ruin that came alive at night, a literal ghost town, and saved a town where an impostor took the place of a king, but not before he had an innocent man executed, his wife weeping "Why? Why?" over his grave. This game has one of the best, most varied RPG worlds ever - an exotic desert town with merchants who will try to swindle you, a castle full of snobs who deny the "hicks" in your party entry, a remote village where Ortega was apparently known by another name... every step is interesting in DQIII. We played plenty of Pachisi, too.

*Ground for a while before taking on the Pyramid, an annoying little dungeon with a slightly confusing puzzle, and retrieving the Magic Key.

*The King of Portoga wanted to trade his boat for some Pepper, so it was off to Baharata (is it us, or does that sound like a taco bell "Mexican" food?). There, we had to go rescue a kidnapped girl from a cave - It was Kandar again. Got the pepper and the ship.

*Got the Zen Book from Garuna tower. I'm not sure yet if we're going to bother with class changing, but hey, it's something to do.

*Immediately retrieved the Red Orb from a pirate hideout. This was hilariously easy.

*Used an Herb of invisibility to sneak into the snooty castle of Edinbear, where we stole... er, procured... the Thirsty Pitcher, which allowed us to raise from the sea a shrine where we found the Final Key.

*Headed to the town of Tedanki at night (because seriously, that place is totally dead during the day... no, really) to acquire the Green Orb.

*Visited Muor and picked up Ortega's Helmet.

*Got the Echo Flute from a Tower. Not that we need it, but this game is great and I'd hate to skip anything. Every dungeon has something clever in its design.

*At Lancel, Trinity braved Gaia's Pit all by herself to retrieve the Blue Orb.

*In Samano, we retrieved Ra's Mirror from a cave to reveal the "King" as a Boss Troll (mirror to show true form count: 2), whom we whupped. Got the Change Staff for our trouble.

*Gave the change staff to an old man for a pirate's bone, which enabled us to find a Ghost Ship. There, we retrieved the Lovely Memory, however that works, gaining us entry past a haunted strait to the Shrine Jail. There, we found the Gaia Sword next to the corpse of a hero named Simon (another sad story).

*Threw the Gaia Sword into a volcano to create a land bridge. After moving mountains to open the cave to Rhone in 2, this is the second time a hand-held object moves earth in the series. Thereafter, we fought through a VERY difficult cave and got the Silver Orb.

Four orbs down, two to go. The party is level 26 except for Milo, who's level 25.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*The Queen at Isis invited Trinity to "inspect" her bed in the middle of the night, and a servant there told us not to spread rumors. I am not entirely sure what team the Queen is playing for, if you know what I mean.

*Pyramid mummies: Who awakens us from our slumber? Who would steal our treasure?

Trinity: Me! I do! I would!

Milo: You know Trinity, there's such a thing as being TOO honest...

*I could try to write out all the instances of Trinity being mistaken for a boy (Hell, in Muor she was even mistaken for her dad!) but there's just too many. Suffice to say that I'm pretty sure she's got a complex by now. Poor kid.

*Isaac likes catsuits, whips, and sniffing absolutely anything and everything to find treasure. Totally normal.

*Isaac stole another Plush suit, but nobody else in the party would consent to wear it.

Trinity: It's bad enough nobody thinks I'm a girl... at least everybody thinks I'm a person.

Milo: Don't even think about it! What would my wife and daughter think?

Amy: The kitty suit is kind of cute but... you'd have to hand it to me, and I don't want to touch you.

*Kandar: OK, let me go again. I'm REALLY REALLY sorry this time.

Trinity: You've gotta be kidding me. How stupid do you think I am?

Kandar: Don't be so cold-hearted.... (inf. loop)

Trinity: Damn... how can we defeat a foe with the power of But Thou Must on his side?

*King of Romaly: If you can bring back my Crown, I will acknowledge you as a hero!

King of Portoga: If you can bring back some Pepper, I will acknowledge you as a hero!

King of... Town: If you do my grocery shopping, I'll acknowledge you as a hero!

Trinity: I'm beginning to think there's not a lot of difference between "Hero" and "Errand girl".

*Priest: To retrieve the Orb, you'll have to venture alone into Gaia's Pit.

Isaac: How horrible!

Priest: Yes, it is treacherous, and filled with monsters...

Isaac: No, I mean, when do you think was the last time she washed up there? Gross.

*Coming out of the pit:

Isaac: Thank God you're all right, Trinity!

Trinity: Awww. I missed you too, Kitty. ^_^

Isaac: Uh... I'm not even wearing the cat suit anymore.

Trinity: Yeah, but I kind of got used to thinking of you that way.

Milo: I'm going to go ahead and need this line of conversation to stop immediately.

Week Seven

DQIII is so awesome. You beat Baramos after a quest easily as long as II's, head home and the victory fanfare starts up and everything before the real villain shows himself. Nope, you're not done yet; you've got to make your way through Alefgard one more time, doing all the same stuff you did in the first game.

*Recruited a Merchant just long enough to found a brand new town, which eventually produced the Yellow Orb.

*Fought the Orochi in a fiery cave to save Zipangu and retrieve the Purple Orb. I know we did this way out of sequence, but the Orochi is a really devestating boss if fought earlier.

*Brought the fight to Baramos, or as we like to call him, Frog Face. It took a few tries, but we managed to beat him at level 33 with cunning use of Stopspell.

*In Alefgard, we got the sun stone, rain staff, and harp again en route to obtaining the rainbow drop. We also awoke Rubiss, the goddess who created Alefgard, at the top of Rubiss tower. Other highlights include doing the swamp cave again for no good reason, playing Pachisi at Kol to obtain the Gringham whip, and digging around in horse crap to find a chunk of Orichalcum, which you have to sell to a certain merchant in order to buy the best sword.

*At level 38, we changed Amy's class to Sage, thus resetting her level to 1 and cutting her stats in half. In the long run, it's really helpful. Sages are the best class in the game and only obtainable using the Zen book.

*Visited the dragon castle back up in the world of III to get the Ball of Light, an item that makes Zoma a LOT weaker.

*Got far enough into Zoma's castle to loot its treasures - most importantly the sage rock, which heals everyone in-battle for free and can be used infinitely - and left. Did some grinding and our party now awaits the final charge. Levels are 43, 42, 42, 32 (Amy reset her level to become a Sage, as mentioned above).


Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Chancellor at Aliahan: The King can't help you right now; his ass is glued to the throne.

King: It's true! If you bring me some solvent I will recognize you as a hero!

*For some reason we laughed ourselves silly over an idea we came up with about "Momma Baramos". Think Baramos's sprite with a grey afro, a polka-dotted dress and angular old lady glasses.

*Baramos: I will feast on your innards!

Trinity: You bastard! This is for my father, Ortega!

Barmos: Who? Oh, you mean the guy who fell in a volcano? That was great! But seriously, your innards. Give me a second to tie my bib on...

*To continue their quest, the party had to jump in a big hole (called Gaia's Navel - they say the land below is the land of darkness, but it sounds to me like the land of lint). If you go there before defeating Baramos, you're told that it goes straight down into hell...

Us: So... are we in Hell now?

NPC: Welcome to Alefgard...

Us: Argh! We are!

*In this version the towns have some really lame names. "Domdora" instead of Hauskness is okay I guess, but "Ludatorm" instead of Tantagel? Are you freaking kidding me?

Greeter: Welcome to Ludatorm!

Trinity: Ludatorm? That's dumb. Give me a minute to think of something better...

Greeter: Well, Ludatorm is named for Luda, our founder, who first figured out how to keep monsters at bay using...

Trinity: ...okay, I got one. You're "Tantagel" now.

Greeter: What? B-but... for generations, we...

Trinity: It's Tantagel or we aren't going to kill Zoma.

Greeter: W.... Welcome to Tantagel. ;_;

More highlights:

*Amy learned Transform! She can now transform into other party members.

Amy: Hey, check this out!
[turns into Trinity]
Amy: I'm Trinity, son...DAUGHTER of Ortega. I'm a girl, dammit!

Trinity: Oh geez. Do I really look that mannish?
[Amy turns into Isaac]
Amy: Hey guys. I'm not creepy at all, honest. Now hold on while I put on this fursuit and sniff everyone and everything in sight.

Isaac: I'm not gonna lie; I'm so turned on right now.
[Amy turns into Milo]
Amy: Trinity, be careful! And stop walking that way, it's not ladylike. My moustache demands it!

Milo: Cease that mockery this instant! You don't know how to handle the power of the Stache.

*Actual ingame quote: "So, Sexy becomes Sage... I think it's terrible, but it can't be helped."

*We got all the equipment that doubtless becomes the Erdrick equipment, but Trinity's best armor nonetheless turns out to be... the 95 small medal reward, the Sacred Bikini. That's right, she's going to march up to Zoma, save two worlds and become immortalized as Erdrick, all with barely a stitch on. Ain't nobody calling her a boy now. I like to think she got called a boy one too many times and just snapped. Milo is horrified, of course.

*Trinity: So let me get this straight. Instead of giving us what we need to go save the world, you're going to make us go get some arbitrary "proof" that anybody could conceivably get, thereby screwing us out of said means to save the world?

Old guy: Well, it sounds crude when you put it like that...

Trinity: Man, I hope you teach your descendants better than this.

*Tragically, the party got to Zoma's castle just in time to see Ortega (by the way, he got this far by himself? And without any of that rainbow drop nonsense, either. Ortega needs no rainbow bridge, he briskly hops between continents.) lose his life in battle against King Hydra, the first of Zoma's guardians. The great hero's last words are that he only regrets not having been there for his child... Zoma is going to pay. Stay tuned.

Week Eight

Three down, six to go.

For the record, Thieves are really, really useful. They're always auto-stealing stat seeds, and their sniff and seek out abilities make finding every last hidden goodie in the game a cinch.

*Stormed Zoma's castle and quickly dispatched the minibosses, including King Hydra and a Baramos recolor.

*Used the ball of light to downgrade Zoma from the daunting Razzle Dazzle Blue Raspberry flavor to the more manageable Screaming Orange Blast flavor.

*Gave that rapscallion what for. What for, I say! Won the game at a max party level of about 43.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Somebody in Alefgard says that their ancestors "migrated through Gaia's Navel." That sounds gross without even thinking about it, but once you do... Alefgard is descended from people who decided to jump into a big hole. This explains so much.

*Zoma busts out another "It is I." What is it with villains and bad grammar?

*King of Luda.... TANTAGEL: You have defeated the Archfiend! You will forever be known as Loto!

Trinity: ...Loto? Man, you people really do suck at naming things. Whatever, I'm just glad it's over with.


King: Do you remember what we were going to call the hero?

Chancellor: Well, I remember they didn't like "Loto"...

King: Okay, how about... Erdrick, then.

Chancellor: Doesn't that sound kind of... misleadingly male?

King: Wait, are you saying that wasn't a man?

Chancellor: *sigh* Never mind, your majesty. Erdrick it is.


And so, Trinity and her friends defeated Zoma, bringing peace to two worlds and delivering light to the dark land of Alefgard. Victory, however, came with a price. In the wake of Zoma's defeat, the hole between the two worlds closed, stranding the four heroes away from their home forever.

Her job done, Trinity found she had lost whatever taste she ever had for glory. She disappeared during the festivities in Tantagel, and when someone thought to search for her they found her sword, shield and armor left in her room at the Inn. These items would become treasured relics that would play important roles when darkness again shadowed the land of Alefgard.

Little is known about the rest of Trinity's life. After spending years as a wanderer, she eventually found a home in Alefgard and bore a child, whose descendants' stories have already been told. Her true name would eventually be forgotten by the ages, but her achievement would always be remembered. And everything that came before, and everything that came after was owed to the heroism of Trinity, the great Erdrick...

...The first Dragon Warrior.

Note: The Super Famicom version of III adds a bonus dungeon made up of rooms from the rest of the game. At the end you fight the dragon god Shenlon, who will grant you one wish each time you beat him, something that would eventually become a recurring element in the series. You can get an extra Pachisi track here, or bring Ortega back to life if you're broken up about his pointless death. It's also reminiscent of Dragon Quest character designer Akira Toriyama's comic book Dragon Ball.   read

12:37 PM on 01.10.2013

I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 2

I choose to take a lack of people yelling at me to stop as encouragement! Here is my writeup of Dragon Quest II.


Dragon Quest II (SFC)

What, you want party members? What kind of luxury RPG series do you think this is? Well... okay, but you get no magic, the monsters get to gang up on you, the girl's as fragile as a kitten and nobody but you can equip basically anything. Enjoy!

Yeah, I know, what? The thing is, neither of us is that big of a fan of II. We'd both put it squarely at the bottom of the series, which certainly isn't to say it's bad - it holds up better than some RPGs of its time - but in a series this awesome, something has to be the worst, and this was kind of a halting step forward for the series overshadowed by Final Fantasy I. I didn't get around to playing II until after VIII had come out, and I wasn't enamored of the obnoxiously punishing difficulty or basically-impossible-without-a-guide crest hunt. We picked a remake for a change of pace and a somewhat easier time. We're using the translation patch of Dragon Quest I + II by RPGONE, which has two versions - one with DQ names, and one with DW names. We picked the latter for consistency's sake.

I was going to keep giving out numeral names, but my friend suggested we be a little fancier. So this chapter follows the adventures of Prince Double, or Dub to his homies. This time, we roll three Royals deep. Characters!

Double, the Fresh Prince of Midenhall: While a bit sensitive about his magical handicap and rumors about his heritage, P-Dub does not let that stop him from kicking ass, saving the world, and doing it in style. Check those goggles - so fresh!

Rolando, Prince of Cannock: This Canuck (what?) has a bit of a mean streak that causes him to buck his nationality's stereotype of politeness, but he's really a good guy, and despite some ribbing between the two, he's glad to join up with Double. His style is unique and doesn't at all look like he doesn't know how to wear a hat. His big sister used to enjoy playing "Broom" with him when he was younger.

Linda, Princess of Moonbrooke: No helpless princess here - this feisty young maiden is resolute in the face of her father's tragic death. Spends some time as a dog, but what people call her as a result isn't that different from usual, if you know what I mean. The world should thank its lucky stars she's around to keep the princes in line, because while brave and determined, they aren't that bright.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story of II, it's like this: Hargon's army of monsters lay waste to Moonbrooke, one of the three kingdoms founded by the hero of I, and you, the Prince of Midenhall, must gather the other descendants of Erdrick to save the day.

*Met up with Prince Rolando and got the Silver Key.

*Got a mirror to turn a dog back into Princess Linda. Mirror to show true form count: 1.

*After taking Linda to Moonbroke to say goodbye, got a cape, climbed a tower and took a flying leap.

*Got a boat and wasted a lot of time sailing around looking for treasure, which we eventually found. Visited Alefgard and poked around without achieving much. Visited some other towns. Next time we are using a guide for sure.

Status: Levels are 17, 16, 11. Beyond getting the party together and getting the ship's treasure, we've haven't really achieved anything, but that's still a good start. Even in a remake, this game does NOT screw around.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*We've come to the conclusion that One is responsible for this mess. Remember that old guy who wants the Silver Harp? He just takes it and disappears. You give an old wizard-dude a harp that summons monsters, and a scant hundred years later the world is threatened by a wizard who controls monsters. Put two and two together, people.

*All joking aside, the King of Moonbrooke's heroic last stand and his daughter's confident assurance that she and her cousins will save the world, allowing his spirit to rest in peace... it's pretty touching stuff.

*You might think the King this time around is a bit more generous than the first, actually giving you a copper sword to start out with instead of nothing. However, that's not taking into account that you're THE FRIGGIN' PRINCE.

"Now go, Prince Double!"

"Uh, Dad, since I have to go save the world, isn't there anything else useful in the Castle I could.."

"No. Now go!"

"But daaaad..."

"You're adopted."

Double: ;_;

*First direction: Go to leftwynne. So, go left to win. Got it.

*When the Prince tried to start a bank account, they informed him the minimum balance was 1000 coins. He had... 46.

"But I'm the Prince of Midenhall!"

"Oh, the adopted boy?"

"Dammit, I'm not adopted, my dad is just a jerk."

*We couldn't figure out what the purpose of the Traveler's gate in Midenhall was, so noting the lack of other facilities, we assumed it was used as a toilet. Guaranteed to prevent you from peeing on your foot like one guy we met in Leftwynne.

*I am not comfortable with the shady-looking guy who hangs out in an alley and asks you to let him "show you his wares". We looked at his junk anyway, but only out of necessity.

*Once we found Rolando, he joined something called our... "Par-ty." That's like an inventory for people, right?

*Rolando: Nice to meet you, Prince Double. I'm inexperienced and can't lift heavy weapons, but I already know the spell of Heal. You look way more experienced. What spells do you have?

Dub: Uh... I pretty much either hit things or run away from them.

Rolando: No spells? Kind of weird for a descendant of Erdrick, eh? Are you adopted?

Dub: I'm just a late bloomer! I'm gonna have all kinds of spells! Any level up now!

*Guy in Jail:"Stealing's wrong."

Dub: So what are you in for?

Guy: Murder.

Rolando: Well, at least he's not a hypocrite.

*Rolando's sister wants to follow him around, but he slaps down that idea with a terse "You're useless." If One had only known getting chicks to not follow you around was that simple!

*Linda: Thanks for breaking that curse. Those freaking demons not only killed my dad, they turned me into a dog just because they thought it was funny.

Dub: Woah, I had no clue the princess was going to be this hot!

Rolando: Dude, ew. She's your cousin.

Dub: ...Damn it, I'm adopted, right? Tell me I'm adopted.

Rolando: I dunno. Why should we let this girl join us? How do we know she's for real?

Linda: But thou must, you jerk.

Rolando: She's one of us, all right.

*Linda: Okay, how do we get across this river?

Dub: Well, we've got this cape, and there's a tall tower there and I thought we'd sort of... jump.

Linda: ...are you SURE we're saving the world?

*Alefgard sure has changed. It's kind of depressing what's become of the place. Not much left anymore... We found the Erdrick Helm, and a crazy old hermit won't accept our word that we're of Erdrick's line and wants proof - "proof" that presumably anybody could find and dupe him. On second thought, Alefgard hasn't changed that much.

Week Four

Holy crap. Where to start? Well, we got most of the way through II this week...

*Got all the Erdrick Gear. Hung out with the Dragonlord's great grandson, he's a pretty cool guy. He called Double stupid, but hey, that just means he's perceptive.

*Got the ingredients and made the Water Flying Cloth for Linda.

*Got all 5 crests. What a nightmare.

*Barely scraped by in making it through the Cave to Rhone.

Double, Rolando and Linda (levels 27, 25 and 21, respectively) were last seen huddling together for safety just steps away from the Rhone shrine, mumbling nonsensically about "Bullwongs". Send help.

Seriously, we're not big fans of II. My friend remarked at one point that he'd gladly remove the number two from mathematics if it meant we could play III instead. After the really well-done first part - that is, after you get the boat - the game becomes a long and frustrating slog with little of interest to do and no actual bosses - an embarrassment next to its contemporary, FF 1. The dungeons are hellish - who puts several flights of stairs leading up to an empty room with no exits in a LIGHTHOUSE?

The game is full of insane crap you're supposed to guess at. I lost count of the times the only hint to something absolutely vital was a vague statement by ONE NPC on the other side of the world map in a totally unrelated location. You're told the sun crest is in the "Fire monolith". Sure sounds like a dungeon, but it's just a warp gate with some torches. Also there's no chest; you have to search a bush. WHY? This game is a never-ending series of fuck yous. To get the Dew Yarn to make the Water Flying Cloth, the princess's best armor, you have to search the third floor of the north dragon's horn tower, and you'd better believe the game is going to make you search every last tile. The last dungeons are full of enemies that can take out your whole party in a hurry and have the most unforgiving layouts I've ever seen, with random pits and the game's best weapon
hidden in a place I refuse to believe anyone would ever find.

Once you have staggered through the Cave to Rhone, you think you've done so well as you breathe a sigh of relief at reaching the shrine where free healing and saving waits. Wrong again - this game isn't done kicking you when you're down. Rhone is like the first part of Dragon Warrior I where you can't do anything but move right around the castle for fear of dying, writ large. We crept along 1 tile away from the shrine like the worms we were, getting wiped out as often as not by the
ludicrously strong enemies which use Defeat, Explodet and Sacrifice. It got easier once we started making heavy use of stopspell and once the Princess learned Explodet. I'm not gonna say this is fun, but I will say we'll have one hell of a sense of accomplishment when we finally beat this game. We were wrong to think the remake was going to take it easy on us, incidentally - it's VERY faithful. Whatever advantage we gained from its addition of stat seeds was surely nullified by a major bug in the patch that causes an unending text loop when you revive the sick Prince Rolando, rendering the most important inn in the game completely unusable since he becomes sick the first time you use it. On the plus side, the glitch also renamed Double "Doublolande." Which is awesome. Unfortunately it also turned Linda into "Prince Linda".

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:

*I owe Princess Linda an apology; Rolando is easily the least rugged and manly of the party. In order to keep him alive, he spends a lot of the time cowering behind his shield of strength while Dub and Linda do the dirty work.

*Old man: Use the echoing flute... castle... monolith... jail... lighthouse... cave...

Us: By your powers combined, I'm an annoying subquest!

*Double has taken to following every dog he sees around with a mirror, calling "Here princess..."

*The Prince falls ill:

Rolando: Ugh... you'll have to go on without me... I'll be dead soon...

Linda: Hmm, I guess you're right. Well, see ya.

Dub: Yeah, bye.

Rolando: No, you jerks! Come back and save me! I was just trying to sound noble! Waiiiit!

*Apparently, "Basilisk" means "Gay Cobra".

*The party finds Midenhall's treasure room:

*Dub: Wow, it's like Christmas! Except that I actually get presents!

Linda: Praise God, it's the Erdrick's token! There's some great stuff in here.

Dub: Hey, why does this last chest just have an Herb in it?

Rolando: Wait, I think it has something written on it. "Dear Double, you're adopted. Love Kingy."

Dub: Y'know, I don't think I'm coming back here anymore after we save the world.
*Getting the Erdrick's Shield:

Rolando: Dad! Useless! I'm home! Don't mind us, we've just come to open the inexplicably golden-locked door!

Old man: I've been waiting long for this moment.

Linda: Because we're the descendants of Erdrick, come at last to claim our birthright?

Old man: No, because the King locked me in here when I suggested we should just give you the shield instead of locking it up! You see this two-foot beard? I was clean shaven when he put me in here!

*The Erdrick's Helm has its own shrine... what's the Grand Order of the Hat going to worship now that we've taken it?

*The Princess loses it:

King of Osterfair: So ya want the crest, do ya? Well, fight for my amusement! Dance, monkeys, dance!

Dub: Oh, come the hell on-!

Linda: Patience, sweet Double! Surely God would not have put us, the chosen ones, on this path without everything having a purpose.

(Later, after going through five whole floors in the lighthouse just to reach an empty room with no purpose)

Rolando: Oh, for the love of-!

Linda: Fret not, dear Rolando! We must pray for the forbearance to pass these trials, and everything will make sense in the end.

(Later, the party comes up to the entrance of the Cave to Rhone)

Linda: We've finally made it. You see, I told you we would perservere!

Dub: Okay, here goes... *holds up... the moon fragment, not the Eye of Malroth*

Rolando: Uh... nothing's happening.

Linda: ....we missed another vaguely-hinted-at step, didn't we?

Dub: Yyyyup.

Linda: ...We're going to have to trek through another stupid cave to get yet another trinket, aren't we?

Rolando: Mmmmhmmm.


Linda: AAAAAA-


Hargon: Okay, hit me.

Malroth: What... 21 again? You try my patience, insolent... wait, do you hear that noise?

Hargon: I think that's the sound the very concept of sanity makes when it breaks.

(Back to the party)


And so, the party put aside their difference and were united in their hatred of everyone and everything else in their stupid, stupid world.

*Just when we thought we were doing well, we got slapped in the face by a giant Bullwong. Though we wrestled with it for a long time, at long last we were able to tame the mighty Bullwong. ...Bullwong.

Week Five

*Ground until Double was level 30 and tackled Hargon's castle.

*Defeated Hargon and Malroth on the first try! Final levels were 30, 28, 23.

This game never stops punishing you. The monsters in the final dungeon can take even a party at levels appropriate to fight the last boss and wipe it out if you're unlucky. The "illusory" Midenhall Castle when you get to Hargon's beachfront retreat is a clever touch, but when you dispell the illusion, you have to stand in a big cross and use the Eye of Malroth again. I have no clue how you're supposed to know this - it's never remotely hinted at. I guessed I ought to use something in that spot and got lucky.

This remake DOES make one major concession, it turns out - the Princess as well as the Prince learns revive. It's pretty much impossible to overstate how much this helps make the game beatable. It sure saved our asses in the final fight. Although we beat Malroth on the first try, it was NOT easy. Our resources were stretched as far as they could go - we were using Wizard's rings to restore MP, shields of strength to restore MP, and that leaf of the world tree got used at a key juncture. If we hadn't gotten lucky on a turn or two, we would've been wiped out for sure.

Time has been unkind to Dragon Quest II, but I'm glad we beat it. Now we can move on at last...

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:

*Today on Lifestyles of the rich and evil, Hargon's luxurious beachfront lair!

*The bugs in this patch came really fast and furious in the fake Midenhall. I think Hargon's illusion-producing abilities are buggy.

*Dub: Wow, this version of home is so beautiful... I even get my own bunny girl-in-waiting.

Fake King (with two bunny girls in front of him): Two girls, one king, baby!

Linda: Snap out of it, Double! Remember what Rubiss said; it's all an illusion.

Dub: But nobody here is calling me adopted...

Rolando: Yeah, it's DEFINITELY an illusion.

*Hargon: It is I, Hargon!

Linda: No, it's "It is me."

Rolando: Yeah, seriously. All this time to sit here planning what you're going to say to us and you didn't check your grammar?

Hargon: ...Rhone has really low standardized test scores. The only section we excel at is "Explodetology."

*Prayers said on prayer rings:

Linda: I pray that I'll get a chance to see Useless play broom with Rolando. That sounds really funny.

Rolando: I pray that someday Linda will stop being such a bitch.

Dub: They're wizard's rings, man, not miracle rings.

*There were some amusing scenes in the credits. In one, the party takes Rolando's coffin to Useless so she can gloat over it.

*In another, the party runs around in circles, I guess because Linda hasn't quite gotten over the desire to chase her tail.

Linda: Hey, I resent tha- SQUIRREL!

The three heroes ruled the land as their reward, and set to making some immediate changes.

Hear ye, Hear ye. By decree of the triumvirate of Dub, Rolando and Linda, by their authority of we're-all-over-level-20-and-what-the-hell-are-YOU-going-to-do-about-it:

*Lighthouses with floorplans more complex than "entryway, stairs, light room" are outlawed, and their architects thrown in the dungeon.

*Monsters are no longer allowed to carry Clothes, thus cluttering the inventory of unsuspecting royalty.

*Bullwongs are against Our Law, in addition to several laws of nature, sanity and reason. One exception shall be made:

*For the entertainment of the populace, the former King of Osterfair will wrestle the aforementioned excepted Bullwong, daily.

*Any Citizen caught giving unnecessarily vague advice will be stranded in the Desert with a piece of paper reading "It is said that water lies under a tile in the southwest quadrant."

And peace and happiness reigned in the world for all time thereafter.

(screenshots from SNES Central)   read

2:37 PM on 01.09.2013

I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 1

In late 2010 to early 2011, a friend and I played through all nine Dragon Quest games together in sequence, and I did a little writeup on GameFAQs. I was reading back through it and found it amusing, so I thought I'd post it here.


Dragon Warrior (NES)

Here's 120 gold, a torch, and a key to get out of this room. Thou art the descendant of Erdrick. Go save the world.

This is one of the first games I ever played. I first played it in 1990, when I was 5. My companion didn't get around to it until the GBC rerelease.

We got a late start due to playing the last chapter of Sam and Max Season 3. Named the hero One and we're off.

Progress: Not much. Grinded (Ground?) up to level 7, got the Copper sword, chain mail and a leather shield. Got the Tablet. Got to Rimuldar, but got killed.

*Always buy the club first. Nobody likes your style, bamboo pole.
*Thou hast done well in defeating the slime. 1 exp, 1 gold... this is going to take a while.
*"Watch thy hit points when traveling through marsh." "My what?" "Thy hit points." "My what?"
*You say inn, I say 25 gold to sleep on a single square of brick floor. Screwest thou, I'm going to stick with the free MP recharge at the castle.
*Skeletons wear pants?

Week Two

Good old, grindy old Dragon Warrior. Watch those numbers sloooowly tick up.

*Went to Kol and got the Fairy Flute.
*Got some keys and did the Garinham tomb.
*Got the Half plate and rescued the princess at level 13.
*Did the swamp cave because it's there. Got a useless ring. With this jewelry, One can prove he's a real man.
*Got the Full Plate and did some grinding. Managed to find Erdrick's Token by guessing. Got it right on the first try.
*After several False starts, made the long trek to Cantlin and beat the Golem. Having already saved up the money, we bought the Silver Shield.
*Assembled the Rainbow drop and went back to Cantlin to buy the Flame Sword.

Currently One is level 15 and has the flame sword, silver shield and full plate. We're in good shape to move on to II next week.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:

*Soldier to King Lorik: Do you think that One might need this ancient technology used by Erdrick known as a... "bag?"
Lorik: Of course not. Did he, he surely would have asked.
*One has acquired a reputation in multiple townships and shrines as the local crazy for his habit of running laps around town for hours on end.
*King Lorik is living large. His throne is made of only the finest in cardboard boxes.
*I don't see what's so magical about keys that break after you use them once.
*Monsters have interesting fashion sense. Pink is in.
*Stairs, man. I warned you about stairs. Truly, they art a fearsome foe.
*"I doubt the Intelligence of these NPCs." "Intelligence? What's that? All I've got is Strength, Agility, Attack and defense, HP and MP."
*"Here I go... wish me luck." "Luck? What's that? All you've got..."
*Stairs, dawg. It keeps happening.
*They say it's a lake around Kol, but I say it's clearly a C. C is for Kol, and that's good enough for... wait.
*Hello Goldman. I've come for your Sachs!
*The princess is really creepy. You show up to rescue her and she throws herself at you, immediately insisting that you love her. There's no hope, One. It's already too late. You're just her puppet from here on out. I can see who's going to wear the pants in this relationship... "Aw, honey, I'm really too tired tonight." "But thou must!" "...okay."
*"65 north, 46 west to the castle... what units is this in?" "Loveometers!" "...CREEPY."
*In later games, Metal slimes exist to level you up quickly. In this one, they exist to PISS YOU THE HELL OFF.

Special Sunday Update!

Today was a Dragon Quest IX event in our area; we managed to put in a few hours of progress afterward.

*Got the Magic Armor because really, why not? Actually, we've done a lot of things for that reason. Dragon Warrior is Why Not: The game.
*Defeated the Axe Knight at level 16 and got the Erdrick's Armor. Thank you, Stopspell.
*At level 19, we braved Charlock Castle and retrieved the mighty Erdrick's Sword.
*We managed to put down two enemies who are so tough I regard them as optional bosses: the Metal Slime and the Red Dragon.

Currently One is level 19 and has the Erdrick gear and the Silver Shield. Now we are really set to get II well underway next Friday.

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*Metal slimes are terrible piles of metal goo who laugh at your frustration. After many attempts, though, we were victorious! Our efforts were rewarded with the game-changing sum of... of...

...115 exp.

...Somewhere, I can still hear laughing.
*Hauskness sounds like a good name for a holiday. It commemorates the time we defeated a Magiwyvern with just 1 HP left. Happy Hauskness!
*In absence of his recolored bretheren's axe and shield, "Knight" just looks constipated. Excellent move, Ex-lax.
*Tantagel Castle has death panels in the middle of its fountain. Sarah Palin was right!

Week Three

We're back on track. Ain't no stopping this train.

*Grinded to level 20 and fought the Dragonlord. Lost because my companion decided to tempt fate by choosing "FIGHT" with 42 HP left. Fate, it turns out, is very temptable. And very contemptible. Screw you, Fate.
*Grinded to level 21 and defeated the Dragonlord with loads of MP to spare. Got the super special awesome shiny ball and it made everything groovy.
*Apparently, One is Conan. I mean seriously, "If ever I am to rule a country, it must be a land that I myself find"? And this story shall also be told...

Highlights from the Imperial Scrolls of Honor:
*These imperial scrolls must get boring toward the end...

One: "I killed an Axe Knight. Then, I killed an Axe Knight. Then, I killed another Axe Knight. Then, I killed... NOT an Axe Knight! Naw, just kidding, it was another Axe Knight. Then I went and got my ass handed to me by the Dragonlord."

Lorik: "...Dearest daughter, remind me what thou seest in him?"
*I'm used to final boss inner sanctums being all dank and dark, but Dragonlord's is rather bright and cheery. I wonder who does his interior design.
*The climactic confrontation!

Dragonlord: I have waited long for one such as thee.

One: Oh,really? Gee, that's nice of you. I mean, I've been working out... been thinking of going into male modeling maybe?

Dragonlord: No you weirdo. I mean for you to join me and rule half the world.

One: Oh. Huh, that's actually a pretty attractive offer. I mean, Lorik gives me 120 gold and his crazy daughter, you give me half the world... Okay Sparky, deal.

Dragonlord: Thou art... wait, what? Really? You will? I... don't know what to say. I had it all planned out, I'd say join me, you'd say never, we'd fight... Okay, this actually works out a lot better. Thanks.

One: Psyche! *draws sword*

Dragonlord: Wha.... Thou art a dick!

-Phase one-

One: Man, that was easy. What a wimp, no wonder you were hiding down here AAAAHHH!

Dragonlord: Rooooooar!

One:, you're fat. No way those stubby wings could actually take you off the ground.

Dragonlord: Those cardboard boxes that make up my throne... they're filled with Twinkies.

And so, One saved the world from the Dragonlord and went off to be dominated by his wife into founding three kingdoms. He enjoyed life a lot more after he figured out that he could let his wife do all the ordering people around, and spent a long retirement relaxing and having other people beat up slimes and such for him. The end.

I thought I might post these here one game a day (except 6, which I didn't do much of a writeup for). Of course, if people think this sucks and posting it here is a terrible idea, then I won't clog up the cblogs with it. Let me know.   read

5:43 PM on 05.12.2011

1001games Part 5: 1983 - The Crash and the ZX Spectrum

1983 was the year of the famous North American video game crash. Going into the year, there were many competing consoles; by 1984, they were all gone. A glut of consoles, overall poor quality of games and high profile duds like E.T. and Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 (Atari rushed them out the door, making the bewildering assumption that there would be no connection between quality and sales) combined to torpedo sales and drive many companies out of the business. Retailers decided that video games had been a fad, which would make it difficult for the NES to break into the market a couple of years later. The industry would recover, of course, but the effects were far-reaching; most noticeably, consoles, up until then mainly made in America, became a Japanese business. There would not be another truly successful console from an American company until Microsoft's Xbox in distant 2001.

With the American market in shambles, it seems like a good time to talk about Europe.


One thing I've noticed repeatedly on the Internet is that "Retro gaming" means something totally different to people from the UK than it does to Americans like myself. Consoles didn't catch on there for a few more years, but home computers were marketed aggressively under the premise that buying your child a computer instead of a video game would be better for them and help them with school. Maybe it did, and these early computers encouraged people to learn to code (some programs would be distributed just as source code, usually in BASIC, which you would have to enter manually), but these computers were also the de facto game consoles for a generation. I'm not saying 80s home computing wasn't popular here in North America - noted successes included the Apple II and Commodore 64 - but the nostalgia gap is plain to see.

The Commodore 64 was popular in the UK as well, along with a system called the BBC Micro and others, but I'll be focusing on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. It's the easiest of the systems to emulate, and seems to be the focus of most of the retro computer gaming tributes I've seen. Now, I've been putting (PC) so far for simplicity's sake, but until the 90s, PC gaming was not the unified platform we now know it as - games had to be ported between these platforms. The Spectrum's games came on ordinary audiocassetes - yes, really, you could theoretically even broadcast one on the radio, tape it and play it in your system. This made games very easy to copy, which might have contributed to the downfall of the Spectrum a few years later. Also, the use of audiocassettes caused long, long, go-make-yourself-a-sandwich long loading times.

0048. I, Robot (Arcade)

Oh man, this game is awesome! How did they make it way back in 1983, and why isn't it more famous? This is a 3D game with real, filled-in polygons; talk about before its time. The brightly colored polygons create a strange, wonderfully abstract environment that makes this feel more like a puzzle game. The object of the game is to paint all of the red blocks blue by walking over them while avoiding enemies and obstacles and minding the giant eye at the end of the stage - if you jump while it's open, you'll get blasted. Between levels, you travel through a field of objects that you'll have to shoot to avoid crashing. There's actually a lot going on in this game, but once you get the hang of it, it couldn't be simpler.

I, Robot also has a very unusual feature - when you start your game, you can choose "Doodle City - The Ungame" to paint an abstract picture instead of playing the game, using the game's various polygonal objects as brushes. The attract mode advertises this feature - "Tired of video games? Burned out on mass destruction? Forget the game. Relax in Doodle City." Yeah, this game actually has quite a wit to it. In the demonstration, a giant face says "The law: no jumping." Your robot says "Oh yeah? Why not?" while jumping around. The eye shoots it and says "That's why."

This game is amusingly creative and way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful and few units are confirmed to exist today; thank goodness for emulation. Check it out.

0049. Archon (Various, ZX Spectrum played)

Playing with a ZX Spectrum for my first time, I have to note that the controls are very difficult to get a handle on, as the keyboard lacks arrow keys. Anyway, Archon is a crazy version of Chess where the pieces enter a real-time fight upon coming to occupy the same square. Different pieces have different stats, which are affected by the square they're on. Besides being an interesting take on Chess, Archon also feels like a precursor to the strategy RPG genre, which also features moving pieces on a grid and initiating battle upon contact with opposing pieces.

0050. Star Wars (Arcade)

The original Star Wars arcade game is definitely one of the most memorable movie license games. Instead of trying to cover the whole movie, this game focuses on the most exciting scene - the attack on the Death Star - and reproduces it admirably, in 80s first person wireframe glory. You've got to play this one in the original cabinet - it provides an actual cockpit for you to sit in, making the experience really feel real. A beepy version of the Star Wars theme and some amusingly lo-fi digitized voice clips from the movie add to the atmosphere. It's a lot harder to play with a keyboard than the original flight yoke, but I still successfully blew up the Death Star at least once. I really have to hand it to this one - it's common to be watching a movie and think "this part would be a really cool video game," but rare to be proven absolutely right.

0051. Chuckie Egg (Various, ZX Spectrum played)

Yay, another platformer. I gotta tell ya though, ZX Spectrum control layouts are BIZARRE. This one wants you to press 2 for up, W for down, O and P for left and right, and mystifyingly, M (???) for jump. Mercifully, this game lets you redefine keys, so I set up the more familiar WASD for a more comfortable experience.

This game is really fun! You run around collecting eggs and birdseed while avoiding the big birds climbing around the ladders. Your jumps are low - a more human arc than the superhuman leaps we're accustomed to - but long, and well-suited to getting from platform to platform. Jumping is actually fun in this game, which puts it above most of its contemporaries, where the act is a painfully precise chore. I have to admit, though, through more than five attempts I beat the first two levels flawlessly each time, and just as reliably lost all my lives on level 3. I just can't master the jump onto the moving platforms there.

0052. Dragon's Lair (Arcade)

Dragon's Lair was the first (or at least the first of note) of the FMV games, which bypassed limited hardware by simply playing cinema-quality video off of a LaserDisc or CD and scanning to different scenes depending on whether the player has pressed the right button at the right time. Barely interactive, these games nonetheless were popular for a time, and it's not hard to understand why - in the early 80s, the gorgeous visuals of a game like this must have been truly amazing next to the primitive graphics of contemporary arcade games.

A lot of the terrible FMV games that dominated consoles like the Sega CD were not much of a movie in addition to not being much of a game, but this isn't true of Dragon's Lair due to the involvement of talented director Don Bluth, fresh off of his breakout masterpiece The Secret of NIMH. This game has charm, wit, majesty and fear. Each room is a clever new trap, and the player is rarely more than a second or two away from death. In fact, the various death scenes are actually a large part of the game's entertainment value. Its popularity spawned followups Space Ace and Dragon's Lair II, ports to countless platforms from the Sega CD to the iPhone, and near-totally unrelated versions for platforms with no capability whatever to handle the central gimmick (the NES, for example).

If you want to play the actual arcade version on a PC, there is an emulator for LaserDisc games called Daphne, named after the bubbly, slutty princess from Dragon's Lair (Bluth: "The elevator doesn't go all the way up, but she serves a purpose"). My games ended before long as I couldn't pin down the timing. I ended up watching a YouTube playthrough, which is extremely entertaining; I recommend it. If you want to actually play the game, my research has found that the best port is "Dragon's Lair Trilogy" on the Wii, which apparently has excellent timing and features optional move prompts to make the game far easier, and I'll bet more fun. I'd be tempted to pick it up myself for $30, if I weren't broke.

0053. Gyruss (Arcade)

Like Tempest, this shoot 'em up is played on the outside of a tube; in this case, however, the tube is not visible and the objects look like spaceships instead of abstract vector shapes. Like that game, this one is better with its original controller; however, this game isn't as broken as Tempest when using a keyboard. Actually, it's still quite fun. Every few levels you pass a planet as you get closer to Earth, starting with Neptune. On my second try I managed to get almost to Jupiter and scored over 40k points. This game also features Galaga-like bonus levels where you shoot down streams of enemies; it's easier to get them all if you get the double-shot powerup in the levels by shooting a special enemy that looks like a fuzzy orange ball.

0054. Mad Planets (Arcade)

When you hear the name "Mad Planets," you probably think it refers to the setting, but this game is way more nuts than that. Instead of spaceships or vaccuum-dwelling aliens, your enemies in this game are actually planets. They try to crash into you and fling their moons at you in crazy arcs. You have to shoot their moons and then blow the planets up; it's brilliantly insane. How come nobody else has ever done this?

Unfortunately, we have another game here that's next to impossible to play on a keyboard. You can turn your ship to aim in any direction with a spinner, which is difficult to approximate with buttons or keys. If you ever see this uncommon cabinet, you should give it a look - it's amusingly odd.

0055. M.U.L.E. (Various, NES played)

M.U.L.E. was the first game to be developed for Trip Hawkins's new game company Electronic Arts. It was released for the various 8-bit computers of the time (Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit) and ported to the NES in 1990, which makes playing it way more convenient. Hurray!

This is a turn-based economic sim game where you can select an alien race to play as (each having certain advantages and/or disadvantages) and select the plots of land you're given for farming, mining or energy production by putting a M.U.L.E. (Multiple Use Labor Element, which at least in the NES version looks and sounds like a robotic mule) loaded up for that application on the plot. After each turn, there is an auction between the four players where you can buy or sell these three resources to one another or buy them from the store. Though you compete against the other players (which can be the computer, as they were in my play), there is a certain almost collaborative element because you don't want to totally shut out the other players from the resources they need - without all the players producing, there really isn't enough of the resources to get anywhere.

I couldn't beat the computer - honestly, I might have missed something in the rules, since I couldn't figure out why my plots were producing less than others. Incidentally, I'm still waiting for the first real co-op game in this list, which might be Gauntlet in 1985. Does anybody know of an earlier example?

0056. Planetfall (PC)

Planetfall is the first Infocom text adventure by Steve Meretzky, that company's most famous designer. His games have a pretty good sense of humor - in this one, for example, you meet a buffoon of an alien who blathers on about relations between your races ("he says that all humans look the same to him"), and he hands you a useless brochure. When you drop it, the description of the room you dropped it in says "Unfortunately, that stupid brochure is here." This game elicited quite a few smiles out of me.

In this sci-fi adventure, you (a low-ranking member of the Space Fleet, with standard-issue scrubbing brush) land on a deserted planet and have to find a way off. Along the way, you figure out that this planet's population was wiped out by a plague. Fairly early, you can activate a robot. He identifies himself and follows you around. Floyd is bouncy and manically friendly. He can be pretty funny - when you save the game, he says "Oh boy! Are we about to do something dangerous?" Some might think Floyd annoying, but I think it's nice to have a little company during yet another text adventure spent exploring a deserted world.

Meretzky makes it clear that he's a fan of Douglas Adams's science fiction works by including a towel in this game - if you examine it closely, you'll find the number 42 written on it, a reference to the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Two years later Meretzky and Adams would collaborate on a text adventure adaptation of that book; rest assured it's on this list.

I got a bit stuck about halfway through this game and gave up, but I bet I could have beaten it with a bit more effort. This game does have some annoyances, however. Compared to recent amateur "Interactive Fiction," which in interest of the player's convenience allows "l object" for "look at object," this game insists on the full sentence. When I typed "look watch" it snapped back at me, "this isn't some primitive two-word parser. If you want to look at something, say so." Honestly, what is gained by making me waste my time typing a longer phrase? I know it's not much longer, but doing it again and again gets old. I don't really want to have to type "slide elevator card through slot" every single time I need to use an elevator, but in PlanetFall I certainly had to. This game also makes you eat and sleep every so often, which is a chore to keep up with and really doesn't add a lot but a drag, in my opinion. Sure, give the player these problems to solve once, but over and over? That's not fun. This is actually a pretty cool adventure with some interesting and funny elements; I just wanted to make it clear that it shows its age in certain unpleasant ways.

0057. Spy Hunter (Arcade)

This might be the most direct game ever. You're a car, and you shoot other cars. Hell, the same pedal that accelerates also causes you to shoot an endless stream of bullets from your front fender. You can also bump most cars to the side, although some have deadly spikes that come from their tires - as far as I can tell, staying directly in front of these is the only way to avoid getting killed by them. Oh, and the Peter Gunn theme plays the whole time. According to the text one of the bridges eventually stops short and you turn into a boat, but I never got that far.

This game is unusual for its time in that it has no lives. Instead, you have unlimited cars as a counter ticks down from 999, and just one after it gets to 0. Although the cabinet had a steering wheel, it's functionally identical to arrow keys. This game is worth a play if only for how awesomely blatant it is about its premise.

0058. Crystal Castles (Arcade)

The unusual sights of Crystal Castles are quite compelling - multi-leveled isometric playgrounds with buildings, elevators and tunnels. As the absurdly cute Bentley Bear ("Oh no!" he says in word balloon when he dies), you have the Pac-Man like goal of collecting all the red gems inexplicably covering every path. Unfortunately, this is another game that suffers from lacking its original controls. The arcade trackball made zipping along the paths easy. Without it, I wouldn't quite call the game impossible to play - you can give it a go with the mouse, and I made it to level 5 - but the awkwardness of control makes things pretty frustrating.

Unusually for an arcade game, this one ends after its thirty-seven levels instead of looping. This game is definitely a curiosity, but I'd hold out for the real cabinet to really play it, unless you own a PC trackball.

0059. Jetpac (Various, ZX Spectrum played)

Jetpac was the first game by Ultimate Play the Game, the English developer which would later become Rare and go on to make many highly-regarded games on Nintendo and Microsoft consoles. After wrestling with another perplexing ZX Spectrum control scheme (a number of keys are mapped to this game's four actions; the most usable combination I found was Y, H, M and ,), I discovered a really fun and exciting game. So many home computer games, especially platformers, of the early 80s are plodding, delicate affairs where great care must be taken not to miss what feels like a perfectly good jump; this is true even of good examples like Chuckie Egg. This is totally untrue of Jetpac, where you gracefully (and quickly!) drift through the air with solid physics, firing your laser with mad abandon. This game is fast-paced and exciting, and a blast once you get the hang of it.

In the first wave, you have to assemble the three pieces of your rocketship, then refuel it by collecting the pink fuel packs that drop at random locations. After the first wave, only refueling is necessary. Because parts and fuel drop onto your rocket simply by being carried directly above it, it's a good idea to spend most of your time on the top part of the screen, where it's slightly safer. Despite MJ Hibbett's reverence for "the thrill of getting through Jetpac," you can't beat this game. Indeed, it doesn't even have real levels - the only thing that changes when you successfully ride your rocket are the enemies. Having said that, I managed to get to wave 7 and score over 10k points. This game has been both ported and remade for the Xbox Live Arcade as Jetpac Refueled - check it out, it's a good time.

0060. Juno First (Arcade)

Juno First is an unusual choice for this list. It's a solid but not particularly remarkable shoot-em-up that isn't terribly widely remembered. Its most noticeable feature is probably the simplest faux-3D effect ever, accomplished by a series of dots that accomplish a sort of perspective. It is pretty cool to be able to see your enemies approaching before they actually enter the playing area. Another neat feature is a bonus item you can get that not only gives you an 800 point bonus, but makes all enemies worth 800 points for a limited time. Other than that, I don't have much to say about this one.

0061. Lode Runner (Various, ZX Spectrum played)

Hooray, another Spectrum game with a redefine keys option! However, I still suck hard at it. Bummer.

In Lode Runner, you climb ladders and collect gold. You can't really call it a platformer on account of a lack of a jump. There is an unusual mechanic in which you can make holes in the floor in front of you for your enemies to temporarily fall into, allowing you to then walk over their heads. You have to be careful, of course, not to fall into your own holes, and of certain floors that are indestructible.

The most interesting thing about this game is its built-in level editor. The game already contains an enormous 150 levels, but gamers made countless others. It can be really amazing what gamers put together when you hand them the creative controls, and to this day not as many games employ this element as ought to.

0062. Manic Miner (Various, ZX Spectrum played)

I know I keep complaining about controls, but you seriously use Q and P to go left and right in this game. WHAT?

Manic Miner, I understand, is one of the most nostalgic platformers for fans of the Spectrum, but due to the strange controls, unforgiving jump and tight placement of hazards, I can't get anywhere at all in it. It's too bad, because it seems remarkably advanced for its time, with elements such as conveyer belts and fall-away platforms. It's a bizarre game with strange color choices and weird enemies, which I guess is part of its charm.

I'm sorry to give such a beloved game such a terse treatment, but I'm out of my element here, having been born in 1985, and this is quite frankly one of the most difficult games I've ever played in my life. It took me a lot of tries to get to the second screen, and after a lot more tries I still never got to the third. If you want to laugh at me, try it yourself first, that's all I've got to say.

0063. Tapper (Arcade)

Tapper is a very early example of the now popular time-management genre, where a number of impatient customers must be juggled, a delicate balancing act. This is a lot faster-paced and simpler than the likes of Diner Dash, however, and much more fun in my opinion.

This colorful (gorgeous for its time, really - you couldn't port this to the NES without losing something graphically) game is sure to get a chuckle out of you. It's foaming over with personality - the griping customers, the self-satisfied bartender, the Budweiser logos everywhere (a rare example of desirable product placement - the game even says "THIS BUDS FOR YOU" when you win the shell game bonus round). You might know this game by its sanitized-for-the-kiddies version Root Beer Tapper, which makes a few graphical changes.

Like I said, this game is a lot of fun. You have to send beers to the customers before they reach the end of the bars. It's fast, but you've actually got to be careful not to send too many beers too fast, as some customers will send their glasses back for a refill, which can get overwhelming. Some will also leave a tip, which you can get for a pretty big bonus (as well as dancing cheerleaders) if you think you can spare the time. Seriously, play this game. It's a riot.

I spent a long, long time on this post. I don't know what made me think 16 games in one post was a good idea. 1984 will be divided into two parts. Please drop me a comment to let me know what you think of the series so far.   read

5:11 PM on 04.25.2011

What are games about, really?

The other day it occurred to me what we mean when we speak of what a game is "about," and how it differs from the explanations of other media. I think that part of the reason that the discussion of games as art is so contentious is that games can't really be examined in quite the same way as other works. When we look at a comic book, a book or a film, what we see on the page or the screen is the work of art, plain and simple. With games, it's not quite so straightforward - what we see on the screen is only part of the game. The real heart of the medium lies in a curious limbo - it cannot be seen. The real center of a game is the player's interaction with it, making the whole thing a collaborative experience. The game isn't really a game until you start playing it. When we discuss what a game is about, then, we ought to be discussing what it is that you do.

Sure, games have traditional stories, and they're important to the experience. However, they're crafted of the materials of other media - pictures, animation, words. The story created by actually playing the game is a different thing, although in many of the best examples of video game storytelling the two are carefully interwoven, like in Braid or Dragon Quest V, to give a couple of examples. You can attach any background story you like to a falling shapes game - it's still fundamentally a game about stacking and clearing away, just like Tetris. It's fun to distill your favorite games down to this simple essence, often describable in a single sentence of the form "X is a game about Y." Ecco the Dolphin, whose story involves aliens and time travel, is fundamentally a game about being a dolphin. That's why people are drawn to it: the sheer experience of darting through the blue ocean, flipping high into the air, nosing through tunnels in search of air pockets. This is what really makes that game memorable.

In some cases, the two stories of a game can differ greatly, and the dissonance can actually create an captivating effect. Let's talk about the 1982 arcade game Sinistar, famous for its titular villain, a face-shaped spaceship that talks to you in a digitized voice, taunting you, "Beware, I live" and "Run, Coward!" Its ominous voice, combined with the spaceship coming after you at high speed and then eating you alive with a mighty roar, is genuinely frightening. The object of the game is to destroy Sinistar, but what is the game about?

Sinistar is a game about mining.

Seriously, this is what you spend most of your time doing. To me it's one of the biggest cognitive disconnects in gaming. To get the Sinibombs you need to defeat Sinistar, you fly around shooting rocks to release "crystals" you collect to construct the bombs. Sinistar isn't in the game at all for a couple of minutes, so it's just you, the rocks, and some annoying little enemies that get in your way. It's tricky, but almost Zen-like really - you just keep hammering away at those rocks. Honestly, I think it heightens Sinistar's impact to look at the game this way - when it does show up, the game you've become familiar with is torn apart by a violent and terrifying force of nature. It's quite an impact.

I think in any discussion of the premise or story of a game, it's worth stepping back to examine what exactly you, the player, do. It's an angle that can be amusing and revelatory.   read

7:46 PM on 04.24.2011

1001games Part 4: 1982

Dig Dug painting by Brock Davis

I wouldn't say 1982 was quite the year 1981 was for arcades, but what year was? It still featured some great classics like Joust, Dig Dug and Q*Bert.

0033. Gravitar (Arcade)

For me, the best way to describe Gravitar is "Asteroids meets Lunar Lander." Like Asteroids, you're a triangle-shaped ship with a forward thruster and a single gun; like Lunar Lander, careful manipulation of gravity and momentum is required. This game starts you out on a galaxy map showing the different planetoids you can visit; when you approach one the game zooms in, kind of like Venture. Each planetoid has a mission to complete - destroying all the planetoid-mounted turrets, usually. There are also little marked spots you can land on to refuel your ship. Once you've completed a planetoid, you can leave and return to the map to fly to another.

This game's extremely simplistic vector graphics work very well for it, evoking a kind of retro VR feel. It's pretty impressive how the game zooms in as you approach a planetoid. The orbital gravity mechanic is challenging and refined. The whole game feels like a precursor to later, much more complex galaxy exploration games.

The text says this game bombed in arcades, and I can see that happening. It has some problems - it's tough to make Lunar Lander-type trajectory adjustments when all you've got is a forward thruster, and the enemy turrets' fire is tough to see and tougher to avoid. I bet I'd have had a lot less fun if those had been real quarters consumed by my screw-ups. Still, this is a cool game. Check it out.

0034. Joust (Arcade)

Sure, Joust is weird. You're a little alien-looking dude jousting with other little alien looking dudes, and you're all riding birds. You're riding what appears to be a flying ostrich (or a stork for player 2), while your enemies are riding buzzards or maybe condors. After you defeat your enemies by colliding with them while being higher on the screen then they are, you have to collect the egg that's dropped or your enemies will re-hatch and be more dangerous than before. Also, you should take care to avoid the pterodactyls and lava. Yep, it's pretty weird - but the wonderful thing about video games is that it does not matter.

The text calls the game "better than it sounds" and implies its popularity was "surprising." Joust needs no such apologies or tepid defense; it's one of the great arcade games ever. Flapping, the game's central action, is so much deeper than simply sending you upwards. You can adjust the speed of your flaps or hold left and right to achieve a variety of precise movements, like hovering, changing direction, speeding up or slowing down. A useful move involves going up and pausing ever so briefly to achieve a little float, then flapping while holding a direction to charge at an enemy. Everything in the game is balanced - You need to go for those eggs, but going down can be dangerous. Being at the top isn't always best, either - you can play territorially, using the platforms to define a loose box to defend. As the game speeds up, the frantic jockeying for position is intense fun.

Best of all, this is the first game on the list to feature cooperative play. Co-op is my favorite way to play games - I even play one-player games with my friends, alternating turns with the controller. Now, the co-op here is kind of competitive, since you're going for score, and if you want to be a jerk, you can take out the other player for 2000 points. My favorite video game experience, though, is to work together with someone and feel the camaraderie of the common goal.

I played Joust way more times than I needed to to write this; it's just so much fun. I never got past wave 6, though. I'm an arcade owner's dream - addicted, but not very good.

0035. The Hobbit (Various, Apple II played)

The Hobbit, released for various home computers, is a text adventure based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic book, which I loved as a kid. This text adventure features graphics, which are drawn on the screen with agonizing, line-by-line slowness and feature amusingly awful color choices.

The Hobbit features a very impressive parser for its time, recognizing complex sentences with multiple actions separated by the word and. According to the text, it also follows the book very closely. I didn't get far, though, due to frustration with the AI characters who follow you around. They'll frequently take items you need to proceed from you, and although they'll sometimes give them back, I can't find a reliable way to get them to do so. To give you an idea of how awful of an experience this is, I was standing in front of a locked door when Gandalf took the key from me. I then had to wait one turn for him to say, "Fascinating, but I wonder what I could use it for?" and another turn for him to give it back to me. Argh! Also, since they act freely and on their own, your companions are capable of getting themselves killed, rendering the game unfinishable. Frustration awaits in Middle Earth.

0036. Choplifter (Apple II, Arcade played)

Choplifter, originally released for the Apple II, was ported to many systems, including, in rare twist, an arcade cabinet by Sega in 1985. I played that version for convenience's sake; it features greatly superior graphics, obviously.

In Choplifter you must pilot a helicopter past many enemies in order to reach the hostages. Then you have to land, wait for them to board, and go back and return them to your base. You've got to be careful not to shoot or land on the hostages, and if you're shot down when transporting them, they'll all die. This game is frantic fun, but punishingly difficult. Enemy turrets and vehicles fill the screen with bullets, and it takes next to nothing to bring you down.

0037. Robotron 2084 (Arcade)

Robotron was the first twin-stick shooter, assigning one joystick to the movement of your character and a second to directing a stream of fire. It might be hard to believe something that's become popular so recently dates all the way back to 1982, but here you go. It was a brilliant innovation, as the freedom to cover all sides allows the game to completely surround you with enemies.

This game is a frenetic spectacle, a retro-futuristic blur, all bright colors, flashing lights, loud noises and countless objects moving around at once. In addition to shooting enemies, you are to rescue humans by walking into them. This game is obviously designed to be fun as hell while separating you from your quarters with brutal efficiency, and it's effective at both. I got to level 6 and scored nearly 100,000 in a few tries, which I think is pretty good considering I'm shackled to an inferior keyboard scheme.

0038. Dig Dug (Arcade)

Everybody knows Dig Dug, right? It's one of the most invitingly fun arcade games of its time. It's not as brutally difficult as many of its contemporaries, at least at first. That is hardly to say it's easy, but it is more welcoming to the beginner than most. Still, it's more complicated than it looks, and as the levels advance it becomes important to manage tunnels and master the strategy of leaving an enemy partially inflated in order to turn and take on another. The enemies can converge on you in a hurry. And don't forget, when you're down to one enemy it'll try to escape. Beat it to the surface in order to claim those points.

You know, amidst all the bright colors and cheerful music it's easy to miss how disturbing this game's premise is. You're pumping your enemies full of air in order to make them burst from the inside out. Ewwwww.

0039. Miner 2049er (Various)

This Atari 800 classic got many ports: the Commodore 64, the Apple II, the Atari 2600, even the Game Boy and recently, smartphones. I ended up playing a bewilderingly inferior DOS port. It might not even have been official.

Anyway, this early example of the platforming genre might somewhat resemble Donkey Kong with its girders and ladders, but it actually takes some cues from Pac-Man. The object of the game is to "paint" all the platforms by walking across them, similar to Pac-Man's goal of covering all ground and eating the dots. On top of that, after collecting certain objects the enemies begin to flash and may be defeated simply by walking into them. Sound familiar?

This one starts out as simple as can be, but adds a few wrinkles as it goes on with slides and teleporters. The jumping here is a big step up from Donkey Kong; it's a lot easier to control and jumping between platforms doesn't seem so delicate. It's exciting for a 90's gamer like me to watch the platforming genre slowly emerge as its glory days approach.

0040. Moon Patrol (Arcade)

Moon Patrol is an interesting game in that it eschews the fast pace typical of 80s arcade games. It's not slow, exactly, but plodding and methodical. Your rover rolls along in a chill fashion, and you have one fire button that sends shots both forward, to take out obstacles, and upward, to fight the UFOs that hover overhead. You can jump to clear pits, and you must keep adjusting your speed so your shots will hit the UFOs and so you won't be going too fast and run into obstacles before you can clear them.

This is the first game to use parallax scrolling, a graphical technique in which different parts of the background scroll at different speeds. This technique would later become very popular on the Genesis and SNES. It's simple here, but still a cool effect. Also, this is the first game on this list to feature that brilliant arcade hook known as "insert coins to continue." You can keep going as long as you want, as long as you have the money. This would later become the standard way to relieve arcade gamers of their change.

Lunar Lander is an unusual kind of fun - you can clearly see the next problem coming, and the fun comes from the triumph of properly executed precision. I'm actually pretty decent at it - the game has checkpoints labeled A through Z, and I got to P without continuing on my first try, scoring nearly 20,000 points (When you get to Z, which takes quite a while, the game moves on to a more challenging course). On my second try, I made it to U without continuing; with another try or two I bet I could one-credit the first course. I wouldn't mind spending a bit of cash on this if I saw it in the wild.

0041. Mr. Do! (Arcade)

At first glance, Mr. Do! looks a lot like Dig Dug; you dig tunnels through colorful dirt in an identical manner, and you can drop apples on enemies the same way you drop rocks on them in Dig Dug. This is a somewhat more complicated game, however. Instead of inflating your enemies, you throw a ball that bounces through the tunnels and destroys one enemy if it contacts them. If you miss, however, your ball will keep bouncing around until you touch it again. Even if you hit an enemy, the ball is temporarily destroyed and you must wait several seconds before it returns to you, so you can't just throw with wild abandon.

There are two ways to beat a level in Mr. Do! You can collect all of the cherries placed without the level, or you can defeat all of the enemies. Put another way, you can play it like Pac-Man or like Dig Dug. You should also make sure to get the dessert in the center of the level for a big bonus. If you ever encounter Mr. Do!, you should get past the "it's a Dig Dug clone" first impression and give it a try. It's a fun arcade game in its own right.

0042. Q*Bert (Arcade)

Q*Bert might be the weirdest megahit in video game history. I mean, everybody's heard of Q*Bert, but what the hell is he? He's this weird fuzzy orange thing with a tube nose who swears with a word balloon filled with punctuation when he runs into an enemy. Just your typical video game protagonist, right? So you've got to jump from block to block in order to change the color of all of the isometric cube boxes while avoiding the many enemies. Things soon get a whole lot weirder, though, as things start using a different side of the boxes as platforms, breaking the isometric effect by making you picture it two ways at once and creating an impossible, Escher-like extradimensional figure. As far as I know, Q*Bert is the only 80s arcade game set on impossible geometry.

It's very difficult to avoid the many enemies that bounce around the level; success involves figuring out efficient paths to color all of the blocks. Oh, and I suck at this game, whatta surprise.

0043. Xevious (Arcade)

Xevious is one of the most important games that few people have played. It marks the emergence of the modern shoot 'em up. Although Space Invaders and Galaga are classics, nobody makes games like that anymore. Xevious is where things get recognizable. Although the text isn't technically correct that this is the first shmup not set in space (what, did they forget about Centipede?), you might say it's the first one with a real setting at all. The space of the prototypical shmup is a featureless void, an excuse to pit you against your enemies in waves. Xevious has real levels that scroll vertically by, containing features like forests, roads, rivers and even a reproduction of Peru's famous Nazca Lines.

This game really set the standard for shmups going forward. Observing that players just fire all the time anyway, Xevious is the first game to allow you to continuously fire by simply holding down the button. With not quite as much focus required for that activity, the game adds complexity by giving you ground targets to hit with a secondary attack, which actually requires aiming. This is a mechanic that would be copied by a great many shooters to come.

Despite having so many firsts, Xevious isn't as bland as you might expect; actually, it has a great variety of enemies and obstacles. It's not only amazing for its time, but a real solid, classic shmup.

0044. Sokoban (Various)

Sokoban is one of the simplest games ever, and one of the most pure. You push boxes around a tiled, confined space in order to get them into the marked spots. That's it - no refinement or enhancement is required. There are no tricks in Sokoban, no gimmicks; there's only you and the boxes.

This simple format has produced some of the most bedeviling puzzles I've ever seen. The hardest levels will have you stumped for hours, wondering "How? How is this one supposed to be possible?" It helps to consider which moves make victory impossible by creating a situation from which boxes may not be extricated, but sometimes this just makes you feel even more stuck. And then you'll stumble upon a series of moves that seem to work, but just when you're getting confident, you'll learn that this path unavoidably puts one box out of reach. "But that means this is impossible - it has to," you'll think, your eyes beginning to water. It isn't, though. If only it were - then you'd be able to quit with your dignity intact. But the solution is out there, mocking you.

In desperation, you'll try the same moves over and over again. You'll wonder how you can get anywhere when you've been over every possible move a hundred times (this will not be an exaggeration). This isn't just your mind playing tricks on you; Sokoban is actually an excellent test of AI theory because it's so resistant to brute force solving. And when you do find the solution, your feeling of victory will be tinged with bewilderment - how was that possible? How did that move hide from you for so long? It's a feeling like that of Alice going through the looking glass, an uneasy feeling that you're standing on the precipice of another side to the world, dark and hidden and seemingly impossible.

Sokoban was originally released for a few 80s Japanese personal computers, but has been endlessly ported and remade. Find a version and play it; it's amazing. This game literally could not be improved.

0045. Tron (Arcade)

Hey, it's a movie license game. I didn't see Jeff Bridges in the VR world of Tron, but as I understand it the games are pretty close to the ones depicted in the movie, and I can imagine how cool that was. When I was a kid, every time I saw some made-up video game in a movie or TV show I immediately wanted to play it. A good example is the computer game from Big, which has been remade online.

Tron the arcade game is made up of four minigames; you must beat all of them to advance to the next level, where they all get considerably harder. The games include two where you're one of the oddly-clad guys from the movie, throwing discs, and two set in vehicles. The two non-vehicle games, which require you to enter a circle while dodging cyber spiders and to enter a cone by breaking through a spinning breakout rainbow that's coming toward you, are a bit awkward to be honest. The tank game is serviceable but nothing special. The star of Tron is definitely the cycle game, where you zip around leaving a solid trail and attempt to entrap your enemies while they try to do the same to you; it's kind of like competitive Snake (actually, Nibbler, the game upon which all Snake variants are based, is another 1982 release). It's fun and exciting, and I'd rather play a game consisting solely of it than this one.

0046. Time Pilot (Arcade)

Time Pilot is an unusual shmup in that it doesn't force scrolling vertically or horizontally; instead, you stay centered in the screen and can fly freely in any direction. All around, swarms of enemy planes attack; you must weave between their shots while directing a constant stream of fire at them. You can also score bonus points by picking up parachuters. Each level in Time Pilot represents a time in history - 1910, 1940, 1970 and the far-flung future of 2001. After destroying a quota of enemies, a boss will appear. After defeating this enemy (who is just a bit tougher than the regular enemies, actually), you time travel to the next stage.

This game is unique, fun and I'm actually OK at it. On my second try I got to the third boss and scored over 80,000. This one is worth a try.

0047. Utopia (Intellivision)

The Atari 2600 dominated what everyone for some reason refers to as the "second generation" of game consoles (I'm skeptical that the Odyssey, whose games were hardwired in and whose cartridges contained nothing but jumpers, and company really ought to be regarded as a separate console generation from later 70s consoles), but Mattel's Intellivision was a notable minor success for a few years before being wiped out by the crash of 1983. There were many consoles at that time, more than during any other generation, which is part of the reason why the crash happened, but I digress.

Utopia, developed by Mattel, may be the game that started the "God game" or "Sim" genre, as the text says. It may be. But to me, it's utterly incomprehensible. All I see are a bunch of unattributed numbers, a pair of oddly shaped islands and a pair of rectangular cursors (it's a 2-player game) that I can move around. When I try to do anything, however, including pressing ANY button or following the directions in the manual, which I looked up in desperation, I just get a loud buzzing noise. I'm sure there's a game here, but I can't find it. I know hardware resources limited how much you could explain in game, but some games from this era are just plain indecipherable to somebody like me. It's like a bunch of ancient runes. Then again, maybe realizing that players used to have to have an awful lot of outside-of-screen understanding going on just to play is part of the experience I should have as a gamer. Yeah, that sounds like a good cop-out.

Next time on 1001games: the year it all came crashing down in America, gaming went on in Europe and Japan.   read

3:57 PM on 04.14.2011

1001games Part 3: 1981

1981 featured some fantastic arcade releases, including household name classics Galaga, Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man and Frogger, so it's appropriate that this year in the book is almost entirely arcade games. The one exception is an important one, though, as Richard Garriot's Ultima launched, without a doubt, the RPG genre as we know it today.

0023. Galaga (Arcade)

Today, in the sadly few arcades that still remain in the United States, you're likely to see the 2001 20th-anniversary cabinet that collects this game and Ms. Pac-Man, two of Namco's most enduring classics. This game has serious staying power and still holds up remarkably well.

With Galaga, Namco took their smash hit Galaxian and improved upon it considerably. Abandoning the rigidity common to shmups before (and really, it's not hard to see the difference in the genre pre- and post-Galaga), the enemies swoop in in graceful swirling arcs, affording you the opportunity to rapidly take them out by sitting in just the right spot. Even after entering their formation, they constantly abandon it, diving in complex, scooping dive bombs and firing a flurry of shots. This game also features bonus stages where you can score huge points by taking down as many of the carefully constructed patterns of enemies as possible.

Another cool feature of Galaga is the enemies that use a tractor beam on you. If you get caught, you'll lose a life as the screen displays "FIGHTER CAPTURED," but this actually presents an opportunity. If you shoot down the enemy that captured you, your previous ship returns to you, and although you don't get the lost life back, your ship becomes a dual, wing-to-wing pair of ships that fire two shots, a must for conquering the bonus stages. Using this clever trick, I managed a respectable 44000 points on my first try.

0024. Donkey Kong (Arcade)

The game that put Nintendo on the map, Donkey Kong was truly revolutionary. At a time when the only significant character in gaming was the rather abstract Pac-Man, Donkey Kong gave us Mario (Jumpman at the time - he'd get his name in 1983's Mario Bros.) and the titular big ape. Both had a really unprecedented amount of personality; DK would beat his chest and lose his teeth upon being defeated, while mario would get a little halo upon death. And then there was Pauline, an early example of the ubiquitous damsel in distress. It might all seem pretty standard today, but that's because Donkey Kong did it first.

Donkey Kong was also a huge step forward in terms of gameplay, being one of the earliest games to feature different levels that are totally distinct from one another instead of being basically the same thing with minor variations. There are four levels in Donkey Kong, although they're not presented in order from the start (it's more like 1,4, 1,2,4, 1,3,2,4). One level, which features direction-changing conveyor belts and ladders that raise and lower, has been missed by most modern gamers since it was inxeplicably omitted from the NES port that's been endlessly rereleased. Probably Donkey Kong's greatest contribution to gaming is the jump. Apart from moving and maybe shooting, the jump is the single most important action to gaming as a whole, and you see it first here, allowing Mario to barely clear a relentless series of barrels and tiny gaps.

This is one of the most challenging classic games - it's very unforgiving, requiring precise placement and timing of jumps, and there's an emphasis on moving quickly in order to get a high score. That score attack remains competitive today, as documented in the film King of Kong. I just managed 37,700 points in several tries, at least managing to reach the "lost" level not present in the NES version. Despite the high difficulty, Donkey Kong is a lot of fun; I could play it for hours.

This game has some interesting origins - In this interview,, Donkey Kong creator Shigeru Miyamoto reveals that Donkey Kong was originally intended to be a game starring Popeye, the sailor from Max Fleischer's classic cartoons. A huge fan of Pac-Man, Miyamoto wanted to implement a similar tables-turning mechanic with Popeye becoming able to fight back after getting a can of his famous spinach. For some reason, however, the license fell through, the spinach became the hammer and Popeye became Mario (who got his famous moustache because it was the only practical way to distinguish his nose from his mouth in such a tiny space). Imagine that: the world-famous Mario was born of a dropped Popeye license. It's crazy how history works out, isn't it?

0025. Qix (Arcade)

Here's a game that's been remade so many times it'd be difficult to gather together a list of all its clones. Have you ever played a game where you draw lines across a playing field in order to partition off part of said field, a task complicated by having to avoid enemies or obstacles moving around the area? If so, you should know that it was a Qix clone. My first was a Texas Instruments graphing calculator game called Jezzball.

Qix has a weird, robotic atmosphere. The predominant sound is a low buzzing, and the main enemy is this spiraling neon-lines effect that looks like it came out of an early-90s screensaver. What really gets me, though - and I am appallingly bad at this game, barely clearing the first level in several attempts - are these sparks that trace quickly around the edges of the playing area, making it possible for you to die even when you're not currently drawing a line. This is a cerebral game that could probably be a lot of fun if you're less hopeless at it than me.

0026. Scramble (Arcade)

With full-color displays now standard, developers (Konami in this case) continued to make interesting color choices. The uneven purple and green alien landscapes seem to undulate as you fly past them in this side-scrolling shoot-em-up; it feels kind of like being inside a lava lamp.

This game has you attempting to invade an alien base (the title screen bears the tagline: How far can you invade our scramble system?). There are six areas; when you die, you have to restart from the beginning of the current area. In addition to having to dodge or shoot enemies, you must keep an eye on your fuel, which you refill by shooting little towers marked "FUEL." These are hard to access, though, because you usually have to fly very low to shoot them, risking a crash.

I'm as tired of writing about how I suck at various arcade games as you probably are of reading about it, but facts are facts, and despite a number of attempts you couldn't get me to admit to under torture, I never got past area 2 of 6 of this game.

0027. Stargate (Arcade)

Stargate is a sequel to Defender. Uh oh.

According to the text, the developers decided to follow up the extremely challenging Defender by making the sequel even tougher, adding types of aliens designed specifically to cripple strategies that were effective in the original. It's all miles above my head, though - for me, a quarter in this game is a quarter soon wasted. Stargate is very similar to Defender, but with more alien types added and a few extra features like a warp hole that sends you to the other side of the map. It's hard for me, personally, to get into a game that I can't make much headway in, but to those with the patience and skill I'm sure this game is quite addictive.

0028. Venture (Arcade)

Venture is an unusual arcade game due to its extremely limited graphics. It's made up of lines and simple icons, invoking the same kind of "just pretend these are graphics" deal between producer and player usually made on the Atari 2600. Your character, Winky, is a little red smiley face with a parenthesis that is supposed to be a bow and arrow. If you can look past the laughable graphics, however, there's an interesting game here.

Venture is an action-adventure game where you collect treasures. You start out on a greatly zoomed-out "world map" showing the rooms you can explore on this level. You enter the rooms, take the treasure inside and hurry out - if you spend too long in any room, the invincible alien things from the world map will come in and chase you down. When you've collected the four treasures on a map, you move on to the next level; there are 36 treasures in total.

This game is really engaging; you want to grab that treasure, escape, and see what's next. Each of the 36 treasure rooms has its own design and its own type of enemy or obstacle. For example, there's a "wall room" where you must avoid crushing walls in order to retrieve a diamond and a "serpent room" where snakes guard an apple.

Unfortunately, this game can be as frustrating as it is fun. The enemies in the treasure rooms wobble about in a state of quantum indecision, ensuring that your shots almost never hit and making it a better idea in most cases to simply dodge the enemies while getting the treasure and getting out as quickly as possible. Another bad note is that every once in a while, you'll come out of a room and immediately run into an enemy on the world map, dying without even having a chance to dodge or see it coming. Still, I recommend giving this game a try; it's fun and an interesting relic that predicts games like Zelda.

0029. Ms. Pac-Man (Arcade)

Ms. Pac-Man started out as a ROM hack. By reverse engineering the original Pac-Man, a small company called General Computer Corporation hacked it into an enhanced game called Crazy Otto. American distributor Midway liked this game so much, they purchased the rights and turned it into Ms. Pac-Man. To me, this kind of response makes infinitely more sense than the typical way companies treat hackers and makers of fan projects like criminals today. Just think, if they'd responded that way back then we wouldn't have Ms. Pac-Man, one of the greatest arcade games ever.

Ms. Pac-Man does the unthinkable: it takes a game that is for all intents and purposes perfect and makes it even better. It has three mazes instead of Pac-Man's one, and features improved ghost behavior and bonus fruit that bounce around the maze instead of sitting in a spot you'll never go. There were other attempts to spice up basic Pac-Man (Jr. Pac-Man, for example), but they diluted the experience with unnecessary, unfun additions, screwing up the all-important core experience. Only Ms. Pac-Man refined that experience, and that's a singular feat of game design.

It's also worth mentioning the character, gaming's first female protagonist. A little lipstick and a bow added a lot of personality to the Pac-Man family. Ms. Pac-Man also features little cutscenes showing the relationship between Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man - in a hectic world of eating and running, they find time for love. How sweet.

I'm actually a little better at Ms. Pac-Man than the original, oddly; I made it to the sixth stage on my first try. When I was a kid, we had one of those miniature handheld "arcade cabinets" of Ms. Pac-Man; I'll always remember the time I got to the twentieth screen.

0030. Frogger (Arcade)

Konami's arcade hit Frogger is damn simple fun. The screen is bisected into a busy highway and a river filled with turtles and floating logs, and as a frog, all you need to do is hop from the bottom to the safety of one of the five safe havens at the top, over and over. The two segments are an interesting contrast, focusing on positive and negative space - on the road, you hop on the blacktop and avoid the cars, but on the river you must do the opposite, jumping onto the floating objects and avoiding the river below. By the way, am I the only one bothered by Frogger's instant death upon landing in the river? He's a frog, for crying out loud! They are nothing if not prodigious swimmers!

Frogger is a game that looks like it ought to be easy, but a great many hazards make it surprisingly challenging. My vote for most annoying problem are the turtles that dip underwater, often when you're standing on them. You get points for finishing quickly and bonuses for escorting a lost fellow frog and for hopping into a cove while it has a fly inside.

It was fun playing Frogger again. When I was a kid, we had a shareware clone called "Revenge of Froggie" that I spent many hours on. It kept a running total telling you how many quarters you'd saved. Oh, memories.

0031. Gorf (Arcade)

Another space shmup, Gorf is a real oddity. It features five stages on a loop. The first level, "Astro Battles," is friggin' Space Invaders. They even use the same alien sprites! I am dead serious. The only difference is that you get a big, one-way shield that blocks enemy shots but not yours. After the second level, which features enemies with laser-line weapons, the third stage is an even more amazing ripoff - not only do they use the famous sprite from Galaxian, they go ahead and call the level "Galaxians." I have no clue how they got away with this. There's then a level where enemies come out from a vanishing point, and a boss called the "Flag ship." Each successful loop raises your "space rank," displayed on the lower right.

While its wildly varying and blatantly ripped-off stages are amusing, I don't really think Gorf ranks as a classic. The main thing holding it back is the fact that every time you hit the fire button, your current shot is canceled - this feels totally unnatural and is hard to get used to. The game lacks the polish overall of the games it rips off. I suspect it might have ended up in the book only because of the voice chip that insults you when you lose, but MAME sadly does not reproduce this element. It's too bad, because that sounds hilarious. I looked it up on Youtube, actually, and it is. The voice chip is the absolute worst imaginable, just barely managing to push out syllables that... sorta sound like speech? "Long live Gorf" indeed.

0032. Ultima I (Apple II)

The original Ultima is very difficult to play today. It doesn't hold up well at all, with the dated interface (hope you've memorized which keyboard key does what action), lack of direction, and difficulty. A successful play revolves around time spent entering a dungeon, fighting one or two enemies near the entrance, exiting and repeating. As dull as this is, if you try to bite off any more than that you'll die for sure. Speaking of biting, you also have to periodically buy food just to move around on the overworld. Doesn't that sound fun?

However, it's easy nonetheless to see why this game is on the list. The graphics, though primitive, allow for the creation of a huge world with a top-down, tiled overworld and first-person dungeons. Even while cursing the game's clunkiness, there's an amazing feeling as you realize that it all started here - this is the game that launched the RPG genre. Again, we see that this book places a lot of value on historical importance, and I can't say I blame them in this case. Even though actually playing the game is a chore, its impact is impossibly far-reaching.

Although I didn't get far in this game, I hear it gets kind of nuts. It starts out with a typical medieval setting, but by the end you'll be using a spaceship, blaster guns and a time machine to go after the final boss. Is that bizarre or what?

That's it for 1981, a banner year for arcades to be certain. Next time, 1982's releases include Dig Dug, Miner 2049er and Q*Bert.   read

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