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Community Discussion: Blog by tim333 | I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 4Destructoid
I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 4 - Destructoid

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Regarding my 1001games project: There's only one deadline. I haven't hit it yet!

I'm a 90s gamer and Sega kid for life. I like platformers, adventure games and JRPGs. I'm not that into first-person shooters or sports games.

I spend more of my time playing older games than new ones. I do have a PS3 now, though, and I like buying games on PSN. I like the Wii and have a ton of games for it. I'm encouraged by some of the stuff out on Wiiware - to me, games like Bit.Trip Beat are more appealing than the "triple-A" titles coming out on the HD consoles.

Some of my all-time favorite games are Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Dragon Quest III, Heroes of Might and Magic III, The Curse of Monkey Island, and Dance Dance Revolution.
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Week Nine

FOUR

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.

Progress:
*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.

Progress:
*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?

King: MMMMMMF! MMMMMMFFF!

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

Progress:
*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.

Progress:
*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.

*Fox:...so 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...

Progress:
*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...

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.

Progress:
*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?

Progress:
*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.

~Epilogue~

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.
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