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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!
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About tim333one of us since 5:53 PM on 12.11.2007

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.