Monday, December 2, 2019

Game 349: Dragon Warrior (1986)

But does he possess the Power of the Glow?
            
Dragon Warrior
AKA Dragon Quest (original Japanese title)
Japan
Chunsoft (developer), Enix (publisher)
Released 1986 for MSX and NES (Japan); English version released for NES in 1989
Date Started: 22 November 2019
Date Ended: 30 November 2019
Total Hours: 17
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5), adjustable based on how much you grind
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)
         
Dragon Warrior tells the tale of a hero out to defeat an enemy called the Dragonlord. You have to visit two small castles, six small cities, and four small dungeons to collect a series of clues and items necessary to make your way to the Dragonlord and beat him in combat. The whole enterprise takes about an hour.

Oh, except for the grinding. Which took another goddamned sixteen hours. Before I played Dragon Warrior, I thought I knew what it meant to "grind." I thought I'd done it, in fact, in games like The Bard's Tale and Wizard's Crown. I thought it could be kind of fun, allowing you to test out various attack and spell options that you might otherwise have neglected. I even opined on several occasions that I preferred games with a bit of grinding. All of that was before Dragon Warrior held me down and robbed me of my innocence.
          
Get used to this screen.
          
The basic setup of Dragon Warrior is that you start at a castle. Around the castle are slimes that earn you one hit point and one experience point. Eventually, you have to explore the entire land for the items and clues that will lead you to the endgame. This would only take you about one hour if there were no enemies. But the farther you get away from the castle, the harder the enemies become. At first, you care only about simple survival around the castle and its closest town, Brecconary. Soon, you reach a high enough level that those enemies are no longer a problem, but at that point you have to worry about surviving a trip through the ghosts and magicians that haunt the path to Garinham. Once that's accomplished, you have to get good enough to defeat the scorpions and skeletons blocking the way to Kol. Every time you start to feel like a badass, the game rudely reminds you that some new, tougher pack of enemies is hovering just over the horizon.
           
Alefgard, looking a lot like Britannia except that the enemy's castle is on Buccaneer's Den.
            
Except for the imbalance between gameplay and grinding, Dragon Warrior plays a lot like (and was clearly inspired by) an early Ultima. We've got a game world shaped almost exactly like Britannia from Ultima IV, including the position of the castle and first town. We have an iconographic interface. We have a Lord British-like king, a Mondain-like enemy, and a bunch of NPCs in between who offer one-line clues. Beyond this, the developers added some original elements, but not enough to make up for the sheer number of hours that you have to spend fighting slimes.

The backstory is mildly amusing, starting with its redundant opening words: "In olden days of yore." The realm of Alefgard was once cloaked in darkness--a darkness lifted when a brave warrior named Erdrick defeated "an evil being." To accomplish this feat, "he used balls of light." You might guess that the source of these magnificent balls was supernatural or heavenly, but no, they were simply "bequeathed to him by a friend." When the balls had done their work, Erdrick gave them to King Lorick, who brought peace to the land. But during the reign of King Lorik XVI, the evil Dragonlord stole the balls of light from Tantegel Castle, "and once again the kingdom of Alefgard was plunged into darkness." Enter the hero.
         
"Right now. This minute. Like, the moment you press START on your controller."
            
Character creation consists only of a name; everyone begins with 3 strength, 3 agility (speed), 15 hit points, 0 magic points, 3 attack power, and 1 defense power.
                   
"Character creation."
           
You and your GCLM start in Castle Tantegel (obviously a reference to Tintagel in Cornwall), speaking with King Lorik XVI, who does three things for you throughout the game. First, he tells you how many experience points you need for your next level. Second, he saves the game for you. The throne room is the only place you can save, which is a restriction I don't mind and even encourage. Third, he resurrects you when you die, although it costs half your gold.
         
I thought it was balls of light. Plural.
         
From the moment you leave Tantagel, you can see the Dragonlord's castle, Charlock, across the bay. Most of the non-grinding part of the game involves reaching his castle, made difficult because the world of Alefgard apparently has no boats.
          
Castle Tantagel, Brecconary, and Castle Charlock.
         
To reach Charlock's island, you have to use something called the "Rainbow Drop" to create a bridge from another nearby island. The Rainbow Drop is a fusion of the Stones of Sunlight (which are different from the Balls of Light, apparently) and the Staff of Rain, and the old wizard who performs this fusion will only do so if you find Erdrick's Token and thus prove that you're a descendant of Erdrick. Both the Staff of Rain and the Stones of Sunlight have a couple of precursor quests, but in general you get the idea. NPC clues lead you most of the way.
        
The end result of most of the games items and clues.
         
There's at least one major side-quest in the game, although come to think of it, I'm not sure how it can be a side quest. It involves the rescue of the king's daughter, Princess Gwaelin, from a green dragon in a dungeon. You'd think her kidnapping would be important enough to mention in the backstory, but the manual doesn't include it. It's not a tough battle after Level 10 or so; later, green dragons appear liberally as random encounters.
         
The dragon and princess.
          
The rescued princess professes her love for the hero and gives him an item called "Gwaelin's Love." Whatever it is, it allows him to communicate with her from anywhere in the game, and she takes over Lorik's responsibility of telling the hero how many experience points he needs for the next level. She also tells him where he is in respect to the castle, which I thought was fairly useless information until I got a clue to find Erdrick's Token 70 leagues south and 40 leagues east of the castle. Still, I feel like I could have figured out the location without Gwaelin's coordinates, so it makes me wonder what prevents me from winning the game without having rescued Gwaelin first. Since she shows up in the endgame, I assume something does.
           
I feel like I could have accomplished this by just counting steps.
            
Other than Erdrick's Sword, which is found in Charlock, this is all you need to defeat the enemy mechanically. Defeating him functionally is a different story. You can't hope to reach him, let alone defeat him, unless you're at least Level 18. I defeated him at Level 19, but it took me four tries and I was abusing save states to "reload."

This is where the grinding comes in. Level 19 requires 22,000 experience points, and if all you did was walk from city to city picking up clues and items, and then make your way to the Dragonlord, you'd only earn about 1,000 experience points from the random combats along the way. The other 21,000 experience points you must seek out for yourself.
         
The hustle and bustle of a typical Dragon Warrior town.
         
Combat comes upon you randomly as you wander across the landscape or through (most) dungeons, and it is more akin to Wizardry than Ultima. You only ever face one enemy at a time. He might surprise you and get a free attack, but otherwise combat begins with your options to fight, cast a spell, flee, or use an item. Running works often enough to get you out of a tight spot, but not so often that you can use it to pass through areas far above your level. The few items that you can use in combat stop being useful after the early levels. So most of the time, you're fighting or casting.

Fighting does a modest amount of damage based on your strength and weapon. Occasionally, you get lucky with a critical hit or (as the game has it) "excellent move." Occasionally, the enemy parries entirely.

Most of the strategy of combat, to the extent that it has any, is in the few spells. You acquire them in stages as you level up. "Heal" comes at Level 3 and greatly extends your ability to grind in between inn stops (resting at inns is the only way to restore all health and magic). "Hurt" (Level 4) harms enemies, and "Sleep" (Level 7) puts them to sleep for at least one round. "Stopspell" (Level 10) negates enemy magic, and "Healmore" (Level 17) and "Hurtmore" (Level 19) are super-powered versions of their weaker cousins.
             
Fighting a harder enemy late in the game. I had him under a "Sleep" spell, but he woke up at the last hit.
           
"Sleep" is pretty useful from the moment you acquire it, and if you're lucky it will put enemies to bed for enough rounds that you can hack them to death. The problem is that when you're grinding for a handful of experience points at a time, quantity is more important than quality. You want to stay in areas where you don't have to resort to "tactics"--where you can just hold down the "Fight" option and plow through them. This means that for the first hour, you're killing slimes, red slimes, and occasionally "drakees" around the castle for 1-2 experience points each.

Once you hit Level 5 (110 experience points), you can make it to the city of Garinham without dying. Then you're stuck battling ghosts, magicians, and "magidrakees" at 3-5 experience points each for a couple of hours until, say, Level 8. From there, you move to the city of Kol, which is surrounded by skeletons and scorpions with 6-11 experience points each. By Level 12 (4000 experience), you can survive for long periods of time on the large southern island (accessible through a dungeon), where warlocks, wolves, werewolves, wolflords, and wyverns occupy you for 13-40 points each.
            
The first level-up.
            
The far southern parts of the map are swarming with enemies capable of casting high-level spells. They include wraith knights, starwyverns, magiwyverns, green dragons, axe knights, and demon knights. The most valuable has maybe 70 experience points. I never reached a point where I was comfortable mindlessly grinding through this lot, but after you pass Level 13, you have the "Return" spell, which automatically warps you back to the safety of the castle, so you can afford to take more risks. I finished the game at Level 19 with 22,500 experience points, but it goes all the way to Level 30 and 65,535 experience points. Who in the world would take it that high?

Leveling up has a palpable effect on combat difficulty, with each new level contributing a boost in strength, agility, maximum hit points, maximum magic points, and perhaps a new spell. But you're not just grinding for the experience. You're also grinding for the gold, so you can buy improved equipment. (There are a handful of chests in the game, but not enough to deliver significant gold rewards.) Early in the game, you earn gold at a rate of about 1 for every 2 experience points, but against higher-level enemies the ratio reverses, and soon you're earning double the amount of gold as experience.
         
The paltry selection in the first town.
         
Gold is used to purchase weapons, which go in this order: bamboo pole (10 gold), club (60), copper sword (180), hand axe (560), broad sword (1500), and flame sword (9800). Armor progresses as follows: clothes (10), leather armor (70), chain mail (300), half plate (1000), full plate (3000), and magic armor (7700). Shields are small (90), large (800), and silver (14800). As you upgrade, the shop will give you half the value of your current items back to you, but it won't let you buy the new item until you have enough gold without considering the buy-back. So when you go to upgrade from chain mail to half plate, the shop will offer 150 for the chain mail, but you can only make the offer when you have the 1000 needed for half plate on its own, not 850.

At first, I thought it would be a constant mental struggle whether to buy the next incremental upgrade or hold out for a higher level. For instance, do you bother to upgrade from chain mail to half plate, or just save your gold until you can go to full plate? But you can't really move on until you have enough experience anyway, and getting to the requisite experience levels generally means that you have enough gold to hit every incremental improvement along the way. The only purchase that I felt was wasted was the magic armor, as I found "Erdrick's Armor" shortly after I bought it. Erdrick's Armor heals you 1 hit point every step you take and protects you against damage from swamps and magic barriers, and in an replay or walkthrough-assisted game, it would be worth a suicide mission, running from as many enemies as possible, as soon as you can plausibly hope to reach it.

The game has a few other usable items that are fairly clever. Dragon's scales raise your defense temporarily; fairy water prevents enemies from attacking for short periods; herbs restore hit points; and wings cast the "Return" spell and warp you back to the castle. You also have to buy magic keys to fully explore the interiors of towns and dungeons.

Once I had the necessary items and Erdrick's Armor, which generally assured I could reclaim my hit points between battles without wasting magic points, I decided to take on Castle Charlock. The first level has a throne but no occupant, and I had to fiddle around with search options to find a hidden staircase behind the throne.
    
My armor protects me against the magic barriers as I approach an empty throne.
          
Below the hidden stairs are eight dungeon levels, one of which has a chest holding Erdrick's Sword. Fortunately, I found it before meeting the Dragonlord because I understand it's necessary to kill him, yet I don't recall getting any clue to that effect.
             
That was lucky.
          
The bottom level is a large one, but you ultimately encounter the Dragonlord in his "real" throne. He immediately offers you a deal: "To share this world and to rule half of it if thou will now stand beside me." Of course I had to say yes the first time. He replied: "Really? [I think I had to say "yes" again.] Then half of this world is thine, half of the darkness, and . . . if thou dies, I can bring thee back for another attempt without loss of thy deeds to date. Thy journey is over. Take now a long, long rest. Hahahahaha . . . ." The screen turned red and the game was over.

I'm not really sure what happened there, but I think there was a glitch. "Without loss of thy deeds to date" is text from the king's offer to save your game. I suspect something else was supposed to appear there that made it clear the Dragonlord was betraying me. Or else it was an ironic echo of the king's offer.
         
I mean, I would like to take a long rest. But the "hahahahaha" part makes me suspicious.
           
Either way, I reloaded and said no. A battle against the Dragonlord commenced and ended after three rounds. But then, "The Dragonlord revealed his true self!" and turned into a dragon. I'd like to say this was a major plot twist, but he kind of gave it away by calling himself "Dragonlord."
              
It turns out he's kind of racist.
            
The dragon Dragonlord was much tougher, and as I mentioned above, it took me four tries to beat him. The issue was mostly that I needed to cast "Healmore" every two rounds, and eventually I would run out of magic points. (No other spells seem to work in battle against him.) If I had been playing without save states, waking up in the castle at every loss, I would have spent another few hours grinding. As it was, I just kept trying until I got a luckier sequence of random numbers where I only had to "Healmore" every three rounds instead of every two. That left me enough attacks in between to slice away his hit points.

Once he was dead: "Thou hast done well in defeating the Dragonlord. Thou hast found the Ball of Light. [I still want to know what happened to the other ones.] Across the land spreads the brilliance until all shadows are banished and peace is restored."
          
Was the Ball of Light really necessary as a plot point?
         
I was teleported back to the castle, where the king said that the legends were true and I was the "line of Erdrick." He offered me his throne, but the game had me automatically decline. "If ever I am to rule a country," Chester said, channeling Conan, "It must be a land that I myself find." One wonders how he'll "rule" a place that has no other people, but we'll let it go for now.
              
"I will have my own kingdom, my own queen."
           
Gwaelin immediately volunteered herself as a companion on my journey. (Honestly, I didn't mean to suggest I was leaving today.) The game offered me "yes" and "no" options, but if I said "no," Gwaelin responded, "But thou must!" and I got the "choice" again. So I made her happy by accepting. "And thus the tale comes to an end . . .  unless the dragons return again."
            
Which they will, at least 12 times, in the main series alone.
             
There was a nice animation of some trumpeters playing before the final screen. That puts me in mind to talk about the game music. Because I haven't otherwise focused much on music, I don't know what game first introduced the idea of multiple background themes for each major division of gameplay, including outdoor exploration, town exploration, dungeon exploration, and combat. The first that I can remember is Ultima IV, and it wouldn't surprise me if Sugiyama took his musical cues from Kenneth Arnold. But where Arnold's compositions are mostly homophonic, with one clear melody line supported by complementary chords, Sugiyama's uses a complex polyphony (multiple melodies operating at once). I thought the complexity was utterly lost on the era hardware, but I admired it nonetheless. Of course, I turned it off after a few minutes, as usual, because I don't like repetitive background music no matter how much I admire the counterpoint.
          
The winning screen.
          
As for the rest of the game, I found it trite and boring. The running-around-looking-for-clues portion is no more advanced than we saw in the original Ultima five years earlier, but instead of making a 6-hour game out of what they had, the developers of Dragon Warrior bulked things up with a lot of tedious grinding. However, the game is undoubtedly an RPG. It is probably the earliest console RPG (available in English, anyway) that we don't have to qualify with prefixes like "quasi-" and "proto-." On my GIMLET, it earns:
          
  • 2 points for a basic, uncomplicated game world.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. Character creation is nothing, but development is rewarding enough--the one thing other than sound that's more advanced here than in early Ultima.
        
My character sheet a little more than halfway through the game.
          
  • 4 points for NPCs. This is the earliest JRPG that I can remember to include a healthy number of clue-givers and lore-speakers.
           
NPCs offer a lot of one-line hints.
         
  • 2 points for encounters. Enemies aren't much differentiated except for those with spell abilities and those without. There are no non-combat encounters.
  • 2 points for magic and combat, both fairly primitive.
  • 3 points for equipment. The linear progression of weapons and armor is balanced by some creative usable items.
  • 4 points for the economy. It lacks complexity, but it sure does remain relevant for most of the game.
  • 3 points for quests. In addition to the main quest, there are a few side areas. Notably, I forgot to follow a clue to a "Warrior's Ring" that might have helped.
            
This should be standard in RPGs, but without the subsequent betrayal.
          
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I don't like the graphics of this era in general. I would prefer the smooth, crisp lines and distinct colors of pure abstract iconography over the early console era's attempts to depict complex things with limited hardware. (Graphics are credited to Akira Toriyama, better known as the creator of Dragon Ball.) The sound is occasionally fun but not in any way atmospheric. The console controls, infantile as they are, work reasonably well for the limited number of commands the game offers.
           
When you're bringing the princess home, the icon changes to show you carrying the princess--which is just a bit too difficult to convey using the graphics capabilities of the system.
          
  • 2 points for gameplay. Too linear, not replayable, and too long. I wouldn't say it's "too hard," because that depends on how long you make it, but even for a moderate level of difficulty, it's too long.
           
That gives us a final score of 29, which is below my recommended threshold but in some ways still high given its place as the first incontestable console RPG. I could see it whetting a player's appetite for RPGs, like Questron did for me, without being a great RPG itself.


Kurt Kalata covers the history of Dragon Warrior--or more properly Dragon Quest, as it's known in Japan--in an article at GamaSutra. Developers Yuji Horii and Koichi Nakamura attended the 1985 Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco and were enchanted with Wizardry and Ultima but deliberately decided to simplify Wizardry's combat mechanics for the average console player. (I find it amusing that the "dumbing down" of console games, often argued by computer game partisans and contested by console partisans, is directly confirmed by the accounts of early console developers.)

In Japan, sales were slow but ultimately developed quite well. The 1989 North American release (the one that I played) featured some upgrades from the original, including the hero's icon changing to match direction of travel and a battery save rather than a password save. It sold poorly and got mediocre reviews, as much more complex games had come along in the intervening period, but the game's enduring fame was assured when Nintendo Power started giving free copies to subscribers.

The name change in North America was due to the' tabletop RPG DragonQuest (originally a competitor to Dungeons and Dragons but acquired by TSR in 1989), but I'll revert to the original title in discussing the future. Dragon Quest II came out in 1987 for the MSX and NES (North American release in 1990) and Dragon Quest III a year later (North American release in 1992). Each stepped up the complexity of inventory, economy, and combat, and most of all allowed for multiple characters in the party and multiple enemies in combat. After that, the public got a new Dragon Quest game every two-to-five years, culminating in Dragon Quest XI in 2017. Dragon Quest XII is currently under development. The main series has kept the same primary team of developers throughout its history.

A spinoff series called Dragon Quest Monsters started in 1998 (last release in 2016), heavily inspired by Pokémon. The Mystery Dungeon series (1993-2006) were a quartet of roguelikes based on Dragon Quest characters and themes. One common enemy in the Dragon Quest environment, Slime, got an action-adventure series between 2003 and 2011. There were also board games, card games, manga, novels, and anime. The main series has continued to enjoy western releases, and Enix has been able to use the original title since 2003, when they registered Dragon Quest in the United States with no objections from the then-owners of the DragonQuest copyright, Wizards of the Coast.

I think only the most recent release, Dragon Quest XI, is on my official list, as it's the only one to appear on the computer as well as the console. We'll see if I ever reach it or get to any of the others. This week, Dragon Warrior was supposed to be a quick piece that I was going to hold in reserve in case I failed to make my publication goals on any of the primary games, but it took me so long that I had to publish it immediately instead of the next Challenge of the Five Realms entry. I should have learned a long time ago that I can never plan for a four-hour, one-entry game, no matter how primitive the mechanics. Such games do happen, but only when you aren't deliberately counting on them.

Between Dragon Warrior, Bokosuka Wars, Deadly Towers, and the PC JRPGs that I've managed to play, I'm satisfied that I've covered enough of the early JRPG era and early console era. If I decide to try a console game again, I'll feel comfortable leaping to one of the landmark games from the late 1980s rather than experiencing everything in between. But don't look for that soon.

167 comments:

  1. Didn't expect to see a Dragon Warrior entry when I stopped by today. The GIMLET was about what I expected, and suffice it to say the sequels get steadily better up to around V when the series plateaus for a while. Europe had to wait even longer for our first mainline Dragon Quest game: Dragon Quest VIII in 2006.

    Curiously enough, and you just reminded me of it by choosing to accept the Dragonlord's offer, but there's a spin-off game I played earlier this year where Erdrick taking the offer was canonical and the world went downhill fast with no-one left to thwart the big villain. (It's the Minecraft-inspired 3D construction game, Dragon Quest Builders, for the record.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I think it was a fair review. Even Dragon Warrior 2 is a substantial improvement over the first game in virtually every way, although it was still very grindy. The first game in the series I can see Chet having much regard for is 3, which finally gets the basic RPG mechanics up to the ballpark of Wizardry.

      The first Final Fantasy holds up better, despite being buggy and in many ways more primitive than Dragon Warrior. Party-building and fighting multiple enemies at once makes the combat feel a lot less repetitive. There's still a decent amount of grinding, but it's not quite as tedious (or as necessary, depending on party composition).

      This bears out (anecdotally, at least) in that FF1 has had a surprisingly lively afterlife in the emulation world with solo challenges, job challenges (all thieves, etc.), randomizer playthroughs, and so on. There aren't really any fun ways to get through DW1 without grinding -- aside from luck-manipulating speedruns, a "low level" run in DW1 has you finishing the game at level 18 (or 17, but that's totally luck-based), which is a level below where Chet was.

      (Of course, FF1 has its own unique torments for players that some would argue go beyond simple grindiness.)

      Delete
  2. "Who in the world would take it that high?"
    My brother, father, and I did. We got the game to play as a screener version for the video store chain that my mom worked for. We swapped on and off between the 3 of us for a week straight, culminating in me beating the Dragonlord half an hour before Easter breakfast. We grinded a lot since we got lost a lot on where we needed to go (chalk it up to my brother and I being 6+7 at the time, rather than the difficulty or obtusivity of the game)

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's great to see this included as a contrast to the rest of CRPG history. But everytime I advocated for covering these early console games the little voice in my head always questioned whether it was decent of me to inflict the inevitable grinding?

    But I wasn't sure if the grinding here was any worse than what's already been covered. Now we know!

    I played this as a kid and was able to blissfully zone out to the slowly increasing numbers, but I can't understand the appeal anymore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Grinding happens to just be particularly tedious and braindead in this game due to only being able to fight a single enemy with a single at a time. Fortunately, II and III came along to remedy that rather quickly.

      It's unfortunate that Chet was subjected to sixteen hours of grinding, but at least now he won't also be subjected to people telling him to play a console RPG. One could make a case for... any of the other Dragon Quests being less "trite and boring" than this one, but oh well.

      At least his score is fair and his observations on point - I don't think I've ever, ever seen anyone point out how much Alefgard resembles Britannia, or how the town and castle at the beginning mirror the locations of Britain and Lord British's castle. It says a lot for games as famous as Dragon Quest and Ultima.

      Fingers are crossed for DQIII being his next console RPG of choice.

      Saving the princess is completely optional, by the way.

      Delete
    2. By the way, the Fighter's Ring does boost your Strength and Speed, but only by 2, so I don't think it would have made the final battle any easier.

      Delete
  4. Dragon Warrior is really nostalgic for me because it's the first console RPG I ever played. I still remember at least one background theme. It always seemed so cheerful to go back to that after a battle was over. But I never finished the game, so I didn't know the extent of the grinding. Nowadays I have plenty of better things to do with my time.

    I also remember there was one narrow strip of land with harder enemies that was reachable from an easier area. So it was possible to leapfrog at least some of the early-mid leveling by carefully tackling one or a few of the harder enemies at a time and then retreating and healing as needed.

    You didn't mention this, but I think the name you choose affects your starting stats in a deterministic way, which is actually a rather notable method of character creation. This isn't apparent if you only ever use the same name, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't know about that. What do you suppose is the range on the starting statistics, then?

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Character stats and progression are based on the numbers assigned to the letters of the name you choose. The alphabet, numbers and symbols are arranged in a matrix and their values are assigned. Then the game adds up the total of the values, divides by 16 and the remainder becomes the determining factor. Each possible remainder is assigned to a progression track.
      Most Dragon Warrior FAQs will explain the whole process in better detail.
      My friend and I noticed we'd get different stats if we put in our own names. His started out higher and progressed differently than mine.

      Delete
    4. There is a calculator here:
      https://guides.gamercorner.net/dw/name-stats/

      Delete
    5. Oddly enough, according to the calculator, "John" is a very good name choice. The differences are most pronounced early on, though. At higher levels, the different bonus values for different names have much less effect.

      Delete
    6. A long as two of the letters in 'chet' are capitalised, you have the optimal configuration in some sense. No penalties til level 10.

      Delete
    7. I more or less expected someone to tell Chet where he lost time in grinding, because he missed some trick. But I didn't expect it to be the heroe's name.

      Delete
  5. As far as grinding for levels and cash, I'm surprised you didn't mention the Metal Slime and Gold Golem enemies - Metal Slimes especially are rare and a pain to kill, but the XP bonus is huge and can definitely help speed up the leveling process.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Metal Slimes are far too rare to be a reliable source of experience in this game. It's not like later games where you have skills allowing you to force encounters.

      Delete
    2. Hmm, I remember being able to find them in a specific area where you could just button-mash through combat until you find one (then button-mash through the Slime and hope you get lucky), but I may be thinking of a later game in the series.

      Delete
    3. I could never kill a metal slime before it fled from combat on its own.

      Delete
    4. I'm not sure I've ever successfully killed a metal slime in Dragon Warrior. The sequel, yes.

      Delete
    5. Unlike later games, the metal slimes in I don't have as high defense. In the early twenties, I think, you start doing more damage, eventually killing them in one hit.

      Delete
    6. The metal slimes were always the holy grail for me, but often more frustrating than successful. I have killed some, but it usually took a critical hit, or maybe as Drawde says I was at higher levels. The ongoing love/hate relationship with them (plus Wizardry's creeping coins) inspired the platinum pudding scene in "The Eight-Bit Bard."

      Delete
  6. Yeah. DQ 1 is incredibly primitive, and only valuable as a historical footnote. Two points raised by the article:

    " Still, I feel like I could have figured out the location without Gwaelin's coordinates, so it makes me wonder what prevents me from winning the game without having rescued Gwaelin first. Since she shows up in the endgame, I assume something does."

    Nothing does. Rescuing Gwaelin is entirely unnecessary if you use alternate methods to find the Token. She shows up at the end regardless.


    "I suspect something else was supposed to appear there that made it clear the Dragonlord was betraying me. Or else it was an ironic echo of the king's offer."

    It's kind of subtle, but you can see it in your screenshots - your character's sprite adds a weapon, helmet, and shield once you have one of those things equipped. If you say "yes" to the Dragonlord, all three disappear, suggesting that you've lost all your equipment. It is pretty clear that this is a "I can't believe you fell for that!" ending that doesn't work quite right.

    As to the next two games, DQII adds in much needed tactical complexity by having a multiple-member party and multiple enemies (including groups specifically designed to work together and become much harder than the same monsters separately would be), but the last third of the game is extremely broken due to poor playtesting, to the point where a fairly common enemy group has a "Your party dies, no save" TPK spell near the end. III fixes that problem while improving the storyline (including the huge plot twist that gur cebgntbavfg bs gur guveq tnzr vf gur yrtraqnel Reqvpx, naq gur ragver tnzr vf n cerdhry gb gur svefg tnzr) and offering genuine character creation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, DQI had slightly different endings based on the princess. Rescue the princess and return her (the normal ending); rescue her but don't talk to the king (carrying her the entire time); and don't rescue her (leave by yourself). There's not much difference, but it's there.

      On II's difficulty spike near the end, as I understand it an entire dungeon got dropped but the later difficulty didn't get adjusted. So the Cave to Rhone ended up being harder than it should have been.

      Delete
  7. Before I played Dragon Warrior, I thought I knew what it meant to "grind."

    Heh, this was oddly gratifying to read, in a "I now feel the impulse to engage in slow, vaguely evil laughter" way.

    But yes, JRPGs of this era are famously grindy -- to a degree I think you may have underestimated before now. And Dragon Warrior isn't even the worst offender in that department, though it's certainly up there. I enjoyed it at the time and I think I did another playthrough at some point in the early 2000s, but it's a game best suited for multitasking.

    Or you could just beat it in 27 minutes and change:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bgh30BiWG58

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I watched the video for a while, and I don't really understand what he was doing, but I'm confident it's nothing I could have used to speed up my own experience.

      Delete
    2. It occurs to me that if the Addict ever plays Shin Megami Tensei, like so many of us have been clamoring for he'll just be flat out disgusted. Is there even one that isn't overwhelmingly grindy from the period? I'm no big JRPG fan, precisely for the obvious reason. I'm not even sure there are many modern JRPGs that aren't a back and forth between grinding and story.

      Delete
    3. If it's the video I think it is the players is manipulating the RNG table for the game to force certain events when he wants them. It's super-optimized game play for people interested in speed running and such.

      Delete
    4. I think the key to speedruns of games like this is usually to understand the internals of how the software's random number generator works, and time your button inputs so you always get as close to perfect results in combat. That allows you to quickly level by reliably landing critical blows on metal slimes, and stuff like that.

      Delete
    5. The grindiness is what always put me off the genre (along with the anime aesthetics which I don't care for). Funny to see that even Chet has an issue with it, even though he previously stated he likes grinding.

      Delete
    6. I still have no idea what anyone is talking about. What does it actually mean to "manipulate the RNG table," and how is it possible to "time your button inputs" to invisible numbers that are randomly generated?

      Delete
    7. The way random numbers worked in the early NES is random, but somewhat determinative. So speed-runners of this game have worked out exact paths to follow and buttons to press on JUST the right background noise such that "random" numbers line up in your favor.

      I have seen videos where this was done such that there were nearly no encounters and every hit was a "critical", but I have no idea how tool-assisted those were and if we just saw the good outcome of a thousand tries.

      Lots of speedruns take advantage of bugs and quirks like this and I don't really like it, but I do like it more than the glitch runs where someone says they can warp to the ending screen and somehow consider that a "win". The speedrun community is dedicated but get something very different out of these games than I do.

      Delete
    8. I like watching glitched speedruns. I like the insights they give about a games' internal workings, and I also like to laugh at games with glaring oversights or hilarious exploits.

      I suppose speedrunning is like any other bragging-rights challenge in a game you've played millions of times. By the time you consider such a challenge, the game itself is just scenery you barely think about; it's all about thw goal, whether it's achievements, adhering to a restriction, or minimizing your time to complete the game.

      Delete
    9. Also, my own two cents about "manipulating randomness:" often times, the random factor in these old games was based on some other, known quantity. For example, Pac-Man is entirely deterministic; if you input the same commands, the game will play the same way every time, though it seems random to a casual observer.

      A common speedrun trick in Final Fantasy games is that the encounters you get are based on the total number of steps you've taken in the save file, or in a given room. Thus, by taking a very precise route through the game, they can skip troublesome encounters and get experience and items just as they're needed.

      Delete
    10. While I find rng manipulation and glitches funny, i'd prefer an 'as intended' speedrun in most cases.

      I wanna watch someone do basically what I do, but do it way better.

      Delete
    11. Basically, no random number on a computer is genuinely "random;" there's always some math formula that generates it. Generally, there's a "seed" that you put in the first time you run the formula (usually something random-ish like the current time), and the sequence of random numbers you get is always the same, given that seed. So if you know what seed the game's RNG uses, and you know how to figure out the sequence of numbers you'll get, and you know what actions consume a value from that sequence, you can plan your actions so that they always consume a number that's advantageous to you. That's why you'll sometimes see these videos walk back and forth for a bit, or pass turns in combat, or that kind of thing; they're trying to skip numbers in the random sequence that they don't want.

      It's not too hard to do when you're running frame-by-frame in an emulator, since you can actually watch the numbers in memory in real time. It's pretty darn impressive that anyone can do it live, though.

      Delete
    12. Of course I understand how a seed works, but you just gave me the first useful bit of information since I started asking these questions: When the tournament players are playing, they're able to actually see the randomly-generated numbers, and thus can reject (pass) those they don't want.

      Delete
    13. Well, for speedrunning tournaments, not so much. Generally, they are literally just playing the game as efficiently as possible. The ones that monitor the "RNG" and use savestates and frame advance to get the most optimal play are called "Tool-Assisted Speedruns", or TAS for short. While it's possible for speedruns to use steproutes to manipulate things, it's not the same as actually watching memory, which for any kind of competition is more than likely disallowed.

      Delete
    14. When the tournament players are playing, they're able to actually see the randomly-generated numbers, and thus can reject (pass) those they don't want.

      As MaxKnight said, they do that beforehand during practice, but for any kind of competition -- or any kind of gameplay for exhibition purposes, like Awesome Games Done Quick -- they're generally using real hardware, and have no way to memorize those values. It's all done on the fly.

      Think of it this way. If every time you started up an RPG, you could predict the first ten rolls of a gambling game based on the exact in-game time, with one of (let's say) 20 possible sequences, then you could obviously destroy the game's economy by making ridiculous amounts of money. This is that, but applied to every parameter of gameplay at a much faster pace.

      Delete
    15. have no way to memorize those values

      Typo for "monitor those values".

      Delete
  8. Dragon Warrior is the archetypical JRPG at least until the end of the 16-bit era. The theoretically open world with gated progression, the turn-based combat, the consumable inventory items and linear equipment upgrades, and - most of all, by far - the grinding for levels are the centrepiece of the console JRPG genre for the next decade.

    The only major developments we're missing here are:
    (a) the party - Dragon Quest I is a little unique in having a single protagonist rather than a party of predefined characters;
    (b) the story - later JPRGs of the era (though moreso the Squaresoft titles than Dragon Quest itself) get MUCH better at storytelling, quickly surpassing Western RPG storytelling of the same era (at least in terms of pre-written content, although Western titles continue to benefit from emergent story resulting from their more sandboxy systems); and
    (c) idiosyncratic leveling schemes - it becomes fairly standard for each new JRPG, even titles within the same franchise, to come up with a new method for managing character levelling and ability growth, generally quite deep and interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And if you're skipping ahead in JRPGs to find something iconic, I'd suggest either Dragon Quest IV or V (although era-accurate English language versions might be a challenge - not sure if there's a fan patch for the original games), or Final Fantasy IV, V or VI.

      Delete
    2. Dragon Quest IV did have a NES release; it's V and VI (SFC titles) that never made it to the US.

      Delete
    3. Regarding your (c), I think that's the disconnect between Chet's perception of console RPGs being "dumbed down" and the fan objection to that characterization. The original generation of JRPGs was certainly simpler than the games that inspired them, both because of hardware/interface limitations and a desire to make the games easier for the younger audience (an audience that's always five seconds of frustration away from swapping in the Mario cartridge).

      But JRPGs since then have developed on their own, and by the mid-90s had reintroduced quite a lot of crunch. The Addict is currently in 1992, the year Final Fantasy V came out. And that's a game that still has a substantial player base on the basis of its mechanics. It's also the first year where we can really see the beginnings of the long, slow shift on the CRPG side to the dominance of the action RPG (with some of the crunchiest games of the year, Ultima Underworld and Darklands, both having realtime combat). These days, some of the densest, most "classic" turn-based RPGs are from Japan (or heavily inspired by Japanese games).

      Delete
    4. But if the dumbing down was a way to make the games easier to play for a younger audience that's impatient and would switch to Mario when frustrated, why include so much tedious grinding that quickly drains all motivation to go on? :P

      Delete
    5. I always wondered the same thing. Grinding got so bad in games that I gave up playing CRPGs for a long time.
      My guess is split between two possibilities: Lengthen a linear game so players feel they got something for their money or grinding is just what you do in a CRPG.
      It's probably more of the former but the history of gaming shows how ideas keep getting recycled.

      Delete
    6. The big thing wasn't deliberate dumbing-down or padding. It was fundamentally the same thing that makes the early Ultimas so clunky - the designers were doing something new and didn't really know what they were doing and how best to use their limited resources.

      There was also the additional complication that these were not hobby games or a one-man business - they were the products of already-successful companies that were leery of committing too much budget to a type of game there was little market data for, so development resources were thin.

      Delete
    7. @JarlFrank: Children often find repetition less tedious than adults do. They even find it comforting. Spending an hour working on repetitive, easy tasks in order to complete a goal might be less frustrating than spending an hour repeatedly trying and failing to complete a single difficult task. I know a lot of people who, when talking about their "favorite Nintendo game as a kid", will also mention that they never actually beat it.

      Delete
    8. Hold on with b) Do you really say that Squarrsoft RPGs had better stories or storytelling than Origin for example? Or New World Computing or Wasteland or...

      Delete
    9. Risingson Carlos - look, obviously it's subjective, and we're all here because we love all of these games, and certainly I have a lot of love for the Ultima series and Might and Magic.

      And I don't think there's anything real to be gained in arguing about what the best stories are, because obviously the best stories are the ones that we enjoyed the most, and that varies from person to person.

      So take the following as personal thoughts, rather than an attack on your preferences or a suggestion that you're in any way wrong:

      I love Ultima, but I think the Ultima series has pretty terrible storytelling. Ultima I to IV have basically no story other than what's in the manual, and the ones after that don't have much more than that, even my personal favourite, Ultima VII. It's hard to describe the plot of any of that franchise to another person in a way that forms an entertaining story with an introduction, complication, rising action and climax.

      Might and Magic even moreso. Surely no one plays those for the story? They're about the exploration, loot and combat, yes?

      I haven't played Wasteland, won't comment on it, but Fallout 1 certainly did have good writing and I won't knock it - possibly not on a "whole of story" level, but definitely from moment to moment.

      But what I'm talking about is that particularly Squaresoft adopted a cinematic approach to RPG storytelling from fairly early - at least from Final Fantasy IV - that's just far more detailed and comprehensive than what the west were doing in the same era.

      Partly they get to do this by having pre-defined characters with pre-defined backstories. But there's also this real emphasis on "how do we use the limitations of our engine to convey story?" They develop a whole visual language for conveying emotion, pacing, and mood using their little chibi sprites that's so pervasive now that we perhaps understate just how impressive it was, and how it really didn't exist before that.

      I can't immediately think of a lot of western RPG titles that were operating at that level in that period. They were mostly still trying to create a better D&D - focused on giving players more options, larger worlds, more simulationist systems. Which is what I love about that tradition - the sandboxy feel of it, the sense of control being given to the player that JRPGs rarely offer - but it is what it is.

      Delete
    10. I think the grind-heavy ways of Dragon Quest are to some degree reflective of Japanese problems: an education system build on rote memorization and a toxic work culture. While you'll find these things to some degree in any country, a lot has been written over the past decades about how they're taken to another level in Japan. How teenagers, when school's out in the afternoon or during vacation, go to another school to cram. How workers stay at their jobs long after hours, not even necessarily doing anything important beyond fulfilling the expectation. How prospective cooks spend years sweeping floors and boiling water before they're allowed to do any cooking.

      Some Japanese works are a rejection of those ways, but Dragon Quest leans right into them, and so we have a series where success is mostly a time check. Did you put in the appropriate number of hours? If yes, you win, if not, back to the grind.

      This also explains why Dragon Quest hasn't remotely the same popularity elsewhere in the world. For people who haven't been conditioned to always be chipping away at busywork, its structure is alien to fun.

      Delete
    11. That comes off as more than a little bigoted, and it doesn't make much (or rather, any) internal sense.


      Grinding drops off dramatically in all later games in the series. Meanwhile, the reason that it did poorly outside of Japan has nothing to do with it representing the mindset of those inscrutable alien Japanese people, but for exactly the reason the Addict points out in the article. The first game was released outside of Japan a full THREE YEARS after the original Japanese release - III was already out in Japan, and IV was almost finished. This meant that the US release was competing against much more advanced titles, most importantly the original Final Fantasy (released two years later than DQ1 in Japan, but only about six or seven months later in the US). Two years isn't such a big deal nowadays, but in that era it was an eternity Consider how "well" Might And Magic I would have fared if it was going up against (and cost exactly the same price as) Pool Of Radiance, for example.

      II, III, and IV weren't quite as delayed, but they were mostly competing against 16 bit SNES (which was released stateside the year before DQ III made it to the US) games (the actual reason the real Final Fantasy II and III were not localized), and thus were effectively antiques.

      Delete
    12. @Gnoman, Although I think that you're right that the popularity of DQ is tied more to release date that cultural differences, I think that you're maybe too quick to judge by saying that Man of Stone is being a "bigot" for seeing game development differences as being tied to culture. Surely you don't think it's a total coincidence that Japanese people love work-ethic heavy RPGs and Americans love shooters.

      Delete
    13. Bigoted? It's not bigoted at all. And "inscrutable"? Inscrutable literally means mysterious or unexplainable. His entire comment was explaining it, which is the opposite of inscrutable.

      Have you ever lived in Japan? I have. I find his explanation insightful. It's nothing against Japanese, if you talk to them they will readily admit their own problems.

      Delete
  9. Oh, also, the version of this I played was the modern official Android release, which has higher-res graphics, a gorgeous orchestral score, and built in save state support. Highly recommended as one of the few times Square-Enix did a mobile release of anything that was respectful of the game and of the audience.

    But it must have a vastly improved (modernised?) levelling curve because I finished it in a few hours.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow, you played the actual NES version? You poor bastard... I'm actually impressed it only took you 16 hours of play to win it.

    The Android release is not just better graphics and translations, but they smoothed out the leveling curse and pacing tremendously, as GregT notes.

    In DQ2, I remember most of us had to use a cheat to kill a static enemy over and over to get a valuable item you could sell for $14k cash and that way evade a lot of the game's intended money grinding. I didn't have to do this with the Android version; I actually found the pacing rather well done.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The only other 8-bit JPRG on consoles I would recommend you consider are:

    - Final Fantasy on the NES
    - Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System

    The latter because it's actually a fairly unique and interesting title, with a feminine lead character.

    As for FF... I almost ALMOST want to advise playing a later updated version, simply because the NES version is so horribly grindful and has terrible interfaces to boot. When the NES Power Guide tells you: "Stay put, grind to level 9 from level 2-3. Also buy 99 heal and cure potions." it's like OH COME ON!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aww, but then he'd miss out on spell slots and having to use cabins to save and attacks not redirecting from slain enemies and how basically not a single piece of magical equipment actually works exactly how it was intended and the multiple spells that don't actually do anything and how running away is glitched in a way that makes it nearly always pointless to try!

      (Some people argue the FF1 remakes are too easy, but I think in the balance they're more worth playing. On the other hand, the FF2 remakes kind of lose the charm by getting rid of the most broken mechanics; it's just not a very interesting game once you get past that.)

      Delete
    2. Phantasy Star is even worse when it comes to grinding from what I remember, but it looks pretty good to this day. In Japan there were obviously tons of turn-based RPGs, inspired by Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, but in all honesty very few of them are anything more than average. I'd say he could try Metal Max, Ninja Rahoi!, Lagrange Point or Sweet Home as well, just to see that JRPGs could be much more diverse, but even then without huge expectations, since most of the caveats apply to them too.

      Delete
    3. Use the Kyzoku trick until you can afford FIR2 and HRM2, then go straight to the Peninsula of Power to get to Level 10 or so in no time at all. Easy. If you want to grind to endgame levels after that, the Eye in the Ice Cavern and the Zombie Dragons in the Castle of Ordeals can get you there in a cinch.

      The original Final Fantasy is not particularly hard to grind out. And really, if you pick your encounters and party members carefully, you really don't need to grind all that much at all. It's even easier in Origins since more of the buffs work and you never have to throw away enchanted items or armor.

      Delete
    4. Your comment on magical equipment is also very misleading. It's true that none of the weapons designed to be effective against X actually are, but the ones that cast spells when used as items all work as intended (except for the Giant's Gloves, since SABR is bugged). And later weapons end up being more useful anyway, due to crit rates also being bugged.

      As for Vancian magic and "Ineffective" hits, I doubt those will bother Chet too much, since Wizardry works the same way.

      Finally, I really and truly hope Chet decides to refrain from playing any version of the game from Dawn of Souls onwards, because it would bore him to tears. I get that MP is more familiar to the young 'uns, but it just breaks the game.

      Delete
    5. I've played the GBA port of Final Fantasy 1 in the past, and now I'm playing the NES version with a (mostly) bugfix mod. So far I'm enjoying the latter more.

      Since with the mod mechanics work as intended, I guess it is somewhat easier than the original. But the combination of spell slots, limited saving and non-existence of Phoenix Down does a great job of capturing the early Wizardry tension of "half my party's dead, the other half poisoned, let's try to optimize the shortest route to a city and hope I don't run into any nasty enemies". I like that a lot.

      I also guess that limited resources made the game less grindy for me, since often I'm forced to retreat, heal and resupply multiple times before reaching my next destination, making more progress every time and gaining levels in the process.

      Delete
    6. @Adamantyr I'd make the same suggestions. After those two, CRPGs for consoles were just more of the same. Grinding on linear paths. The action adventure genre played out much better with consoles.
      I loved Phantasy Star over Dragon Warrior. It gave us better graphics, a 3D dungeon system and a team of PCs to use.FF1 was a big improvement over DW but it's really not all that good in hindsight. Console games become worth playing when the 16 but era comes around. They are finally able to match what PC games could do when consoles switched over to disc media and could store a lot more information.

      Delete
    7. Phantasy Star has an upfront grinding problem, in that you probably need to get to about level 5 before you start out on your main quest without fear of Game Overing, but after that you should be good.

      I do love the game though, so I second that recommendation.

      Delete
    8. The original Final Fantasy is interesting in that if you go into it blind you will find a lot of weird stuff that can be frustrating, but if you take the time to learn the mechanics you can break it utterly. I did a solo White Wizard playthrough as my first legit playthrough of the NES game, on my actual NES, and it wasn't too bad. The random encounter table starts at just the right spot on the Peninsula on a hard reset of the game, so you can immediately bust out all those HRM2s. You can actually give yourself 100% run chance if you know how the mechanic is calculated and save scum a bit for your level ups.

      Delete
    9. I don't see much point in a historical blog that plays through remakes and not originals.

      Delete
  12. I replayed this on the Switch very recently. The Switch version (which I believe is based on an earlier mobile phone version) dramatically reduces the grinding in the early game so you can do early exploration a lot more quickly.

    The names in the Japanese version were also significantly different. The legendary hero was named ロト /roto/, and Tantagel Castle was named ラダトーム /radatoumu/. I think the names, and the style of the writing, were changed in localization to make it feel more Arthurian and familiar in the context of Western fantasy.

    The "balls of light" thing is also a translation issue, since Japanese doesn't explicitly distinguish between singular or plural. Whoever wrote the translated manual probably didn't talk much to whoever wrote the translated in-game text; this was pretty normal in those days.

    I think there's slightly different text in the ending if you never rescue the princess, and again if you defeat the Dragonlord while still carrying the princess. That might be only in the mobile/Switch remake, though; I'm not sure.

    I think there's also a hint somewhere about the passage behind the throne in Charlock. I don't remember exactly where you get it, though. Searching Google turns up a reference to an old man in Rimuldar who mentions Erdrick finding a hidden entrance in the Dragonlord's room.

    As far as the interface goes... I'd describe this as the beginning of JRPGs refining the unnecessarily unwieldy controls of games like Ultima. The early Ultima games shoehorned in 26 commands to take full advantage of the giant keyboard, and most of them were just redundant variants on "interact with the thing in front of you" or "use an item from your inventory." Console games like Dragon Quest, not having a giant 26-key keyboard to waste, had to optimize their interfaces accordingly, generally for the better of the genre. Even Dragon Quest still has some unnecessary commands; having to explicitly select "DOOR" or "STAIRS" is only slightly less silly than Ultima's ridiculous "[K]limb," "[D]escend" and "[J]immy -> [O]pen" system. Fortunately, later Dragon Quest games and other console RPGs figured out how silly this is and reduced most of the interface down to one button for "interact with the thing in front of you" and another for "look at your inventory/stats." The first Final Fantasy is a good example of a game that has a fairly mature implementation of modern console RPG commands, should you ever get to that one.

    There. That's my UI developer rant about the Ultima control scheme out of the way, now that we have a better standard for comparison.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is where we have to agree to disagree. I will never feel that a nested menu--even one level--is a more elegant solution than a single keystroke. I find virtually any console input more "unwieldy" than Ultima-style keyboard inputs.

      Delete
    2. Only DQ (where they were still trying to figure out the basics) and the various computer-to-console ports (mostly Ultima, where they were constrained by the original design) used nested menus. In general, it is one keystroke or less (many things that require going through the menu in DQ are done by simply walking into it in other games) for everything.

      Delete
    3. "I will never feel that a nested menu--even one level--is a more elegant solution than a single keystroke."

      To be precise, Ultima's original control scheme with 26 keys often requires the player to first move his hand and finger to the specific key, because not all keys are reachable while the player's right hand rests on the arrow keys. (Unless the movement keys are somewhere on the home row, like ESDF or IJKL, then the player only needs to move a finger.)

      Whereas a single "use" key is already under the player's finger, so this method is faster if there is usually only one available action for this object. If there are only occasionally several actions for one object, the game can show a small pop-up menu.

      The 26-key control scheme can be faster when a single object has a lot of different uses _available at the same time_. For example, a torch might have the actions "ignite", "douse", "pick up", "drop", "throw". But only some of these are actually available at a specific point in time: a torch on the wall has "ignite" and "pick up", whereas a lit torch in a character's hands has "douse", "drop" and "throw".

      It's easy for a game with mouse controls to differentiate "use" (click on the object) from "pick up" (drag'n'drop the object). "Pick up" and "throw" can both be done with drag'n'drop (it's just a different target). The "use" action would automatically ignite or douse the torch, depending on its current state.

      So I think that only games that offer a lot of different interactions for one object at the same time really profit from the 26-key control scheme, like Nethack, for example.

      From Ultima V to Ultima VI to Ultima VII, Origin changed the control scheme from a 26-key control scheme to a single "use" key (double-click) because even with Ultima VII's rich object interactions, a single "use" action was enough.

      Related, here's a fun anecdote about meeting Lord British and Iolo in a department store, plus a discussion about verb-noun vs. noun-verb control schemes:

      http://simblob.blogspot.com/2019/10/verb-noun-vs-noun-verb.html

      Delete
    4. It's not just about the amount of time or effort that it takes but also the number of potential errors. I like the menu approach of DW less not only because it has extra steps but because a lot of the time, muscle memory has me hit the "A" button when my mind thinks that the cursor will be on, say, "Attack," when in fact I've held down the directional a fraction of a second too long and moved to "Cast" in the meantime.

      But a lot of the time, it is about complexity. Right now, I'm playing Greedfall on the console with my wife. If I want to see a map of the local area, I have to hit "view" to open the menu and then shuffle through the master headings with the right and left bumpers instead of just hitting "M" on a keyboard as the Windows version has it.

      The limited nature of the controller means that buttons have to double-up. You see that as elegant, no longer requiring separate keys for, say, "Read" and "Talk" because clearly you're going to only do one to a sign and one to an NPC. But what I find instead is situations like in Greefall where the same button is used to pick up an object (when you're facing it and the game acknowledges it on the screen) and to dart backwards to avoid an attack (otherwise), and so one twitch of the controller has you darting around the map while you're just trying to pick something up.

      What bothers me more about controllers versus keyboards is the things that developers no longer put it games at ALL because they have to program for the former. Keyword-based dialogue, for instance. Or in-game journals or notepads. Or, yes, extremely complex and yet easy-to-remember sets of commands like in roguelikes that have no analogue in any console game I've ever experienced. Or (to bring the mouse into it) any gameplay element that requires the player to click in a very small area. For instance, you could design a PC adventure game that requires players to notice things in the environment and "prove" they've noticed them by clicking on them, whereas that's impossible in a console game because best you can do is face the general direction.

      None of my arguments are from ignorance. Despite the nature of my blog, I've logged more console hours than most of my readers. You can continue to argue the issue among yourselves as much as you want, but you will never convince me that there is any circumstance in an RPG in which a controller is a better tool than a keyboard, except for one: it's easier to use sitting on a couch.

      Delete
    5. The difference is in complexity vs. depth. The modern situation you're talking about here (or less modern situations like Nethack), where every command does something significantly different are certainly good arguments for the keyboard having an advantage (one of the better examples is Dark Souls - the game runs out of buttons and has to resort to finicky combinations for the very important Shield Break, Jump Attack, and Jump commands) and for the controller being a hindrance.


      When, however, you use the keyboard to have 26 different "interact with the object directly in front of me" commands where only one will ever be applicable, you're adding input complexity without also adding depth of gameplay.

      However, I think you're off base on the design elements you're talking about being nearly extinct (except for the pointer-based one - those are doing quite well on Nintendo consoles) because of input methods. Most of those died off for the same reason manual mapping is now very rarely needed - the people who enjoy them aren't a big part of the market. All can be implemented with a controller to some degree, but they were in serious decline well before PC-to-console ports became almost universal.

      Delete
    6. Keyboard and mouse is simply the most flexible control scheme. Most genres play a lot better on them, and interfaces can also be more complex without making them harder to navigate.

      FPS obviously play better with a mouse and keyboard. You can aim with pinpoint accuracy and turn around quickly with a simple flick of your wrist. You can carry as many weapons as you like and select them with the number keys. Console FPS usually employ autoaim and have a limited weapon inventory because you can't aim as well with a controller, and there are no hotkeys for quickly selecting one of 10 weapons.

      RTS obviously play a lot better on M&KB. Marquee select unit groups with a drag of your mouse. Choose which building your villagers should construct by clicking on it with your mouse, then just drag your cursor from the building selection menu to the map and freely place it. Use hotkeys to form unit groups that you can later recall easily (the typical ctrl+number method), and use hotkeys for unit special abilities. I can't even imagine how something like Age of Empires would play on a controller.

      RPGs play better due to their complexity. Interfaces can be more informative and more concise at the same time. Compare Morrowind's PC-centric interface with the later Elder Scrolls games, which had console centric interfaces. It's a perfect example. The controller interface favors several nested menus you have to switch between, while the PC interface has lots of information and functions on the screen at the same time. Morrowind has the inventory, stats, skills, minimap and spells all in different resizeable windows displayed at the same time. Switching between the windows is a matter of a single mouse click. With a controller, this isn't as easily possible - not to mention the resizing of the windows!

      I played some console SRPGs on emulators, but I felt like the interface was very cumbersome and would have benefitted from both hotkeys and mouse controls. Something like Final Fantasy Tactics would play so much more comfortably with a mouse.

      Delete
    7. So... two game I play with gamepad and mouse: Classic DOOM and Stardew Valley. I remember recently telling a friend that years ago we did some group DOOM Co-op together about my control scheme, and he was baffled. (also worked well for DOOM 3, now that I think of it again)

      As for Stardew, well, that game feels more comfortable with a gamepad, except when you need the finer control for doing your everyday farming and whatnot, where I need the mouse to click precisely where I need.

      Delete
  13. Regarding the first game with different music for each part of gameplay, you were close - Ultima III was the first (also done by Kenneth Arnold). The Atari version's music sets an excellent mood for the game. Glad you gave the tunes a go here, even if it was brief. No music could support that level of grinding!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Especially not the battle theme. I love the DQ series' music, but the DQ1 battle theme is the melodic equivalent of being pressed to death with stones. DQ2 was a more successful attempt at the same menacing tone, just with enough variation to avoid giving you a headache.

      Delete
    2. Heh. I have a very poor memory for music. Like, I can barely remember anything beyond Jingle Bells. But all you have to do is say Dragon Warrior and I can hear the combat music in my head as if I'm playing right now.

      Delete
  14. A legendary hero whose name sounds almost like "your d#ck" defeating the enemy by way of using the balls... No innuendo at all, no.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Really, the old jRPG:s are a chore and only worth to play for a blog like this, to experience the beginning. In one wants to play the best it's off to the SNES era and play Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Maybe that dragonlord is related to Dragon Dan from EOB2?

    ReplyDelete
  17. As I said in the Deadly Towers post, it's fun watching you see how these games developed. Especially on what not to do.

    In the early days these games were rather expensive, so you expected to play them for a while. Thus the grinding (such as here and in Bard's Tale) or the huge dungeons in Deadly Towers. Most of this gets tailored back in later games, and they also learn to streamline the UIs, and in DQIII make movement faster.

    One thing to note, I've heard that in the Japanese version of I, when you kill the Dragonlord his dragon breaks free and you had to fight it. In the U.S. version they didn't like that and had him reveal his true form. And the Japanese liked that change so much it became official. Not completely certain, but it's what I heard.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The beginning of "This isn't even my final form!"

      Delete
    2. Games like BT had as much grinding as they intended to, for better or worse. I don't believe there was any decrease as time went on.

      Delete
  18. I played it as a kid and loved it. Probably didn't have that many games, so the slow sense of progress over time gave me a goal to work for and kept me coming back. Obviously these days I want more to do with my life. (I was not a Nintendo Power subscriber either, I was just a sucker for anything that looked like a fantasy adventure. And this was a MUCH better result than... Castlequest (shudder).)

    Also a note about the music which you might have missed if you turned it off - in the final castle, the area theme gets replayed at lower and lower starting pitch depending on what level you've descended to. It's a neat little atmosphere trick as you can feel yourself going deeper and deeper (and also potentially helpful for reminding you which level you're on as you go up and down a bit in that final castle iirc)

    ReplyDelete
  19. This is a fair review with the context and experience that only you can provide! You made my week with this post. Thank you for this; your views help to recontextualize the game as part of the wider continuum.

    This is probably my first real RPG experience. I completely bought into the extensive Nintendo marketing for this game in the US and played the hell out of it. I do not recall the grinding so much, but memories are fickle things and rereleases adjusted the difficulty curve. I loved this game until Final Fantasy came out and from there I was hooked on the latter series. I only came back to look at DQ again a few years ago.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Two notes about the game:

    1. The original Japanese is written in standard, modern colloquial language. All the "thou hast" and such was done by the translators, I guess to fit Western ideas of "high fantasy".

    2. The choice at the end about marrying Gwaelin (Laura in the JP version) has become a famous meme so that any such choice is called a "Princess Laura choice" by Japanese gamers.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I just hope that this will put an end on console rpgs on this blog for a while. I have enjoyed the inclusion of some of them here just as a reference, but I look forward to more famous and obscure crpgs now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The best part is that the whiners will finally shut up now.

      Delete
    2. It will definitely put an end to "console plays because I think I can pound out something quick" for a while.

      Delete
    3. I too am a bit worried that the inclusion of console games will slow down the progress considerably. CRPGs of 1992 are more than halfway done, but there is still Mount Ninetythree to conquer before the number of CRPGs per year gets slightly more manageable.

      The console game entries have been flooded with enthusiastic comments and suggestions of which console games to play next. Enthusiasm is nice but, again, I'm worried that Mr. Addict would read this as the will of the majority/all of the readers (except Harland), and (even though he has stated his personal preference towards CRPGs) because of this starts including even more console games.

      This comment is naturally fueled by my own preferences: I have zero interest in old console games or JRPGs (old or new), I'd rather read Mr. Addict's insightful commentary on subjects that interest me as well. Selfish, I know.

      Delete
    4. The computer and console games have influenced each other. I enjoy the Addict seeing these early games and seeing how they've influenced later games, often by showing how some things don't work.

      Like the Gold Batboons from DQII. Seeing how frustrating those were caused developers to not repeat that, or at least as bad. Or how they learned to simplify the menus and UI.

      Or me learning about Ultima's influence on DQI. I never noticed that before.

      Delete
    5. Yeah, the console games are interesting to read about too, but I come here for the CRPGs. I have little personal interest in JRPGs because I mostly don't enjoy their gameplay (too much grind, too little player choices). They also take long to complete compared to the content they offer. Chet's insight in how these early JRPGs were influenced by early western RPGs is interesting to read about and makes these posts worthwhile, but entries about CRPGs excite me more.

      Delete
    6. I don't come here for any specific sort of post, but for the blog to succeed as a resource, it needs the occasional sojourn into console territory. There's too much cross-pollination to do otherwise.

      In the reverse scenario, a console rpg history blog would actually need to play quite a number of computer rpgs - certainly a larger number than the few console rpgs needed for this blog. I'm pretty sure Chet will hit enough relevant games from each era. We had a few of the protos of the early-mid 80s, and now we've moved on.

      Delete
    7. I seem to be in the minority in that I don't especially mind what game Addict is writing about--I find it interesting and insightful, whether it's popular or obscure or console or PC or another bloody Ultima clone.

      Not every post will be one that everybody likes. Fearing that the blog will somehow be "overtaken" by console games or whatever strikes me as just self-serving alarmism. Out of many hundreds of PC games played over approximately eight years, three console games does not mean the end of the blog as you know it.

      Delete
    8. As someone who started with console RPGs and only got started playing computer RPGs because of a console port of a Might and Magic title, I think there's a lot of value seeing someone playing these console RPGs from the viewpoint of someone that is primarily a computer RPG player.

      Delete
    9. I find the occasional console game interesting, but in part that's because I didn't play them. There's more content for me in a classic computer RPG, partly because there tends to be inherently more, and partly because I sometimes played it and it brings me back (of course, that is true for some people with the console games).

      Delete
  22. In contrast to Final Fantasy which is always trying out new, exciting and fresh ideas, even when revisiting and remaking existing games, Dragon Quest is all about tradition. It's always playing it safe, simple and familiar, so that the latest installments are remarkably similar to the first one.

    Especially its use of the But Thou Must trope. The latest I've played, XI has dozens of these fake choices, always amounting to "yes" and "ask me again". It's quite annoying to be honest. What's the whole point of asking if there's only one acceptable answer?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. First encountered this in Ocarina of Time, which left me thinking: "y tho?".

      I figured Ocarina would be an obvious GOTY, but I just checked and it's contenders include Half-Life, StarCraft, Baldur's Gate and Metal Gear Solid. '98 might be gaming's greatest year!

      Delete
    2. Wow - for me that would be Half Life, but that is some solid competition.

      Delete
  23. Always gratifying to see an old favorite get the gimlet treatment!

    I played this one a lot, mostly because it was one of the few RPGs I had access to. I guess I didn't mind the grinding then, but do recognize now how terrible that was. I replayed it about a year ago, and I think I posted a suggestion that you run the emulator at 150% or even 200% speed. There's no risk in that - the game always waits for you, but it speeds up the combat and dialogue printouts plus walking around looking for a fight, and probably could have shaved a few hours off the play time.

    Another thing that might have sped it up, and one of the real tricks to mastering this game, is learning the precise monster toughness distributions on the map. I'm desperately curious to know how it's programmed on the back end, because there is a whole lot of granularity and special edge cases. If you know where to find them, you can pick up a small strip of slightly tougher foes right next to a safe space. For instance, straight down from the castle there's a spot where you can upgrade to ghosts and drakees, but after a tough fight easily escape to slime and ghost territory. Later on you can pick zones with scorpions but no skeletons, then skeletons but no metal scorpions, then both, as you get tough enough to fight them. In the mid-game it's important to know where the gold golems are most likely to show up, and after that with careful management you might, say, pick fights in a spot with knights but few spell-casters, or dip into magiwyvern territory while being only one step away from safety. All that lets you level a bit faster without as much risk.

    You did mention and then discard the possibility of managing purchases, but I think this does also speed up the game, and particularly if you're using the above strategy to target tougher monsters money can be tighter, and hopping up two weapon or armor levels at once is something I've done a few times.

    You asked about who in their right mind would ever grind for max level, but I know I did it once. I think on my first play-through I struggled with the Dragonlord a few times, and when you don't have save states and have to walk all the way back to him each time, it gets old. So on my second playthrough--or maybe it lets you keep playing with the same character after winning?--I thought "I'll just keep leveling up until I know I can win easily." When I hit 30 and realized the XP counter wasn't moving any more, I knew it was time. (Also, very thankful they didn't have a rollover bug that set me back to 0. You never know with these old games.)

    By the way Erdrick's sword is not required to beat the Dragonlord. He was a piece of cake when I beat him at level 30, so I bought a bamboo pole--yes, it will let you sell your magic sword in exchange for the worst weapon--and beat him again wielding that. I can't remember if I also downgraded my armor. There are enough damaging squares that it might be hard to get through the castle without it, but there's a chance I pushed my way through with magic armor once to prove it could be done.

    Finally, Gwaelin's "but thou must!" - besides the endgame marriage question, if you visited her during the middle of a run, she would ask if you loved her, and the same thing applied. I tried once out of perversity to see if you said no enough if it would finally give in, and gave it maybe 50 or 100 tries. No easter egg. *sigh*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My older brother beat the Dragonlord with a bamboo pole. It was very impressive to me at the time, although in retrospect it was just a testament to how much free time we had to play Nintendo and grind endlessly.

      Delete
    2. @Kearuda: I was hoping that "basically ... exactly ..." would make it clear that I don't think that every magical item is completely broken. I was employing hyperbole.

      And I was actually serious about Chet missing out on the spell slots (it's not really "Vancian magic" if you don't have to prepare spells) and "Ineffective". It would be pointless for him to look at a remake, because at that point he might as well play Final Fantasy V. But if you're going to play a remake, I agree that Dawn of Souls isn't the right choice -- the WSC version is.

      Delete
    3. I appreciate all the supplemental information. I could have sworn an NPC said that Erdrick's sword was necessary, which is where I got the idea.

      Delete
    4. One NPC says the scales of the Dragonlord are as hard as steel, another says Erdrick's sword could cleave steel. If you put the two statements together the implication is pretty unmistakable, in my opinion, but that's as close as anything ever gets to saying "you need Erdrick's sword to take on the Dragonlord."

      And rushing to Erdrick's Armor at a low level wouldn't work; the Axe Knight you fought right before you found it is an unavoidable placed encounter, like the green dragon guarding Gwaelin.

      Delete
    5. Ah. I didn't realize that the axe knight was a fixed encounter. You'd have to at least have "Sleep," then, to have any chance. Still, I think it might be worth trying to get the armor earlier than a first-time player would do naturally.

      Delete
    6. Or Stopspell, which is actually a bit better of a strategy, since while it can still attack normally, any attempt to put YOU to sleep will fail, and Stopspell never wears off in battle. You can try Sleep as well after that for a little added security, but that is only guaranteed to remain for one enemy turn.

      Speedruns tend to fight the Axe Knight as early as level 13; a first time player I've noticed will need level 15-16 to reliably survive. Also, I think that encounter never goes away, so you can actually grind on Axe Knight if you want...

      Delete
  24. "but thou must" also became a bit of a symbol for the trope of illusory choices that sometimes occur in RPGs.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I tried playing this earlier this year with my 4 year old. We got to the castle (I think level 17?) but I got bored of the grind and gave up.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Never played any NES RPGs back in the day, I was just old enough to think of the NES as "kids stuff" after all I was 14 and had an Atari ST and an attitude.

    I do enjoy these posts though, mostly as a study of how many mechanics you can shave off and still call it an RPG.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi Chet! Was this grinding worse than the one you (we) had to do in Drakken?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Huh. I'd forgotten about that. It's probably better in DW. It might have taken longer, but at least it was consistent and predictable. Drakkhen caused a lot more grief because you had to fight to keep some people out of combat and others in combat, and every once in a while an unusually high-level enemy would come along and kill someone. Resurrections in that game were a nightmare.

      Delete
  28. In regards to the Fighter's Ring, you did not miss out on anything other than an item that can be sold for 15 gold pieces.

    In the Famicom version, the Warrior's Ring gives you +2 to your strength and agility statistics. However, in the NES version, the code for this is not correctly implemented and causes the ring to do absolutely nothing. So no worries that you missed it.

    A few other notes: 1) There is an old man in the castle that will restore your magic points for free. You can use this in combination with your healing magic to avoid paying for inns. 2) Your attribute progression is governed by a formula that uses your character's name as a seed. 3) You do not have to rescue Gwaelin and can beat the game without having done so. 4) Alternatively, you can just carry Gwaelin around for the rest of the game after rescuing her. 5) Erdrick's Sword is not strictly required, though the increase in attack power is significant enough to make it a de facto requirement for anything lower than a level 22 character.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Regarding the grinding...embrace the emulator turbo mode. :-)
    I've beaten probably a dozen more JRPGs than I would have because of my liberal use of emulator turbo mode. Instead of grinding for hours, just run a little bit around a field with turbo on and hold b the whole time to attack etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't believe NESTopia has a turbo mode. It does let you crank up the speed to 200%, but if you have to do anything other than hit the default action, this is a problem because it over-reads your button presses after about 150%, making it nearly impossible to navigate the menus.

      Maybe I'll look at another emulator if I do something like this again.

      Delete
    2. It defaults to the "TAB" key. "Alternative Speed" in the Emulation option is where you set it.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, but even that only goes up to 240%. In other emulators, "Turbo" typically forgets what the emulator is capable of and just uses the computer's full processing power (at least, that's how I've interpreted it), with the result that the game speed exceeds 1000% of the original.

      Delete
    4. Switch to FCEUx, map your turbo mode to a key and then map that key to a gamepad button. Oh wait, you don't use gamepads...

      Delete
    5. I don't know what your last point is supposed to be, as "turbo" mapped to the TAB key works just as well, but I appreciate the suggestion for the emulator.

      Delete
  30. Pretty sure this was the first rpg i've played I remember it being a big deal when it came out to

    ReplyDelete
  31. This is honestly a really fair take on DQ1, yeah - the heritage is clearly relevant to what came later but the game itself has really not aged well.

    Most of the other commenters have already said most of what there could be to say, but a few things that came to mind as I read through:
    1) Rescuing Gwaelin is optional in this version. I think later versions may have made it required. In this version, if you don't rescue her, the hero just leaves by himself at the end. There's also a slight ending variation if you rescue her, but never return her to the castle and fight the Dragonlord carrying her.
    2) Erdrick's Sword is not strictly required but substantially reduces the required level to kill the Dragonlord by about 3-4 levels. Playing fairly it's impossible to win the fight under level 17, and only starts being reasonable at level 18.
    3) The bit with the Dragonlord and saying yes isn't a glitch, but it *is* an effect that was largely lost in translation. The Japanese version of the game was released at a time when Nintendo had not yet conceived of battery-backed RAM on cartridges, and thus employed passwords (still given to you by the king) rather than a save-game system as seen in the localized version. In the Japanese version of the game, when you say YES to the Dragonlord at this point, he gives you a password just like the king would; however, it's a "trap" password that starts you at the beginning of the game with 0 EXP, 0 gold, and no weapon or armor. This is why the localized script still has a reference to the king's speech.
    4) The other spells actually do work against the Dragonlord.... 1/16 of the time. You're correct that they aren't worth trying as such.

    As an interesting anecdote, because DQ1 is such a simple game, fans have managed to write programs that can make procedurally-generated variants of the game with randomized world map layouts, hero statistics, shop inventories, and key item locations, and there's a whole subset of the online speedrun community around racing the game in this format. (There are changes to the experience requirements to make the game play much faster; the average 'randomized' playthrough takes about 1-2 hours for an experienced player, and probably about twice that for one unfamiliar with the randomizer but familiar with the original game.) The nature of randomness does result in a decidedly less 'balanced' experience, however.

    Anyway, I've gotten long-winded enough here, and will just say that I would not recommend DQ2 if ever you wade into the console waters of the franchise again. It took until the third game for them to really get the formula anywhere close to right, and is the first one I'd actually recommend playing for the sake of playing a game as opposed to looking at it as a historical piece. In all seriousness, especially given what you said about this game, DQ III and IV are the only other NES JRPGs I would even consider recommending to you - the NES Final Fantasy would, I suspect, annoy you for similar reasons as this game and, furthermore, is very unrepresentative of what its franchise actually became, and Final Fantasy IV for the SNES (released in America at the time as "Final Fantasy II") is much more representative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. FF1 is representative enough of the series, and arguably more so than FF4. The side-by-side "football teams" lineup of the party and enemies with animated attacks by the party, the heavy reliance on elemental weaknesses, debuff and instakill spells being underpowered, Bahamut, many of the classic jobs and their iconic designs, crystals (well, ORBS), elemental fiends, and so on.

      I also don't think Chet needs to play JRPGs of the SFC/SNES era or later. The earliest JRPGs are relevant in that they're interpretations/adaptations of western RPGs. Dragon Quest's debt to Ultima and Wizardry is obvious, as is Final Fantasy's debt to those games and D&D. After that, they become their own genre that really deserves, and has, its own blogs.

      Delete
    2. I more meant in the sense of presentation and storytelling, which didn't really come about until FF2 (the Japanese one to be clear). For the most part, FF1 is a (very) thinly-veiled clone of AD&D.

      I would generally agree that the SNES entries are largely only relevant for when their influence started to exert itself on PC RPGs, rather than the reverse, which is a phenomenon that started to slowly rear its head in about 1997-1998 or so. (A big part of this, naturally, is Final Fantasy VII itself receiving a PC release; by a strict interpretation of the rules of Chet's blog we will *eventually* see almost all of the Final Fantasy series here - VII in 1998; VIII in 2000; III, IV, XIII, and XIII-2 in 2014; IV: The After Years, V, VI, Type-0, and Lightning Returns in 2015; IX, X, and X-2 in 2016; World of Final Fantasy in 2017; and XII and XV in 2018. Only FF1 and FF2 lack PC releases now.) The SNES JRPGs will also see some relevance for their influence on independent RPG development of the late 2000s and forward; for instance it's really hard to deny the JRPG influence on Zeboyd Games' titles.

      Delete
  32. I played Dragon Warrior briefly as an adolescent and liked it, but got caught up in other games. I kind of preferred phantasy star for sms, but also didn´t quite have enough patience for even semi-rpg´s. All that said, after later moving to pc rpgs, my finding is that the console offerings are simply inferior, even if still fun. Though that´s not to be hurtful, because console systems had less ram and cpu power to work with and also had more pressure to rush to market. Whatever we can get, all of us as rpg lovers know that the genre was/is giving us adventures that are closer to the complexity of human experience where multiple priorities and needs are at play...instead of as simplistic dumbed down mission like "pull the trigger till your thumbs hurt and shoot as many as you can." I mean to say I simply applaud every single designer who has even attempted to give us players a role playing game.

    ReplyDelete
  33. To Alex´s comment on randomness, if you don´t know the site look at random.org. In programming languages there has always been the problem of getting true randomness. I take your point that old games used very simplistic methods to fool the casual observer, but anyway the larger point remains we are routinely tricked by calculating systems that use timing system that aren´t really random, though can be "good enough" all depending. One time with a simple program I experimented with using the BASIC random generator but factoring it with the choice of movement of the user input, in other words, "adjusting" randomness from the timer with the unpredictability of the user´s mind choosing up down left or right and how many spaces.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I mean, there's a wide gulf between "not technically random" and "so predictable you can walk across an entire map without experiencing a single random encounter." I still don't have a clear answer on how the guy in the video did what he did.

      Delete
    2. savestates and trial and error, they knew where thay had to go and what they had to do, then they set out and saved after every move and tried the next direction and in the fights they did the same with command inputs until they got what was needed. If you look at the non mapped part of the speedrun you see that he get incounters every other step.

      Delete
    3. In addition to what stmp said, it's very unlikely the guy you watched did that entirely on his own. Popular games like Dragon Warrior have huge communities of speedrunners experimenting with known "step routes" and sharing their discoveries. Earlier speedruns of Dragon Warrior probably didn't have such ideal routing.

      Delete
    4. Console devs probably never expected players to keep playing their games so long after their release. Once it became possible for players to do ROM dumps themselves and then dig into save state files with a hex editor, all bets were off. Hardcore speed runners and software hackers have a field day with the one hidden info they can now see.
      I've had a little fun playing around with save state editing with games like DW, FF1 and (my favorite) Warriors of the Eternal Sun. Think of it as a Game Genie on steroids. Being able to start a game fully leveled, equipped and maxed out HP and MP can be some real curb stomping fun for a little while.

      Delete
    5. The typical way to implement an PRNG on a console system without an external source of entropy is to update it in the interrupt routine that's triggered when the player presses any button. Each button pressed changes the "next" value of the PRNG. That allows the technically clued-in player to use "free" button presses (like moving up and down in menus) to cycle the PRNG forward until the desired value is selected. That's why PRNG-manipulating speedruns will have weird pauses and menu twitching.

      Even without external entropy, some games managed to figure out clever ways to increase PRNG entropy, accidentally or otherwise. In some NES speedrunning it's important to distinguish between soft resets (tapping the reset button) and hard resets (off and then on), because the former doesn't clear memory, and the game relies on the uninitialized value of memory to start the PRNG. It can also be updated on animation frames, which introduces a timing element. Most NES-era RPGs have pretty simple and deterministic PRNGs because the average player is not going to be able to tell the difference.

      Delete
  34. "Graphics are credited to Akira Toriyama, better known as the creator of Dragon Ball."

    The credits for this game on Mobygames list Akira Toriyama as the Character Designer, whereas the "CG Design" is done by Takashi Yasuno. I'd assume that the latter made the in-game pixel graphics.

    You've shown the US game cover. The original Japanese game cover features Toriyama's distinctive style:

    https://www.mobygames.com/game/dragon-warrior/cover-art/gameCoverId,256511/

    ReplyDelete
  35. I love this series, but the first game should only ever be played ONCE (for historical purposes). All the others have varying degrees of replayability, but this one....not really.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Oh man, Dragon Quest/Warrior is my jam. It was the... second RPG I ever played. I can remember renting Dragon Warrior 3 well before I managed to get my hands on a copy of the first one.

    I haven't read all the comments yet, so I don't know if anyone else has mentioned this, yet, but Character Creation is a little more complex than you think. The game looks at the first 4 letters that you entered and goes through some computations from those. These computations will determine your starting stats and which growth patterns you will get (two of your four main stats will have a higher growth rate) Speedruns I've watched tend to just use "d" as the name, since it gives fairly good stats and is an Attack/HP build.

    Funny story, I randomly decided I wanted to play it again last Saturday. By Sunday when I stopped playing, I believe I was at Cantlin, level 14, and grinding money for a Silver Shield and the levels I need to not utterly die fighting the Axe Knight in Hauksness for Erdrick's Armor.

    I actually find the grinding to be not all that bad. Repetitive, sure, but it's all in where you go. It helps that chests respawn every time you leave an area. Mountain Cave becomes a pretty good money grind for those middle weapons and armors, and you get a free Herb and Torch every trip (and Fighter's Ring, but, well...) and the bigger money chest has a tiny chance to instead be a Death Necklace which sells for 1800 gold.

    Now, a couple corrections for you: the Dragon Scale is a permanent 2 defense point boost for wearing it, and you can sell it back immediately and still keep the boost; the Fighter's Ring is nearly useless as all it actually does is change one person's dialogue in Rimuldar to comment that you are wearing a ring and asking if you are married (and if you talk to them before you get the ring, they will say all warriors wear rings).

    And I think that's it. Sounds like you are intending to play more of these early console RPGs? Then I look forward to your experience with Dragon Warrior 2...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Many people have commented on the character creation issue. I didn't realize how it worked when I created my character, so I'm glad for the explanation, but I think that makes it worse, not better. Why should your opening attributes be dependent on your name? (I realize some CRPGs have done this, including Captive, and I though it was stupid there, too.) Why not give some player choice or control instead?

      Delete
    2. The player is not really supposed to know about the name=stats thing. You would not have much choice in character creation in DQ 1 in the first place- the later games added in character creation and party building. In DQ 1 it is just supposed to be a hidden mechanic to randomize the stat allocation, it is not meant to be a actual part of the game you think about or plan out. So you aren't really supposed to even think about it. Whether or not this is a good idea from a design perspective falls under more of a programming and internal mechanics umbrella, rather than part of the players gaming experience.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, no one was ever meant to know the underlying mechanics at the time that the game was programmed. It's just that we nerds can't help but dig into the game's code to find these things out. A clever player will learn that if they use the same name every time, they get the same stats, but that's only if they are paying attention. In the long run, though, this only really means a difference of maybe a level needed, 2 at most, for the important fights. Depending on where you do your grind, that's anywhere from 20-40 minutes.

      Delete
    4. Randomness is really hard for computers. PCs have things like system clocks that can a "seed" for the random number function, which is very difficult for the player to observe or modify in a meaningful fashion. If a console developer wanted randomness they had to find some other source, like the player's name--nobody was going to shell out to put a crystal oscillator on a Famicom game.

      Delete
    5. I assumed it was a deliberate choice to allow the game to be 'seeded' in differenrt ways. Never realised that the lack of a clock meant that they had to look hard for a source of entropy.

      Delete
  37. If you want a console-adjacent game that is guaranteed to take under 4 hrs (under 2 really, even if you're clumsy at action games) you might find 'Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom' interesting, which was Japanese produced arcade game. Because it was meant to be a quarter muncher there's really no need to worry about failure as you can always just put another virtual quarter in. Really a brawler of the type popular for the era I believe it checks all your RPG tick-boxes, there's a rudimentary XP/leveling system, a surprisingly robust inventory system for an arcade game and an economy, though character creation is limited to name and class.

    It and its sequel were released to steam under the name 'Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara' so no need to deal with emulation and if the action is too daunting you can always play one of the spellcasters, unload all your damage spells, die and repeat. At the very least it's interesting to see Japanese take on the official D&D license.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what arcade games are about. Please don't credit-feed through Tower of Doom once and then think you've gotten any meaningful gameplay out of it later.

      Is it really finishing a marathon if you drive the 26.2 miles by car? Wouldn't you get more out of it by actually training and doing it on foot?

      Delete
    2. Normally I'd be with you, Kearauda, but if a game is specifically designed to allow you to continue play as long as you keep pumping it full of quarters, I'm not sure that I agree that the only way to win "honestly" is to do so on a single quarter.

      I wonder why more PC (and/or console) games don't explore the idea of a "cool down" period after death. This would be the equivalent of quarters on a money=time philosophy. Every time you die, you can't reload a save until 10 minutes have gone by. Or you can, but the only thing that you can do for 10 minutes is read entries in the game's codex.

      Delete
    3. You could also liken it to brute-forcing your way through a multiple-choice math exam by randomly guessing answers until you get a passing score. Yes, you've "completed" the exam, but since you have no sense of what it was actually asking of you, you couldn't expect anyone to take your opinion on it seriously.

      Delete
    4. At their core arcade games were designed to siphon off as much of a kids allowance as possible. If you listen to an old Atari dev do a postmortem of a classic game on GDC or elsewhere you'll hear them say that the Atari mandate was to require a player to pump in another quarter every 30 to 60 seconds, when it was discovered that talented players using the warrior in 'Gauntlet' could functionally live for ever with the right tactics Atari immediately sent out patched chips to affected retailers to fix the 'exploit', making it possibly the first game ever to receive a live update.

      Delete
    5. There definitely exist arcade titles in which your ability to progress is tied to money regardless of how good you are, but you will find that they are relatively rare and that many of them are actually Western bastardizations of Japanese games that could be beat consistently (Crime Fighters and Double Dragon III being two of the most famous examples). Needless to say, there's a world of difference between what you're describing and games like The Punisher that one can reliably conquer on a single credit with enough practice.

      Delete
    6. Kearuda, the designers had many, many options to penalize credit-feeding, like not allowing it past a certain level or giving you a bad ending if you GAME OVER and then continue. If they didn't make that effort, it's not the player's job to self-enforce. You've "beaten" the game when you satisfy its conditions for victory, no more, no less -- and in a game that lets you credit-feed, the win condition explicitly and intentionally permits exactly that behavior, by definition.

      To use your "marathon" analogy: if I get a bunch of people together and tell them I'll give cash to whoever can make it to a point 26.2 miles away the fastest, it's my job to specify and enforce the rules under which that happens. If I don't, and someone drives the course, the fault is mine -- but if I go a step further, and have an available chauffeur parked every three miles with a sign saying "Wouldn't you rather drive?", then anyone who chooses to run the whole way is doing it for their own reasons, not because it's a requirement to win the game I'm actually offering. Clearly, I've voided that requirement.

      I've never been a fan of the idea that one has to bring some sort of external, macho code of conduct to bear in order to pay a game "properly". If a teacher lets you take a multiple-choice test on a computer, and lets you retry answers without penalty until you get them right, the flaw is with the test, not the test taker. If a game lets you credit feed, or save-scum to an absurd degree, or anything else that flattens the challenge, the flaw's with the game, not the player.

      Of course, it's 100% OK to say you can't claim to have "mastered" a game until you satisfy conditions X, Y, and Z. But mastery and victory are two different issues.

      Delete
    7. And how do you get that practice? More quarters! Arcade games were the original pay-to-win video games.

      Delete
    8. On the idea of a post-death cooldown...
      ... the most egregious / famous example is possibly Animal Crossing. There's no way to "die" or "fail" in Animal Crossing, but the game doesn't want you exploiting the save file to game the RNG or take part in certain multiplayer trading exploits. So the game appends the save file with a "start session" flag when you load it, and removes the flag when you save+quit. If you load a game that already has a live "start session" flag, a little mole called Mr Resetti turns up and gives you a long, unskippable lecture about how you have to save+quit properly. It takes several minutes, is dreadfully boring, but makes you keep pressing buttons so you can't just walk away while it runs. (I think it even gets longer if you do it several times in a row). So it disincentivises save exploitation, while not overly penalising people who accidentally turn off the system without saving, or run out of battery power, or something.

      But generally speaking, no, games really shouldn't stop you from playing them. It's your game. The game should give you all the tools to play it however you damn well want, and if that includes making it easier on yourself, then that's fine. Good game design involves creating fun content, showing players the best way to experience it, and incentivising them to give the "as intended" experience a genuine try before messing around with it. Forcing players into your intended experience is clumsy, insecure, and is almost certainly going to make your game less accessible to a wide range of people who want to enjoy your game but genuinely have trouble with the intended experience due to disability, age, inexperience or neurodivergence.

      Delete
    9. Well, in Tower of Doom's case, you lose most of your gear if you continue, including certain items that can only be picked up once. Definitely a penalty in my book. Other games like Giga Wing and Strike Witches don't allow you to fight the true last boss if you used a continue in between. I would argue that you could also make a case for many games rewarding 1-credit play by awarding higher score with more lives or bombs, though I will admit that punishing continues isn't a universal thing.

      Delete
    10. Ah, Strike Witches was a console original. I thought it was an arcade port. Maybe I was thinking of Otomedius.

      The Japanese versions of the first three Gradius games straight-up don't offer continues, by the way.

      Delete
    11. Ohhhh That's what Mr Resetti is. I only know him from Smash bros and he was pretty freakin annoying!

      Delete
    12. I wouldn't play games that punished me with a cooldown for death. My time is more precious than my money, and I won't spend money to play a game that forces me to wait instead of letting me get back into improving my skills.

      Delete
    13. Some Might and Magic games allow a player to type a few keystrokes and instantly win. Is this a legitimate victory, decried only by those with a macho code of conduct?

      Concerning arcade games, firstly, the designer rule of thumb was that a player's first credit should last 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. You'd have to be actively trying to lose to get a game over in 30 seconds. Secondly, those minutes were the target time span for a new player. It's expected they'll have longer runs as their proficiency at the game improves. Thirdly, the overwhelming majority of Atari arcade games and golden age arcade games in general didn't even have a continue function. Gauntlet is an atypical case, and, notably, RPG-inspired.

      Delete
    14. You wouldn't, uh... you wouldn't happen to know what those keystrokes would be, would you?

      Just, uh... asking for pure curiosity, of course! >_>

      Delete
    15. Some win like monkey. Some win like whale.

      Delete
    16. I used to get to about L25-26 of Missile Command (it was about that many minutes). That and a few pinballs were the games I could spend the afternoon on with a few florins (European equivalent of quarters, now 10c but in those days 2s when £1 was $2-3)

      Delete
    17. I don't have many stories like this, but I remember playing, I think, Double Dragon on the NES (or maybe some other console) with a friend in the late 1980s. Somehow, we discovered that if you hit the right sequence of buttons (A, B, B, A, maybe?) you'd be invincible. We called up this third kid we didn't like and told him that we'd found such a cheat sequence but then wouldn't tell him what it was.

      A week later, the third kid came up to me at school and said something like, "I figured it out! It's 'A', then press the left arrow, then 'B', then press the up arrow, then 'B,' then press all four arrows, and then 'A." I mean, he got it, but he managed to find the most convoluted way to do it.

      Delete
    18. Oh, yeah. Cadash was an arcade RPG, too. It has character development and flexible inventories, but regrettably no stats. You just choose from Fighter, Cleric, Mage, or Ninja and those are your "stats". Still, it's rare enough to see an RPG in an arcade, and it has all the other trappings like quests, towns, a king, GP, XP, etc. It's classified as an RPG by Mobygames! :D https://www.mobygames.com/game/cadash

      Delete
  38. The later Phantasy Star saga is more interesting (it is a simplified/dumbed down version of Might&Magic) but yeah, you really don't have to invest more time here than you already have done. And I don't think jrpgs in general got much better in time, and now that no one hears me, there is no good final fantasy game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I fully agree with your assessment on JRPGs and FF (except Final Fantasy Tactics is nice)

      Delete
    2. I don't agree. I think FF12 had the best economy of any RPG I've ever played--PC or console--and 10 had one of the better combat systems of any turn-based RPG. The Pokemon series probably has the best competitive asymmetrical battling of any game ever.

      That said, there's a lot of hot garbage that's has a much better reputation than it just because it's a JRPG (*coughFF6cough*).

      Delete
    3. Ok to be honest I'm more in the opinion of "if you enjoy something that I don't I am really happy for you as enjoying pop culture is so nice in a shitty life full of work commutes and stressful jobs" but even a good combat system there has a lot of repetition. A lot. But A LOT.

      Delete
    4. I could probably write a book about the amount of repetition in the majority of CRPG combat in the 1980s; it'd be called Fight Fight Fight Parry Parry Parry, and that sums up most of Wizardry's gameplay right there.

      It took until the imposition of real-time elements on CRPGs (something which Chet has already made clear isn't really his jam) for that repetition to really start diminishing. Even the good games of this era, the Might and Magics and the Gold Box games, have pretty repetitive combat after a while.

      Delete
    5. Repetition isn't necessarily a dealbreaker for what makes a "good" game or game system. Most people will agree that chess and go are good games, though both are HIGHLY repetitive, especially the critical opening sections.

      Where the issue lies is when the repetitive portions are not a foundation for deep variation. That's why Dragon Warrior isn't good--it doesn't build to anything better. It's also why a game like chess or go or pokemon IS good--the familiar structures hide significant depth that can be discovered by someone willing to engage with the system.

      Delete
    6. Guys what about the same combat melody playing over and over

      Delete
    7. Only good if it's really loud and you can't disable it. Also good if you have to watch excessively long battle animations over and over ;-)

      Delete
    8. I'm afraid I don't agree that Wizardry's combat is repetitive. I think in fact that it stands out as one of the few games from the entire first half of the 1980s where you have to treat each combat individually and seriously, and spells rather than physical attacks usually win the day. Moreover, you have to be extremely careful about which spell slots you use, using just high enough ones to win the battle but not over-doing it so that you sacrifice high-level slots you might need for a different battle. I never felt I was going through the motions in Wizardry.

      Delete
  39. A good, fair entry. I rented this a few times as a kid - surely my first real attempt to grapple with RPG mechanics, "hit points," and abstract, menu-based combat. I certainly never got close to beating it, but it felt very epic at age 9! In hindsight, it's a very stripped-down RPG for its date - but if you didn't have the hardware or the chops/patience for the kind of games you usually cover, it probably was kind of soothingly simple and focused. Clearly, though, someone decided to pad it out through artificial difficulty. It's a very early Famicom/NES title, and I think either developers hadn't learned how much they could pack into the cartridges, or were playing it safe by not committing to bigger development budgets, in case the console flopped. Even a few years later, games like this and Deadly Towers seemed shockingly primitive.

    I 100% agree with your evaluation that it's not necessary to devote yourself to any more "early" 8-bit RPGs. I love seeing them covered, but it's not your project and having followed this blog for some seven years (!) I know how many obstacles have already cropped up along the way. Okay, sure, other mid-80s console games might have many innovations and developments, but you're not writing a blog on console RPGs and there's a potential for serious scope creep. To my eyes, you're doing something sensible by including huge landmark games *that might plausibly be part of the lineage and "conversation" that you're covering here*. So things like Dragon Warrior and the first Final Fantasy (for all their NUMEROUS faults) are logical inclusions because they got English-language releases and huge marketing pushes. It's reasonable to imagine that people who played and designed CRPGs were exposed to these games. I can also see the case for Phantasy Star. Whereas, say, Dragon Warrior II and III, while really interesting in the history of console RPGs, barely made a blip in the waning years of the NES. I doubt you'd find them impressive or interesting, and it's doubtful any CRPG designers did either. Shin Megami Tensei did not get a US release and I don't think I ever heard of it until fifteen or twenty years later so forget that too.

    Most everything that's really GOOD from this period is just miles from the RPG lineage - tons of interesting action games with RPG elements (Crystalis, StarTropics, Faxanadu, etc. etc.), or strategy games like Shining Force which fall into the X-COM zone... great games, but very distant from what you do.

    Hypothetically this might get tricky down the line, if and when console RPG design and mechanics become critical to the evolution of CRPGs. I imagine you wouldn't want to overrate some innovation in a late 90s game, not realizing that it actually belongs to some longstanding console tradition. But..... IF you got to a point where that was driving you nuts, THEN you could decide you want to play some 'overlooked' games to fill in the gaps. But speaking just as a reader of the blog, I would find it more entertaining and enlightening to see you stay focused on your core topic, and have the "big" console RPGs pop up as special treats along the way.

    To me for the 8 and 16-bit eras that means basically Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana and maybe Breath of Fire. Super Mario RPG might be fun if you just need to spend a weekend away from swords, dragons, and fire spells.

    ReplyDelete
  40. One detail that has not been mentioned yet is that-- at least by Chet's definition-- Dragon Quest/Warrior was *already* a cRPG. It, along with Dragon Question II and the first Final Fantasy, were released for Japanese personal computers at approximately the same time as the console releases. That wasn't true for Deadly Towers and certainly won't be true of most jRPGs that will come up, but it was true for these three.

    I had been communicating for a while with a group that was doing a translation of the Dragon Quest MSX game into English which he would have (likely) played when done. I have a beta version and it's about 80% playable, but some clues are missing and it is not yet a complete experience. Chet just played the NES English version instead.

    I hope that he gradually and at his own pace plays more console RPGs. Chet's perspective is unique and his experience unparalleled. I gained a whole new insight on Dragon Quest from reading this thanks to Chet's great work. I would not want for that to get in the way of his other games; just let the man play what he wants when he wants!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Just let the man play what he wants when he wants!" I mean, ultimately that's what I'm going to do. It amuses me how much discussion and debate go back and forth as if this was a democracy.

      Delete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

As of January 2019, I will be deleting any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.