Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Game 5: Dragon Warrior (NES) - Exploring

"I came to remember a time long ago--maybe in a past life--when I learned I was the heir of Erdrick, destined to save the land of Alefgard from the Dragonlord. I arrived at Tantegel Castle, and immediately was admitted to King Lorick's chamber where he informed me of the great deeds Erdrick had accomplished in the past, and I now must follow in his footsteps. Many of the guards speak of a princess kidnapped by the Dragonlord, yet the king is so overcome with grief that he cannot speak of her. In searching for her, I found a tablet buried deep in a desert sinkhole north of Tantegel. Inscribed was a message from Erdrick addressed to me that told me what I need to reach the Dragonlord. My quest firmly set before me I make way east in search of the fair princess, and to vanquish the evil corrupting the land."
*Plop*
One of the goals for the original Dragon Quest according to Yuji Horii (Creative Director) was that he wanted the player to see themselves as the descendent of Erdrick. Taking inspiration from Wizardry and Ultima, Horii-san wanted to recreate his experiences with those games where he'd imagine himself as one of the characters. With the growing popularity of the NES, it was certain this was the platform of choice. Due to the limited control interface (controller vs. keyboard), the game needed a design fitting for simple selection. His hope was to push the CRPG genre from hardcore gaming enthusiasts into the realm of mass market appeal alongside the likes of Super Mario Bros. He succeeded, at least in Japan.

Another design decision that pushed Dragon Quest into the hands of a wider audience was the idea that the game is playable from the first moment it's turned on. Not having read the manual should not be an impediment to playing, nor should the game require a tutorial; everything must be intuited from the interface. Now, I don't know how close to this ideal Dragon Quest actually got--since many of the words for spells in Japanese were nonsense words--but so far Dragon Warrior is a simple enough to understand. Many of the NPCs will tell you how to play (e.g. "go get equipment," "you need to raise your level before traveling far")

Lacking some originality, I chose to name my character Zenic (I'll get more elaborate in the future). Luckily the US release has saves instead of passwords, and even more fortuitous the battery still works on this cart. Having played this game many times before, I knew my first stop was to get some equipment from the nearby town--one of the guards also helpfully informs me of this point. Before I get to that I have to figure out how to get out of the thrown room.
They look like regular treasure chests to me
I wonder what drove the decision to necessitate the need for selecting take treasure chest and going up or down stairs. Why couldn't these be automatic? Background on the development suggests Horii-san was meticulous when playtesting his games, and would make modifications to the most minute of details such as the delay between opening menus and executing commands. Still, moving is a little delayed when the stats window is on screen, which is annoying when I only want to move one space.

For my equipment I chose to go with some cloth armor and a club; it's possible to purchase a small shield as well if I bought a bamboo pole instead. After speaking to everyone in the village I got my first hint. There is a town to the northwest if I head for the shore and follow it. Before I go off adventuring though, I need to gain some levels, and upgrade some of my equipment. And so, the grinding begins.
At least the game is honest about its grinding
Stray too far from the first town and Drakees and Ghosts make quick work of Zenic, so I'm relegated to working my way up 1 experience point at a time fighting slimes. Once I reach level 3 I get my first spell: heal. Having a cure spell goes a long way to increasing my exploration range. The next level increases my MP to allow me to cast it 4 times instead of 1.

While the grinding is so far the majority of the game, I haven't found it completely overwhelming. I enjoy calculating how many enemies I can kill in an outing, how much more gold I need to upgrade my equipment, and how far I could make it if I really tried. Maybe it's been ingrained in me through playing many console RPGs, but grinding really doesn't bother me; in fact, I enjoy it to some extent when trying to figure out the most optimized method to gather experience and gold.
An early enemy that can cast the spell Hurt, which hurts
Upon reaching the second town, I received news that the princess was kidnapped and taken east. Finding a cave to the east I stocked up on some torches, and delved in expecting some tough fights. However, the cave was strangely empty except for a single chest at the very end. Inside was a tablet written for me--the heir of Erdrick--to find. It described the path to the Dragonlord would open when I gathered three artifacts left behind by Erdrick. Entrusted to three worthy keepers, their descendants are now watching over them.
How did Erdrick know evil would come again, he'd fail to defeat it?
Having not found the princess, I journeyed further eastward in search of another cave, and found the town of Kol. Here I learned there is an island to the south. So, I head south and find a cave, and a fearsome green dragon. I remember from previous experience this is the guardian of the princess. I'm definitely not high enough level to take him on though as he would quickly kill me when going toe-to-toe.
That's half my hit points
I decide to get some magic keys in order to open up some more areas. Unfortunately, I died trying to reach Rimuldar. Wolves are just too strong to take on, but of course I don't realize this until I took a hit from them. Death doesn't mean a game over though. Instead you get put back in Tantegel Castle (starting point) in front of King Lorick with half gold, but full experience.
Yeah, sorry about that, and thanks for bringing me back to life
The second trip out was more successful, and I came away with four keys--two were used in Rimuldar to meet Howard who informed me of a magic item found in Kol. As an aside, there's another character that's being discussed named Nester (haven't met him yet). Howard & Nester were a comic in Nintendo Power that gave hints to a particular game. As an example, here's the one on Dragon Warrior. With keys in hand I return to Tantegel, open a door in back, and find the cellar where one of the three keepers has been waiting. Hadn't he heard I already arrived? Why didn't he come to me instead? I walk away with the Stones of Sunlight, and am brusquely sent on my way. I also went to Kol and found the Fairy Flute, which will prove useful if I ever find a Golem to soothe.
Guess the honeymoon is over
There are still 3 or 4 doors I can open, so I'm going to grind a bit to purchase more keys. Further exploring the over-world is currently too difficult. I could also focus on upgrading my equipment, as there's a better sword, armor, and shield I know about. My goals include the other two items (I know one has to do with rain), find a silver harp, which is probably behind the door in Garinham (the second town). Someone mentioned a minstrel named Garin built the town. We'll see how far I get.

Session Time: 2h20m

17 comments:

  1. "I wonder what drove the decision to necessitate the need for selecting take treasure chest and going up or down stairs. Why couldn't these be automatic?"

    Hey man, let's not get too critical about the UI of the original JRPG. They were figuring out everything simultaneously.

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    1. True, and it was a lot better then everything that came before it.

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    2. I can't remember exactly, but I guess these two may have been holdovers from Wizardry and Ultima. I mean the game has automatic entry into caves.

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  2. "Thank you, Zenic! But the princess is in another cave." XD

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  3. It really is amazing how much of the RPG blueprint was developed in the early to mid eighties.

    Hey, I like your session time idea. Mind if I steal it and expand on it? I might put Session Time and Total Time or something like that.

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    1. Feel free. I took the idea from a comment on CRPG Addict's blog. I'd actually been tracking it on howlongtobeat.com, backloggery.com, and in the spreadsheet. Seemed like a good idea to put it here as well. I was thinking the same thing, but being the first session of the game it would have been the same. I'm thinking Session Time: xhxxm (Total: xhxxm) or something like that. I'll decide before my next post.

      As for RPG blueprint, yes, it is quite amazing how slowly things changed. This could be another contributing factor to the feeling that RPGs are changing when game companies try to move beyond this original definition.

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  4. I love the Dragon Quest early games. There is a kind of simplicity that is a pleasure to go through. Only one monster at a time, few weapons to choose from, always a clear goal but still an interesting adventure. This kind of straightforward experience tends to disappear with the evolution of the genre, though, and I think this one game is the purest expression of the "simple yet enjoyable" RPG experience.

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    1. I can't find much to fault the game on. About the only truly annoying thing I've found is when trying to move once the status screen has appeared; it always feels a little stuck. Everything else is very enjoyable, even the constant grinding hasn't really gotten on my nerves.

      I remember Dragon Warrior II being a lot worse with the amount of levels necessary to have a chance at beating the game. Add in a cart with a bad battery that would lose all saves if removed from the NES, and it us quite a long time beat that game. Even after we beat it, it was at least another month before we could muster the courage to remove the game from the system--saying goodbye to all our hard work.

      I guess I better enjoy this while it lasts huh? While I've been having fun playing the games I experienced as a kid, I'm more looking forward to the games I never got a chance to get into. Phantasy Star was good, but I'm glad to come across some other titles coming up like Dungeon Explorers and Ys 1 & 2. Most of the games haven't been too bad, but I know some other ones are infamous Heroes of the Lance and Hillsfar. Maybe once I actually get into those games though they won't be that bad. :)

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    2. Tough times are coming. However, look at the bright side: you get to skip all the terrible, terrible DQ-clones that never made it west!

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  5. One of my favorite aspects of Dragon Warrior, which is sadly lacking in later iterations (and I think even from most ports and remakes), is how your name determines your stat growth over the course of the game. It's a really neat concept that I'd like to see in more games.

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    1. I suppose it's an early example that the player's choices can matter. Of course, any other choice in the game has no impact (or is no choice at all). I'd probably give it an extra point for this if it was somehow more obvious.

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    2. I dislike that, since it is basically random if you don't know about it. I named my guy after myself; These days I'd probably name him Hawkwind, Dante or something else weird. How does that change anything, other then screwing me if I wanted to make a mage and get a fighter?

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    3. I agree. Having consequences for a decision without knowing what those are is one thing, but here we have a consequence for a decision without any indication it was this decision that caused them. When we get to Ogre Battle, we'll see a case of character creation so randomized that trying to get the same character twice is very difficult.

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    4. The highest starting HP I ever found was for the name Dragon! I though I was the only person who had noticed! :)

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    5. From what I've read, it's only the first four characters that are taken into account, so Drag has the same stats.

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  6. When you were talking about calculating the best ways to get experience and how long you could go before having to return to a healing spot, that is exactly what my younger brother, my dad, and I did when we played Pokemon Blue Version using Pokemon Stadium. I had forgotten what intense players we used to be all those years ago (I grinded our starter, Kile (yeah that's how we speller it) the Blastoise, to level 100).

    Thanks for the memories!

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    1. Finding the most efficient way to grind through levels has got to be one of the draws for console RPGs. I know a lot of people that seemed to enjoy, or at least made it a point to do this.

      Maybe you could help me out with where you were grinding once I reach the Pokemon games.

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