Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Tale of Two Dragon Warriors

Today's guest post comes from DashJump, whose name should sound familiar if you recall our Mega Man 25th anniversary marathon. As it turns out, he plays other games, too—in this case, Dragon Warrior! Last year around this time, we had an overview of the four NES games; this year, we're continuing the holiday tradition with some stories from the Game Boy Color adaptation...

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It was the best of games; it was the worst of games…and all one Game Boy Color cartridge!

Dragon Warrior (aka Dragon Quest) was published in the same era as Final Fantasy by the Enix part of the now-juggernaut Square Enix, or “Squeenix” as lovingly called by us professionals. Also similar to Final Fantasy, it spawned a gaggle of sequels and offshoots. Finally, like all good fantasies, it only made sense to update the graphics, tweak the balance, update the King James script, and re-release the game for a modern console. Well, modern at the time.

But wait, there’s more! Why update one game when you can update two for twice the price? Unlike (classic) Final Fantasy storylines, there is continuity within the (classic) Dragon Warrior franchise. The first three games and second three games each form a story arc. It’s teetering on this first arc where my story begins…

Dragon Warrior I

I named my character Biff (given the four character limitation of the Game Boy version) and quickly learned he was a descendent of Loto (known as Erdrick in the North American NES port). Apparently some evil genius DracoLord (Dragonlord on the NES) had stolen a magic tchotchke and was using it to ruin everything for everybody. Of course, it fell to me to save the world; this wasn’t The Sims where I could expect to beat the game by calling friends and selling used cars.
Well, all the fixtures of the classic RPG are present as you enter this land. You get to wander a glorious 8-bit world slaughtering slimes, leveling up, collecting gold, buying bling, and staying at inns while progressing towards your destiny: defeating DracoLord! The only surprise for modern gamers? You are on your own. This game is a party of one.
However, it’s this honest simplicity that appealed to me most. The updates to the game make it a touch easier and faster than its older NES counterpart. Plus, NPCs you encounter share useful clues with you. No one blathers on about the weather or a pie they baked, save the “puff puff massage” girl at the bathhouse. You should get to know her. Moving on!
To a seasoned veteran of RPGs, Dragon Warrior is a great weekend project. You’ll be humming the chiptunes long after your adventure is over.

So it was with great expectations that I nestled into my chair to begin the next chapter of my quest…

Dragon Warrior II

In this adventure, you play as the descendent of the warrior in your first game. So, I named him Baff.

From the introduction, you learn you will not be alone this time. Your first objective is to assemble your team. If you are able to complete this objective, you may have a chance at beating the game. I’m serious.
I believe it took me as long to track down the first of my peeps as it did for me to beat the first game. Not that there were too many places to look, mind you; that would have been far less frustrating. No, I was visiting the same places over and over. Having become so over-leveled, I even wound up going to a cave some old man told me I dare not visit alone, wondering if perhaps he was evil and lying to me.

Fortunately, our third teammate revealed herself much sooner, and we were on our way.

With your team assembled, you embark upon a mighty fetch quest. Unlike the last game, where the McGuffins you collect along the way are either useful or novel, in this game, little of what you collect does more than allow you to collect something else. There are a few neat locations you visit along the way, but the game by and large lacks the charm of the first.
To its credit, though, many of these drawbacks are symptoms of evolutionary growing pains. Having additional party members facing more than one creature at a time adds new dimensions of strategy to the battles that weren’t present in the first game. The introduction of new ways to travel opens up the world, making the game feel less linear. You even get to visit locations and pick up items from the last game, strengthening the story continuity and making this journey feel like a part of something bigger.

All those changes almost made up for the negatives. That is, until I arrived in the final area and unlocked hard mode. After hours of searching, finding, unlocking, revisiting, band camp, grinding, grinding, and grinding, I felt prepared. Unlike the first game, I had managed a deathless run to this point. I set foot out into this new land and was crushed like an ant on a kindergarten playground. It happened over and over and over again. I was dumbfounded.
After spending as much time grinding in this place as I did to reach it, I was finally ready to defeat the evil dastard who thrust this torturous quest upon me. Watching him disappear into oblivion? Priceless.

Still, despite returning peace to the kingdom once more, my dragon sense tingles. I feel, perhaps, evil has yet to be permanently vanquished. When asked why, I can point to only one sign: the Dragon Warrior III cartridge on my shelf.

To be continued...

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