Monday, December 29, 2008

Now Playing: Dragon Quest IV (DS)

The Nintendo DS is a Godsend for those of us who wax romantic about the games of our youth. The old 8 and 16-bit classics we grew up with on the original Nintendo systems were fun little time sinks, and continue to provoke endless debates when pitted against current generation software.

Which was the cooler JRPG? Final Fantasy VI or Final Fantasy XII? What’s your favorite Dragon Quest of the original seven?

Meanwhile, I’m playing Dragon Quest IV on the little handheld that could and my understanding is it never came out in the States before now. I love the facelift Square-Enix bestowed upon it. The once 8-bit game is now rife with color, humor, wonderful art and energy. It’s also filled with the need to grind, and grind, and grind, and grind some more. It’s like playing EverQuest only repeatedly cycling through the first 15 levels.

The story introduces the hero right off the bat then jumps to someone else. You take control of them for the next four to five hours and complete their introductory story. Then it jumps to another character and you repeat the cycle. Then you repeat it a third and a fourth time, each with new characters. Then finally it jumps back to the hero who is at… level 1.


Why yes, Square Enix, I would LOVE to grind the first 15 levels FIVE GODDAMN TIMES IN A ROW! Doesn’t that sound like fun? Oh it surly does to me, thank you kindly. Seriously, a game like this released today would be shredded. Once the story sort of kicks in then the game picks up and starts to move but according to my in-game clock I’ve already been playing for north of 24 hours and now I’m starting over YET AGAIN?!?!


To be fair, this is not the kind of title you blaze through. You savor it, enjoy it slowly, and take your time with it. Pull it out at the airport and level grind while waiting for your flight, and continue grinding while ignoring your spouse during the actual flight. I can’t say I haven’t had a lot of fun with it, but I’ve been at it for two months now and I’m just getting to the primary story line. The good news is I’ve discovered a reasonable place to farm metal slimes so my characters all level a hell of a lot faster now than at the beginning.

And some of you have absolutely no clue what I just said.

For those of you new to the Dragon Quest series, let me be more succinct. Each new release of a Dragon Quest title virtually shuts down Japan as people call in sick to play it. This is not a joke, nor an exaggeration. An entire country shuts down to play one game. The fascination with this series is wild to me, but there you have it.

In this iteration, a hero is called to defeat a great evil but picks up a bunch of friends along the way. Wait, that’s pretty much every video game ever designed. Where this game differentiates itself from everything else is what I mentioned about chapters – one per supporting character, and you get to power level each one for the first 15 levels or so before getting to the meat of the story. Once you do, the game opens up and becomes way more fun but getting there is a beating.

It’s certainly charming and quirky and is a perfect fit for the DS. If you can just get through the level grinding of the majority of the game, DQIV is a nice little time killer. If you’re looking for a quick fix title to blaze through, look elsewhere. This is one you take your time with and just play at your leisure. Even after putting it down for a week or two, it’s surprisingly easy to figure out what to do and where to go next.

I get a kick from old school titles like this. Contrasting them against modern titles is fun to see the evolution of game play. Next on my “Ye Olde School Playlist” is Chrono Trigger which has developed a mythic reputation since its release. I’ve never played it, but the music from the sequel’s intro has stuck with me for years. That may be an odd recollection, but it’s the closest I’ve come to actually playing it.

But at the rate I’m going on DQIV, I’ll probably hold off on starting Chrono Trigger until sometime next year.

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