Trying to understand how games work

Category Archives: 3DS/DS

Last year I decided to commit to playing as much of Final Fantasy as I could. It’s been a very fun journey so far but I thought it would be useful to look back at Dragon Quest, a game Final Fantasy owes a lot to. Final Fantasy wouldn’t exist without this game (though Japanese RPGs might still exist since efforts like The Black Onyx, Dragon Slayer and Hydlide predate it).

I was surprised to find that the original Dragon Quest is a fairly relaxing game. That’s partly true with some of the other games in the series I have played, but those other ones also had tense moments. Fighting Psaro the Manslayer in Dragon Quest IV was not calming in any sense. If you want something to wind down with at the end of the day, the first Dragon Quest works well.

The simplicity of the game allows for that. While it is about saving the world from some evil wizard, there’s never any tension. Because it’s a turn-based RPG the pace of the game is extremely player-dictated. While there’s artifacts to be found and a princess to be saved, there’s no pressing need to do all of that immediately. Dragon Quest’s world is a place without difficulty and deadlines.

As this game was made for older hardware, there was a need to condense the experience in a way that was easy for the system to display but still understandable for a player. This is why battles play out simply with a picture of the enemy, some stats numbers on the left and a menu at the bottom. The removal of all of this context means I can’t help but not think of it as a tense battle, but instead a contest to see who can get a number down faster. A contest heavily weighted in my favour, and increasingly so as the main character’s level goes up. Losing isn’t much of a setback either. It reduces the in-game money earned to half, but that can easily be regained.

Many older RPGs are similar, Phantasy Star is one example. But Dragon Quest is a little different. It centres on one specific location: a castle. It’s where the game begins. It’s the home of the main character. It’s where you go to save the game. It’s where you go when you lose a battle. It’s where the game ends.

Having a specific home that needs to be returned to combined with the game’s simplicity makes it play like a game a child would think up. I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense. If anything I couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic. I suppose this may be one of the reasons that Dragon Quest has lasting appeal.

It’s less like a hero embarking on a dangerous adventure and more like a child going out to play. The hero can only venture out so far, but as he grows he can go a little further. If the hero gets defeated in battle, the king tells him off like a concerned parent. When it’s time to finish playing, the hero must go home.

If you do decide to give Dragon Quest a go, just know that the more easily available ports on mobile phones and the Switch look terrible. A lot of the art in the game feels very mismatched. The environments, characters, and monsters all feel like they are drawn for separate games. It’s strange for a foundational game in a series that continues to sell large numbers gets something that looks this bad.

However you go about playing it, I think it’s worth going back onto Dragon Quest especially if you’ve been playing a lot of RPGs like myself. I’m surprised how long it’s taken me to get to it myself. 

I can easily see how this works as a foundation for many games after it, but it’s also interesting in its own way. It’s a shame that a lot of discussion of this game in particular seems to stop at how “old-fashioned” it is. This game didn’t always exist as being a predecessor to something else.

You could probably finish the whole thing on a lazy afternoon anyway, so it’s worth a shot to find out what you make of it for yourself.


4

The Mario & Luigi series of role-playing games are a fun, light-hearted take on role-playing games. There’s no depressed spiky-haired teens to be found here, only two Italian plumbers and a delightful supporting cast. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. is a very funny game with some great dialogue, it’s just a shame that too much of the dialogue is tutorial.

There’s a lot you have to get through to really enjoy this game, you’ll be getting tutorials very far into the game, even 15 hours into the game. They really hamper the game’s pacing in places. They’re unnecessarily wordy, and only serve to waste time. It’s not satisfying to get through the game’s platforming puzzles when the game tells you exactly what you need to do.

Speaking of pacing, it becomes a bit of a slog at times. It’s much longer than previous games in the series, but doesn’t offer enough compelling content to fit the long playtime, becoming somewhat repetitive, especially in the later areas.

5

However, as much as I do have complaints, I really enjoyed my time with Dream Team Bros., but what makes the game fun and interesting are the same things that made the previous entry, Bowser’s Inside Story, fun and interesting.

In this game, you explore two worlds, much like Bowser’s Inside Story. In this one however, you have the tropical paradise of Pi’illo Island, which offers an isometric view of the world. You also can go through Luigi’s dreams, which goes back to two-dimensional platforming. In Luigi’s dreams it give you the opportunity to do some kind of ridiculous things with Luigi. It makes the platforming a little more fun being accompanied by a huge crowd of Luigis.

3

Combat in the game works just like most other role-playing games, you take turns with the enemy to hit each other. What sets it apart from others is that when you attack, you can press buttons in time with the moves to deal more damage. Also when enemies attack, you’re given the ability to counter-attack or even completely dodge them, by jumping over them or hitting them with your hammer.

As simple as the mechanics are, the developers manage to create a variety of different battles, each enemy has it’s own gimmick which you have to work around or possibly even exploit. In the outside world, battles play out with Mario and Luigi together, but in the dream world, you’re just playing as Mario, with his power “enhanced by Luigi’s support”. Dream world battles pit you against a lot more enemies than usual, it changes the flow of the battle a little, and it’s cool to see a load of Luigis follow after Mario’s attack.

1

Another returning feature is the giant battles, in which now you play as a massive Luigi, and I feel it’s come off worse now. The build up towards these battles is consistently great, but the battles themselves are plagued by unresponsive touch and gyroscope controls, and in later battles enemy turns become much longer. I felt like I was losing agency in the battles by only having an occasional opportunity to attack.

While it’s not a bad game, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. has it’s issues. If you can put up with them, I’d say you can really have some fun. I just really wished it was shorter.



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