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Dragon Quest IX and Inception [GO/FB]
Jul 20th, 2010 by Dan

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies - Nintendo World Store launch pictures slime

What a weekend!

It started with a craving to see Inception on an IMAX screen and was filled with slime and questing. Some quick words on both.

Inception

I don’t think it has quite enough to supplant The Dark Knight as my favorite Nolan film, but it’s certainly up there with his best work. The less you know about Inception, the better. Seriously. I’ll have something more substantial up later, but for now I want to stay relatively spoiler free. All I’ll say is that Tom Hardy is now definitely on my radar, Ellen Page did precisely what I love in her movies without being a pretentious-seeming teen like in Juno, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was fantastic and hilarious in a role much better than in (500) Days of Summer, DiCaprio continues to impress with his post-Titanic roles, Marion Cotillard has, like Tom Hardy, become one of my new favorites, and Ken Watanabe was also fantastic, if unintelligible, in the movie. Special mention to Dileep Rao for bringing humor and eccentricity to an otherwise tiny role. His tiny quirks made Yusef a funny character to witness.

The movie plot is brilliant and the concept is so meta that it makes me love it even more. You should definitely see this in theaters, it will wow you, especially if you know next to nothing going in.

Dragon Quest IX

It doesn’t have the stronger narrative ties of V because the characters are supposed to be ciphers, but I don’t think that Horii has sacrificed much in the way of his storytelling ability. The quests and experiences seem relatively trite to the uninitiated, but the thing about DQ games is that there is skillful storytelling in even the most basic of stories. I can see the emotion and the attention to detail that remains and I love the puns introduced by the localization team. So far so good, just gotta find more time to play it.

In the meanwhile, enjoy a nice bit of Dragon Quest cosplay.

Cute Dragon Quest cosplay

Dragon Questing V: Conclusion [Game Overview]
Jun 4th, 2010 by Dan

Dragon Quest Slime

Dragon Quest is inexorably tied to the Japanese video game space. The series was the first big hit RPG and its core qualities, simplicity, relative ease, and lightheartedness touched that first generation and continue to bring the same degree of fondness with each installment. It is unquestionably the premiere mega-franchise of Japan. Somehow it just never caught on in the states. In the states we play Final Fantasy.

Until Chrono Trigger, I’d never played an RPG with Enix’s stamp on it. The difference is unmistakable. Final Fantasy’s most iconic figure is an angsty blond teen with a huge sword. Dragon Quest’s most famous character is a smiling ball of slime. The difference speaks volumes. I think the most hilarious part about it is that Dragon Quest V, for all its puns and lighthearted humor, feels way more mature than any self-serious Final Fantasy I’ve ever played.

There was a period of time shortly after I left home for university that I had a somewhat contentious relationship with my family. Like many 18-year-old kids, I needed my independence and I went about grabbing it in the most contentious, painful way possible. I’m not proud of it, but it happened and it left a hole in my relationship with my parents that needed patching. The inflection point came, not coincidentally, as I started to mature and grow as an adult. Over the course of the four years I was at school and the few after I started to realize that I needed my family more than I cared to admit and I did my best to begin repairing the damage I had done.

I grew up in a family that valued family. It’s not out of the ordinary for a movie or game to awaken the memories of my upbringing and cause me to get emotional. Both Secondhand Lions and Mother 3 made me want to call my brothers. Dragon Quest V made me call my dad and tell him how much he meant to me. Sure, it feels a little silly to say that playing a video game caused me to feel guilt about my stupid actions as a kid, but that’s exactly the point. What I’d done was stupid and immature. This game, with its smiling slimes and stupid puns, recognizes the truth about family. It knows that there is nothing more important than the bonds we make with each other. It knows that life is beautiful and fun. It also knows that life is cruel, random, and unfair.

The angsty, loner teens with huge swords may learn by the end of the game that they need their friends, but the Hero knows that he needs his family from the moment the game is turned on. Everything about Dragon Quest’s systems point to family building. There’s more maturity in this one game than the entire Final Fantasy series combined (save one or two of the thirteen). I don’t mean to bash Final Fantasy here; I just want to emphasize that Yuji Horii is doing something different here.

Shigesato Itoi started the Mother series because of Dragon Quest. Mother games carry the unmistakable sign of Itoi’s authorship. The games are highly personal to him and every detail, from the dialog to the art, is a reflection of one man’s vision. I would be seriously shocked if Itoi ever consulted a focus group to help him design even one character in his games. I have a strong belief that Yuji Horii has similar creative control over his Dragon Quest games (or at least over V). Recent Final Fantasy games reek of audience pandering. Everyone loved Cloud, so Nomura has been designing endless rehashes of the same idea since then. Squall, Tidus, and Lightning are all iterations on the same theme. Every other cast member is expressly designed to cover some kind of anime trope. It seems like their designs are festooned with endless amounts of nonsense for the express purpose of selling replica jewelry.

Maybe I’m getting a little too conspiracy theory here, but it feels too purposeful. It feels like they are trying too hard. It feels like they are creating sequels to make sales rather than to tell new stories. I sound like a hippie artist and I realize that. Square Enix’s job is to make money, not write the next Homeric epic. For some reason, Dragon Quest just feels beyond that. I need more experience with the series, but I wonder if the merger will bring a tonal shift in the series.

It’s hard to not talk about Final Fantasy when I talk about Dragon Quest, especially since I just beat XIII last night, but I’m going to do my best for the rest of this post. Dragon Quest V did more than I ever expected an 18-year-old game to do. It was equal parts touching, funny, and gut-wrenchingly depressing and I enjoyed every minute of it that I played. I’m looking forward to experiencing more games in the series.

Dragon Questing V Part XVIII [Game Overview]
May 28th, 2010 by Dan

Grandmaster Nimzo from Dragon Quest V

Grandmaster Nimzo looks kind of like a Namekian, doesn't he?

This is it, the final confrontation for Dan and his family against the forces of evil that have plagued his entire life. After a brief stop in an underworld town, Dan, Debora, Dave, and Beca all headed for Mount Zugzwang (ridiculous name for the final fortress, I know). The monsters were all at their toughest, but they were no match for the party and they quickly reached the holding place of Dan’s mother, Madalena.

After a tearful reunion, Mada decides to give up her life to weaken the final boss, Grandmaster Nimzo (Grandmaster, get it?). Just before she can finish her sacrifice, the first boss of the dungeon, the man who had tormented Dan for his entire life, Bishop Ladja, appeared to disrupt the sacrifice by murdering Madalena before it could be completed. After finally defeating him, Mada somehow calls upon the light to finish him off before he could escape yet again. With her last bit of life she called upon the Goddess to lend strength to Dan to help him kill Nimzo. She died and Pankraz’s soul appeared. The two of them said goodbye to their family and disappeared into the afterlife.

With a renewed sense of purpose, Dan and his family pressed onward to the Grandmaster to strike him down. Like other characters in the game, Nimzo had an accent, but it was super bizarre to emphasize just how otherworldly he was. Instead of using the normal, in-game font, Nimzo spoke with symbols and custom, super alien-looking script that was actually really difficult to understand. No matter, his words were unnecessary as the party teamed up to fight his two forms and defeat him, ending the underworld threat forever and concluding the Zenithian saga (DQ VI is part of the Zenithian Saga, but it takes place before IV and V).

With Nimzo dead, the Zenithian Dragon, AKA Dr. Agon, carted Dan and his family throughout the world to get some closure with the various people he knew from his travels. They visited Harry, Bianca, Nera, and many more before returning to Gotha and settling down to live happily ever after.

So concludes the epic tale of Dan and his family’s journey. There will probably be one more post for me to address how I felt about this game and conclude this feature.

Dragon Questing V Part XVII [GO]
May 27th, 2010 by Dan

Debora and Madchan from Dragon Quest V DS

Don't mean to spoil, but...

Roaming around the temple, I was hit by two blasts from Dan’s past. The first was running into a man among the cult who seemed to recognize me. Imagine my shock when I learned that it was Georgie, now grown into a man after being abducted by evil forces in Dan’s statue period. The funny part was that he recognized Dan as the old statue.

Dan also ran into the skeletal remains of a person in the back room of the temple. When he examined it closely, he found a note addressed to Maria. It was written by her brother hoping for her happiness and safety. This was the same guy who helped set Dan, Harry, and Maria free, but here he was, now dead. It was good to see the conclusion of both of these tales, even if this one ended on a sad note.

The team entered the labyrinth and met up with its boss, King Korol (more chess theme!). Defeating him revealed that Dan’s mother was being held in the underworld, Nadira. Dan’s mother tried to make him promise not to go after her in Nadira, but the gesture is obviously going to be futile. He’s dedicated to rescuing his mother, especially since his entire life has been defined by the mission to save her. To let her languish in Nadira would dishonor Pankraz’s memory.

On the way out the team finally ran into the petrified statue of Debora. One quick Zenithian item usage later and the family was finally reunited after ten long years of struggle. The family returned to Gotha to celebrate, Beca made some jokes about how Debora seemed to have softened up based on stories she heard from Sancho, and Dave fought back tears of joy at finally being reunited as a family. Dan ran into Dave at another point in the night and he told his father that, despite Madalena’s insistence that they didn’t, they had to go rescue her from Nadira. There was no argument from Dan, so the party was ready to head into the underworld the next day.

At the portal point to Nadira, there was a fantastic moment as it was revealed that Dan and Debora’s wedding bands were the key to opening the portal to Nadira. Their incapacitation as statues all made sense now as it kept the rings separated and far away. The party stepped through the portal into the shadow world and saw a vast purple, foreboding, dark land.

Dragon Questing V Part XVI [Game Overview]
May 21st, 2010 by Dan

Dragon Quest V

I have no idea why I’ve been sitting on this completed installment. Just remembered it was done and decided to post it this week.

At the top of Talon Tower Dan, Dave, Beca, and Sancho meet up with a very familiar face. Slon the Rook, the second third of the duo that murdered Pankraz. Dan already killed Kon the Knight right before being turned into a statue, so I was on my toes worried about what might happen after Dan took out Slon. Thankfully, nothing did and I was left feeling a little relieved and gratified that I had enacted Dan’s revenge on yet another of his father’s murderers. On a whim, I decided to check in with the party to see what they had to say about the fight.

Dave’s response: “What’s wrong dad, you look like you’ve seen a ghost?”

Poor Dan was repeatedly being forced to relive his tragic childhood by facing the creatures who killed his father and sold him into slavery. It wouldn’t end there either. The next room contained the Bishop Ladja, third member of the squad who killed Pankraz. Would Dan get a chance to completely avenge the murder of his father? After a tough fight I thought I’d see payoff, but, predictably, Ladja ran away. Dan was now equipped with the tools to revive the Zenithian Dragon, so he returned to Zenithia to find the residents antagonizing Dr. Agon.

There was no Dr. Agon in Zenithia before it was banished underwater, they said, so this man must be a monster of some kind. They were half right. Dr. Agon (if you haven’t gotten it yet, smash the two together) was the Zenithian Dragon and Dan’s quest finally allowed him to assume his true form yet again. Next stop: the temple that Dan spent his entire life slaving to build and also the location of the Zenithian Armor. How would he get there? By riding his new, sweet Dragon.

It was strange to return to the temple after so many hours, but stranger still when I noticed that it was full of cultists who had given up on the world and were worshiping the evil presence that was corrupting it. Dan and his party quickly found the Zenithian Armor and forced their way to the stage of the shrine. Upon the shrine sat…Madalena?! She asked Dan and co. to join her, but when they refused, she cursed them. Turns out she was actually Queen Ferz in disguise! I believe it’s at this point that I finally realized that there’s a chess theme to the bosses (Queen Ferz, Slon the Rook, Kon the Knight, Bishop Ladja). Anyway, with the Queen defeated, it was time to explore the temple a bit more and delve into the labyrinth that lied beneath.

Dragon Questing V Part XV [GO]
Mar 4th, 2010 by Dan

These guys are hilarious looking.

Some of Toriyama's famous and iconic monster designs

There are these little moments in Dragon Quest that are so lighthearted and ridiculous in the context of the tension of the narrative that I can’t help but laugh out loud. Tasked with re-entering the fairy kingdom to find a replacement Golden Orb, I noticed a cat outside a house. I don’t often talk to the animals in RPGs, but I’m sometimes struck with the desire to do so. This time the cat actually spoke. He told Dan that he was a magician disguised as a cat trying to get access to the fairy kingdom and asked Dan not to blow his cover. It’s tiny and insignificant, but it’s the little details like this that make me love Dragon Quest V. Yuji Horii is all about the small things.

Dan met with the Fairy Queen with the intention of getting a new Golden Orb, but instead found out that their attempts to make a new one had failed. They could only make a worthless imitation. However, all was not lost. A magical plan was hatched that only Dan could undertake and complete. By using a magical painting, Dan was able to travel back in time to Whealbrook, where I realized that I was not paying enough attention in the early game at all. Why did I realize this? Because I suddenly remembered interacting with a man dressed rather like me in purple in Whealbrook before. This man asked to see Dan’s Golden Orb and gave him some words of encouragement. The cleverness of it was almost too much. Future Dan had come back in time and swapped the real Golden Orb with the fake Golden Bauble. Ladja failed at his mission: he actually destroyed a fake all those years ago.

Beyond that, it’s also neat to get to talk with other people in the past and learn how they felt about Dan and Pankraz. Dan could even go and talk to Pankraz himself and fail at trying to convince him not to go to Coburg. It’s a well thought out sequence that doesn’t feel that cheap for a time travel story. I just love how Dan takes the time to tell his past self to stay strong and hold on. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to meet my past self after enduring the great multitudes of pain and sorrow that Dan has endured. What did Dan from the past tell Future Dan in response? “I won’t give up no matter how hard it gets, just like you said”

Golden Orb in hand, Dan returns to Castle Zenithia and raises it back into the heavens, awakening the actual Zenithians living within the magical castle. These winged dudes inform Dan that his next task would be reviving the Zenithian Dragon, which involves going to the Talon Tower and meeting up with some old enemies bent on stopping Dan’s progress…

Dragon Questing V Part XIV [GO]
Mar 2nd, 2010 by Dan

After yet another long hiatus in this series, we continue where we left off: Dan, his children, and Sancho are en route to the hometown of Dan’s mother, Mada, but have decided to take a few detours along the way to see some of the people Dan hadn’t seen in the eight years he was a statue.

At one point Dan went into an inn in Whealbrook and had a nice chat with an old lady. Incidentally, her only line of dialog was to tell me that whenever hard times struck, she was able to get by thanks to being able to watch her daughter grow up. I wanted to laugh at how pointed the comment was, but I found myself struck by how tragic it was that Dan was denied that simple pleasure. Here was Yuji Horii reminding me that family is something worth fighting for, especially considering that Dan had next to no childhood and didn’t get to raise his own children either.

That little aside completed, Dan went on over to Mostroferrato to help out my father-in-law with a little problem he was having. Suddenly the task he set me on earlier in the game (check on a jar in a tower) made sense. There was an ancient evil sealed away in that jar by Rodrigo Briscoletti’s ancestors that he was tasked with protecting. When Dan went on over to check on it again, he found that the seal was broken. Immediately following that, a giant moose monster (Bjørn the Behemoose (haha)) rose from the sea, walked across the ocean, and attacked my party in a pretty cool-looking in-engine cutscene. After a hard-fought conflict, Bjørn was bested and resealed, saving my in-laws from certain doom and netting me the Ultimate Key.

A quick aside:

Looking at the boxart for this game, it seems that the “canon” choice for the Hero (Dan) is to marry Bianca since she’s the only option featured on the boxart and the Hero’s children are also blond in most of the official artwork.

Dan finally made his way to his mother’s hometown, Lofty Peak, and learned about her role in the events that had taken place. Madalena is being held in the Demon World by Grandmaster Nimzo. From there she was doing her best to protect the other world. In order to seal off the evil in the world, Dan would have to continue to gather up the Zenithian armaments with the Zenithian Hero, Dave.

Dan’s first step would be to find and restore the Castle of Zenithia, which seems to be submerged under water. On his way to the castle, he met a man named Dr. Agon (pay attention to this, it will be important later). As he descended underground and to the throne room, Dan and company discovered that there would be a problem with raising the castle. They needed the Golden Orb to do this. If you don’t remember, this was the same orb that Dan and Bianca found adventuring as children and that the Bishop Ladja smashed shortly after killing Pankraz. Dr. Agon suggested that the party go talk to the fairies…

Pankraz facing off against Ladja right before he kills him and destroys the orb.

Dragon Questing V Part XIII [GO]
Oct 10th, 2009 by Dan

Wow, it’s been a long while since I’ve written one of these. I hope you guys haven’t forgotten about this. How about a quick recap to get us all up to speed.

Dan is a small boy who wears a purple robe. His father, Pankraz, is a big strong man who is on the search for Dan’s mother. One day, while on a job bodyguarding Prince Harry, Pankraz is brutally murdered while protecting Dan and Harry. The kids are sold into slavery and don’t escape for ten years. Harry falls in love with Maria and leaves Dan. After Harry leaves, Dan starts searching for the legendary Zenithian gear to fight off an ancient evil. Along the way, he meets Debora and gets married. Debora becomes pregnant and gives birth to the twins David and Rebeca, but she is kidnapped shortly thereafter. Dan goes off to save her, but both he and Debora are turned into statues and sold to different families. Eight years later, Dan’s twin children finally find him and undo the curse before setting off to finish finding the Zenithian equipment and eventually find their mother.

When we last left our heroes, they were about to head to Helunaptra to check on the Zenithian Helmet that Dan tried and failed to acquire eight years (or so) prior to now. It is interesting to be traveling with children who were infants last Dan saw them, but, on the other hand, aside from the ten-year gap Dan served in slavery, the world has disappointingly not reflected much aging in the eight year statue period. In fact, we’re kind of in the middle period of most RPGs. You know, that section of the game where you can finally explore most of the map with focus semi-diluted focus. In my opinion, the game does a bad job here of imploring upon the hero that he needs to get anything done with any haste. It’s not a complete failing of the narrative, it’s just a part of the genre, especially during the era this game came out.

Remember all that time back when Dan found out that he was part of the royal family of Gotha and was actually crowned king? It was so long ago that I found myself caught off guard when NPCs referred to Dan’s royal heritage. It doesn’t bring with it too much, in terms of benefits, but it’s a nice touch to the dialogue that people are acknowledge the return of the king.

Arrival in Helunaptra was met with little fanfare as I made my way to Cleohatra’s royal chamber. Ready to try again, she escorted us to the chamber containing the Zenithian helmet. This time the helmet was placed on Dave’s head, but it was far too large. Just when I was starting to wonder just who the Zenithian hero might be instead, a message came up on the screen saying that the helmet began to change size and shrank to fit to Dave’s head.

With my main task out of the way, the next step was to head for Mada’s hometown, but without any real feeling of hurry, I decided to make some housecalls on people Dan hadn’t seen in ages. First on the list, King Harry. As he heard about the rough times Dan had just suffered, he spoke a line that made me laugh at its sheer audacity.

“You did have a rotten bit of luck there, eh?”

That’s got to be the greatest understatement I’ve ever run into in a video game.

There was also a pretty great moment in Coburg when Dan went back downstairs and found Dave interacting with Kendrick. Just like in Dan’s childhood, Kendrick was trying to make Dave his lacky and used the same underground passage to punk him. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Get Dragon Quest V!

Dragon Questing V Part XII [GO]
Aug 20th, 2009 by Dan

Well I wrote this already once, but the internet managed to lose it thanks to some internet problems. So here we go again. When we last left Dan, his children and Sancho had just discovered his statued form face down, the world going to hell all around him. I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like for Dan to see Sancho roll up with what could only be his children eight years after their birth.

I’ve gotta say, I felt pretty emotional seeing Dan’s children and Dan finally meet for the first time. Dan learned right away that Dave was able to wield the Zenithian Sword given to Dan by Pankraz all those years ago. It might be a bit premature to call Dave the Zenithian Hero right now, but I’d say his chances are pretty high. The happy family returns to Gotha to regroup. Dan still has a mission.

His attempts to protect his children are quickly thwarted, they are going with their father to save their mother. Dan’s protests are met by the ironclad argument that Dan used to adventure with Pankraz when he was the same age as Dave and Rebeca. Heading out to the field with Dan’s children in his party bookends the gameplay themes from the very beginning of the game. Dave and Rebeca may not be as weak, offensively, as Dan was back at the start of the game, but he’s certainly a lot sturdier than they are, a reflection of his age and experience (way to co-opt the mechanics to prove your point yet again Horii!) compared to that of his children. It’s a clever way to finally make the abstractions of levels and experience finally really mean something where they typically don’t in these games.

The next stop for our heroic family: Helunaptra. They’ve got that Zenithian Helmet and I have a sneaking suspicion that it might fit Dave.

Get Dragon Quest V!

Dragon Questing V Part XI [GO]
Aug 13th, 2009 by Dan

Life continues to be difficult for our intrepid hero, Dan. Quick recap: After killing one of his father’s murderers, Dan and his wife, Debora, were turned into living statues by another of Dan’s father’s murderers, Bishop Ladja. They were then found by treasure hunters and Dan was sold to the rather rich Porgie family. At this point, I don’t think his life could get much worse.

Oh wait, how about if Dan had to spend the next eight years as a statue. That’s bad enough, but here’s the real kicker. Horii goes and twists the knife once it’s inside your heart with one simple twist. Mr. Porgie bought Dan for a reason. Dan is intended to be a good luck gift for his newborn son, Georgie. The emotional twist is that Dan is forced to watch Georgie grow up before his very eyes, in lieu of his own progeny.

The helpless statue is forced to watch Georgie take his first steps, say his first words, and just live his first six to eight years of life. Meanwhile, his own children are being raised by Sancho who is witnessing these very precious moments and relishing in the joy that is rightfully Dan’s.

Dan’s torture abruptly ends somewhere between Georgie’s sixth and eighth birthday. Hawkmen swoop down and kidnap the poor lad, no doubt agents of the ancient evil whose power is brewing. A month later, Mr. Porgie’s despair is so great that he begins to abuse Dan, knocking him over and screaming about how Dan was supposed to bring good luck to his family. How ironic that Dan, the very definition of unlucky, could ever be a worthwhile charm.

Seasons continue to pass with Dan face down in the dirt until one blessed day when Sancho appears with two children in tow. It seems Dan might be back in business soon.

Get Dragon Quest V!

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