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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.

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