Grind and punishment

I’ve been playing Dragon Quest games a lot recently. I’d avoided the series for a long time, because I was under the impression that it was so basic that there was nothing to it but a rote level grind. However, despite its reputation as one of the most archaic RPG brands out there, actually trying it was surprisingly refreshing and has changed the way I feel about the genre as a whole. Specifically, it’s made me much less accepting of the way series like Final Fantasy and Shin Megami Tensei punish the player so severely for dying.

[[image:cg_dqvii.jpg:Sometimes, losing should be okay.:center:0]]

Playing the remakes of Dragon Quest IV and V on the DS was a tiny revelation for me. Instead of losing hours of my free time for a careless mistake or two in battle, the game just slapped me on the wrist by sending me back to the nearest church, missing half my gold but with all my progress and experience completely intact. While this same mechanic was used in Dragon Quest VIII, I didn’t really notice it, as the huge scale of that world made it a minor hassle to retrace my steps no matter how forgiving the Game Over system was. However, in the smaller worlds of Dragon Quest IV and V, facing death sometimes even seemed like a favor in disguise. I would just try that dungeon again, with more experience and treasure than I had the first time.

The second time through was always a cakewalk, and the whole game system just oozed friendliness. Not only did it never make me feel like I was wasting my time; it largely took away the need to grind for experience. You’re always making progress in Dragon Quest, even when you die, as long as you continue to explore.

Without spoiling too much about its incredibly charming opening hours, Dragon Quest V even seems to make experiencing a few Game Overs a central gameplay mechanic. Occasionally getting in over your head and losing a battle feels justified in terms of the story, creating the sense that you truly are exploring an enormous and dangerous world. As someone who mostly played Final Fantasy games growing up, these early parts felt like the most subtle tutorial possible to teach me about Dragon Quest’s forgiving “failure” conditions, inviting me to try a much kinder breed of RPG.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think strict punishments for a Game Over are always bad RPG design, at least for now. Still, after playing Dragon Quest, I’m less likely to calmly abide when I lose a battle in haste and suddenly find an hour or two of my life gone forever, with absolutely nothing to show for it, real or virtual.

13 thoughts on “Grind and punishment

  1. Since playing DQ8, my first DQ since the first when it was a Nintendo Power gift, I’ve had a really hard time finishing any other RPG. I’ve tried and failed to finish Final Fantasy VII, X and XII, Odin Sphere, and Persona 3, and only got through FFVIII. I just don’t have the patience…

  2. I don’t buy it, myself. Being properly equipped made a world of difference in DQIV, but I’d never have been able to do so if I played normally and lost half my G to every defeat. Yes, I’d be building my experience to a similar advantage, but that would be more time-consuming — more grindy. For me, it was more worthwhile to reset.

  3. @Nicola

    That’s why they provide the bank to deposit money. Probably the worst part money-wise is before any of your characters get Zing spells, ‘cuz you’ll still have to pay to revive everyone.

    Armor’s overrated, though. Just take Kiryl along and Kabuff your way to victory.

  4. But in DQIV, you don’t even get access to the bank until Chapter 5, by which point I was well set in my resetting ways.

  5. Man, why would you ever reset in a DQ game?

    Except when gambling in the casino, of course.

  6. In the case of DQIV I only ever wiped once, and I can’t really recall the incident, does it count the battle you have to lose? Anyways I did die a few times, but usually I made basically no progress and it was something like a boss fight you could head straight to. Resetting early on makes sense when you might have to sell off equipment just to have a party, but later on you’d have to either be heading straight to a boss or ignoring the bank to make resetting worthwhile.

  7. Not that you would have enough to deposit anyway, but in DQV you have access to the bank as early as the second town.

  8. It’s only a grind if it feels like a grind. I love wandering around and leveling up. It’s comforting.

  9. I’ve never really found the DQ death mechanic all that useful. Early on it’s too harsh, later on it’s not helpful. I’d rather have a… less archaic… save system. (Or, ideally, both.)

  10. I have always enjoyed the Dragon Quest series ever since I played the first in about three years ago. This was, without a doubt, one of the best RPG Series of all time!

  11. I think it’s great how many people are finally seeing the charms of DQ. Many of my friends have long been turned off to the series because of it’s “kiddy” aesthetics, but ultimately find themselves loving it when they’re pestered into finally giving it a serious chance.

    Still, DQIV is probably one of my least favorite DQs. It was the only one I hadn’t played prior to the recent rerelease, and honestly I find myself scratching my head as to why everyone loves it so much. III and VI through VIII are all absolutely classics though.

    Mainly DQIV just feels so short, like it’s over right when it should be hitting it’s stride.

  12. Not having played the DQ series until post-SNES era, I thought Earthbound was a genius with its ‘try again’ death penalty scenario. I never realized its copy/crazy formula was adhered to Dragon Quest until I played DQ7 on the PS1. I’ve been heralding its forgiving nature ever since.

    I hate the ‘Death = Title Screen’ mechanic.

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