[[image: ar_031109_dqv_02.jpg:Core blimey!:right:0]]So I’ve finally had a chance to put in some quality time with Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, and unsurprisingly, I’m enjoying it quite a bit. This is my third DQ game, the others being Dragon Quest VIII (which I loved) and VII (which…well, I didn’t finish because it dragged on too long). Third time’s a charm, as they say, because I think I finally understand a key component of exactly why the series is as loved as it is.
Of course it’s no secret that, if nothing else, DQ’s appeal (particularly in Japan) these days is that of a comfort food; everyone likes it and everyone’s familiar with it, so when you start up a new one you smile, rather than complain that there’s yet another casino. You’re simultaneously looking forward to the new stuff while being gently guided by familiar trappings. Now that I have a few DQ games under my belt, I’m finally seeing that mechanic come into play. But Dragon Quest as a series had to do something right to help it achieve that sort of appeal in the first place, something other series haven’t quite gotten the hang of. Without going into spoilers, I’ve already witnessed several genuinely happy plot events, something most RPGs tend to save for the lighthearted beginning or the post-last boss extravaganza. Mulling this fact over was what turned on the light bulb: people love Dragon Quest because it has such a good grip on the concept of positive reinforcement.
Every Dragon Quest game is built to please the player as efficiently and as often as possible. With generous experience given for each battle – which isn’t taken away, even if you die – it’s uncommon to go more than a few fights without hearing the level up fanfare. (This is even more pronounced in DQV, due to the high number of party members…no wonder it’s so highly regarded.) Furthermore, the stat increases for each level have a significant impact, meaning even seemingly difficult areas can be overcome with a small amount of grinding – which, in turn, doesn’t feel like much of a grind because battles usually last 30 seconds or less. Combine this with a simple – but not dumbed down! – battle system, and you have a game that’s rewarding players at every turn. It’s like the RPG equivalent of Peggle. (Or, rather, Peggle is the brick breaking equivalent of Dragon Quest, but I digress.)
Of course, the other major school of thought on player rewards – commonly found in games like Viewtiful Joe, Ninja Gaiden, or the Shin Megami Tensei series – is that a reward is that much more worth it when you’ve earned it. There’s nothing wrong with that, and one could certainly argue Dragon Quest provides this as well in the form of a few tough bosses or dungeons, but now more than ever I’m convinced that DQ’s popularity is due to something else. It’s the meticulously careful balancing of providing constant rewards with long term achievements that, to this day, separates Dragon Quest from the other games that follow in its footsteps. Other RPGs, even non-sequels, often struggle with feeling tired and clichéd, while DQ – historically a series incredibly guilty of retread – gets a free pass every time, and I finally understand exactly why that is. When I fire up a new DQ game, I simply know I’m going to be (mostly) smiling from start to finish. I know the game is never going to punish me, and I know that – unlike some of its imitators – it’ll never feel like work when I’m playing.
And sometimes, that’s all I need to know.
13 thoughts on “Let the good slimes roll”
“This is even more pronounced in DQV, due to the high number of party members…no wonder it’s so highly regarded.”
The original DQV only allowed three party members. The fourth was added in the PS2 remake.
The fourth party member was that Pokemon-esque monster party member though, right? (I’m not very familiar with DQ5&6 except what I’ve heard recently with their first legit English localizations.)
How grindy is DQ5 compared to DQ8 and DW7? I’ve been slowly playing DQ8 for ~2 years now and put it down after every other dungeong when I’ll need to grind for four hours to make it through the next one.
I’m only about 9 hours in but this game is at risk of bumping off Dragon Quest III as my favorite DQ game. I’m surprised how brisk it is at moving the plot forward.
I think there’s a quote from Horii that sums up the above nicely: “The game doesn’t lose when the player wins.”
“The fourth was added in the PS2 remake.”
I’m pretty sure he’s referring to the fact that characters in the wagon level up even when they’re not active combat participants.
You’re so right: this game is love. It’s a good friend you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s the chicken pot pie of video games. More metaphors forthcoming.
Yup, Parish has it: I meant that even (some of) your inactive party members gain experience, so you’re ALWAYS seeing someone level up.
evilpaul – the game is incredibly brisk. I absolutely detest grinding, and I love this game. I loved VIII, too, but this is certainly better, particularly for those of us that hate grinding.
The “constant rewards” thing extends beyond the battle system. Unlike the vast majority of games, saving the world isn’t reserved until the end. Every town you come across experiences its own personal crisis, you save each one as you come to it, and you can see how much good you’ve done pretty much immediately.
Most games contain a single goal of “prevent the world’s destruction”, which is not accomplished until the end, and nobody seems to care except the main characters; this is not always bad, Persona 3 played off of this aspect pretty well by having the characters themselves get bitter about it. But with Dragon Quest, you’re not just saving the world, you’re saving each individual piece of the world as you come to it, transforming everything you touch, leaving behind a trail of prosperity in your wake. It’s the only RPG series I’ve played that really made me feel like I was taking control of a group of actual, legendary heroes.
“Of course, the other major school of thought on player rewards – commonly found in games like Viewtiful Joe, Ninja Gaiden, or the Shin Megami Tensei series – is that a reward is that much more worth it when you’ve earned it.”
The flipside of that is that when you can’t earn the reward, the only thing you get is frustrated.
Okay, this is going to be my next game purchase, once I finish FFTA2 (at the end).
I gave DQVII a shot, but had no idea what I was getting myself into. Really didn’t sit well with me, but things have changed a bit since then.
“The flipside of that is that when you can’t earn the reward, the only thing you get is frustrated.”
Well, in Viewtiful Joe at least, when you lose you can still purchase power-ups and extra lives to make the next attempt a lot easier. Your character is always getting stronger, even when you die (a lot like Dragon Quest, actually). I wish more games had organic difficulty like that.
Ah, I forgot about that. Still, if you died on a boss over and over, it wasn’t really possible to purchase more power-ups since you wouldn’t be getting any more points, but you do have a point.
Great post! I thought I was reading a post by Parish for a minute because it drew me in just like his posts do. You brought up some interesting points about Dragon Quest that I never really thought about before. I completely agree, it’s so frustrating when you spend an hour leveling up in, for example, a Final Fantasy game, and then you die and lose all that experience and time to a lame game over screen. Dragon Quest lets you keep going and going no matter what (for the most part) and I always liked that.
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