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.