With the latest trailer Itadaki Street: Dragon Quest & Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to repost this blog entry I wrote a few months back! (now that I actually have a few readers) Enjoy!
The first time I ever witnessed the opening to Final Fantasy VII my mind was blown. Having only been exposed to purple dragons obsessed with gems and crazy spinning bandicoots on the Sony PlayStation, I was not prepared for a game on this level. I was too young to fully appreciate what it did for the role-playing genre in America.What was once a niche genre had all of a sudden become a staple of the PlayStation Brand.
Within three weeks, Final Fantasy VII had sold over half a million copies. Though it would take a couple more years before I could wrap my preadolescent head around RPGs, even now I can still recall the countless nights, watching my brother play through this monumental game. It was just as much of a spectacle to watch as it was to play. Even if I couldn’t fully appreciate the mesmerizing score of Nobuo Uematsu, the intense boss encounters, or the groundbreaking full motion video sequences, they still remain some of my fondest gaming memories.
Ever since then, I’ve been an avid fan of the series. As soon as I was intelligent enough to read in a game without being instantly turned off, I went back and played each installment. Final Fantasy would go on to shape the ways in which I thought about the role-playing genre. For years It was the gold standard to which all other RPGs would be held to. While it was
While it was Final Fantasy VII which sparked my interest in the genre, going back and completing Final Fantasy IV for the first time solidified my love for role-playing games. Everything about it just instantly clicked with me. The internal struggle of the Dark Knight Cecil as he reluctantly follows orders and his eventual redemption really spoke to me. Even more so, I was blown away by the soundtrack. I’ve heard some great music from video games over the years, but this game takes it to the next level. I mean, just listen to this and tell me this isn’t some of the best 16-bit music you’ve ever heard!
Over the years, Final Fantasy has moved further and further away from what it initially began as. Long gone are the days of crystals and castles. I understand the need for change, but I still miss the days when RPGs could simply be about venturing out into expansive worlds, traversing through threatening labyrinths and stumbling upon rare treasures. It must have been around the time Final Fantasy XIII came out that I started to feel helplessly nostalgic. While I didn’t think as poorly of the game as others might have, the lack of exploration combined with the endless hallways left a bad taste in my mouth.
I wondered if I had just grown tired of the Final Fantasy formula, so I began to venture out into other role-playing franchises. Games like Persona 3, Etrian Odyssey, and Tales of Vesperia opened my eyes to astounding series I had let slip by over the years. Franchises I had a passing interest in would soon renew my love for the modern RPG. Yet it wasn’t exactly what I had been looking for. As much as I enjoyed all of these titles, I wanted a more classic experience. I knew that a time would come when I would have to put aside my bias and check out a series I had refused to play out my insane devotion to Final Fantasy: It was time to take on the Dragonlord.
I’d always wondered what was so appealing about such an archaic series like Dragon Quest. For a long time, I wholeheartedly believed in the direction role-playing games were taking with games such as Final Fantasy VII. Casting off the dungeon and dragon’s inspiration meant that the genre could move forward into more creative territories.But as Final Fantasy continued to drastically alter its course, I started to warm up to the idea of Dragon Quest. I always believed that the lack of innovation found within Dragon Quest was a refusal to accept that the genre had moved forward. No one wanted to explore medieval settings anymore. Rescuing princesses and defeating great ancient evils was growing considerably clichéd.
On the other hand, Final Fantasy had awesome grim dark protagonists with a million zippers, oversized swords, and melodramatic narratives. What else could gamers ask for? But as I grew older, I realized that all change doesn’t necessarily equate to progress. What Dragon Quest offers with each new installment is a slice of nostalgia that can no longer be achieved with a series as far gone as Final Fantasy. It desires to bring you back to a youth; back to an era of gaming long gone.
Each franchise operates on vastly different premises. Final Fantasy has always attempted to move the genre forward, figuring out how to deliver deeper and more emotionally impactful narratives. Dragon Quest, on the other hand, attempts to maintain a familiarity that has persisted for decades.
It certainly helps that the same creative forces that have led Dragon Quest from its inception continue to work on the franchise. Inspired by role-playing classics such as Wizardry and Ultima, Yuji Horii wanted to create a game that could be enjoyed by mass audiences. With the help of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama and a terrific score by Koichi Sugiyama, the original Dragon Quest was revolutionary for its time.
It is often cited as the first Japanese role-playing game and its influence on the Japanese game industry cannot be understated. It would go on to inspire so many clones, including the Final Fantasy series itself. Without Dragon Quest, the JRPG may not have existed in its current format, for better or worse.
So for a series as influential as Dragon Quest, it was only a matter of time before I finally had to check it out. I decided the best way to approach the series was to play each installment chronologically. The original Dragon Quest, known as Dragon Warrior for the NES, was a bit too archaic for my taste with its heavy reliance on menus, so I settled on playing the Super Famicom remake. Now I admit, I was rather cynical going in.
Here was a franchise that I outright ignored for years on the basis that there was no way it was better than my beloved Final Fantasy. I thought I would get a good chuckle before turning off the game off and replaying Final Fantasy 6 for the hundredth time. And yet I couldn’t. The enticing music, the superb monster designs, and simplistic gameplay oozed out a certain charm that I had not experienced in years. I’d forgotten just how much I adored old school RPGs. It may not be a terribly difficult game, and having only one party member may feel restrictive to some, but I felt it was a very intimate experience of the singular hero venturing off to defeat the great evil. I blasted through the first game and quickly jumped straight into Dragon Quest II. I’d spend the next two years working my way through each new installment.
Even now, as I currently work through Dragon Quest VI for the DS, I can’t help but grow a deep admiration for what the series strives to be. You can easily jump into pretty much any Dragon Quest game and know exactly what to expect. While that may be a deterrence to some, it’s comforting to be able to go back to the days when role-playing games didn’t need hour long cutscenes and flashy visuals to impress you. They could just focus on exploration, discover treasures, and grind for enough money to drop on shiny new equipment. I’ll never stop loving the innovation and risks involved with each new Final Fantasy iteration. But as a different take on what JRPGs should be, Dragon Quest is an amazing alternative.
I’ll never stop loving the innovation and risks involved with each new Final Fantasy iteration. But as a different take on what JRPGs should be, Dragon Quest is an amazing alternative. Dragon Quest VII was recently remade and released in North America for the Nintendo 3DS and I highly suggest if you’ve never played a Dragon Quest game yet, now’s the perfect time to jump into what is quickly becoming one of my favorite franchises.