Friday, May 15, 2015

Shades of Resonance: Disappointment and Regret - Memory Log #34

Dragon Warrior

If it's true that first impressions are everlasting, then you can pretty much blame Dragon Warrior's traumatic opening moments for molding my eternal aversion to RPGs.

Dragon Warrior and I--we'd never met before, but the circumstances behind our first encounter were quite familiar: I was hanging out in the den one afternoon, probably drawing monsters or watching cartoons, when my brother emerged from the basement with in hand yet another of those strange-sounding NES games he was apt to dig up from bargain bins at the local electronic stores. He explained to me what it was and how its core concepts were derived from the tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons, which he was heavy into at the time (this seemed odd to me at the time, because playing D&D was considered socially unacceptable activity for rejects and yet my brother was Mr. Popularity and the leader of the "cool" kids).

I'd never before heard of an "RPG," nor was I entirely sure what a "role-playing game" even entailed. Though, I'd decided that if Dragon Warrior had anything to do with Dungeons & Dragons, which I found supremely uninteresting based on the observance of a few games in progress, then it probably wasn't worth any serious consideration. I mean, I had no need for some boring, luck-based dungeon-crawler when I could just as well continue playing all of my favorite fast-paced action games!

The only problem was that I wouldn't be playing them anytime soon, since we were currently in one of those periods where the NES was temporarily parked on the coffee table in the basement--my brother and friends' perpetual hangout (I'd occasionally lend the console to him for about a week or two and play Commodore 64 games in the meantime). So if I'd grow bored of failing to figure out Zorro and Impossible Mission, desiring to return to the safe haven of my more-comprehensible NES, my only recourse would be to watch him play it.

Specifically, I'd have to watch him play through the newly purchased Dragon Warrior, the idea of which sounded utterly deflating. And seeing the game in motion didn't do much to perk me up, since I perceived its pace to be terribly slow and stagnant and its action to be a tedious exercise in cycling through word menus, dialogue boxes, and screens-worth of complicated-looking statistical listings that seemed more intimidating than informative. After watching him play it for about ten minutes or so, I retreated back to the den upstairs out of boredom.

Sure--there were certain elements of Dragon Warrior that caught my attention (like the monsters and the game's general aesthetics, which for the time didn't seem nearly as crude to me as game-history retrospectives suggest), but nothing I'd observed about the game's means of progression, menu systems, or flow convinced me that this "RPG" was something I needed to experience. However, I was also well aware that I'd similarly made quick, ill-formed judgements about some of my brother's previous pickups based on equally incomplete information, so I didn't believe I had much to lose by at least messing around with it for a few minutes.

I wound up spending a fair amount of time with Dragon Warrior that day, but I just couldn't get into it. Oh, I could find plenty of things to like about the game: I found the music to be completely enrapturing, the soundtrack functioning in way I found entirely distinct--each piece a withering remembrance of a happier melody whose longing spirit is now bound by the shackles of woe. The best, most memorable example was the particularly melancholic map theme, which spoke of the world's desperate state while somehow mustering the energy to provide a faint sense of hopeful encouragement. Adding further disconsolate texture were the game's creepy monsters, which were also distinctly rendered and capable of inciting fear by means of their menacing poses and threatening musical accompaniment. If anything, Dragon Warrior had a wonderful setting, and I could immerse myself in it on that level.

But I just didn't find the actual game to be any fun. It was frustrating to have my progress interrupted literally every five seconds by monster encounters when all I wanted to do was shift over a few steps so I could gauge my surroundings. I couldn't stand having to retreat back to the first town's inn following every other encounter because my hero was always too weak and I could make no headway toward accruing the gold needed to buy weapons and potions. And I had absolutely no inclination to satisfy the game's demand that I walk in circles for hours and hours, repetitiously fighting the same handful of enemies and slowly grinding out levels only for the sake of reaching a new area where I'd have to do more of the same; this brand of monotony, above all, was the reason I could never see myself ever wanting to play through or complete a game like Dragon Warrior.

It was my brother's game, anyway, so I thought it was best to leave it in his hands. In fact, one of my lasting memories of Dragon Warrior is of watching him play through the final castle and battling the Dragon Lord--a final-boss encounter that sealed my unfavorable opinion of the game for how it dragged on endlessly and required the wearisome tactic of alternating between the spells Hurtmore and Healmore while putting him at the mercy of a random-number generator.

Image credited to

I gave it a few tries in the following years, but I could never make it far beyond the first area. I'd quickly grow agitated by the random encounters, and I was too hesitant to move over bridges in fear that an overpowered enemy would appear instantly and annihilate me. If there was any enjoyment to be extracted from Dragon Warrior, then it could only come from that promotional mini-guide that was included in Nintendo Power Volume 9 (I owned two copies of it because my original back-order issue was damaged and Nintendo sent me a new after we complained). Mainly, I had fun reading through its detailed enemy listing and learning about the monsters I was unlikely to ever see in the game, be they unique or palette-swapped; also, I liked that the guide featured large sprite-rips of the game's magicians, werewolves, wyverns and scorpions, since it made easier for me to trace them onto the 4-inch notepad papers that I used in the creation of my many monster-based card series. I regret that I didn't take better care of either copy, one of which is missing while the other is tattered and torn.

More than discouraging me from seriously attempting to play my way through it, my bad experiences with Dragon Warrior served to taint my opinion of the majority of RPGs I'd sample in following, including the proximate Final Fantasy, which was flush with creative ambition but simply recalled too many sour memories--particularly of tedious grinding and ridiculous random-encounter rates. With the exception of Final Fantasy IV and the hybrid Mario titles, there's not a single RPG I could claim to adore, and the entire genre remains somewhere near the very bottom of my list. Even seeing the term RPG conjures painful images of walking in circles for hours, fighting the same annoying enemy-sets hundreds of times over, and struggling to afford the gear that would greatly help your cause if only it wasn't so magnificently overpriced.

I'm impressed by the vast worlds they create, and I appreciate the enormous scope of their stories, but RPGs simply aren't for me.

Oh, I'm sure I'll be seeing a lot more of Dragon Warrior via retrospectives and the play-throughs produced by my favorite Youtube personalities, but it's not likely that I'll ever personally return to it.

"But thou must!" you insist. 

Don't even start.

1 comment:

  1. You're most likely aware, but in Japan this title's tropes define the Famicom, even moreso than Mario or Link. There are plenty of Mario-clone games for the system, but just about every publisher was eager to put out something that looked and played more or less like Dragon Quest.

    Your (understandable) attitude toward the game was typical of the American attitude toward the series as a whole. By the time it was released in the U.S. it was simply too late for it to catch the same sort of fire it had in Japan. It's a miracle to me that all four Famicom Dragon Quest games were localized at all.