“The Dragon Quest series chooses to focus on staying true to its roots by emphasizing consistency, simplicity, and refinement.”


simpler is better for newbies

The other cornerstone of the Dragon Quest series is its relative simplicity when compared to other role-playing video games. It is, after all, the video game series that got me obsessed with playing role-playing games.

I had tried other RPGs before I came across Dragon Quest VIII. Some experiences were positive, such as when I played Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger. Others were not such great experiences. I can distinctly remember buying Tales of Symphonia for the GameCube at the recommendation of a friend sometime in 2005. While I loved the character and world design, I was put off by the mechanics of the game itself. Namely, the real-time battle system and the standard beginning of the game tutorials left me with a feeling of being in way over my head. The problem, of course, was me and not the game at all. Tales of Symphonia, when I finally did play it again upon its remastered release for the PlayStation 3, ended up being my other favorite PS3 RPG besides Ni No Kuni.

A very similar experience happened when I played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the first time on the Xbox 360. Yes, the world was beautiful and felt endless. Holding the strategy guide open on my lap, I remember playing through the first major dungeon, Bleak Falls Barrow. The sheer size of this one dungeon, combined with my lack of knowledge of previous Elder Scrolls titles, saw me backtracking through the entire dungeon after defeating the boss because I didn’t realize there was a shortcut to the exit in the last chamber. I think back on that now, of course, and chuckle as I went back to Skyrim years later and absolutely love it.

My point being that neither of these RPGs are good places to start for newcomers to the genre. They are great games, to be sure, but the complicated battle mechanics of action RPGs and the sheer size and scale on offer in Elder Scrolls games can be rather off-putting to newbies like myself. I couldn’t wrap my brain around everything on offer in Skyrim when I was overwhelmed after the first dungeon. And the fast-paced battle mechanics on offer in Tales of Symphonia were too much at the time for me to wrap my brain around.

This is where the Dragon Quest series shines. Its simplicity makes it an excellent series for RPG newcomers. Its battle system is perfect for those who have no experience playing RPGs, the weapons and other equipment make logical sense, and the lack of side quests respect the player’s time by not diverting attention away from the narrative.

Easy-To-Learn Battle System

The battle system in Dragon Quest VIII is easy to learn and not very complicated at all. Because it is a turn-based RPG, the player can take their time choosing what action they want their characters to perform without penalty. Is controlling more than one character in battle too complicated or time-consuming? The series offers the option to turn on AI controls for the other party members, along with easy-to-understand tactics that dictate the actions each AI-controlled party member will or won’t take on their turn.

The only difficult part of the battle system for me was fretting over how best to spend each of my character’s skill points, since it is not possible for the player to re-allocate skill points once they have been initially assigned.

Weapons & Equipment

Weapons and other equipment are also not complicated in the Dragon Quest series. Not only does the series tend to re-use the same armor and weapon types in each entry, but their names are also simple, straightforward, and adequately convey to the player what they are equipping on each character.

Take shields for example. The most rudimentary shield in the game is simply a pot lid. The next available upgrade is a leather shield. Later on, you’ll find yourself equipping scale shields, bronze shields, iron shields, etc. The nomenclature for each item adequately describes what the item is and makes it easy to understand.

Of course, the inclusion of alchemy does inject a level of complication and sophistication to this otherwise simple system. I would argue, however, that acquiring recipes to try in the alchemy pot by reading books does provide the player with adequate guidance. I would also argue that it is technically possible to beat the game without using the alchemy pot too much, though the fact that the best equipment in the game is only attainable through this method would increase the game’s overall difficulty.

Lack of Side Quests

With the exception of a few entries in the series, most entries do not overcomplicate the game by including hundreds of side quests. In Dragon Quest VIII, for example, there are only a handful of side quests available to the player: collecting mini medals, obtaining items for Dodgey Dave, and participating in Morrie’s monster arena are the only side quests available.

While some may find this to be a negative, I would argue that it keeps the game from feeling bloated and straying from the narrative. The best part? You don’t need to participate in any of these side quests at all to finish the main story. Sure, you won’t obtain the rewards for completion that these quests offer. But the rewards can also be acquired through alchemy, so you’re not missing out on key items by choosing not to divert your attention away from the main quest.

And let’s be honest for a minute. The vast majority of side quests in games are nothing more than busy work for the player. They tend to be rather simple, mindless affairs. This character needs you to kill x number of monsters, bring them x number of items, find something they lost and return it to them, or craft an item and give it to them. While I do enjoy participating in these diversions from time to time in other games, I have to credit Dragon Quest for bucking the industry trend in this regard. Bigger is not always better, and more things to do in-game doesn’t always lead to the game being more exciting for the player.

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