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Betrayal December 13, 2006

Greetings, friendly RPGamer readers. Matt will be off this week, so it's looking like you're going to have a variety of different staffers filling in for him. First up is... well, me! I'm Aethelred. Some of you may know me from my capacity as a staff editorialist. For those of you that don't know me, I like answering questions and I like engaging in friendly debate, so I think we'll have a fun column ahead of us.

It should come as no shock that most of our mail today dealt with the fairly enormous announcement that Square Enix's Dragon Quest IX wouldn't be on the PlayStation 2 or PlayStation 3, but actually... Nintendo's DS handheld. It's big, big news -- already the cause of plenty of controversy, and sure to send as many ripples throughout the RPG world as Square's defection to Sony with Final Fantasy VII. But even though this is the major topic du jour, we still have a few other morsels of discussion for those heretical few of you that might not care about Dragon Quest.

So let's get started, shall we?

So, about that Dragon Quest...

So apparently tomorrow there's supposed to be an announcement of a new Dragon Quest game, although I'd love for it to be this soon to hear news of DQIX, I have a feeling it's gonna be another spinoff, which is good in it's own right, but Dragon Quest Swords has done nothing for me from what I've seen of it, and I don't feel like I'll be buying it for Wii, it's just so gah bland. Now Joker looks great, and Heroes Rocket Slime was great, so hopefully it's something akin to those 2.

Although if it isn't IX or a spinoff, mayhaps a remake of a past DQ? That we'd probably never see stateside anyways..
Ah well, what are your thoughts and hopes for whatever this (possibly) new DQ title may be?



Well, there was in fact an announcement (as you've no doubt heard), and it was a doozy -- I don't think it was quite what anyone was expecting. I did actually think they'd be announcing Dragon Quest IX (my backup guess was a Dragon Quest VI remake), simply because it was too big for the announcement to not be something major. Square Enix took out an ad in a newspaper to advertise that there'd be a live event. It had to be big.

Of course, I was expecting the announcement to come for a different system. I had either the PS2 or the Wii pegged as the likeliest candidates... not the DS. Oops.

Dragon QUest Swords, bland, really? I've got to say, I'm pretty excited for it personally. For one thing, it's rare for any DQ title to disappoint me, whether it's one of the main series installments or a spinoff. But the thing that's really had me hyped about DQS, and what made the game one of the top reasons why I bought a Wii console, was the fact that it's the first Dragon Quest spinoff ever where the entire main series creative team is actively involved in the development -- with Akira Toriyama doing superb character and monster designs (I'd say they're my favorite character designs from Toriyama since Chrono Trigger), maestro Koichi Sugiyama doing music composition, and series creator Yuji Horii doing the game design and story. Now they're revealing more and more stuff that's getting me excited, like that there'll be a party of heroes to accompany you in battle and full voice acting for the story. I think it'll be quite fun.

Dragon Quest? There's no Dragon Quest here!

Word to Bainick and Ouro. How are ya' fellas? First off, I must say that Exxon can fight it all it wants, but when I was a kid we used to get mad, and I mean MAD amounts of snow, now all we get is this 40 degree BS and slush everywhere. I live in Salt Lake City. Yeah, the mountains get it, but the valleys no more. It always gets me down on Christmas, and games are losing their pull towards anti-bah-humbug. But now to some more pressing gaming issues.

When Xenogears first came out, I played it, and loved it. I loved how you had to advance your skills by trying new button configurations, and the epic story was so awesome. Everything about that game was beyond what I knew about RPG's, and what they could be. The director of that series is one of my fav's. And then I beat the game to find that it was the fifth in the series! I was so incredibly stoked, and then they announced Xenosaga, the supposed start of the saga. So about halfway through that game I realized that it has nothing to do with Xenogears at all, and instead became some watered down version of something the director doesn't even work on. I still pressed on and beat the game because all in all, it was a great game by itself, and I became excited for the second episode. And the second game?? Terrible, what terrible shotty work. I can't believe how cheesy everything got. That battle actions were awful, and the voice acting was something you'd hear on lamb chop! It felt like a capcom sequel (excluding Resident Evil 2 which is still the best in the series.) They completely destroyed the battle system, the animations in battle were terrible, and I need not say anymore. I'm sorry about the rant, videogame politics bug me though, especially when it kills such great possibilities, Xenogears rules.

End of story. But that brings me to my first question, what series have let you down after the first installment?


Interesting question. I suppose my prime two candidates would be Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. I went into both games with unusually high expectations, given the quality of each game's predecessor. What I got wasn't exactly what I had hoped for. Neither were *bad* games, really -- both had some interesting gameplay ideas that were sometimes pulled off well, sometimes botched a bit in the execution. But at the same time, they carried the stigma of being sequels to games that were, frankly, hard to live up to. I have to think that if they had just been named differently, they would have been received far more encouragingly by myself and other gamers who were met with similar disappointments as my own. Of course, then you run the risk of seeing the games just get flat out ignored by the RPGing populace.

Then there's Phantasy Star III. It was a pretty big let down after the high point of Phantasy Star II, and initially I had a pretty viscerally negative reaction to it accordingly. But I eventually got over that one and accepted it as a pretty good game in its own right.

And that brings me to Breath of Fire. I seriously think the first 4 games are really great and entirely fun. The whole dragon premise and the way the stories build up so subtly, and the techniques and spells you get that aren't so traditional, and only unique to those games. Plus the whole anime graphic style of the characters, the actions. They made such great rpg's by one of my beloved makers, Capcom. But I must digress, Dragon Quarter was a terrible idea for a game. Especially in that series. What were they thinking? Honestly? The game had almost no connection to the others, the battle system was below sub-par, and the graphics were nothing to write home about. So what about a sixth game? Have you heard anything about that? I thought I heard something about a ps3 title, but I can't remember where I got this knowledge. I remember that the 3rd game is coming to the PSP. But honestly, I can't see myself ever owning one of those, unless they did a groundbreaking new game that everyone was talking about. I'm all about the DS. Cheers to Nintendo.


Dragon Quarter is actually my favorite game in the Breath of Fire series, and honestly, I think it just completely spanks the others in terms of overall quality. Sure, the graphics weren't great, but the earlier games weren't the most graphically intense, either, and I think Capcom fairly compensated with the game's fantastic art style. And sure, there were only tenuous connections to prior games, beyond the trademark inclusion of Nina and the draconic Ryu. But the battle system... well, I can understand long-time series fans being upset with the transition from traditional RPG battling to a primarily Strategy RPG approach, but aside from that, it was a great system they put in place. It emphasized strategy, resource conservation, and a true struggle for survival against overwhelming odds. The game did a lot of innovative, groundbreaking stuff that, though often jarring for the first time one plays it, really made for one of the best RPGs last gen. I suggest giving it a second try if you can, while keeping in mind that it's meant to be a different experience. You might enjoy it more.

I've not heard any rumblings about a sixth installment (the series has long been on a pretty steep sales decline, and Dragon Quarter was an egregious underperformer), and looking over all the stuff Capcom has either announced or hinted at for the PS3, nothing Breath of Fire-ish stands out. I think we can basically stick a coffin in this one, though hope springs eternal. Keep checking back with RPGamer -- we'll be sure to let you know as soon as we hear anything.

And as you don't know, I'm a huge fan of Suikoden. I haven't played any of the ps2 titles, as I've been a little reluctant. I briefly played 3 but never had the time to get into it, and was stolen after I had a party. That was the only game taken, not even the 2nd game which is getting up there with the price of gold(or a wii.) I heard 4 was terrible and 5 was the redemption. They're both in prog. scan which is nice(and a big deal if all you have is an HD LCD, because games look like absolute...NES games if they are not in prog. scan.) So would you recommend I pick any of those up?


I'm a pretty big fan, too, and I'd rank Suikoden II as both amongst the best RPGs and one of my own personal favorites. And I'd have to generally mimic the consensus you've heard -- IV is a big letdown for the series, and quite easily its worst installment, while V is a nice return to form that, while not the best in the series, still makes a very respectable showing for itself. Suikoden III is a little bit off the beaten path, and probably the most unique amongst all five games, but it offers a very complex, rewarding story and a nice area addition to the larger Suiko world. I'd be willing to recommend both III and V, especially if you're a series fan.

Also, what about the PSP versions of 1 and 2? Have you heard of them making there way stateside at all? That would be my reason for owning a PSP, definately!


Haven't heard anything good, I'm afraid, and it's been so long since it came out in Japan that I think a North American localization is all but guaranteed to not happen. I mean, it came out before Suikoden V, which Konami then got out in the US a mere month later. Considering that Suikoden I & II are both already translated, there's no way it could take this long if they planned to release the game here. It sold poorly in Japan, and the Suikoden fanbase is even smaller in the US, so I guess they just decided to cut their losses.

And last but not least, on the ADD gaming matter. I used to get that too. Then I realized that there were too many games coming out that were just sub-par. The lesson I learned? Only pick up the great games, then you won't be tempted to take it out of your console, and will be totally enthralled. I've given up on the Tales series as Star Ocean3 was a much better game than Symphonia, the two came out at about the same time with similiar mech's and battles, but Star Ocean was a much better game. Okami was good, but I'd rather play any Zelda game, any day of the week. Not one ounce of me wants to play through that game ever again. I'll never draw another vine. The similarities between that and Ocarina are dime-a-dozen. So, you live, you learn, and the wisdom of good games comes with age. So, I say, bring on Rogue Galaxy, because it's oozing quality. And that's it, that's all, that's all there is.

Guitar Hero Ian


I suppose I still get a good kick out of playing good games, too. You know, the "solid but not spectacular" games (to borrow a phrase from Peter Moore) -- good, but not great. Sure, I tend to lose interest in them more quickly than the truly great games, but there's still some value in experiencing them. They can still have interesting stories despite weak gameplay, or do some unique and innovative things from a gameplay perspective despite failing in some other area. It's the same as with movies and books, you know? Not everything I watch or read is an instant classic, a real masterpiece, but they can still have entertainment value. And the nice thing is that playing these good games helps keep me grounded as a gamer and helps me maintain a stronger perspective as a critic -- it helps stave off the creep of gamers' cynicism while better preparing me for the truly great experiences. After a few merely good games, you're in a much better position to savor the rare, exquisite gem that comes around.

And back to Dragon Quest...

Ok...I'm not sure how to respond to the news that Dragon Quest IX will be on the DS. I love that it will be portable right out of the box, and I have complete faith in Level 5's ability to coax the absolute best out of the somewhat limited specs of that system. At the same time, I feel exactly that: limited. Put it on the Wii! Then I'll have the pleasure of putting it on a nice big TV screen and sitting at home in my underwear eating fritos and hunting Metal King Slimes. I guess I could do that on the go too, only with less TV screen and more public indecency.


I like the idea of portability myself, since a lot of the game playing time I get is when I'm away from home. As to the weaker specs of the system versus, say, the PS2 or one of the next-gen consoles... well, I like the way Mr. Horii put it. He said that he recognizes he's working on weaker hardware, but that he relishes the idea of the challenge that brings and he feels more than confident enough to provide a great Dragon Quest experience on it. I'm definitely optimistic. And on the other hand, you really have to keep in mind, this series has never been about pushing graphical boundaries. DQI through IV were all pretty primitive, even by NES standards, and DQV was way below what the system was capable of. Granted, DQVI was pretty beautiful as SNES games go, but right after that came DQVII which, despite being a great game, was practically SNES-level when it arrived at the tail end of the PSX's life. Final Fantasy has become pretty big on realistic graphics and flashy cinematics, but Dragon Quest has almost always been about that more simplistic experience of a game without all the trimmings.

One thing I am sure how to respond to, however, is the news that the battles will be action-based. I'm mortified. First Phantasy Star went action, then Shining Force went action, and then Final Fantasy. Now this...the last and greatest bastion of pure turn-based rpgs...I feel like I did when I was five and they shot Old Yeller. It's so sad, I may never recover. Why? Why do Japanese game developers all seem to want to do this? It never works. The rpgs they do this to always suffer because of it. Now...maybe Level 5 will do a good job. Maybe Old Yeller is in doggie heaven, playing with all the other dead animals and happy as can be. Or maybe this is Crystal Chronicles all over again. Please god don't let them kill my Dragon Quest.

Chris Belt


The move away from turn-based combat seems to be the thing that's causing the biggest fear amongst folks... and as a long-time series fan, I have to confess to a little bit of trepidation myself. Dragon Quest has always been the paragon of traditionalism: it never evolved, it never shook things up, it just kept doing what it was doing while being immune to the changes RPGs were undergoing all around it. But in celebrating the series' 20th anniversary, it seems like Horii has decided that the time has finally come to rock the boat a little bit.

It's a little bit frightening, the prospect of facing change in the one series you always rely upon to be the same-old, same-old. I like traditionalism (despite also loving innovation). And I like turn-based battling as well. But after I got over the initial shock ("What? Dragon Quest... CHANGE?!"), I'm mostly okay with this. No, I really, really don't think I want this to be a permanent shift in the series. But the bottom line is that the series is still in the hands of Yuji Horii, the man who created the series and who did the game design on all eight previous Dragon Quests. And as I mulled that over, I realized, hey, this guy's earned some confidence from me. He hasn't let me down yet; he's made nothing but masterpieces. He knows what he's doing. He won't kill Dragon Quest, even if he is, for the first time, changing it a bit.

Hey, did you hear about that Dragon Quest?

Hi Matt,

Yipe. I'm sure by now you've seen the announcement about Dragon Quest IX, and I would speculate that your reaction to it is probably similar to my own. On one hand, I'm thrilled that it's coming to a platform that I already own (the DS), especially since the series has never been about pushing the graphical envelope. On the other, the prospect of action-based combat and 4-player co-op is concerning.


I agree. Dragon Quest has really never been an envelope-pusher in the graphics department, so this really doesn't bother me. And despite that, from all the screens and videos they've shown of Dragon Quest IX, I still think it looks absolutely beautiful. Sure, it may not top VIII, but it still looks better than the seven other games in the series.

The move to a portable really doesn't bother me. It's not the first time a major RPG franchise has departed home consoles for the portable arena -- I think the move worked out extremely well for Fire Emblem and Earthbound/Mother, personally. Both were console RPGs on the SNES that shifted their main series installments to a handheld. Plus you've got Link's Awakening on the original Game Boy, and that title is quite well regarded. For non-RPGs, there's always Metroid II and Kid Icarus II.

The main difference between all of these games and Dragon Quest IX? DQIX is the first third party RPG series to do it; all the others have been Nintendo properties. Frankly, I don't see anything bad about this at all. If it helps force third parties to start treating handheld RPG development as seriously as Nintendo has been -- as a big-budget, serious affair where quality, original titles are more the norm than cheap kiddie shovelware and rehashed ports -- that can only be a good thing for us as gamers.

On their own, both of these sound great. Some of my best gaming memories are of playing Secret of Mana with friends. If this game were announced as a spin-off, I'd be all over it (DQ: Rocket Slime, Swords, and Monsters are all on my short list to try to acquire when time and money permits). However, a big part of Dragon Quest's appeal, and what sets it apart from other series, has always been the way it upholds the genre traditions. If it doesn't carry the torch for classical turn-based battle systems, who will? Hopefully the rest of the game will keep the old-school vibe alive, but the battle system is such a huge part of the gameplay that I hate to see the decision-making and finely tuned challenge diluted.

Giving us the option of co-op play is great if and only if it doesn't mean that we'll be saddled with brain-dead AI or lack of control when 3 friends can't be rounded up. It may be too early to worry about this implementation, but it's very easy to get wrong.

For a battle system to be engaging for me, the single most important aspect is for me to feel like the destiny of my party is in my hands, that they will succeed or fail based on my inputs. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. In a turn-based traditional or tactical RPG, the player chooses every command out of a wide range of options. In a single-character action-rpg like Zelda or Illusion of Gaia, a substantial portion of the challenge comes from tests of reflexes rather than decision-making, but it is still in the player's hands. Hybrid games like Planescape or FFXII allow you to pause the game at any time to issue commands (In FFXII's case, even gambits are just a simple way for the player to program the AI to act the way they want). In single-player SoM, the AI takes control of two characters, but in a fairly minimal way - the player is still responsible for a third of the melee plus all spell and item usage. By contrast, Tales of Symphonia's battle system bored me because of the lack of control and dearth of options in battle - it felt like whichever 3 out of 4 characters you weren't controlling would do just fine without you, and you only had a relatively few choices at any given moment in battle.. I just hope that DQIX will follow SoM's example and keep the bulk of the control in the player's hands when playing single-player.


These are valid concerns. And believe me, I'm a big fan of traditional RPGs, too, so I get where you're coming from and even have some similar fears here. All I can do to reassure you is say the same thing I said to Chris. I've come to trust in Horii as a game developer, and I have a lot of confidence in him to make an amazing product. Dragon Quest is his baby, and I don't think he'll mess it up.

As far as depth goes, one thing I've heard is that DQIX will mark the return of the old class system. For gameplay, this is a great move is another one of those salves that's helping to ease some of my worries. It tells me that DQIX isn't abandoning series traditions and it isn't going for a shallow, hollow experience but rather something with just as much (considerable) depth and old-school complexity as prior DQs.

At any rate, this may all be unnecessarily alarmist at such an early date and with so few details available. However, seeing the paragon of old-school RPG-dom abandon its turn-based roots is a disturbing prospect. I just hope this isn't a precursor of an abandonment of turn-based systems across the industry, as there is certainly room for all types to coexist.

Regardless, I'm certainly still going to be looking forward to it - my main worries are for the direction of the genre of the whole rather than the quality of this particular game. What do you think?



Fair point. While I think Dragon Quest IX is going to be an absolutely fantastic game, I share your sentiments in not wanting to really see a huge shift (more than what we've already witnessed over the course of the last console generation) away from turn-based RPGing and more towards action RPGs. I don't think that will happen, though. I'm not really sure where Dragon Quest will end up -- number 10 might return to pure turn-based style, or maybe it'll welcome in another evolution, perhaps to active-time or something else entirely. But even with this, the last great staunch defender of traditionalism finally embracing a bit of a change, I think turn-based RPGs will always be around. At the very least, we've still got Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey to look forward to. We just got Final Fantasy III, and no fan of turn-based combat should be willing to pass on Atlus' upcoming Etrian Odyssey.

And after that, who knows? Suikoden VI, Shin Megami Tensei IV, Skies of Arcadia II, Dragon Quest X, the next SaGa game? New old school Final Fantasies ala the FFIII remake? The industry will always keep changing and adapting but I don't think the things we like will ever be completely abandoned, even if they're lessened.


That was fun. I hope you guys don't think I got too long winded!

What a crazy, topsy-turvy week, though. I think the impact of this week's announcement is still sinking in, and even ignoring that, Square Enix still has more news coming. This has to be one of the most significant weeks in terms of gaming announcements since Final Fantasy VII was revealed for the PlayStation. So what do you guys think? And is there anything, anything at all, besides Dragon Quest that you'd like to discuss? Let us hear it! We didn't have too many letters today, so hopefully we can get some more discussion going by the time Matt comes back.

***Bryan is Dycedarg's elder brother!

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