Dragon Warrior: Begin a New Quest – “But Thou Must”
I’ve played a lot of games in my time, and there haven’t been too many reveals that made me go “Wow…” That said, one game in recent memory did provoke such a reaction, to the point where I was still shaking my head and running it through my mind again and again even days after the fact. The game in question isn’t one that we officially cover on this site, as it is a free, fan-made game of a major franchise, but I did write the Deep Look for it: Dragon Warrior: Begin a New Quest, by our own former Q&A guy, Matt “Wonderslime” Demers.
This is a game I’ve recommended time and again, but I have no idea who’s actually listened to me go on about it. This has been frustrating, because there is that one major twist that I’ve wanted to talk about for so long… Well, as the title of the feature says, Spoiler Warning.
To lay the groundwork here, Wonderslime put a lot of work into this labor of love, with minor references to his favorite games in the series to be found in key items, location design, and dialogue. Therein one can find the Mirror of Ra, the Wind Cape, the Master Key, and even the Medal King in his palace. But the best reference is perhaps the simplest, applied for perfect effect.
For the first half of the game, the party is aiming to take down Shadow, a young man of the Dragon Tribe who claims to be the Herald of the Demon King. This claim is true, but not one hundred percent accurate. At the great showdown, it’s revealed that when the Demon King is set to arise once more, three heralds will be born to do battle with one another until only the strongest remains to serve him. The second herald has already been defeated by the party without anyone realizing what she was, but the third…
The final and true Herald of the Demon King is the hero’s childhood friend, who accompanies him on this dangerous quest not because she wishes to help (though even she thinks so at first), but because she wants to ensure that her last rival is safely dispatched. Before she can come fully into her power, however, the Demon King’s own son swoops in to capture her. His intent is to supplant his father, whom he believes to have become unfit for the throne of Hell, and the key to that lies in the Herald.
The third act of the game is a wild race around the world as the party searches for the legendary item that the Prince of Demons needs in order to secure the Herald’s loyalty: a magical brand that can force anyone marked with it into complete subservience. And at the climax of that act, at the top of an ancient spire on an abandoned continent, the hero’s party defeats the Prince and rescues their friend from enslavement.
In return, their former friend seizes the brand and the hero, flying off into the sunset. Before he can react, she stabs him with it, marking him as hers forevermore. Even then, some trace of their past friendship shows through, and she speaks to him softly, even lovingly, asking him to please help her fulfill her purpose, to conquer the world at her side. She gives a choice. And if the hero chooses “No,” then three chilling words appear.
“But thou must…”
One line, three syllables, three dots of punctuation, and the culmination of hours of plot, and even as I write it, I still feel a chill. The hero is offered an infinite number of decisions, an infinite number of chances to say “No,” but the results will always be the same.
“But thou must…”
This is the iconic line of the Dragon Quest series, dating back to the very first installment. It has been used in memes and jokes, and held up as an example of railroading in game design, and yet here, in this context, it becomes eleven letters, three dots, and two spaces of existential horror. For no matter how much the hero might wish it, no matter how many times the player makes him answer in the negative in the hopes of another option, there is no other way. The mark on his neck sees to that.
For the rest of the game, the player is forced to continue with only the three remaining party members, through dangerous dungeons and passageways leading deep into the earth, through the Demon King’s lands within the underworld, and all the way to the heart of his great citadel. And there, standing in front of the stairs to the inner sanctum, two familiar faces stand in the way. The Herald is there because the darkness in her blood and her soul demands it. The Hero stands there mutely, tears of sorrow in his eyes, as his mistress bids him destroy these interlopers who would interfere.
And he must.