Dragon Quest IX and some musings on wandering monsters

Dragon Quest IX arrived on my DS this weekend, so if the posts this week are a little slow, you can blame the slimes. I have barely had a chance to scratch the surface of this game but I already love it dearly.

Twitter (140 word) review so far: DQ9 will make RPG fans very very happy. It’s a single player MMO in a box. Slimes adorable. Kill them all.

Since I really can’t write a proper review yet, here is one from The Telegraph. (Insert whine about the difficulty of getting screenshots from a DS unless you are a media outlet who get a special cable.)

The game starts with you doing some customising of your character – you can pick hairstyle and colour, eyes, a face, a gender and a name. Then you are dropped into one of the prettiest little prologues I’ve seen in any game ever. You are a Celestrian (this involves wings and a halo) and the guardian angel of a sweet little village. Your job is to make the villagers happy and keep them safe, even in the afterlife. This is one of the best in game motivations I have ever seen for nudging you to accept lots of random quests from people.

And DQ continues to do a great job with modernising the whole notion of quests. Later on you will be guilt tripped into helping some people, and pointed towards which quests are optional and can be happily ignored. There will be classes to choose from, companions to pick up (and customise), gear to collect and equip, skill points to spend, turn based combat, dungeons and open world areas to explore and (many many) monsters to slay.

There is also the possibility of having other players in your party via wifi, and your character can even learn some emotes to allow rudimentary conversation if you do this.

This is a game which, like Torchlight, just makes me happy when I am playing it. Maybe it’s the mixture of the old school RPG (wander around, kill things and take their stuff, level up), the JRPG storyline (you are a little angel that fell out of heaven and now you have to wander the world and help people), the gorgeous DS graphics, gameplay, and beating up slimes – but I’m having a great time with this one. Recommended to any RPG fans who own a DS.

Also, we need more games which let you play a martial artist who fights with a fan.

Dragon Quest and the numbers game

Apparently (according to wikipedia) DQ9 had 2 million pre-orders when it went live in Japan. 2 million pre-orders. And that’s just in Japan.

It’s pretty much guaranteed to break more records when the western numbers are in too.

The cult of the wandering monster

One of the other interesting notes from wikipedia was that this is the first Dragon Quest game in which you can actually see monsters in the open world before you attack them. It was very much a trope of JRPG (and some regular RPG also) that you would wander around the game world and every so often the game would decide, “Ah, time for a fight” and would launch you into a random fight.

This came straight from D&D, which had wandering monster tables on which the DM could roll if players looked bored. The original idea of the wandering monsters was that a DM could set up two types of fight. There would be static fights with mobs that had been designed into the scenario in advance, and there would also be the possibility for random encounters.

The wandering monster was the most simple of all random encounters. “Roll D10 to see what attacks you.” The aim was to make travelling through the world more interesting, because whilst fantasy epics do involve a lot of travel, it’s not very interesting to RP through it step by step. So instead, travel was modelled as some descriptions of the landscape, punctuated by brief encounters with wandering monsters.

(AD&D also, infamously, had a wandering streetwalker table for when players were exploring cities, “Roll d10 to see if you encounter a wanton wench, a strumpet, a call girl, a pimp, etc.” Even at the time we thought this was very silly.)

Later, scenarios evolved more interesting types of random encounter. It didn’t have to just be a random rust monster that wandered into camp, it might be some brief but amusing encounter (a band of travelling players need help to put on a show, etc.), or even the seed of a mini-adventure that players could choose to follow up or not. Yet in computer RPGs, the wandering monster had the great bonus of being very easy to code so it remained popular.

One of the great bonuses of MMOs, with their persistent immersive worlds, is that players could always expect to see monsters wandering the world before they attacked. There would be no ‘wandering monsters’ coming out of nowhere – although WoW experimented with very large wanderers such as the Fel Reaver, even they could be seen from a distance.

One of the exciting things about games like Warhammer Online and  Guild Wars 2 is that their public quests look to be reviving the notion of the random encounter, quests that just happen in the world as you wander through it and with which you can get involved.

10 thoughts on “Dragon Quest IX and some musings on wandering monsters

  1. I’m thinking about Dragon Quest so I something to play when I’m on holiday but it just got medicore (8/10) reviews although I’m a lot more interested it in now having read your article, Spinks. Gonna be tough to resist I think!

    I was actually over in Japan last year shortly after it come out and it was hugely popular. I remember seeing groups of people huddled together outside of buildings all playing it together. They certainly love their games over there 🙂

    • I find it interesting that 8/10 constitutes a “mediocre” review. I mean I get why it’s wound up that way, but it seems to render the whole “marks-out-of-ten” system a little screwy.

      • I think it’s one of those games where an accurate review would say, “Well if you like this sort of thing then you’ll love it and think it’s the best thing ever. If you hate this sort of thing then this won’t change your mind.”

        And that works out as a sort of aimiable 8/10 which means it’s a good game … but only if you like that sort of thing. I suspect that a good shooter would be more likely to get a higher score because game reviewers tend to be biased towards a specific audience.

  2. Dragonquest, um, VIII (I think it was VIII) on the PS2 was one of my favourite JRPGs of all time; it was so whimsical and beautifully localised.

    And also, yes, SLIMES.

    It’s almost enough to make me invest in a DS….

    • The DS is pretty fun, it’s just a pity the latest iteration is so expensive (the DSi XL would be great for my aging eyes). Still, JRPGs are the genre I bought my DS for, and this game sounds tempting… (Having said that, I’m not sure it has the power to tear me from my ipod touch and collection of Tower Defense games, though)

  3. I actually like the “out of nowhere” feel of wandering monsters. As long as its handled right I actually think it’s more immersive than the alternative, which is being able to *actually see* that there are monsters just wandering around the wilderness waiting to attack people.

    • I think there has to be a happy medium between ‘all monsters stand around dumbly with big red nametags’ and ‘*bamf* a monster appears out of nowhere and attacks’.

      I’d love a gameworld with some static herds of mobs, some which actively stalked the player or hid, some which kept to themselves and just generally more going on.

  4. So the graphics are actually good then? Every screenshot I look at has the characters washed out and jagged edged like back from PSOne days. I know it’s the DS but…

  5. Talking about AD&D wandering monsters…My favorite city encounter was the “Fopish Dandy”. I still use that term.

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