And now I come to mention it, doesn’t the action get repetitive? The combat is the only real source of challenge, and even there once you work out your parties optimal tactics for dispensing large groups of baddies, you can happily repeat these with only the odd rethink when you gain a new weapon or encounter a more difficult boss character.
In fact, while I’m on the subject of repetition, let’s talk about the soundtrack. Yes, Dragon Quest has lovely orchestral themes and dynamic combat music, but there are times when you wish there was a little more variety. My poor wife has already started to dream the fight music, and I’m sure that my three week-old baby will regard it as a lullaby in years to come.
But here’s the odd thing: with all this said and done I’ve found myself hopeless addicted. Past the ten hour mark, with my heroes levelling up more frequently, some cool new weapons under my belt and access to the alchemy pot for fashioning my own magic items, the game had me under its spell. It had even thrown in zoom and instant evacuation spells that took the chore out of all that dungeon-hacking and back-tracking. Most of all, I could feel that killer charm had fully taken hold. By the time I found myself trying to heal a widowed king’s broken heart, I’d found the game and its characters almost pitifully likeable. I wanted to turn the next corner, try out new spells and special attacks, and see where that simple storyline goes next.
Like a classic children’s story or an old animated film, there’s something in the game’s lack of obvious sophistication that strips the Japanese RPG back to its most basic pleasures: building your characters’ powers and just finding out where to go and what to do next. It’s surprising how strong the pull can be.
One final testament to Dragon Quest’s strange power: I think there’s an awful lot that the game could do better, and I can’t really believe I’ll make it through the full 60 hours or so to the end. Yet on evenings and at weekends I’ve been neglecting games I’m sure are better – including the mighty Elder Scrolls: Oblivion – in favour of another few hours of this. Your response may well vary, particularly if you’re used to more sophisticated RPG fare, but if you have the patience and a mind open to wonder, this is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this year.
It might look back to simpler times, but few RPGs of any kind are this engaging. Get through the first few hours and, provided you can stomach its wide-eyed charm, Dragon Quest will hold you captive with a strength you might not initially credit.