Dragon Quest XI Performs its Best Puff-Puff: Joey has an Enormous Grin on His Face

Dragon Quest VIII is high on my list of favorite games of all time. I bought it on a whim while on vacation, and I spent two solid weeks playing it for hours and hours. I hunted down and crafted all the best gear, I beat all of the post-game quests, and I took down the most difficult optional bosses. It was the kind of game that made me want more, even if it was just merchandise, so I ran out while I was still playing it to buy the official strategy guide and this beautiful and completely ridiculous controller:

DQ Controller

That was almost fifteen years ago. Since then, I have been desperate for a new console DQ game. I’ve played DQ IV, VII, and IX on the DS/3DS, and I bought but haven’t yet played V.  These portable versions of the DQ experience are excellent. They vary slightly in mechanics, but they all capture their own version of the classic and magical DQ formula. But I have always preferred my RPGs on console. It would be easy to say that it’s because the graphics are often better, allowing for more fully realized and visually stimulating worlds, but I think it goes beyond that, in a way. For some reason, I forget about portable games more easily. Sometimes I even have trouble remembering which portable DQ game was which. I still loved them, but there was something missing, and only a new, full console entry would satisfy that craving I had.

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And Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age did indeed satisfy that craving. It scratched that itch. Satiated that hunger.  It was big, beautiful, familiar and fresh.  This isn’t a formal review, but I want to get some of my thoughts down, so there will be some spoilers. First, I want to say that, as with DQ VIII, I was consistently impressed with the graphics. Both games are obviously highly stylized, with VIII using the then-fairly-new cel shading approach. That was a good choice, as it allowed Square Enix to create what looked like an anime or a comic book in a 3D space, which was charming and surprisingly immersive. The graphics in DQ XI are more refined and advanced, of course, but they are similarly successful in using crisp black outlines to make the game look like a really good cartoon realized in 3D. They used the Unreal Engine, which I guess explains some of the realistic lighting and water effects, which adds an interesting element and makes the world feel a bit richer and more real. Technical stuff aside, the art style, colors, shadows, enemy animations, environments and more were gorgeous and I found myself in awe of one scene or another all the way to the 200 hour point, which is when I stopped playing.

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There have been some complaints about the soundtrack, since the orchestral versions of many tracks that were already recorded were not used. I can understand and agree with this to some extent, but contributors to two different popular podcasts used words like “atrocious” and “terrible” and “horrible” to describe the existing digital recordings, which I think is ridiculously overstated and hyperbolic. They aren’t as good as the orchestral versions used in DQ VIII, true, and maybe the composer is a raging, closed-minded asshole, but the tracks themselves are as solid and classic as they always have been. It seems odd to retroactively evaluate them because they aren’t the better versions.

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I had my doubts about the cast going into the game. Though I successfully avoided most discussion of the game, I had heard from one person that this was the best cast in the series. Being so fond of the cast from VIII, of course, I was unsure how anyone could top them. And looking at the designs of these new characters did little to alleviate that concern. But, once again, I was taught the valuable lesson that you have to experience something fully in order to appreciate it, for better or worse. In this case, it was for better. Between each character’s backstory and their excellent voice acting, I quickly fell in love with this cast. They may look like fairly typical anime types on paper, but the game’s writing and performances elevate them, as is the case with many an admirable anime or video game. I’ll talk more about some of the characters later, but whether it was the lustful old nobleman, the stoic and loyal-to-a-fault knight, or the sassy little witch, I adored my friends and travel companions.

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In a blog post I wrote for 1UP.com ages ago, one of the things I talked about was how fun the combat was in DQ VIII, despite its old-school design and the usually-annoying random battles. Well, even though I was okay with random battles in VIII, they got rid of them in XI while maintaining the straightforward yet still strategic turn-based combat, which just means that it was that much more rewarding. I found myself actively seeking out new enemies to fight, just to see how they looked and fought on the combat screen. I also liked that you could see your characters, and though I didn’t use it, the option to move around the combat field (or revert to classic, first-person mode) was also nice. And the fact that you could team up with teammates to do combined attacks was pretty cool, and reminded me of a certain other game that pioneered these kinds of attacks in RPGs: Chrono Trigger.

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M-Magus’ castle? No, but…

It’s no surprise that these games share design elements. It’s in their DNA. Chrono Trigger was the product of a collaboration between some key designers of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games, including artist Akira Toriyama and writer/designer Yuji Hori, who created the DQ series. So I’ve seen some familiar strands in all of the DQ games that I’ve played, but this game was by far the most Chrono Trigger-esque of them all. Some of what they shared: Silent protagonist. Character who sacrifices their life to save their friends, only to be saved by breaking a time egg/sphere and travelling back in time. The aforementioned double/triple(/quadruple, now) techs. The need to upgrade your air “ship” to break through the final enemy’s outer layer/shield. Floating islands inhabited by ancient beings. A monarch who is corrupted by the final boss. The main character being thrown in jail (by a different corrupt monarch in CT), only to escape (I should note that you fight a dragon tank to escape in Chrono Trigger and there is a dragon in the caverns beneath the prison in DQ XI that chases you as you escape). The daughter of the corrupted monarch is a tom-boyish princess who shuns the normal trappings of royalty, and in both cases there is a scene where they share a moment of understanding and open up to their father, who returns the sentiment. The main character is fatherless. There’s a scene in a dark wizard’s castle where a doppelganger of a familiar character asks you to die for them. There is a mythical sword that you need special, ancient material to transform into a weapon that can pierce a major boss’ defense. And aside from the standard design elements that you’d expect from Toriyama (spiked hair, earrings everywhere, etc.), there are a few specific artifacts that seemed far more Chrono than the other elements. Namely, the places out of time in the two games:

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The End of Time, a stone island in a sea of dark fog (source: http://www.onrpg.com/news/editorial/retro-review-chrono-trigger/)
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The Realm Between Worlds, a stone island in a sea of dark fog

And the final boss in both games begins in what looks to be a space suit, and has a right arm/pod and left arm/pod that you have to destroy (and that he can revive).

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Lavos, inner core: large creature with an exosuit and arms that you have to attack separately in order to destroy the body
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Lavos, final form: creature with what looks like a space helmet, with two pods that you have to attack separately in order to destroy the body
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Calasmos: large creature with an exosuit and space helmet, with arms that you have to attack separately in order to destroy the body

And I’m probably missing/forgetting a bunch of other parallels. Look, I’m not saying this is so close in design as to be a near perfect DNA match, but there are enough similarities that I found myself wishing Square Enix would assign this team to whatever future Chrono Trigger project they deem worthy of development. They won’t, because the DQ series is still huge in Japan and I doubt they’d even divert a notable portion of the team to something as risky as a new Chrono game, especially given that the most recent entry in that series came out twenty years ago. But, still. It was enough to stir up pleasant memories, and enough to make a fella hopeful.

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One last similarity between the two games, and one that relates to another topic I want to discuss, is the female characters. While there are valid criticisms about gender representation in both games, they also both have lots of interesting, varied, and strong female characters. And because I’ve been spoiled by the romance mechanics of series like Mass Effect and Persona, I couldn’t help but find myself wondering who I would romance if I had the chance. I must not have been the only one, either, because Square Enix is adding the ability to marry characters other than Gemma (or live with, if same-sex, which is disappointing but not unexpected) to the upcoming Nintendo Switch version of the game. With that said, I will now spend an unreasonable, borderline creepy, amount of time going through some of the ladies I would date, if possible, in the Switch version of the game.

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Krystalinda, the feisty ice witch of Sniflheim, is as good a place to start as any. I mean, she’s a feisty ice witch. That descriptor alone would make her a nominee for romance in an RPG that gave me the choice.  She’s powerful, smart, flirty, and she seems to have a deep and interesting backstory that the game barely touches. She has crazy, cute hair, she’s curvy and sexy, and she’s a reformed bad girl but current badass. I guess there’s a chance she might freeze me or trap me in a book forever or something, but I think I might be willing to take that chance. Feisty. Ice. Witch.

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Frysabel is Krystalinda’s current BFF. She is also queen of Sniflheim, and as queen she is graceful, thoughtful, and willing to make hard choices, like forgiving Krystalinda for attacking her queendom despite her people’s reluctance to trust the (feisty ice) witch. She is also impossibly cute. I have a bit of a thing for glasses, so maybe that’s it, but I couldn’t stop myself from visiting her court every now and then just to see her, with the hopes that I might be able to help her once again and see her warm smile.

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I’m going to pretend she was preparing to hug me DON’T JUDGE ME OKAY I’M LONELY

You know what else I might have a thing for? Queens. Because I was also head over heels – head over tails? – for Marina, the queen of the mermaids of Nautica. I mean… come on! It’s almost unfair. She’s the queen. Of the mermaids. She has such a presence. Her people love her, she is firm and decisive, she’s powerful and wise, she looks strong as hell, and she thinks I’m cute even as a fish. If this game did have a romance mechanic, I would feel so torn and weirdly guilty for not choosing her. There’s a point in the game where it seems like it’s hinting that she might not come back from her mission to protect her queendom, and I actually felt myself starting to get misty-eyed. Yep. I know. We don’t have to say it. Let’s move on.

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And while we’re revealing patterns, maybe I also have a thing for mermaids, because one of my favorite quests in the game centers around Michelle, a pink-haired, love-struck mermaid. Like the other mermaids, she spoke in rhyme, and she did so with an adorable accent. And pink is my favorite color, so she is extra visually appealing to me. Her tale is tragic, but I can’t help but admire how absolutely unshakable is her dedication to Kai, the sailor she saved. Because of that dedication, I doubt she’d be a possible dating choice, even if the game allowed it, but she would totally be on my list otherwise.

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Grand Master Pang is the head of Angri-La, training grounds of the most disciplined and skilled martial artists in the world. And who trained and disciplined them? That’s right. Grand Master Pang, the baddest of asses. Nothing seems to phase her, even death, and she is a master of all of the moves that even the legendary Luminary has yet to learn. She’s strong but never seems to break a sweat, she is gorgeous, witty, and supremely wise. In fact, she might be the most intimidating of any character in the game to romance, if she were ever even an option. But would that stop me from trying? No. Even if it meant a few whacks from the discipline stick. Heck, maybe because it meant a few whacks from the discipline stick, ho ho, ha ha, okay moving on.

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Miko. The hottie from Hotto. She is yet another badass warrior, though I wish they’d done more to actually show that side of her. We do see her being a firm and commanding leader of her village, and making an incredibly tough decision, but we only hear of the ferocious battles from her past. We do see her as a mother willing to sacrifice everything, including her life, for the chance to save her son, though, and I took the fiery heat beneath Hotto to be a metaphor for Miko’s passion, so she has plenty to offer as a romantic partner. Plus, again: hottie.

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So far the list has been in no particular order, but these last two are in categories of their own because they are party members, so I spent a lot of time with them and learned much more about their personalities and histories. At first glance, I wouldn’t have expected to be into Serena. Her beauty isn’t as explosive or apparent as the other women I’ve mentioned. She comes off as fairly timid, soft-spoken, pretty, and… safe? But I really loved her backstory, and I especially dug her metamorphosis after Veronica’s funeral. She doesn’t maintain the attitude, powers, or look once you go back in time, but I understood that transformation to mean that she had those underlying traits within her.  Even with those aside, she is selfless, compassionate, sweet, charming, and often surprisingly funny. If I had to make a split decision about who I was going to date, I might have chosen her in the scene where she cuts her hair short. She went from vulnerable and defeated, to determined and resolute. And that accent. *swoon*

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But, ultimately, who would I probably end up pursuing at all cost? Who would I peek at a guide or an FAQ to make sure I wasn’t messing up my chances with? The answer, of course, is Jade, but I never would have expected it, myself. With her huge boobs and long ponytail, she seemed in danger of being a stereotypical sexpot character. At least that’s what I thought when looking at the game art, before playing the game. But her introduction in the game, as a seriously kickass martial artist who takes no shit and has a kind of jaded mystery about her, made me rethink my assumptions in short order. She was almost always the first to attack the most powerful foes. When Hendrik showed up and tried to cut me down, she leapt into action, literally, relieving him of his horse and riding off with me on the back. When Jasper arrived at the Tree of Life, she again jump-kicked right at him with no fear. She always had my back no matter what, she is brave, fierce, and intelligent, and she can even transform into a dark and somewhat more risqué, sexier version of herself. She was my most powerful ally, too, so she never left my side in battle. So, yeah. If I ever find another 200 hours to sink into the Switch version, which I am definitely buying, my first choice for a romantic partner will be the supremely divine Jade.

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Okay, phew. I’m all tuckered out, like I just finished a lengthy Puff Puff session. I have many more thoughts about the game, like why not just say that Sylvando is gay? Why hide it under the subtext of a carnival? What is this, the 1960s? And yes, I know Japan is behind the times a bit when it comes to LGBTQ representation, but this could have been a huge stride forward for them. He’s a great character and I think they did a fairly decent job making him well-rounded and deep, but don’t just bury his sexuality in a vague journal entry in his father’s house.  They could have done it in one line. But that is one of my very few minor complaints about the game. As I did with VIII, I became obsessed with Dragon Quest XI. I hunted down and crafted all the best gear, I beat all of the post-game quests, and I took down the most difficult optional bosses. And, because of the miracle of modern console gaming, this time I got a platinum trophy for my trouble. But it wasn’t trouble. Every single minute of it was fun, and I seriously, seriously, seriously hope we don’t have to wait fifteen years for a console sequel. If Square Enix doesn’t hear my prayers and have this team work on a new Chrono game, at least let them iterate on the excellence of this game, as it itself is an iteration on all of the best parts of the games that came before it. VIII, for me, has the benefit of fuzzy, warm, magical nostalgia, but ultimately I think XI is a better game in almost every way. But I love them both. A whole heck of a lot.

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E3 2018 Wishlist

When I look back at my wishlist for 2017, I’m surprised by how many items were eventually announced (after E3, but still). Some of them were givens, sure, but I was surprised that Soulcalibur VI actually became a thing, and with Geralt in the mix, no less. Anyway, as I said in that blog, I love to speculate, even if some of my hopes end up being just that. With that in mind, I’m making a new list for this year, and some of the entries will, unfortunately be the same as they were last year.

Nintendo/Switch

Virtual Console (or, well, something like it)

This was on my list last year, but Nintendo recently announced that their online service, coming this fall, will be something of a subscription model, with access to a library of games included. Great! In theory! The problem is that the release library is very small compared to the wealth of games that were available with the Virtual Console. I’m all for some multiplayer Dr. Mario action, but I am really hoping Nintendo announces a steady release schedule for this service, or some kind of agreement with third parties to release individual games for purchase, even if it’s not called the “Virtual Console.” I love the mini consoles Nintendo has been releasing, but they are limited (in game selection and availability). So I want this, Nintendo. Please.

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Mother 3/ Brand new EarthBound game

I will put this on my list every year until we see one. Paula be casting Prayer all up in this.

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Credit: https://kotaku.com/seriously-nintendo-its-time-for-mother-3-1796533984

New Eternal Darkness game

Another repeat offender. I rambled on for too long last year about why I thought this was plausible, and it still might be, but I’m worried that Nintendo just doesn’t feel the need to produce adult horror games anymore. The original game was in development for the N64 and then ultimately released on the GameCube, when Nintendo was still semi-competing with Sony and Microsoft. Now, Nintendo seems content to do their own thing, which means a game like Eternal Darkness makes less and less sense as time goes on. But I still think it would be a great showcase for some of the Switch’s unique tech, like the HD rumble and infrared sensors. Oh well. I’ll keep my hopes high and expectations low for this one.

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New Smash Bros. characters

So it seems an absolute given that the new Smash game will be the highlight of Nintendo’s E3 video, but what about the roster? Given that each game is fundamentally the same in terms of gameplay and design, the roster is what I’m most curious about. Sure, I want a robust single player experience outside of the multiplayer brawling action (return of Subspace Emissary, plz), but when that iconic siren goes off and “A New Challenger Appears”? Hype. They will almost certainly play on that in their E3 video, but who beyond the Inklings from Splatoon will they announce? With previous characters like Snake, Bayonetta, Cloud, and Ryu, I don’t feel like anyone is outside the realm of possibility. So, aside from every dang previous character returning, who do I want to see? For one, Crash Bandicoot. I get a weird surge of nostalgic joy when rival mascots show up in Nintendo games, and it’s not totally ridiculous, given that the Crash trilogy will be making its way to the Switch in July. Halo‘s Master Chief also sounds like a stretch until you consider the cache it would give Microsoft with Nintendo and Smash fans, a potentially useful thing to have considering how far behind Sony they are in sales. I would also love to see Lara Croft, who also has a new game coming out in the fall. Two last mentions that would be incredible but are probably impossible: Mickey Mouse and Rey (Star Wars). Rey because, well, she is awesome. But Mickey Mouse strictly because it would be another iconic character that no one thought was possible to get for the game. Both of these are owned by Disney, though, and they are famously stingy with their characters, so I have no hope for those last two.

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Animal Crossing for Switch

My thoughts haven’t changed much on this. I was worried that the mobile AC game might give Nintendo an excuse to delay a proper console version, and with Smash Bros. being their big release for later this year, I’m still kind of worried that an Animal Crossing game won’t come anytime soon. Still, it would be nice to see an announcement at E3.

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Persona 5

Yes, I’ve already put well over 300 hours into the PS4 version, but I would buy a Switch port on day one, especially if they finally lift the restriction on taking screenshots. I’ve romanced Ann, Futaba, and Kawakami, but I’m keen to give a relationship with Makoto a shot. And Haru. And Tae. And Hif-okay, I can hear myself and I sound a little desperate, so let’s just move on.

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And that’s about it for Nintendo. I’m sure they’ll show more from the new Yoshi game, Metroid Prime 4, and maybe even the Pokémon game, but I’m only passively interested in those at this point. I’d like to see some fun new colors for the Joy-Cons, too, I guess. And an N64 Classic (though they might do the GameBoy first).

Sony/PS4

Most of what I’m looking forward to from Sony and third parties has already been announced, but it will be nice to see more from The Last of Us 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Days GoneSpider-man, and maybe Soulcalibur VI and Anthem. So what’s left in the way of surprises? Well I’d love to see…

Final Fantasy VII

They announced this a while ago, but there has been some behind-the-scenes drama (uh, of course, it’s Square) followed by nothing but silence, so I would be pretty hyped if they showed an extensive trailer and announced that the first episode was going to drop this fall. True, the original game is not among my favorites in the series, but they will likely address much of that game’s clunkiness with this remake. And it would be one of those “oh snap it actually happened” moments in game history, so I have my fingers crossed that we’ll finally see something.

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Until Dawn 2

This is a holdover from last year’s list, but it seems perhaps more likely this year, given that Supermassive Games has released a bunch of the other games that they had in the works. Those games were hit or miss, which I can’t deny makes me worry about a potential Until Dawn sequel, but who am I kidding? I would be super excited to see it announced at E3 and I would definitely buy it at release, especially if it had an optional VR mode.

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Chrono Trigger/Cross sequel

I know this is a one-in-a-million shot. I know. Last year I left it as a footnote because it’s probably an impossible dream. But! I want it so bad. So I’m going to put it here in an attempt to will it into existence. Let’s do it.

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Credit: https://www.goombastomp.com/looking-back-chrono-cross-divisive-impressive-successor/

Microsoft/Xbox One

I didn’t have a section dedicated to Microsoft last year, because their exclusives just haven’t really been all that exciting for me. But unless they’re late in the stages of working on their next-gen hardware, which I doubt because of the XB1 X, they need to come out with some cool and exciting games to make some ground in their battle with Sony. They can’t win this generation, but at this point in the cycle more people begin buying second consoles, so if they’ve haven’t gotten a Switch or upgraded to a PS4 Pro, there are plenty of people who would snag an XB1 if the right group of games enticed them. Games like…

Fable 4

Sure, Lionhead Studios closed down, but rumors have been swirling about a possible fourth game for, well, years. With Sony snagging many of the big RPG mainstays, it would be a smart move for MS to drop a big, beautiful RPG of their own. Hell, the original Knights of the Old Republic was one of the main reasons I bought an original Xbox in the first place. I didn’t really want one. I didn’t feel like I needed it, and it was expensive. But when I heard about an RPG set in the Star Wars universe, where I could choose to be Dark Side or Light Side, and I could romance characters… well, I was sold. And the Fable games have always been fun, colorful, and whimsical, so I welcome another.

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Credit: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-01-17-sources-microsoft-plots-fable-return

New Perfect Dark game

These last couple of years have seen some strides, finally, for female video game, movie, and comic book characters. There are plenty of FPSs out there, but how many of them star a badass lady-spy like Joanna Dark? Rare and Microsoft flubbed Joanna’s star potential with Perfect Dark Zero, but if there was a time to redeem themselves and make a character that lived up to her original potential, it’s now.

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Credit: http://bbs.a9vg.com/thread-1051770-1-1.html

Don’t Speak: Silent Protagonists

I’m using video games as illustrative texts in the first year composition course I’m teaching this semester, and we’re focusing a lot of our attention on identity. It’s a topic I think about a lot, particularly when I’m playing narrative-heavy games or games that are meant to be especially immersive. I wouldn’t say I actively or consciously think about it, though. It just kind of buzzes around my head when I’m creating a new character or interacting with people in RPGs. “Would I have really said that?” I might wonder as my character says something particularly barbarous to a party member who I actually kind of like. Moments like this, in games like Mass Effect, or Fallout, or Final Fantasy make me think of the days when the silent protagonist was the default lead character in RPGs. While they’re still around, they’ve mostly been replaced by protagonists that do speak, even if prompted by specific user input. Were they better at creating immersive narratives?

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Well I’m not here to answer that, but I wanted to sort of work my thoughts out about it. I don’t remember thinking about the fact that my character was ‘silent’ in NES games like Faxandau or The Legend of Zelda. It was just how things were. ‘You’ were Link, or Mega Man, or the countless and nameless other lead characters of many classic games. But when I made the move to RPGs like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III, and EarthBound (a console generation later) I found myself thinking about my character, or ‘me’ more, likely due to how much dialogue there is in games like these and the fact that you actually interact with characters and make decisions that affect the story.

Chrono Trigger

I had some things in common with Crono. We were both teenagers who lived at home and had a particularly hard time waking up in the morning. But he had pretty bulky biceps for a ‘kid,’ spiky red hair, and he ended up being pretty fierce with a katana. I had pretty average biceps, a shaved head, and was only fierce with an SNES controller. I knew I wasn’t Crono, but I named him ‘Joey’ anyway, because I wanted to pretend that I was him for the adventure I was about to embark on. In fact, Chrono Trigger was the first game I remember having a party of characters who I could name, and it is where I began the tradition of naming the main character for myself and my supporting cast for my friends and/or celebrities. It didn’t really matter if I matched up very well with the main character; I was the one playing so I was the character who would make the most difference in how the story played out. It makes sense, given that as a child I wanted to be the main character whenever I played, whether it be something with a clear main character (as with Batman action figures) or with an ensemble (like make-believe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). It makes me wonder about roles and identity in play outside of gaming, but I’ll have to dig into that in a later blog. I’m rambling enough as it is.

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James Paul Gee talks about the idea of identity in narrative games, with there being three distinct identities at play: the player, the character (a reflection of the developer’s own identities), and the character with the player’s identity projected onto it. The player brings their own identity to a game: they are, let’s say, adventurous but cautious. The character is written in a way that might be somewhat different than the player: maybe they are adventurous but brash and not very cautious. So the player projects their identity onto the character, reading those moments where the character does something brash as momentary lapses in judgement on their own (fictional) behalf. The player does not become brash in real life, and they can only make the character be cautious some of them time (because the developers choose points in the game where the character must act brashly to develop the plot how they want to).

Dragon Age Inquisition

With silent protagonists, it seems like developers are careful and very conscious of this interplay of identity. They want players to feel like they are in charge of the character’s actions and motivations, but not so much so that they mess up the game’s plot. Even in more recent RPGs, that have speaking protagonists but offer many choices for how your character interacts with other characters, you usually can’t do things that would spoil the main story of the game. You can’t simply leave the Capital Wasteland in Fallout 3, searching for a better life. You can’t build a little house on a remote planet in Mass Effect 3 and live out the rest of your days with Tali. The games give you many choices, sure, but it’s never really you in the role. You can make all of the choices that your character might make, but not all the choices that you might make if you truly had the options.

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The same could be said about your interactions with characters in these games. The BioWare RPGs are especially known for giving the player a host of dialogue choices and relationship options when it comes to your party members, but again, you can’t truly say whatever you want. If you’re trying to woo Dragon Age’s Morrigan, who is easily offended and put off (but worth the effort, because holy crap, I mean, come on), and you say something that angers her, the game doesn’t let you immediately apologize or try and smooth things over. Usually, you’ve blown your chance to advance your relationship with her and have to wait for the next opportunity to try again.

Morrigan

I’m not trying to make a point about limitations and reality, because I understand that for every player action, the developers have to code for a reaction, and coding for enough reactions to cover the breadth of human creative input is impossible. I’m just thinking about how these choices impact the player’s sense of projected identity. Games that allow you to choose how you interact with the game’s social world and shape your relationships with party members almost certainly make for a more immersive identity experience, even if it means that the character will say and do things that the player doesn’t necessarily want them to. Silent protagonists allow the player to fill in the blanks, imagining what the character would say to party members or how they would react to plot events. This may allow for a different kind of immersion, but it seems difficult to argue that it would be more effective than the characters that you create and use to carry out conversations with party members.

Visas Marr

I’m also a little curious about why they’ve fallen from popularity, especially in western RPGs. They were, at one point, a bit of a punchline (as many tropes end up), but I don’t recall hearing many complaints about their use in games like Dragon Age: Origins, Knights of the Old Republic or The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. It will be interesting to see if their use declines further, and even more interesting to see if they make it to the (eventual) virtual reality RPGs. With language detection becoming more widely used, I can easily imagine an RPG that shows you your dialog choices and gives you the option of saying them out loud. Anyway, I’m rambling again. I’m not so silent about this topic (see what I did there?), and I could go on and on, but I just wanted to work some of my thoughts out for later use.

Gaming Memories: Death Peak

One of the reasons I started this site was to archive some of my personal memories with video games. Memory is a fleeting thing, so it brings me pleasure to not only relive choice gaming experiences, but also to record them in some way. This, my first entry, will be about my favorite game of all time, Chrono Trigger. My memory of receiving it as a gift is under my Top 20 page, but there are plenty more to go around.

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The weather here in Illinois has been unseasonably warm lately, but when I left class earlier tonight it finally felt like November. Every year, around this time, I have flashbacks to my first time with Chrono Trigger. I got it as a gift 21 years ago today, actually. It’s hard to believe it’s been so long.

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As the weather got colder that year, I was grateful to have something so engrossing to entertain me while I kept toasty inside. The snow fell early and hard, and I remember it coinciding with my arrival at Death Peak in the game. Death Peak is a large, snow-capped mountain with ravaging winds that you must traverse with the game’s supporting characters in your quest to revive Crono, the main character (or yourself, if he is an avatar for the player). The constantly falling snow whips in every direction, and the frequent gusts will blow you off the mountain if you don’t take cover behind a tree or outcropping. I’ve always had an active imagination, so I fully embraced this mini-game, mentally huffing and puffing as I made my way from frigid shelter to frigid shelter.

I first truly realized I was in love with the game as I trundled home from school the day after starting up Death Peak. In a coincidence cooked up by serendipity, there were two or three feet of fresh snow on the ground and gusty winds pelted my face with newly falling flakes. I took the city bus home at the time, so I had about a mile to walk to get to the stop. The sidewalks were unshoveled, so I decided to cut across the long, broad fields of a local high school. The wind bit my cheeks and my eyes welled with tears as I dragged my snow-crusted legs through the drifts. I remember feeling like I was on Death Peak. There were no trees to hide behind, but my imagination conjured up the swooshy wind sounds and the epic soundtrack as I squinted against the blinding storm. I wasn’t on my way to rescue anyone, only to return to the warm, dry shelter of my living room, where I could huddle under a blanket and return to my quest to save myself (as Crono) from death. It was all I could think about, and all that I wanted to do.

It’s a simple memory. There’s not much to it, really. But it lives on vividly in my mind, and I treasure it deeply. I’m playing Chrono Trigger again right now, actually, and the warm places in my heart are being rekindled all over again. I’m sure the snow will be falling again soon, in real life. Bring it on.