DQI #4: “But thou must.”

Armed with the location of the silver harp, Loto heads back to Garinham.

Grave robbing does not sit well with the citizens here.

Pointlessly unlocked door near Garin's Tomb Pointlessly unlocked door near Garin's Tomb
Pointlessly unlocked door near Garin's Tomb

In the NES version there are two people in this little locked room who just tell you to talk to the other guy. Equally useless. At least one of the chests to the right had a key in it, so it wasn’t a big deal that this guy lied about giving me a key.

A man warns Loto of the peril within Garin's Tomb A man warns Loto of the peril within Garin's Tomb

I’m not sure what’s more ominous: his warning or that he vanishes into thin air after delivering it.

Obtaining the silver harp Obtaining the silver harp

Inside Garin’s Tomb one wraith knight encounter got a bit perilous, but otherwise it was a pretty easy run through to the silver harp. The enemies get progressively harder as you venture down each level, but the dungeon itself is relatively small.

Back at the Northern Shrine, the old wise man seems genuinely surprised that Loto got the silver harp. His parting words urge Loto to get moving on defeating the darkness. Of course, there’s that whole other matter of the princess in the Swamp Cave. Saving her is actually the closest thing DQI has to a sidequest since it is entirely optional, but it does help with getting the third and last key item. Plus, Loto needs something to do to break up the level grinding.

Unlocking doors back in Brecconary and Kol, you’ll find some people with more information about the fairy flute and the golem. There’s also a shop that sells fairy water behind the locked door near the curse-breaker in Brecconary.

Battle with the green dragon guarding the princess Battle with the green dragon guarding the princess
Battle with the green dragon guarding the princess

Anyway, back in the Swamp Cave on the east side behind a locked door is the green dragon. I hesitate to classify this as a boss since green dragons can be random encounters, but at any rate it’s not an especially easy battle at level 13. In fact, this specific fight has been changed in the remake, along with at least one other that I know of, and actually makes this an even tougher enemy. That’s not to say this is a difficult battle since the only strategy, if you can call it that, is to outlast its attacks as you trade blows and keep yourself healed up.

The princess is appropriately overjoyed to be rescued. She instantly falls in love with Loto and demands no less from the hero. No, seriously, you can’t progress forward unless you agree. Selecting “no” just sends you into an infinite loop of her bewilderment that you could be so cruel. This is where the famous “but thou must” line originates, by the way. There are a few other times you can fall into that same infinite dialogue loop with her. After you acquiesce, you pick her up because Gwaelin’s too much of a lady to merely follow you back to Tantegel Castle. Luckily, even laden down with the princess, you can still use the Evac Outside and Zoom Return rather than hoof it all the way back on foot. Pretty much everyone at the castle will have new dialogue when you’re carrying the princess, which I think is a really nice touch.

King Lorik is pleased to have his daughter back, though, his priority immediately turns back to the Dragonlord when you speak to him next. Gwaelin’s Love is an actual item, which is the medieval fantasy equivalent of a GPS enabled cell phone. When you use it, Gwaelin can communicate with you, giving you the experience points needed to level up and the exact number of steps you are from Tantegel Castle. It’s not an essential item by any means, but it does serve a purpose.

Color Blind Gaming

Armos Knights from A Link to the PastThe first game I got with my Super Nintendo when I was a kid was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and to this day I still haven’t completed it. Partly because back then the bosses scared the utter crap out of me. Those Armos Knights are one of the easiest bosses in the whole series, but they absolutely freaked me out as a kid. They’re huge, in comparison to Link, and they jump up and down in a way that seems to defy the dimensional space of the game. It was the first time I found myself actively stressed out playing a game and it was not enjoyable. But as terrible as the bosses were, it was the puzzles that actually were my roadblock. No, they aren’t hard. Honestly, the most you can say about a Zelda puzzle in terms of difficulty is that it might be confusing. It’s that a lot of the puzzles involve hitting various colored switches. Similarly, years later Paper Mario reduced me to tears with the “yellow, green, red, and then blue” blocks in the Toy Box.

Honestly, you’d be surprised how many games utilize color perception as a mechanic in some way. It might seem like a great way to create simple puzzles, but the reality is that it’s a very limiting and archaic way to do so since there really isn’t any cognitive reasoning behind such tasks. I’ve talked before about how colors are such a natural thing to us because we learn them at such a young age. Perhaps that’s why as a child it would frustrate me so much that something as simple as differentiating the color green was stopping me from progressing further in a game that I was tremendously enjoying. Call it stubborn determination, but I would try again and again to plow my way through these puzzles, spending hours stuck in the same place and/or resetting my game countless times. Sure, I could have just asked my parents to help me out, but I was too embarrassed to bring attention to the matter. Nowadays I can scour the Internet for a walkthrough to find a potential pattern for these puzzles or turn to my Twitter followers to aid with color choice options.

So, it was incredibly refreshing to hear a developer requesting color blind testers. After a bit of back-and-forth to confirm my complete lack of color perception wasn’t beyond their scope, I got a build of their game that crashed my computer. No, seriously, it was a pretty epic crash. I was quite impressed. By the time they got back in touch with me, the team had a new build to try out and this one did not eat my computer alive.

Contrasting colored tiles with distinct symbols from the game 404SightI had utterly no idea about the game before starting it up because I was too lazy to bother researching wanted to see how well I could use the game. This meant that I literally didn’t know what the heck to do and basically just wandered around the starting area. However, despite my inept playing, I did notice the different tiles on the ground. The team had done a wonderful job at making them distinct through the use of contrasting colors and identifying symbols. The tiles give the main character various abilities, though, all I could get her1 to do was randomly zoom into walls or fling about the screen like a ragdoll.

Anyway, what really stood out to me was that Retro Yeti Games had been thinking about player accessibility throughout their creation of 404Sight. That meant things like making sure it was color blind friendly were incorporated into the development of the game. And doing so, by their own assertion, “barely took any time.” I definitely join their bandwagon in wondering why more developers aren’t doing the same.

Last Dream tutorial showing the Dash commandYesterday I was reminded of all this when I finally followed the many recommendations I’ve received from people2 to play Last Dream. On the surface it sounds like exactly the kind of game I would instantly love. It’s basically an homage to all the retro JRPGs from my childhood. I can’t say whether or not I would enjoy it, though, since I got roadblocked by a color perception issue. My frustration and irritation at this was only compounded by the fact it happened in the tutorial! Yes, I could have utilized the aforementioned power of the Internet to get through this or reset the game and opted out of the tutorial. However, I could only assume, and the developer has since confirmed, that if color perception is being presented as a necessary mechanic in the tutorial it is present throughout the game itself.

The story could end there, but I sent an email to White Giant RPG, the independent studio that developed Last Dream and it’s forthcoming expansion and sequels, and they quickly responded with an apology and a refund. It was a grand gesture and I’m very appreciative. What truly made my day was their acknowledgement that they hadn’t thought about color perception when working on the game and were actively talking about how to improve the accessibility in the games they’re currently developing. Props to them; I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on their future work.

By the way, I know there’s been a lot of talk around here about video games lately and some of you must be wondering: “Why Bleu no blog about books or review movies?” I promise, I haven’t tossed all my energy into babbling about video games; it’s just that I haven’t run across anything that’s sparked enough commentary to write about in quite awhile. Yes, I could just post about whatever, but the idea is not to burn myself out because then you’ll just complain I’m not updating period.

  1. I didn’t know this then, but the main character is female.
  2. Not surprisingly, lately I’ve had a lot of contact from people suggesting various JRPGs to play. It’s awesome, even if most of them are games I’ve already played.

Role-Playing Games

“Which: Western or Japanese RPGs?”

Merely saying JRPGs doesn’t quite answer this because I think there’s a general misunderstanding about what differentiates these two. Honestly, if we had better names for these two genres we probably wouldn’t have this raging debate, which is probably why some people call them PC and console RPGs respectively. However, that’s not much more accurate. And yes, they are two different genres and not two halves of a greater RPG whole. They can both trace their roots to tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and they also borrow heavily from one another, but the emphasis that defines them is quite different.

Western RPGs, which originated here in the US, are about engaging the player in fantasy. Certainly these games can take place in fantasy settings, but in this context I mean “fantasy” as more “illusion.” The actual world of the game is made-up and through the main character, the player is living in said world. The other main facet of Western RPGs is the personal expression it affords the player through customization such as character creation and stat options.

Whereas on the flip side, JRPGs are defined by the narrative. The player is more like a puppet-master, guiding the main character through the game rather than actually becoming the character. You might notice a lot of older JRPGs lack much of the more dynamic elements of gameplay present in titles from the time. Take for example The Legend of Zelda in comparison to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. All three are fantasy adventures, but what little story there is in Zelda is found in the manual as opposed to the story unfolding as you play through DQ and FF. That’s why the gameplay is far more action oriented in Zelda. Of course, nowadays strong narrative is far more common in other games and no longer exclusive to JRPG titles. Coupled with game developers themselves not understanding what fans expect when playing their games,1 this has left JRPGs to flounder.

Oh, but you say that there are other differences between the two like combat mechanics and leveling systems. Yes, there are certainly common elements within both Western and JRPGs, but those things are specifics of gameplay and not defining characteristics of a genre. Otherwise, we’d be calling Paper Mario a platformer and Fallout 3 an FPS. Like I said before, there’s a lot of cross between genres, as is true of any type of entertainment. Likewise, just because these genres originated in Japan and the US, they are not exclusively made in any particular area of the world. Dark Souls, for example, is considered a Western RPG even though it was developed in Japan. Anyway, it’s also true that a lot of things fans enjoy about one genre or the other are those same common gameplay elements, but still these aren’t the defining qualities.

In any case, I personally find the fantasy immersion of Western RPGs is actually a disconnection. Ultimately, I end up feeling the entire game is pointless and playing them becomes very tedious.2 And perhaps it’s because I’m blind and thus not very visually focused, but having the ability to choose the most minute details of my character only frustrates me.

To me, a JRPG is like playing through a book. And you all know how much I love books!

Do you have a question for me? Comment below, email me, or utilize any of the social links to the right.

  1. I’m looking at you, Square Enix.
  2. It’s probably because so much of this is also present in MMORPGs that leaves me dissatisfied after some length of playing them, too.

DQI #3: “Alefgard has no (unlocked) doors. Alefgard needs no doors.”

Okay, perhaps it’s not the most original joke, but don’t act like you weren’t expecting an LOTR reference before now. It’s me, after all.

Outside the northern entrance to the Swamp Cave

Back in Kol someone mentioned a monster-infested cave to the south where the princess might be. Yeah, this is it. Loto’s not remotely ready to tackle the Swamp Cave, but thankfully it’s almost completely a straight run south from the entrance to get to the exit on the other continent. And even more thankfully the layout seems unchanged in the remake. Phew!

Outside Rimulder

From the cave exit, Rimulder is just a bit south around some mountains. RNG was on my side and I only had three encounters. All warlocks and all gave Loto the first strike.

Rimulder is also full of informative citizens. Looks like Loto has a lot of leads to check out now, including revisiting some past haunts. The last man also provides a very valuable tidbit if you say you’ve visited the Southern Shrine.

Outside the magic key shop in Rimulder Buying magic keys in Rimulder

The big thing about Rimulder is this little shop in the far northwest corner, which you get to by walking around the perimeter of the town. Here is the first place you can get magic keys. No longer shall a locked door stop Loto! He can only hold six at a time, but luckily there’s a more convenient key seller. It’s just that, um, he’s behind a locked door.

Tip about finding fairy flute in Kol

In the southwest corner of town Rock is waiting for his girlfriend. Nana is up in the northeast corner, annoyed that he’s late. If you go back to the boyfriend, he’ll be so grateful that you helped him figure out he’s in the wrong place that he tells you about the fairy flute. Except, of course, I found it already.

Rimulder woman throwing Loto out of her house for barging in while she was getting dressed

Oops! Sorry about that ma’am, but really you might think of investing in an actual door. Of course, since all the doors in Alefgard are opened with magic keys, Loto would probably still have barged in at some point. (In the NES original, she just yells at you to leave before she calls her friends.

Tip to find the fighter's ring Fighter's ring equipped, NPC asks if Loto is embarrassed

This guy tells you about the fighter’s ring, which I also have already found. He doesn’t acknowledge it as such when you wear it, though. I believe in the NES original he mistakes it for a wedding ring. Also, fan translator misspelled “embarrassed.”

Kol husband stranded in Rimulder Kol husband stranded in Rimulder
Kol husband stranded in Rimulder

Honestly, I think Cleo might be better off without him.

Outside the Northern Shrine

Before heading back from whence the journey began, Loto takes a detour over to the shrine west of Kol. I don’t believe it has an official name, but I usually call it the Northern Shrine.

With all the various things Loto needs to gather to create the deus ex machina necessary to defeat the Dragonlord, you would think he would have a larger inventory capacity. Fortunately, way back in Brecconary there was a passing mention of Garin being buried with his silver harp. It just so happens there are locked doors back there that are just begging to be opened, too.

Tantegel Castle treasure room

Starting back at the beginning with Tantegel Castle, Loto loots this room of all its goodies. I guess the guard didn’t notice since he doesn’t change his dialogue. Does that mean Loto is still a true hero?

Dragon Quest screenshot of magic key seller in Tantegel Castle

Over at the eastern edge of the castle, behind a locked door, is this key seller. He’s a bit more expensive than Rimulder, but his proximity to the save point makes him far more convenient.

Tantegel Castle NPCs providing helpful hints
Tantegel Castle NPCs providing helpful hints Tantegel Castle NPCs providing helpful hints

Another mention of the sun and rain joining. But more importantly the Stones of Sunlight are rumored to be here in Tantegel Castle and an underground chamber seems like the kind of place to look.

Dragon Quest screenshot of Loto by the secret stairs in Tantegel Castle

DQ loves to hide things where you would expect to fall out of the area.

A rather bittersweet moment happens here after the old man hands the Stones of Sunlight over and slowly walks to his bed for a long awaited “rest.” As touching a moment as this is, it’s interesting to note that the other two wise men require more proof than merely resembling Erdrick.

Dragon Quest screenshot; text reads: "It is great that you have made it here..." Dragon Quest screenshot; text reads: "If you're a hero, then you can defeat the monsters that you encounter inside the Grave of Garin."
Dragon Quest screenshot; text reads: "Go to the town of Garinham, and push against a wall of darkness." Dragon Quest screenshot; text reads: "By doing that, a path may open in the grave."

Back upstairs Loto finds out the secret to enter Garin’s Tomb; however, personally it seems a bit odd to trust some random person stuck behind a barrier.

DQI #2: “How would you like a puff puff?”

After a bit of training, Loto is now level 3 and strong enough to venture a bit farther from Tantegel Castle.

Overworld view outside of Erdrick's Cave

A bit northwest is a desert with a cave. One of the chests back in King Lorik’s chamber contained a torch, so might as well put it to use and explore.

The remake utilizes a wider layout for the cave akin to later entries in the series. I also like how the torch light fades a bit at the edges. Unlike every other dungeon/cave in Alefgard this one is devoid of enemy encounters. Actually, the only thing of note here is Erdrick’s Tablet or in the case of this remake his Tombstone, which is little more than instructions on how to progress in the game. It seems an odd place for Erdrick to leave his descendant a message about the Dragonlord’s undoing since anyone could just stumble upon it.

On the overworld outside of Garinham

As far northwest as one can go from Tantegel Castle sits the small town of Garinham. The townspeople mostly talk about Garin, the minstrel who founded the town.

A minstrel plays Loto a song A minstrel plays Loto a song
A minstrel plays Loto a song

I’m pretty sure that the chord of music this minstrel plays is the same one heard if you equip a cursed item. I wonder if he’s in the same program of study as that bloke back in Brecconary?

A man tells Loto Princess Gwaelin is being held to the east A man tells Loto Princess Gwaelin is being held to the east
A man tells Loto Princess Gwaelin is being held to the east A man tells Loto Princess Gwaelin is being held to the east

The missing princess was apparently taken by a flying monster somewhere to the east. That doesn’t narrow things down much since everything is east of Garinham, but it’s a start at least. By the way, if you select “no” he just bemoans the poor princess.

A man tells Loto about Erdrick's Cave Dragon Quest screenshot of Loto learning about Erdrick's Cave

I suppose it’s intended that you speak with this guy before visiting Erdrick’s Cave. I’m not sure “worship” is the best translation here. As revered as Erdrick may, a cave seems an odd place for such things.

Overworld view outside of Kol

After grinding a bit in the desert around Erdrick’s Cave, Loto reaches level 7 and heads east and finds the town of Kol.

The residents of Kol are practically bursting with information! Looks like Rimulder is the rumored town that sells magic keys and it lies to the south. Also, to the south is a monster-infested cave where the princess may be held. And the golem’s weakness is flute music. By the way, if you tell the man that you have been south he is truly surprised because of the very strong monsters down there.

Across a poisonous patch of land in Kol, an old man tells Loto about the sword Erdrick used to defeat the Dragonlord Across a poisonous patch of land in Kol, an old man tells Loto about the sword Erdrick used to defeat the Dragonlord

Isn’t it lucky that Erdrick left behind exactly the weapon Loto will need to defeat the Dragonlord. Finding said weapon is a whole other story.

A woman in Kol tells Loto about Cleo being deserted by her husband A woman in Kol tells Loto about Cleo being deserted by her husband
Cleo tells Loto she didn't want to keep her husband from his dreams

Wait, his dream was to buy magic keys?

A woman at the open bath in Kol asks Loto if he wants a 'puff puff'

Um, what now?

Finding the fairy flute

Kol is also where the fairy flute is found, which I actually didn’t mean to find since the game hasn’t told Loto about it yet. I was trying to talk to the nearby NPC and missed. I’m not sure if it’s the game or my old controller, but I find moving around is not entirely responsive. Anyway, the flute is used to fight the golem mentioned earlier.

Outside the Mountain Cave on the overworld

Since I’d already found one major item before I was technically supposed to, I figured I might as well nab another and headed to the Mountain Cave west of Tantegel Castle. This is an entirely optional dungeon and, aside from a specific treasure within, is never mentioned. The fighter’s ring is the real prize, but it’s bugged and doesn’t actually do anything aside from altering a bit of dialogue and from what I can tell this hasn’t been changed in the remake. The rest of the chests just contain some low value items and bits of gold, but the remake has three added chests with some rather nice loot. Unfortunately, I discovered after entering the cave, that the remake also has an altered layout. Considering level 8 is rather low to go through this dungeon it was a harrying experience wandering around lost, which is why I didn’t bother getting any screenshots. Though, to be fair, all the dungeons look basically the same. Somehow, I managed to find all the goodies and escape without dying.

Reaching level 10

After that close call, I trained Loto to level 10 for Fizzle StopSpell before journeying further. At this point grinding had also netted enough gold to pick up the full plate armor. I noticed during this purchase that the remake did away with the automatic selling of old equipment upon purchasing an upgrade that was present in the NES original. It seems a pointless change to me given there is only the one character who has very limited inventory space, but it’s only a few extra button presses to sell the obsolete stuff.

From here the journey heads south.