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25 Years Of Dragon Quest: An Interview With Yuji Horii
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25 Years Of Dragon Quest: An Interview With Yuji Horii

May 27, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[Gamasutra presents an in-depth interview with Yuji Horii, creator of the seminal Dragon Quest, which remains the most popular console IP in Japan and the root of the country's obsession with RPGs -- a calm center to the storm the game industry faces in the region.]

Twenty-five years ago today, the first game in the Dragon Quest series was released for the Japanese Famicom (NES). The game became the foundation of a genre that boomed in the country over years and years, and gave rise to a slew of imitators and competitors -- including the Final Fantasy series.

One thing has remained the same, even as consoles and even development teams have changed: series creator Yuji Horii, who still works as a writer and planner on the titles, which are developed by external teams.

In this in-depth interview with the Horii, who's president of his own studio Armor Project, Gamasutra tries to get to the root of the Dragon Quest series (called Dragon Warrior in the U.S. until 2005), discussing what it means to Japanese and Western gamers.

Horii is joined in this interview by Square Enix senior vice president Yuu Miyake, who oversees the DQ series from the publisher side.

What do you think you provide to the audience who picks up a Dragon Quest game? If you could sum up what someone gets when they take the wrapping off and put it in their system, what are you delivering?

Yuji Horii: It's the sense of expectation, and a sense of excitement to provide to them, like when they're opening the game and starting the game, "Well, I'm going to start this exciting game!" This is Dragon Quest.

The most recent release in the series was the remake of Dragon Quest VI for the DS. A lot has changed since it first came out on the Super Famicom. Have you changed your approach to the series in that time, or is the approach still very similar to how it was in those days?

YH: I feels the game market itself has changed significantly since then, but the gameplay system itself, it doesn't feel like it's dated or anything -- it's still the same.

Do you feel that that's the case across all games, or just in terms of the Dragon Quest series?

YH: Only the Dragon Quest series.

Why has Dragon Quest been able to sustain the same gameplay over this long time, as everything else in the industry has changed so much?

YH: For the Dragon Quest series, control itself is not the main focus of the games. When we design the game, it's just like driving a car. When you're driving a car, you don't really get concerned about how you control the car itself; you just enjoy the drive. You know how to drive it without thinking about it -- that's what we're trying to do.

We want to let people enjoy the content without really worrying about the control, so we keep maintaining the same kind of gameplay system people are used to playing, so they still play the game and enjoy the content. That's how Dragon Quest VI maintains the fun part of the game, even after 13 years.

I've played several of the games in the series. One thing that keeps coming up is that the games really show their personality through the characters and the details in the world. When you speak to a character in the town, the character is very empathetic, and it seems to be really important to the series; it forms the core of the appeal.

YH: Yes, I agree with you. What I'm always keeping in my mind while developing the game is that it's not just about the main character's dialogue. Everybody in the village has their own storyline, and they're involved in the story, and by talking to them you can actually develop the story and other parts of the story in the world -- and the series.

Yuu Miyake: In other games, when you go to a certain village, there's one key person you have to talk to -- but everybody else, it doesn't matter what they are talking about. But something is happening in that village -- that means everybody in that village is involved in that incident. So we want to make sure the player does not just talk to the one person. The characters are involved in the storyline, and by talking to multiple people in the village, you can actually advance to the story -- not just by talking to the one person to advance the storyline.

And not just to advance the story in terms of getting from plot point to plot point, but to advance the story in terms of having a richer understanding of what's going on. It advances the depth of the world.

YH: So what I'm saying is that something is happening in one village, and then the main character goes there to save them, right? So if he saves the village, everybody in the village should be thanking him, not just one person.

It's not about the main character's story necessarily. Very frequently, in the Dragon Quest series, the main character actually doesn't talk at all.

YH: It is very intentional for me, because the main character in the game is actually the alter-ego of the player -- so you don't want to push words into the player's mouth. We want the player to feel like they are playing the game, and their own play affects the game. So the only thing you can actually say in the game is "yes" and "no" -- but there's no other dialogue.

Obviously that's a matter of some debate between different developers -- how much the player invests into the avatar on the screen. It seems that you think that it's a very tight connection.

YH: Yes, and what I am trying to avoid is the situation where the the main character you're playing is saying something, and you feel like, "No, that's not something I want to be saying if I were there," so that's the main thing.

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kP09 HI19
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Nice, but if someone wants to know a little more about Dragon Quest/Warrior history there's a pdf named "Entrepreneurial choices of strategic options in Japan's RPG development" ( ).

Kamruz Moslemi
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If at first you fail, grind, grind and grind again.

From a design point of view it is easy to lambaste the Dragon Quest series for its stout refusal to change its core structure. But given the casual nature of the title it is understandable why it must be thus.

Keeping one foot firmly planted into the 1980's works for this series because of its immense popularity and casual appeal. But I think that continuing to use this title as an example to learn from is ill advised for the more niche outings in the genre, that would be just cornering oneself further into a shrinking spot.

Robert Boyd
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I disagree. The Dragon Quest series is a great example of getting the fundamentals just right. Sure, the series rarely innovates, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better balanced RPG series on the market today.

Too many aspiring RPG developers try to do something grand and innovative before they've mastered the basics.

Kamruz Moslemi
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Of the series I've only played DQVIII, so I can only base my assessment on that title. In terms of RPG's I lump that title into the very large category of such games that bore me to hair pulling frustration for about 90% of their length, and being over 80 hours long that is a deuce of a long time to be bored.

This really falls in line with what Horii-san himself breaks the series down as. This is a series for people who are in it for the ride that is the story content, the rest is just a formality.

There are a lot of RPG's that fall under this banner, such as one I recently played due to an unprecedented level of praise leveled at it by fans, Persona 3.

All these, for-the-ride RPG's share similar design philosophies that prevent me from ever being able to enjoy the bulk of my lengthy time with them. For one thing, the so called story content is never engaging for me. For the most part these feature the most basic anime filler episode plots and due to the tradition of having be delivered over the obnoxiously long 80 hour plus play time the finer points of which are diluted into a pool of filler content, both in terms of story and combat.

Instead a prevalent technique used here is to try and establish an atmosphere and get by on the charm of the NPC characters alone, toward the development of which many lines of text is dedicated. A lot of sweet time is taken, for an example, in Persona 3 to have the students grow on you through the mundane routine of everyday school life. DQ VIII featured a cast of very boisterous personalities whose quirks were meant to be charming.

This is prolly why despite having completed dozens of RPG's spanning from the 8 bit era and up I cannot for the life of me recall what the plot was all about as I watched the end credits roll. I literally cannot recall anything about the plot of any RPG I have ever played, I draw a complete blank in that department, even with the game fresh in mind. If I were not the sort of player who values storytelling as nil then that'd certainly be a problem.

All I remember of DQVIII is a princess having turned into a horse and a guy who talks like a turn of the century bandit, and being frustrated when reaching a boss with too low a level to be able to beat it. All I remember of Persona 3 is thinking how the designers of it must have either been mad or sadists for making the dungeon in that damn tower be so infuriatingly bland and yet be such an oft repeated portion the game. All I remember of FFXIII is how the combat system was the most engaging thing I had experiences in an RPG outside of Vagrant Story and Valkyria Chronicles.

The reason why the plot never sticks with me is due to aforementioned lack of focus, combined with obnoxious length, and general lack of engaging mechanics. You see in all for-the-ride RPG's the battle system features the most basic, by the numbers design mechanic imaginable. This means that I get bored during a play session quickly and subsequently it will take me months to finish the game, as I have force myself to do it, and by the time I reach the middle I will have forgotten the start, etc.

Funny how in both Persona 3 and DQVIII I thanked the gods for the auto fight option, but whenever I did I felt sad that I was wasting my valuable free time going through the motions when there were games with more engaging content that I could play. But, hey, I bought the damn thing and I was going to finish it because that is the sort of stubborn gamer that I am.

I am reconciled with never enjoying a videogame that warrants its story content to be its most attractive feature. That is not what I look for when playing games. But I can see some people do and why a series like DQ which caters to these gamers will need to keep things so simple they might as well be on autopilot.

I however am of the in-for-the-mechanics school of RPG player and as such I warrant I will never give the DQ series another chance. Nor do I think I will ever get around to playing that copy of Persona 4 which I bought before realizing that the priorities of the series creators were arranged so contrary to my own.

Robert Boyd
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Well, of course if you just use the Auto-Fight all the time, you're going to find your experience in an RPG to be boring, not the least of which is because you're going to need to do a lot more grinding than a person who is actually trying to use the game mechanics to their advantage.

Most RPGs focus more on strategy (designing and building your characters's stats & abilities) than on tactics (actual combat actions). This isn't necessary a flaw so much as it is having different priorities. I mean, ideally, you'd have a game that was fantastic in both (along with having great exploration and an excellent story), but generally speaking, the better the combat is in an RPG, the worse the stat/ability customization (ME2, the Tales series, and Vagrant Story are all good examples of good tactics/weak strategy). It's very rare that you find games that do both well (Dragon Quarter & Grandia 3).

Not that it's likely to persuade you to change your opinion, but the Persona developers agree with you on the folly of the P3 tower which is why Persona 4 features several dungeons that use a mix of random & preset content, rather than just one gigantic random tower. Combat's also better (full control of allies) and the characters are better realized and not just anime stereotypes.

Kamruz Moslemi
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I am an advanced player who loves nothing more than to get into the nitty gritty of combat mechanics to make my play better, even if it is by margins. Of course that is provided that there is any depth there, and there is a need for me to excavate that depth due to clever challenge design.

Hint: Clever challenge design is not to making character level have any influence over your chances of clearing an encounter because that just leads to an imbalance scenario where you simply cannot clear an enemy no matter how well you fight simply because you level is too low.

On the flip side let me tell you about a little meta game that I play in RPGs like DQVIII, Persona 3, and about 20-30 other games of their ilk in my collection. Whenever inside one of the thousands of filler encounters that can be won by just picking option "Attack" I try to come up with strategies to finish the battle in one single turn.

Do you realize what is wrong here? The most frequent type of combat in these games is so boring that I have to make up my own rules just to entertain myself. And also if I finish the fight in one turn I feel my time has been wasted less because the typical field scene to fight scene, back to field scene structure in addition to the turns themselves drag on forever.

Have you played DQVIII, or Persona 3 for that matter? The auto fight option in these games is useless outside of making the trite exercise of pushing "Attack" for one more round automatic. Any RPG that has depth and quality mechanics combined with enemy encounters that are not effortless outside of the odd boss battle will have my full and undivided attention, that is a guarantee.

This why when the general gaming populace turned up their noses at FFXIII for valid reasons, such as linearity and horrid pacing, and even more so for trivial reasons, such as voice acting and characters -- as if such things even matter -- I loved that game. Square-enix deserves a hour long standing ovation from me for having set an example for all JRPG designers as to how to cut away all the bloat that makes turn based combat seem so languid and at the same time bringing in some modern new thinking into the rules so as to make the combat itself be engaging and cerebral.

My point is any 80 hour RPG where I can clear the vast, vast, vast majourity of the encounters by going through the motions, or just use the auto fight option has failed to engage me as a player and is very cheeky to then ask to borrow 80 hours of my time. I can do 20-30 hours, like the SNES JRPG's, but 80+, criky!

There is a reason why I have played through Vagrant Story multiple times without ever tiring of the incredibly dense and deep dynamic experience while when I try to sum up my experience with RPG's of the Dragon Quest template the only word that fits the bill is "insipid".

Robert Boyd
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You complain about Auto-Attack and then praise FFXIII's battle system which is the very definition of Auto-Attack = win and where the same strategy (first Buff/Debuff, then attack, healing when necessary) can be used to win pretty much every single battle once you have access to a full party. Seriously?

But it's obvious that we have very different viewpoints. You consider Vagrant Story to be the pinnacle of RPGs. I think it's a mess of a game whose few good ideas were done much better in BoF: Dragon Quarter.

EDIT: Few things bug me as much as people who dislike a genre of games and yet are convinced that they know how to make games of that style better because their mindset is generally "The genre is bad therefore it can be made better by turning it into a different genre." The way to make better JRPGs isn't to turn them into convoluted dungeon hacks (Vagrant Story) or Shooter/Strategy hybrids (Valkyria Chronicles). There's nothing wrong with convoluted dungeon hacks and Shooter/Strategy hybrid games, but they're not JRPGs.

Millions of people enjoy the JRPG mixture of combat, exploration, stat/ability progression, plot, and character development. Goodness knows there are plenty of ways JRPGs could be improved, but they can be improved while still retaining the core elements that fans enjoy about them.

Kamruz Moslemi
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Talking to genre apologists like you depresses the hell out of me. But not nearly as much as watching a once prosperous genre fester into a niche by catering to the shrinking pool of people for whom the established trend is good enough.

It has been real.

Daniel Kinkaid
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Well, DQ VIII wasn't the most balanced of all the DQ games; VI did a VERY good job with pacing and needing to do more then just attack. That being said, the series IS showing its age.

As a general rule, all RPG's these days have the same fundamental flaw: A certain degree of grinding, coupled with battles that generally are boring; how many RPG final fights can be sumed up with the following sequence:

Attack [strongest char]

Strongest Magic/Summon

Mimic [If avaliable]

Strongest group cure spell

Repeat as needed, subbing in the occasional round of buffing.

I think all RPGs could do much better with fewer battles, but battles that are much harder. Thats just me though...

Kamruz Moslemi
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Yes, well I have been advocating quality over quantity in JRPG combat design for going a decade now, but since the only valid example I can think of is Vagrant Story and that game cannot be pegged into the rigid DQ formula apologists usually get blinded by rage over how different that game is and fail to realise that what I am suggesting be taken to heart is the philosophy behind its design, not the template design itself.

The philosophy of battles being something engaging, something you need to pay attention to, something cerebral that requires effort and something which you can get better at by practice. Battles should favor quality over quantity and quantities such as filler and padding should be done away with to keep total gameplay time manageable.

Hakim Boukellif
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I think you're focussing too much on individual battles. RPGs (particularly ones like Dragon Quest and Persona that have a heritage from dungeon hackers) are at their root not games about battling enemies, but games about resource management. Let me use Persona 3 as an example, as it does this very well, I think:

There are essentially three ways of defeating small-fry enemies:

1) Just keep selecting attack (or enable Rush mode) and pray that the enemy doesn't reflect physical attacks.

2) Simply hit the enemy with your strongest magic attack of the element that they're weak to.

3) Actually think of a way to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible using the least resources as possible.

Method 1 is the easiest in the sense that it requires very little thinking, but you'll have a lower chance of triggering Shuffle Time and you'll often lose a lot of HP. This means that you'll have to heal up, which means using healing items (which cost money, a rare commodity in this game) or using healing magic (which costs SP, which is even more scarce).

Method 2 is probably the quickest, but uses up a lot of SP, which is something you don't want to waste, as SP restoring items are rare, being only obtainable through treasure chests and trading gemstones.

Method 3 requires you to actually think about what you're doing and apply tactics, but there's a good reason to use this method: it's the only sustainable one. The fact is that you'll need to get through ~10 floors of dungeon and a boss fight without getting the opportunity to fully heal in between. The only way you'll accomplish that in one go without having to go back to ground level several times to start over so you can raise your level to a point where you can defeat any enemy blindfolded (i.e. grinding) is by rationing your resources until you reach the boss. Which means having to think about how you spend those resources. Which creates for an interesting game.

Kamruz Moslemi
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If you are talking about P3, then there was always a teleport right before the boss battle so that you could warp back and save. Good thing too as with the average time it took to climb 10 random dungeons of the same enemies attacking you for the umpteenth times if I had then had to endure dying at the hand of a boss using cheap tricks and lose progress would have been enough for me to take out the disk and breaking it in half.

In DQ dying at the end of dungeon boss battle and being sent back to the last visited village is part of the design. You keep your experience points so with every try you are stronger until you hit the level where the boss was meant to be defeated at. It is quite obnoxious in terms of design, but it is a casual genre not meant for me so I'll not criticize it, it is perfect for its audience.

Most enemies in the DQ template RPG's can be cleared using strategy 1, and the thing about strategy 3, which I often use for kicks, is that when you have you wade through tens upon tens of trite enemy encounters in a bland looking dungeon it quickly becomes an exercise in tedium. That is why there needs to be some semblance of self constraint in quantity. How can an entire genre have such a terrible sense of when it is too much?

After about 20 or so levels fighting your way up using strategy 3 is about as exciting as balancing out a spreadsheet. It is trite repetitive work, and I do not enjoy when playing a game resembles busy work, especially if it is that long.

You know, as good as the battle systems in Vagrant Story, Valkyria Chronicles and FFXIII are if I had played those games after having played dozens of titles out of hundreds of others that feature pretty much the same mechanics I am sure they would not hold half the appeal that they do by being utterly unique.

I love nothing more than for game designers to surprise me when I sit down to play, but this is a rare thing is this genre where DQ template + distinguishing gimmick = good enough for the last 25 years, and where the average length of the games have grown three fold without adding much.

Hakim Boukellif
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"If you are talking about P3, then there was always a teleport right before the boss battle so that you could warp back and save"

The way I remember it, you could save and transport back to the entrance before the boss, but the actual terminal was behind the boss, so you couldn't transport back to the floor the boss was on before defeating him. Or maybe that was just in The Answer?'s been a while.

"Most enemies in the DQ template RPG's can be cleared using strategy 1"

Yes, an individual battle can be cleared that way. But I'm not talking about individual battles here, but the longer term effect they have. In a properly designed game, that approach will make you waste resources faster than an SUV, which in turn works against your progression to the next heal point.

"the thing about strategy 3, which I often use for kicks, is that when you have you wade through tens upon tens of trite enemy encounters in a bland looking dungeon it quickly becomes an exercise in tedium."

The thing you do for kicks is the proper way to play it. Bruteforcing is possible because there's nothing explicitly preventing you from doing it, but it's slow and boring, will make you do things over a lot and the game is usually not designed with that in mind, so there's no real reason to. Having to think about your actions to preserve resources can also get tedious after a while, but it'll take considerably longer, seeing as different enemy configurations require different strategies (even if it's an enemy type you've encountered before), your condition is constantly changing, so you can't always use the same strategy on the same configuration of enemies all the time, and the whim of the random number generator can easily turn the tables (for both sides). I think P3 hit a pretty good balance as far as that is concerned.

"I love nothing more than for game designers to surprise me when I sit down to play, but this is a rare thing is this genre where DQ template + distinguishing gimmick = good enough for the last 25 years"

I would like nothing better but someone to bring more innovative ideas to the genre I love. However, innovation cannot happen without first properly understanding the merits of what we have already, or else we'll just get change for the sake of change.

"and where the average length of the games have grown three fold without adding much."

Please do keep in mind that DQ8 and P3 are exceptionally long games even within its genre.

Kamruz Moslemi
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In P3 the teleport was in the corridor right before the boss battle, trust me I only played that game a few months ago and such an Demon's Souls'esque design choice would have stuck out.

I can only sum up P3 as the sum of my experience with it and the combat was simplistic, familiar and devoid of any fun. It might very well still be well balanced or meet some other criteria, but it still failed to engage me as a player when other games in the genre manage to.

I think FFXIII is a game that both understands the merits of what is the essence of the old 80's template and manages to evolve it into something that feels new and exciting. As such I'd take one FFXIII over hundreds of by the numbers DQ template RPG any day of the week. I have faith in Square-Enix, I think they are one of the few RPG makers out there who get it. They have always been innovators in my eyes.

As for length, I play a lot of RPG's and the 80-100 hour length has been pretty much standard for the genre since 32 bit era and forward for home console RPG's. Handheld iterations usually run a fair bit shorter though. For an example, I believe I put around 100 into FFVII and over 100 in FFVIII, I remember definitely putting 80+ in Shadow Hearts 2 as well as in Grandia and its sequels etc. etc.

Hakim Boukellif
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I'm a bit confused now. Now, I haven't played all the games you mentioned, but the ones I have, at least, shouldn't take that long. It may be possible to reach such lengths if you're trying to get every ultimate weapon and beat every optional boss and sidequest, but a regular playthrough from beginning to end shouldn't take more than 40 hours. Which has been the norm since the late 16-bit era. And I'm pretty sure still is.

So... all the extra time you criticized for not adding much was spent playing added content?

Robert Boyd
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Yeah, I can't think of a single JRPG where the main story can't be finished in 60 hours or less. Most can be finished in 20-40 hours. If you take longer than that, you're either reading slowly, playing poorly, or doing all of the optional content (which frequently requires a crazy amount of grinding).

Kamruz, my point was never "We must copy DQ to the tee." My point is that too many RPG developers try to innovate without understanding the fundamentals. As a result, we get games like FFXIII which has a neat innovative (though not perfect) battle system, but otherwise fails on many fundamental levels.

Rather than assume that every JRPG since Vagrant Story is garbage, why not take a more open view and look at the good aspects and not just the bad? And if you can't do that, then maybe you just need to move on.

Oh and for the record, our next RPG has a very unusual turn-based combat system and has no random encounters. Filler has always been my number one complaint with RPGs (both Japanese-style and Western) so we're taking steps to ensure that each battle is its own unique experience.

Kamruz Moslemi
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Boyd I am sorry but I don't see any of this innovating without understanding the fundamentals anywhere. In fact I see very little in the way of any innovation taking pace at all, just a whole lot of conformity. Nor can I ever get behind this idea of dogma like fundamentals being in place for a genre, in fact I find the thought rather disturbing.

As for moving on, in a sense I have, these days I no longer play RPG's that do not offer me a unique experience. The JRPG genre is all but dead in the west, having been superseded by local offerings and in Japan it has been forced into an ever tightening niche. Now, normally such a fate would depress the hell out of me and I'd want to support the genre and its developers, but it is hard to feel sorry for those who insisted on digging their own grave.

I've been following this industry for enough decades to see popular genres prosper and whiter away into decadence and the culprit has always been the same, settling into a rut of conformity and pandering to fans who shun change as not being true to the genre.

The smart devs have always been the ones who knew when the time was ripe to break the fundamentals before the fundamentals broke them. Shinji Mikami saw the need to change the fundamental of survival horror by changing the Resident Evil series with the fourth numbered iteration. Many cried foul that this certainly was not what they were expecting and all they wanted was Resident Evil 2 version 2. Look now who made the right judgement call, the Survival Horror genre is dead outside of Dead Space, and Konami's continual comical beating of the once dignified but now long very dead horse that is Silent Hill.

Kamruz Moslemi
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Hakim, I make a point of speeding through RPGs. Despite this the only post 16 bit era RPG that took me 40 hours to complete is Vagrant Story which is understandable given its sensible quality over quantity philosophy and the total lack of pointless breaks such as towns and talkative NPC's.

It is a testament to its timelessness that even within its trimmed 40 hour length it fascilitates so much exploration and experimentation with weapon crafting while those 80 hour RPG's despite the larger breathing room are often structured to feel more linear.

Kamruz Moslemi
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Shreerang Sarpotdar
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@ Kamruz:

Your complaint about JRPGs as a genre is somewhat valid IMO, but how you manage to dismiss the entire selection bar FF13 as boring is baffling to me.

FF13 was cerebral? It was pretty much COM/RAV/RAV, then COM/RAV/RAV or RAV/RAV/RAV until staggered. Include a MED if you've been hurt. The game saddled you with fixed paradigm decks until 80% of the game and then said - "now you're free to experiment! for the remaining 20%, that is." Only boss fights were challenging, and even then they were exercises in HP reduction rather than strategy.

Persona, by comparison, forced you to go deep into the Persona fusion system and come up with decks that made dungeon-crawling easier. Unless you were playing on the lowest difficulty, or unless you fiddled around with Fusions to get the best Personas, I'm not seeing why enemies were 'easy'; one missed step in an encounter could get you a game over. The actual fighting didn't add any gameplay beyond the usual Attack/ (P4 added Guard) / Magic / Heal , but the combat mechanics were deep - using the correct damage type from 9 types of damage, where guessing wrong could see you take damage, and right would see the game getting over in one round. Wonder which game you played?

And seeing people dismiss legitimate points of discussion as genre apologia makes me depressed.

@ Robert:

Maybe it's just semantics, but I count Valkryia Chronicles and Resonance of Fate, both with atypical combat systems as part of the JRPG genre. I think we do the JRPG genre a disservice when we place the innovators outside the JRPG genre, as if JRPGs must be turn-based, menu-driven games period.

@ Daniel:

Quite a lot of JRPGs fall into this trend, turn-based ones in particular. Real-time ones tend to have more room for experimentation, because they can't go to the old formula as easily.

Some JRPGs, though, do try to change their formula a bit. Resonance of Fate, if you've played it, has a superb (IMO) blend of real-time shooting and turn-based positioning. What's more, the same resource (bezels) act as 'lives' and 'special attacks', so it's a continuous balancing act: too aggressive and you die quickly, too defensive and you die slowly.

I've heard good things about Valkryia Chronicles, though I haven't played it myself.

I agree with you about preferring fewer, stronger enemies over numerous weaker ones. That's a mistake Dragon Age 2 made with its wave mechanic over Dragon Age: Origins. In DA:O, a single Revenant was a scary opponent, but in DA2 you can fight two of them, with attendant Shades, and make a sandwich while your warrior chops them up ( unless you go Nightmare difficulty). Sigh.

Kamruz Moslemi
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Look, I have played every entry in the Final Fantasy series except for FFIII and FFV, which I will get around to eventually. The thing is up until FFXIII the combat in the series was rather routine, with the notable exception being the excellent FFXII which was a paradigm shift for the series. Of course Matsuno was one of its designers so that was to be expected.

Alas genre fans hate change so they cried foul and demanded their precious turn based combat back. That is why FFXIII is such an accomplishment. Looking at the combat system in terms of design I really do not give much care for the bad pacing with which it was gradually unlocked.

As a game designer I look at what can and eventually was achieved through the system not how terrible pacing and needless hand holding diluted the experience. FFXIII suffers from the same filler combat problems that all RPG's suffer from, but its combat system for the really good encounters is best in class, hands down.

All I consider is the last 20% of the game where all the paradigms are unlocked and you meet the very challenging monsters and bosses whose defeat not only requires thinking, but also thinking on your feet and being quick to react. Therein lies the genious of the tweaks to the aging FF ATB system. This is truly an RPG to gap a bridge between the old school fans who are averse to change and the new age gamers who are impatient by nature.

FFXIII retains its turn based nature but does away with the meandering, uneventful slow pace plaguing the genre. It is at the same time turn based and fast paced, while at the same time not falling into the trap that most fast paced RPG's fall into which is to say dumbing combat down into an button masher.

The later bosses in XIII were like puzzles that had to be figured put which you could do by trying and failing and the game facilitated this cycle by allowing you to quickly retry after tweaking your paradigms.

This is part of the genius, not only do bosses feature clever and fair challenge design that require you to figure out the correct pattern and timing necessary to beat them instead of the traditional cheap boss design on previous entries, but FFXIII also makes death a learning experience instead of a punishment.

I can tell you there is nothing fun in the DQ template RPG's to run into a cheap boss, get killed and then lose an hour's progress. P3 had an abundance of this and every time it happened I had to ask myself why I was putting up with it.

In that sense, hell yes, I never had to do any new thinking in an encounter in the FF series outside of FFXII and FFXIII, so yeah, in my opinion XIII does feature the most cerebral turn based RPG battle systems that the series has ever seen.

Sure the IQ is much, much lower than something like Vagrant Story or Valkyria Chronicles or even FFXII, but then again it has to be something familiar that caters to the genre fans who are very set in their ways.

As for P3, there is no depth in that game that I could find. I'd barely rate it above DQVIII in that department. All battles were about scanning the enemies to see what they were weak to, use that attack on them to knock them on their back, and repeat this until everyone was on their back so that a combo attack could be made. Repeat this for all but the enemies that had no weakness, or were weak to those obnoxious attacks that had a low chance of success.

The card synthesis system might have have provided some depth had it been for the fact that there is no logic to it. The rules behind what cards to combine to get what results were so arcane that they might as well have been random. In the end all they were good for was to systematically go through all the available combinations until the slot machine would give you a combinations with better immunity and different attacks than previously.

alas the bosses in P3 were mostly of the typical cheap DQ template school of boss design which rely on unfair tactics and minimum level requirements in order to prove a formidable barrier.

Most bosses I could defeat effortlessly by just using the same old bag of simple patterns I developed back in the 90's when I first began to play DQ template RPG's and adding the knock on back twist of P3. As for the challenging bosses, all of them were cheap, so damn frustratingly cheap.

Relying on a rapid battery of status change and instant death attacks. I know these sort of badly designed bosses all too well, I've loathed them for decades and they are usually a tell tale sign of an uninspired combat mechanics. I spent hours in that damn room making cards to help me improve my chances, but in the end P3's bland and clumsy combat design never facilitated any deep strategy. The challenging bosses I always beat by retrying until a clockwork of random factors whimed I lucking out, either that or my character level was too low and I had to begrudgingly grind for a few levels.

Anyway, to me there is no redeeming value to any part of P3, the story was uninteresting, the pacing was sloth like and the combat had no redeeming value in my eyes because it started off as barely competent and never got any better in the entirely of my 100 hours with the game.

FFXIII on the other hand had a few things going for it to put it on a different echelon in comparison. Firstly, and this is not to be underestimated, it had fantastic production values. Secondly the combat system started as being barely serviceable but redeemed itself and the game gradually until the initial 40 hours had been sacrificed to get the badly paced portions out of the way and have everything be unlocked. Once you got to Grand Pulse and you could swap between characters and arrange paradigms to your heart was content, just wow, there was so much fun to be had.

That was when I started to play the game for fun, and not just to finish it. I never played P3 for fun, there was none to be had there. After 40 hours of trite gameplay in P3 all I had to look forward to was 40 more hours of even more trite gameplay, it never evolved. The same goes for DQVIII by the way, but for some reason I ended up enjoying DQVIII a bit more than I ever did P3. Hell, if DQ had only been 30-40 hours long in total I would have remembered it fondly, because it has a sort of charm to it, but not so with P3 though, that game was as if trying to make me dislike it.

Robert Boyd
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The biggest problem with the actual FFXIII battle system (excluding the game around it) was that it didn't go far enough. What they should have done is either go all out action with it and made a Bayonetta/DMC style game with allies that you could control via the paradigm shifting or made it turn-based with full party control and more interesting classes & abilities. As it is, it's stuck in a strange nether realm where it's too simple and frantic to appeal to the hardcore RPG crowd, but not action-packed enough to appeal to the action game crowd.

Kamruz Moslemi
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I think it strikes a perfect balance of cutting away formalities and bloat while staying true to the philosophy behind turn based combat. The idea of paradigms work only if all you need to worry about is when to change and to what.

Some RPG gamers are infatuated with the idea of doing everything themselves, even if it is simple routine tasks that a simple macro could accomplish such as healing those in need of healing, or use fire spells on that enemy who is weak to fire.

I can see where they are coming from in traditional DQ template RPGs as doing those simple routine tasks is all that the game offers, if you automate that then all there is left to do is sit back and watch the game play itself. In FFXIII however there is a whole upper layer built on top of these simple patterns that makes performing the tasks manually pointless. The game here is about giving your characters an specific role at an specific point in time that they should concentrate on for the next few quick turns and let them figure out how to best accomplish the task using embarrassingly obvious logic because figuring that out is such a trivial matter that doing it manually has no value whatsoever other than bogging down the pace.

Trite time consuming micro management of trivial details were kept to a minimum which helped the flow. Among sensible fans the combat system in FFXIII was the most well received aspect of the game and it is as fine a foundation to build from as any game in the series has ever had. We'll see how Square choses to evolve it with the upcoming FFXIII-2, if that game is still being worked on that is.

In all honestly anyone of the ardent defenders of the DQ template who cry foul whenever a sliver of unorthodoxy is introduced has hundreds of other games, literally hundreds of RPGs, which they can turn to in the grey sea of RPG's with embarrassingly similar structure and mechanics.

I suggest they enjoy those and leave the handful who are trying new things to their devices. A genre is like a species in an ecosystem, the less the species evolves in different and odd directions the more vulnerable it is to extinction. Looking at the sales number for RPG's over the last 3 generations I see a steep decline with only FF and DQ from Japan falling outside of the niche category, and DQ only in Japan mind you. This is not a good thing.

Square will always have a place in my heart for continually trying to push the envelope with the FF series, and being the most internationally successful series in the genre guarantees that others will take notice, which is important.

Aaron Truehitt
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The only Dragon Quest I enjoyed was DQVIII. That was a beautiful game. Definitely one of my top 10 RPGs.