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  1. EDIT: That should say (Spoilers) at the end of the title, but, oh, well. (Something I thought I'd start doing as I play Dragon Quest titles again would be to go over their stories and analyze them and share my thoughts, since I'm old enough to appreciate their themes now, and since I happen to be replaying IX at the moment, I figured I'd start with that one. Also, it means I don't have to play VII yet. The concept I've got laid out in my head involves writing about characters and towns one-by-one, from their introduction to the post-game, because many of these tales are self-contained. That technically requires a spoiler warning, but it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Oh, and don't worry about the title, that'll become apparent soon.) Intro IX is the most interesting child of the franchise in several ways, not because its too different from the rest of the franchise (which I've always found to be an inaccurate complaint) but because it's too similar. IX actually draws heavily on elements going all the way back to III (such as the class system and party structure) in some ways while being very modern in others (like the skill system and the story), so it's clearly attempting to strike a balance (and as the fifteenth best-selling DS game ever, and the best DS-based Dragon Quest title, period, it did a damn good job). Naturally, modern fans complain that they miss the characters, and classic fans want more open world exploration. It's also the game in which the localizing team decided to go full steam ahead in imitating the original charm, being the most pun-filled game yet, over and above stumbling efforts to capture that effect in the DS installments of IV and V that preceded it. This also jarred a lot of players, who remembered the straightforward high fantasy localizations of older Western entries (even VIII didn't really pull into punsville, that was Rocket Slime). This is a game that continually defied expectations, and rather fittingly, too, as you'll see as this series continues. So, let's begin: Opening and Angel Falls IX doesn't start like many of its older brothers, which very clearly have some adventure in mind to start with. The first three games all begin the instant you're being assigned to go on your adventure, while IV starts with the hero having been raised to be prepared for his destiny. V has you coming along on somebody else's adventure, while VI takes another tack and plays coy about its grand opening scene with a classic JRPG small-town opening sequence (a "classic" that's never been in Dragon Quest, go figure). For a while, VII had the most distinctive opening, being the closest to that small-town opening, but you were clearly already up to something, and your small-town was also the only-town (I looked up the first two minutes on Youtube just now, shut up). VIII straight up starts with you well on your way. In IX, adventure and exploration aren't even concepts in the beginning. It plays the small-town bit almost teasingly before switching over to a couple of guardian angels (it would be a shocker for DQ to play the small-town hero straight, I swear). It's their (your) job to look after the town and keep things nice and steady, and it turns out to be a good gig. Such a good gig, in fact, that your first successful stint as the town's guardian ends with an event that's been ten thousand years in the making: Fyggbloom. The Celestrians, the guardian angels, have been harvesting mortal gratitude as fertilizer for Yggdrasil the world tree -- they're not entirely sure why, mind, just that it'll set them on the road to salvation. And they desperately want salvation; salvation from their charges. Spend about five minutes talking with other Celestrians and you'll get the distinct impression of how full of it the Celestrians are to look down on mortals on the grounds that they're superior. (They've got a fair argument, mind -- they're just like us, but with extra powers, and, besides, we all know how Celestrians never do anything wrong). Of course, after tens of thousands of years, the Celestrian heirarchy gets a little shaken up -- the head angel Apus Major decided to bump you up to full Guardian ahead of schedule. And he proved right; despite confessing his initial misgivings about you, your master Aquila finds you worthy enough of your position and leaves you to your business. You take over his township and he takes over the world. Or something like that. Anyway, you collect some smelly horse byproduct and it earns you some shiny human byproduct, and that's enough fertilizer for Fyggbloom, and that's when everything promptly goes to seed. The instant the Fyggs bloom, somebody from the Protectorate blows your secret orbital base right the frick up and you fall to your doom. And the surviving Celestrians, who thought they had things well enough in hand to get bored, get a very rude awakening. Luckily, there's more to you than meets the eye, and despite being young and scrawny, you survive by plummeting tens of thousands of feet into a pool. And all it cost you was your invisibility and wings. Now you look just like a mortal. Of course, the mortals have their own opinions. The entire town of Angel Falls (where you landed due to remarkable chance) thinks you're an oddball and because you happened to show up at the same time as the earthquake that wrecked everything, a few of them think you're a jinx. One of them in particular, local rich boy Ivor Litlun, thinks you're a pest. On the other hand, local maiden Erinn, whom gave you your first crystal of Benevolessence (I'm just going to air out the Your First Time joke right now so nobody wastes any time), apparently thinks you're more interesting than Ivor. Ivor, Erinn, and the Hero fit an archetypal love triangle (yes, love triangle) that you might recognize from Ocarina of Time -- point for point, they resembles Mido, Saria, and Link; Ivor has a crush on Erinn, who's closer to the Hero (which must be all the more galling, since Ivor's known her longer). Unfortunately Ivor's still stuck working out the kinks in his own life -- he's not particularly worthy of any girl, much less a girl like Erinn. Erinn's amazing; a teenage girl (the only real note on her age I can think of is from King Trode during his downloadable visit to the Quester's Rest, who indicates Erinn's younger than Medea, who turned eighteen in the middle of VIII) who looks after her grandfather and runs a whole inn on her own, she's more mature than a few of the village women. And it's kind of hard to cast her as a type, even a Japanese type -- eternally good-natured, caring, devoted to work, pious, but when Ivor shows up she refuses to take any of his guff, and she might even let him have it if he gives her reason. Erinn's basically the best the mortals have to offer in a neat and tidy package without being an ingenue stereotype. And Ivor, well, Ivor's a bully and a whiner. Which isn't to say Ivor's all bad, either (first rule of IX: don't jump to conclusions). Ivor's a good example of what I call the Miyamoto technique, after Shigeru Miyamoto's principle on villains, where an evil guy like Bowser is never quite as bad as you thought. And for what's it worth, Ivor isn't half as bad as he seems. You see, Ivor's stuck emotionally (not just at level 3). He's caught specifically between childhood and adulthood; he wants to grow up, but has no idea how to do it, only having some idea of giving orders and occasionally defending his turf from outsiders (like Nine). The mayor is a poor father, just lecturing and criticizing the boy on the assumption that that's how you raise a kid, which clearly isn't working and hasn't been working for some time now, so Ivor's gotta work it out for himself. But good adults don't just happen, they need to be reared properly (or else be very lucky in their learning); you need good parents (which Ivor is kind of short-handed on) and good friends to uplift you, and since Ivor's the dominant kid in town, he's in the lurch, because who's gonna help him improve? Hugo? The lackey? But he's not all bad; none of the Litluns are (I can't even ding the dad too hard, running the town and raising two children has to be hard when the family's wife and mother is inexplicably gone). Ivor's very good with his little sister, so much so that she can only sing his praises. He has good ideas, too, in fits and starts -- he takes the initiative to try and clear the rubble isolating his hometown from the kingdom of Stornway, if only to show off to Erinn and rub his dad's face in it. He's also aware enough of his own limitations that he knows he needs someone decent in a fight, and Nine's not only survived a fall from who knows how high up, he has a big ol' sword on his back at all times. Of course, it's not as easy as he figured (don't jump to conclusions), and Ivor very nearly starts crying in frustration. The juxtaposition between Ivor and the soldiers is very clearly there to indicate how unprepared for a man's job poor Ivor is (another contrast with Erinn, who's been running the village inn since her father passed away two years ago, and doing an excellent job at it), but he quickly latches onto something that might salvage the situation -- bringing back good news. Naturally, it doesn't work, and Ivor settles in for a long lecture. Mayor Litlun struggles through another fathering moment -- it's true that Ivor's news doesn't ultimately matter, but they miss the fact that it's not at all certain things wouldn't have been fixed eventually; the soldiers make a point of asking about Patty, which may in fact be the reason they left Stornway in the first place. Erinn's inn would've continued to flounder and likely collapse, and there goes her family's well-being. But only Ivor thinks of that. In the meantime, Erinn suddenly takes center stage, and we're treated to a study in how nothing is certain (again, no jumping). Patty's arrival completely shatters her understanding of family, her history, and, more subtly, of herself, and the whole town's understanding of them as well. (Edwinn, incidentally, gets the Single Father with Responsibilities award, too, being far better than Mayor Litlun, who might very well perform his mayoral responsibilities as he does his fatherly ones -- sitting back and lecturing other people). But when the dust settles, Erinn's ready to leave her small-town beginnings and carry on her father's legacy to be an Inn master (another reason I like Erinn so much: she's an innkeeping Shounen hero), and she charges Ivor with taking care of her old inn. It's through the inn that Ivor finally gets to become an adult -- not because he suddenly steps up and gets his life together, but because he doesn't. While he does a squarely mediocre job of it in the beginning, by the second act of the game, he's doing such a garbage job that Erinn's grandfather has to get a hand in and make sure things get squared together. And while it's rough, Ivor finally has what he needs to become the adult he wants to be -- a mentor. We can see the fruits of this by the end of the post-game, when Ivor is in the running for an Inny of his own. Who thought the old man had it in him? Final Notes I'm actually slightly disappointed in the opening chapter, because while it does a good job of teaching Ivor a little lesson, it glosses over the substantially meatier conflict of Erinn's life and family, never really does that drama its due, and everyone ends up looking poorer for it. Patty comes off as greedy and callous, and Erinn's decision to abandon her grandfather is too quick to properly digest. We could've grabbed some more character out of those two if they travelled alongside the Hero, but that's for later discussion. She deserves her own post, so I'll write something later. I think I might include her in the Stornway section, but that involves the twisted history of three towns, so that'll be a huge section already. I wasn't expecting to write a fricking essay on the first chapter, so it might take a while to find the time to produce another one. I also intend to revisit this and edit it up some once I'm far enough along in the story to go back and wrench more characterization out of the villagers. Next on the agenda: Stornway and Schott.
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