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Brother Jaybird

Jaybird Discovers XI (Spoilers Inevitable)

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It's happening. It's happening!

I purchased a Steam copy of this game over a year ago and have been waiting to complete Heroes II before starting it up so as not to spread myself across too much (like I always do), only to go and put Heroes II on hiatus until a few months ago. So I finally download it and start it up and immediately my sad, old (two-years-old) computer immediately starts to creak and groan under the weight of such magnificence. I convince it to start up a new file, watch the opening cinematic, noting with interest that it's running so poorly that the voice and the music can't play at the same time and have to take turns, and then it freezes. I leave and come back and it freezes on the first frame of the game and proceeds to crash.

Not to worry. I start it up again, reduce all graphic enhancements as much as I can (the framerate has a minimum base of 30, which is unfortunate; as Heroes could go down to 20), and now it plays like absolute molasses.

But it plays, thank God.

I have no idea what the hero's name is, so I named him Eleven, after the convention of the heroes of VIII and IX (Eight and Nine are their actual names, which is much less cool than I thought it was when I was fourteen). If he has one, don't tell me, I wanna see if I can figure it out for myself.

I've actually managed to avoid most of the spoilers for this game, even listening to Slime Time, and I think I've forgotten most of them, and that still leaves 99% of the game for me to discover! New monsters, new places, new people!

New people like Gemma, our childhood friend.

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I like her already.

What I don't like is that after this she exhibits more potential than anything really appealing. She's harmless, but the "what would I do without you" bit kinda highlights the fact that she's not making a real contribution. I don't need her to fight, goodness knows we had our LOYAL ATTACK DOG (Sandy Model) for that. (I say with no guile or irony that I firmly objected to the slimes attacking my dog. I don't think I've ever been that mad at a slime. Maybe the anxiety of not knowing Sandy's HP helped). But for all intents and purposes Gemma spends 90% of the climb as little more than an exposition device, and I'm not getting anything as appealing as Erinn -- who nursed the DQIX protagonist back to health, escorts elderly relatives through danger, runs an inn by herself, never complains, is absolutely willing to put Ivor in his place, and is also hospitality incarnate. So far, Gemma's been much less helpful, and considering the first scene of the game is us cleaning up her mess, she should really be working harder to justify herself. She did furnish me with a phial once in battle, and does a decent job playing big sister to Cole, but I was level one and all I got out of it was 2 MP. Maybe I got unlucky and she possibly was supposed to save it for later, after I'd earned Frizz. I like her, I just really want to like her more. She has a big bandanna to fill.

It's (hopefully) way too early to finalize an opinion -- all I've done is climb the Tor and then saved in the Cobblestone Church -- I haven't even finished talking to all the townspeople.

The new take on combat is interesting. I haven't yet been explained the purpose of wandering around (don't explain it to me!) -- I tried experimenting with placement to see if I could hit multiple monsters at once, but the game didn't see fit to honor that and only let me slay one Slime at a time.

I probably had it easier than true vanilla DQXI would've allowed for. The first time I opened my inventory to check out my freshly dropped Medicinal Herb (which plummeted right down out of the heavens, an image that still makes me chuckle) and discovered that I apparently had an extra Greatsword and some Trodain gear.

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Hey, look, Orange Bandanna Buddies! There should be a club.

And if those outfits don't match as well as they might, well, Gemma doesn't dress like anyone else in Cobblestone, so why should she match us?

Anyway, I am definitely looking forward to playing the rest of this game, though with my computer, progress will undoubtedly be glacial.

Edited by Brother Jaybird

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This post was a fun read!

 

Looking forward to more!

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Ah, another first timer! Enjoy the game where everything is great and it's happy and lovely world where everything is fun and bright.

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1 hour ago, DrippySlimeStar said:

Enjoy the game where everything is great and it's happy and lovely world where everything is fun and bright.

You say that, but I saw enough anti-fun and not-bright in the prologue to know you ain't on the level. (Well, okay, arson fires technically are bright, but that's a condition of all flame).

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On 2/20/2020 at 1:34 AM, Brother Jaybird said:

I have no idea what the hero's name

Oh that’s easy. It’s MopTopMo.

If you’re playing the Switch version, it’s MopTopMoS!, so it sounds exciting and new.

Finally, if you’re playing in 2D mode, it’s TwoDeeMo.

 

Those are the one true names for the hero of DQ11.

Edited by YangustheLegendaryBandit
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Posted (edited)

And on this episode of the adventures of Moptop Mo, Gemma still ain't doin' it for me, bless her heart. I keep wanting her to do it for me, but she's just not getting anywhere.

So now that I've had a chance to get a good look around Cobblestone and talk with all the people, it's become painfully obvious that the game is shipping Gemma with you. All the townspeople are sure the two of you are a thing, and while Gemma isn't annoying and clingy about it (bless her), this game is demonstrating a fundamental failure to understand romantic tension. There has to be pushing together and pulling away, and all this game is doing is pushing. Gemma's not pushy about the two of you like all the other village women are*, but that's just another thing Gemma's not doing. Even when the game is trying to use her to pull at my heartstrings, but the memory she chooses to share is us running off to get her bandanna as children, because a lifetime of cleaning up Gemma's mess is clearly a winning formula.

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* All the women except for Cole's mom, that is, who makes the act of bending over a stove a lot more flirty-looking than is really appropriate. I should be having this kind of moment with Gemma.

Gemma... really kind of fascinates me, in that I'm caught wondering by what she's even supposed to be. She clashes so completely with the established setting of Cobblestone (doesn't wear the cobblestone costume, is the only blonde around for days) that I have to imagine she's foreign in some really important capacity, and yet all she wants to do is live in the village where she grew up. Is that paradox intentional? I want it to be, I really do, but the game's not even hinting at anything with even a whiff of foreshadowing, and this is not an especially subtle game. Gemma's stuck in this spot where she radiates potential, but a point hasn't even threatened to emerge. Hell, that weird door in the corner of the village with the three circles on it is more obviously foreshadowing something than Gemma. Gemma strikes me as kind of a failed heir of Saria from The Ocarina of Time, a clearly important member of this remote woodland village who has a clearly close relationship with the protagonist, but rather than using the surrounding villagers to illustrate your shared relationship and activities and then developing the relationship with the poignant parting scene like Ocarina, DQXI just takes your supposed relationship and its appeal for granted. Mostly I just feel sorry for Gemma. She could've made a good party member in a different story.

So, ma (who also dresses foreign) finally tells us we're adopted, and we head out into the world, wondering why Grampus Chalky ditched us and why Gemma's Grampus Mayor Dunstan doesn't want to admit that we were found floating in a river even after the whole village knows we have a destiny. I switched back to the regular clothes, because the Trodain outfit is neat, but should be worn by Trodainians. Besides, ma made me some neat adventure clothes, and I gotta look neat and sharp. Gemma, who thinks destiny sucks, nonetheless finally did something and made me a charm, which I will wear forever in remembrance of the one thing the story's allowed her to actually do, and wonder that maybe if I play the right song on it I can mind-meld with her. My other accessory slot will be occupied by a DLC item that came with the Steam release that gives me 1 MP every turn and thus basically infinite Heal spells. The next two hours of gameplay destroy me.

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Thank you, Gemma. I proceed to slaughter my way to Holodomor Heliodor, taking special care to hunt down every needler in sight, because those are the most unholy things I've ever seen in a Dragon Quest game and are to be torn apart with extreme prejudice. I feel only slightly guilty for killing a platypunk at night in its sleep and made up for it the next day by finding one that was awake and sneaking up on it from behind.

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Interestingly, I see that they've bowdlerized the cruelcumber death animation, in which their spear goes flying up in the air before falling to earth point down. In XI, the cruelcumbers catch the spear before it hits them, while in IX, they, er, don't. I'm ambivalent one way or the other to it, but I can see why you wouldn't want that IX version fully animated in such high def in front of the kids. A nice old man teaches me how to camp and that I can pray to statues for salvation (actually being Catholic makes this mechanic really obnoxious), but then I find something fascinating.

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So I find this little guy wandering in the direction opposite the emerald coast, so once I go check the emerald coastward path out, I come back and discover I can't interact with him at all. Which is probably for the best, since the last time I saw one of these guys, the prolog happened. But he's clearly here to be guiding me towards my destination (which is a neat but kind of pointless flourish; I know where I have to go, and I'm at a fork in the road with one branch blocked -- I really don't need to be guided to where I'm going).

After taking the time to fully explore landscape and slaughter the monster population, I finally end up in Heliodor, and get very distracted by all the beautiful figures.

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This is probably a good time to discuss some of the setting's mechanics. I discovered that I could destroy certain barrels and pumpkins back in Cobblestone, which was cute the first seven times but has yet to really add anything besides highlighting the classic joke of the hero ransacking every house he can enter for goods, and this doesn't even give me any goods. A much better flourish on the same joke is me going through an old women's cabinet right in front of her and appropriating a pair of fishnet stockings she clearly had no business wearing (the idea of Gemma as a party member becomes more appealing by the second). The jumping mechanic is, er, primitive, and with the myriad invisible walls makes some of the exploration frustrating -- the game successfully has convinced me that the world is a big place, and I know I can't explore all of it, but I'd prefer the game not rubbing my face in all the places I can't go, like showing me all these doors that are impossible to open. Screw you, game.

There are some more of the little blue ghosty-guys around town, just hanging out, which is neat so long as nothing burns down again, but while I explore, I can't help but notice how everyone is talking up the city's heroes and I encounter at least two bits of information on the local prison, including the note that the  prison is inescapable, so I know where I'm going to end up soon.

So I finally get around to my meeting with His Majesty, like Grampus Chalky wanted, dressed in the finest things ma could make for me.

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Screw you, dame.

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You've clearly never played an RPG before.

So in case all the talk about famously noble heroes and the local prison didn't tip you off, my meeting with the king goes pretty darn south, but there's a pretty neat twist in how they carry it out -- the good guys are actually good guys, and they think I'm on the level about the whole Luminary bit, which means they think I'm evil.

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Listen up, you smug walking hairdo, I'm not morally authorized to punch your lights out yet, but I really want to be.

So I get thrown in jail over what doesn't seem to be a misunderstanding, and Punchable Face the Hero is off to apparently go burn my village down; I'm clearly in for a miserable future. (I have to give it to the game for giving it the extra edge of involving the village. Mayor Dunstan is in for a bad time).

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Well, at least prison won't be boring.

So the hooded stranger busts me out with a not-quite-charming, not-quite-obnoxious level of ease, and proceeds to mention something about a Seer while he leads me on a merry game of sneak past the guards (another Ocarina of Time comparison!). I rather like this take on the traditional prison scenario, which takes place when you're an obvious weakling in the face of a half dozen armed guards, as opposed to other games in Dragon Quest where you'll have slaughtered a few giants by the time you get thrown in jail and so have no business being thrown in jail. The stealth section is short enough, and goes off without a single hitch.

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Like I said, without a hitch. While my hooded assistant isn't quite as appealing as Gemma's LOYAL ATTACK DOG (Sandy Model), he has basically infinite health and hits almost as hard as I do, so it's not like I'm floundering here. We leave the sewer-prison and end up washed up on the shore in front of a salvation statue, Mr. Hooded Guardbeater mumbles a few lines about fate and seers and we might just have a theme to this game.

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Me, too, kid.

Edited by Brother Jaybird
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On 2/20/2020 at 2:34 AM, Brother Jaybird said:

Maybe the anxiety of not knowing Sandy's HP helped

I don't know if this was pointed out, but I'll go ahead and let you know that NPC party members don't actually have HP as far as I can tell. I've seen them take nearly 5x my max HP in damage without healing and they never died, so I'll go ahead and say with utmost certainty that NPC party members basically become damage sponges that make enemies waste turns.

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7 hours ago, Brother Jaybird said:

MopTopMo

Fixed that for you. 😘

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, YangustheLegendaryBandit said:

Fixed that for you. 😘

His name is BowlcutBob.  Though his nickname around Costa Valor is StrawhairStan, and in Hotto, LankyLarry.

Edited by ignasia

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Posted (edited)
42 minutes ago, ignasia said:

His name is BowlcutBob.  Though his nickname around Costa Valor is StrawhairStan, and in Hotto, LankyLarry.

BowlCutBob is his one true name in Japan. The other two are slanderous names to call him. How dare you repeat them here.

Edited by YangustheLegendaryBandit
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7 minutes ago, YangustheLegendaryBandit said:

BowlCutBob is his one true name in Japan. The other two are slanderous names to call him. How dare you repeat them here.

Not that I made the up or anything.  I can't help it if NPCs also call him PotPinchParry, and Randyhomeraider.

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Posted (edited)

Redacted.

Edited by Brother Jaybird

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Welp, so much for that. There are some odd placeholders in there because the forum won't let me edit the post any more. Sorry, everyone.

LankyLarry's tale,
it does henceforth continue.
Behold the journey.

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So less than five hundred feet away from the salvation statue, I started to get a funny sensation in my stomach, like the exit would be harder to get to than expected, brief respite notwithstanding. You ever get one of those sinking feelings sometimes?

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'Cause I do.

So me and The Man from HOOD get chased through the caves by some newly discovered relative of the Great Dragon. Unlike the guards, I did not see fit to actually challenge the dragon, as the game seemed determined to run us through the set piece and I figured it would be less painful to just run with it. Or away from it. (I note with some chagrin that the game taunted us by dropping half a dozen metal slimes just out of reach while we were running for our lives).

We escape from ??? to safety.

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Ha! Fooled you! The game subverted our escape from having to flee the guards by having us escape right back to fleeing the guards! Hahaha, what an intelligent expenditure of player time!

We could easily have done without the dragon sequence. It really adds nothing except foreshadowing what will probably be a middle game boss fight. The mystery of the king of Heliodor (and his affairs from the prolog) is a vastly more intriguing thing than the fact that there happens to be a dragon in a cave, even if it's a very specific cave.

So the guards chase us through the sewers/catacomb/necrogond and we end up emerging from a tunnel next to a waterfall. The Man from HOOD, clearly a thief and lifelong cynic, makes the smart, rational choice and figures on negotiating with the guards, who don't actually want us dead.

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Oh, this is going to be a painful relationship. So the fideistic flatskull here has basically latched on to me as the messiah, bless his heart, which I'm pretty sure should earn him a spot on the shortlist for the local end-of-days suicide cult. Never tell this man to jump off a cliff.

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See?

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Complicating things is the fact that I am, in fact, the messiah.

I'm really not digging Erik's "character development", if you can really even call it that. He's some rando who spent months in jail (basically capable of escaping at any time, as he clearly demonstrates when he punches out a guard through the bars of his cell) on the word of a seer, and the predicted Luminary finds him on the last day of his task, and the most he has to show for it is mild shock. Even if I didn't find the subject matter of his faith in a fictional messiah distasteful, there's nothing in his character remotely appropriate to the situation -- no exhaustion, no lingering doubt, no frustration, none of the cynicism appropriate to his vocation, no annoyance at himself for what to a normal person would take as the mother of all fool's errands, just a moderate quantity of "Neat! I believe in you, now!" His development is undercooked at best and insincere at worst.

Secondly, what does putting his faith in the Luminary even mean? On what actual grounds does he have to think that plummeting thousands of feet won't kill him instantly? Is that a promised power of the Luminary? Erik just sounds more and more like an authorial sockpuppet talking nonsense about faith to highlight my status as the luminessiah. (And to be pedantic, yes, he does have a choice -- taking on the guards is something I know both characters are more than capable of doing, and even giving up is an option let's him stay alive for at least a little while, as the guards clearly object to the characters plummeting to their deaths).

So Erik ends up Saved By Faith, and drags me off to a nun, whom we end up lying to and sneaking away from awkwardly, and it turns out he has an errand to run back in Heliodor, and for that we'll have to sneak in.

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So once this failed Final Fantasy audition finishes giving me advice about not standing out in a crowd, we return to the seedy underbelly of Heliodor, where Erik finally starts acting like a thief, not that he'll actually use the word. We meet Rose, and Roxy, and Cammo, who insists Rose used to look like Roxy, which is very nice to think about, but really the neatest thing about Rose is how Erik flirts with her, which is a much more whole and wholesome relationship than he ever had with me. We also briefly get to sample a new Loyal Attack Dog (Bullseye Model).

Unfortunately, we also return to Erik's "faith" theme, where once he fails to find the Orb, he immediately latches onto his conviction that his old partner in crime, Derk, has double-crossed him and run off to a life of luxury, which is mostly believable, except the game makes a point of repeating Erik's understanding of the situation and inadvertently foreshadows the coming twist that Erik will be wrong. (I don't really hold this against the game; it's fair to say I'm probably genre-savvier than the target audience).

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And wrong he is; so it turns out Derk accidentally went straight trying to solve the Erik's In Jail problem and gave the stolen orb back for the reward and has since become a merchant; even took a wife (who is a little odd -- I'm pretty sure most wives stop referring to their husbands as "magnificent" a few weeks after they start dating). Erik apologizes for doubting, expresses minimal self-reflection on his tendency to latch onto his beliefs, and ends up with a second relationship that is also more worthwhile than anything he shares with me. I turn out to be a pretty crummy luminessiah, happily agreeing to help Erik Notathief re-steal a treasure of the kingdom that imprisoned me.

But first we get to return to Cobblestone and see if Gemma gets a better part in the story! (No, seriously, I will happily trade Erik for Gemma, I still have a pair of burgled commandeered fishnet stockings just sitting in my bag). We have to take the long way 'round, though, as the Heliodoran army wouldn't like to see us; through the Manglegrove we go, finding new monsters and talking cows (it's good to see Dragon Quest taking so much inspiration from Ocarina of Time, really makes it a modern feeling game).

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Moving past the several uncomfortable questions this raises about the production of meat, along the way we get the Fun-Sized Forge (which is more fun than I originally thought it would be, though I lament the apparent abandonment of alchemy; at least the Great Krak Pot talked to us), our first boss, and a new superpower! So one of the benefits of being the Luminessiah is that the glowing tree in the sky really loves us, so if we encounter one of her bejeweled roots, which show up in random locations and are totally not an object of poaching for some reason, she shares her save states with us. This allows us to find and kill the Tricky Devil, who was hiding in an empty treasure chest that really was empty when I passed by it the first time, which frees the Woodcutter from being turned into a dog (which the Tricky Devil never tried to do to us, go figure) and allows us to continue on our way. Another benefit of being the Luminessiah? Great hair.

A last couple of notes before leaving the manglegrove: everyone has a unique dancing animation, which is neat, and I'm still hyped about that Cyclops I saw on the deeper jungle floor.

Anyway, finally we get back to Cobblestone, and let me tell you it is great to see everyone again. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to feel that great about seeing me. They don't even recognize me, for some reason. Maybe Mom knows why.

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Aha! We've gone back in time! That's what's going on. (This was really sudden). Thanks, Mom! (I am a little underwhelmed by the game directly reusing mom's model, which is not only mildly insulting to the woman, but accomplishes nothing except to delay the twist by about ten seconds).

Oh, well, we can't go home again, but we can still walk and talk and see what was going down when the old haunts were still new.

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She's adorable. You're cute, too, Gemma. Here, let me clean your mess up for you. (I'm glad to see that the creators gave you a new model; at least they put some effort into your character).

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Oh, no, you don't. I don't care how much your cuteness intensifies, Gemma, you won't distract me from the fact that I just broke the whole timeline over my knee.

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I hear the sound of Dragon Quest V intensifying in the background, but it's nice to know that we had at least something of a personality once upon a time. I can totally understand a six-year-old girl who loses things in trees getting along swimmingly with a six-year-old boy with a ladder. This is the stuff crushes are made of. Also, grampus Chalky is here, too.

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Don't you look at me like that, old man. Don't sit there and pretend you've adapted savvily and mysteriously to this whole affair. This town already has a couple thimble-deep mysteries to it that I still have to solve and cute blonde who could've been really cool in another timeline, I don't need you complicating that.

So, anyway, it's a nice treat to see Grampus Chalky again, and we discuss timeline matters for a bit; he drops a vague line about being "no longer around" in my time and gives me instructions to go dig up some buried treasure... and then he vanishes, which raises some pretty radical questions about how this Inexplicable Time Travel works.

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So apparently it's time to go all of a sudden. I get to see the kids one last time, and I'll admit I can totally see why the village ships them. But anyway, we're going back to the future! Now we'll get to say hi to everyone for real this time!

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Oof.

This is a terrible scene in exactly the right way. It's legitimately upsetting, in the same way DQV was, and for most of the same reasons. It's even staged well, using the transition from the past to the horrible, horrible, present.

I'm starting to think the Heliodorans may not be quite the heroes they're touted to be. The "good guys" sure seem to be good at viking raids.

Unfortunately, the scene also highlights a core weakness of the silent protagonist and possibly the story, in that an actual human would be completely distraught and horrified, but the luminessiah turns out to have the emotional depth of a teaspoon. Erik's response is also rather weak, especially considering he's supposed to be emoting for the both of us, but at least it's accurate to the situation. It's also kind of morbid to just wander emotionlessly through the ruins of your hometown and help yourself to the loot now available in the ruined church. We have one of the most horrifying occurrences in all of Dragon Quest history right in front of us, and it gets written off in the scene of one cutscene. Nobody dwells on the horror of the event, nobody expresses any hope or desperation that someone might've survived, it just happened and we only technically acknowledged it before moving on. (DQVII was much better about this sort of thing, with Maribel actually being noticeably affected by the fear and misery you encountered).

Erik thinks that our trip to the past was a souped-up vision from the local Yggdrasil root, which isn't carrying a jewel, but has hidden sigils anyway, and it turns out there is buried treasure containing information from our trip to the past, which raises still more questions, like how does the time travel affair work? Was this information always here in this timeline, have we modified the past and wound up in an alternate timeline, exactly how alternate is this possibly alternate timeline, given that Chalky knows that the once-recommended trip to the king goes south, what is even going on? (Incidentally, we're the prince of a kingdom that doesn't apparently exist anymore; I've been selling every bit of my true homeland's currency as a cheap curio).

I want to pause again and take note that we have two different mentions by Chalky of "don't hold grudges" within ten minutes of each other, and I seem to recall someone attributing it to him earlier in the game, so that may end up being the theme of the game, rather than Erik's psychological problem. Also, "I'm just an ignorant old man from a little village in the country"? Grampus Chalky, you are the most blatant liar I've ever known, Mr. Here-Have-a-Keystone-that-opens-Magic-Doors.

In hindsight, this is a game with a lot of intrigue (and scenery), but the character development and emotions could really, really use some work.

But anyway, we go back on the road to re-steal a treasure from a kingdom that employs apparent mass murderers as heroes, because the luminessiah's word is his bond. There's a tent out in front of the kingsbarrow with a book we can't read, which is unfortunate, so let's go see what they're up to.

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I see you boys had quite the party, huh? How'd it go?

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So there's trouble afoot in the kingsbarrow, and we do the dungeoneering thing. The dungeon is pretty straightforward, minimal branching, some external areas, but near the end we are introduced to the new mechanic of steeds, which promises to be fun.

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It is immediately less fun when the direct implication is that we scooped out the eggoskeleton's guts. 

So the heart of all the trouble turns out to be a couple of grim gryphons who are also after the red orb (and are really quite inefficient about getting it and skedaddling) trying to get into somebody's good books (Ha ha~ the game isn't gonna tell us anything!). I like the boss battles with their full voice acting, which is delightful to listen to, and a step up from DQVIII.

Once Erik gets his orb back, he admits he thinks I'm a lucky charm (what, the thousand foot drop didn't do that?) and that he has secret affairs of his own that he totally expects me to contribute to, which is better than all his earlier chatter about faith in the luminessiah, but not by all that much. I'm able to pilot the eggoskeleton husk through the dungeon and past the entryway, where all the corpses have been removed for some reason, but I must abandon it on the outside.

Well, a limited but fun mechanic is still a fun mechanic.

I tinker with the fun-time forge some more and upgrade the Supplicant accessory to +3, so now I get a free 3 MP every turn, which is very useful because I also gave Eleven Zap. My gameplay style so far has been to keep Eleven on Show No Mercy while using Erik to Half-Inch everything in sight for extra loot, which hasn't failed me so far. I like that Erik has lines -- "Yoink!" and "What's yours is mine!" -- but I would like them a lot more if they went along with actual confirmed steals, because when they don't they inevitably degrade into noise.

Anyway, the luminessiah and his looter disciple continue east and are forced to abandon our horse to make our way through some undergrowth. We emerge into a clearing with some hades condors (looks like 'em anyway), but we're not allowed to explore this section (shame on me for not checking earlier), because a chase scene finds us.

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Hax! I call hax! There's no playable horse in the game that could climb up those rocks, and how dare you flaunt your unicorn armor in front of me when I just abandoned my own horse, which is totally a gift from the town you apparently razed to the ground and not a generic steed that just shows up when I ring a bell.

So Hendrik and his goons, whom, remember, we have pretty good reason to think might be horrible mass-murderers and psychopaths, not that we bother to talk about it, chase us across the clearing, which is a little silly because I saw the size of the clearing and there is way too much chase scene for this tiny spit of land, pretending it isn't also ridiculous that the horses don't catch up to us when we're on foot, and that it isn't worse when there just so happens to be an extra horse standing around waiting for us to commandeer it, and further when Hendrik shoots the dumb horse from nowhere, knocks us to the ground and still can't catch us. I abandoned my horse to steal a horse and the second horse got shot. Would it really have been that awful to just let us walk across to the door?

So the door hides a portal and the portal sends us very far away, to a rocky place with a very beautiful active volcano nearby. I do love me the bongo drongos with their chimpish drums. But most importantly, time to sweat!

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Hotto is a hot land
of large and restful saunas.
Erik quickly departs.

I do not depart,
but make up for my past lack
of exploration.

I thought we were lost,
but foreigners are here, too.
Not as lost as thought.

The house of Tetsu,
who found the Mini Medal.
What is his is mine.

Little redcap bites,
and bites again with her tongue.
Deal with her later.

I find Miko soon,
above us in her temple.
Deal with her later.

I soon find the bath,
and am strictly forbidden,
from going astray.

But not little girls,
who may wander in at will.
Good thing we're all clothed!

I find the Puff-Puff,
but this time was not a trick.
Connie's right there, too.

It is much too bad
that the girls' sauna has such
poor security.

Redcap in the square,
causing more trouble for all.
Connie's not her sis.

Redcap's sis is lost,
in monster hands, most likely.
She tags along now.

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Meet the silent deer,
who do not share the weather
and won't interact.

Despite her big stick,
redcap does not speak softly.
Can't hit hard, either.

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We climb the mountain,
and find one foe to challenge.
This was a mistake.

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We explore elsewhere
and find the robber rabbits.
Cute, but no real threat.

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NO NO NO NO NO
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO
NO NO NO NO NO.

Time is lost to find
another rabbit rare drop.
I lost mine to death.

We find the monsters
and their faraway hideout.
Erik sure is spooked.

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Ah, such a good find!
An unattended chest here;
I'll just go get it.

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A new type of steed,
with new and unique motion,
but only one use.

Inside a chest here,
a robber rabbit's rare drop.
I kick myself hard.

I believe this place
was once a temple, with the
root and the statue.

Redcap and greendress,
make quite a pair united.
Let's kill a dragon.

We have a name now,
the Lord of Shadows it is.
Redcap's still tiny.

Arboria's name
reminds me much of Arba.
I miss King Doric.

Connie's dad is free,
but, wow, is he suspicious.
Poor, poor, poor Connie.

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We corner Noah,
pretending to be a drunkard.
Props for the mean look.

We save with the priest,
the missionary nearby.
We will resume soon.

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And on today's installment, the adventures of Randy Homeraider!

We leave Hotto now,
and leave Mt. Huji untouched.
We'll be back someday.

So, with our gift of wisdom from Noah, famed knower of things and all-around creep, we head in a southerly direction in pursuit of what is possibly a branch of Yggdrasil, over which there is a giant hanging maybe. The Gallopolitan region is a desert we quickly find the castle-town, with a very interesting blue tent rising over the walls that makes me immediately think of a King Slime. Knowing how to play an RPG, however, I ignore it to survey the rest of the region.

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Ah, here we go. I really liked discovering the gorgeous active volcano immediately after arriving in Hotto, but these perpetual sandfalls are one of the first pieces of truly fantastic scenery in the game. I don't think the game gives you a real camera option, so trying to get nice scenic shots without the frame centered on horse butt is a nuisance. Exploring the rest of the region we find a couple of extra roadblocks and some foreshadowing, more than the earlier parts of the game. At least the tent at the checkpoint has people in it, which is more than could be said for the Kingsbarrow.

Exploring the region has allowed me to get a better feel for the characters I'm traveling with; Veronica's and Erik's snark is much more bearable when it isn't aimed at me. Once we're actually in Gallopolis we open up on the current chapter, which is over-foreshadowed by about every member of the population talking about Prince Faris, the horse races, or the circus (Heliodor was decent enough to restrict its core foreshadowing to a few books and only talking up one or two of that chapter's major characters). I won't say it gave everything away, but everyone talking about how studly Prince Faris was really just ended up deflating the twist by making it obvious-in-hindsight when he eventually showed up. Because I know how to play an RPG properly, I delay the story as long as possible and interact with everything (except the shops -- I made it a point starting here not to obtain a new anything from either the shops or the roving emporium until the chapter is over, mostly because I humiliated myself last time by wasting time to recover a rare drop from robber rabbits after losing one by dying, only to get the same rare drop for free in a treasure chest).

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Hmm. Gorgeous gal in a desert town offering me sexual favors for free? Seems legit. Also familiar, for some reason. Well, anything's better than Hotto, where the silly girl gave me an actual Puff-Puff right in front of Connie.

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My sense of shock and appallment is overridden by the fact that my Deja Vu is intensifying.

More seriously, as fun as it was to relive the classic puff-puff gag, it really didn't do much for me. This is partly because the gag was basically obligatory in order to dodge accusations of being pervy by having only unironic puff-puffs and partly because it opened up an occasion for the party chat to let me down. The party chat all in all has been rather underwhelming this game, only updating for each major story flag rather than in response to interactions with the world around the party. The puff-puff in particular was disappointing, especially in light of VIII, the last mainline Dragon Quest release in this style, going comparatively over and above, staging a puff-puff for each character and letting the characters react to it. In XI, even when I change my party lineup, I'm stuck looking at ol' wooden-face the protagonist, who is shaping up to be my least favorite DQ character from sheer dullness. Eleven deflates every scene he's in. Gemma was too good for him.

I'd almost write this reaction of mine off as just me being a stinker, which is almost assuredly part of it, but I feel like it's worth bringing up because Dragon Quest XI is starting to develop a trend of lifting major tropes from previous installments and then using them in an inferior way. Destroyed hometown? Dragon Quest V did it better by letting you discover and explore it while XI just throws it at you and then all you can do is leave. Time travel? V also did it better by setting up a twist when you were a kid and then making good on it as an adult and made certain to explain what was going on, XI throws it at you inexplicably and then has you commit actions that should change the future, but the effects of time travel are inexplicable and unknown because you have no baseline to compare it with, and may even be over-complicated. Hell, even VII had some thought-out time travel shenanigans. Now the party chat is turning out to be inferior to VIII and the handheld remakes. (I'm ambivalent about the clumsy jump mechanic, which is more or less the same as it was in VIII).

Back to Gallopolis, I find a few things of real interest. A female mage-in-training in the shop tells me about "rare" monsters, which makes more sense after I take a quest requiring me to hunt rarified cactiballs. I do some last minute exploring and find some stand-out characters, including a hulk dressed like a bodkin archer and the most colorful man I've ever seen.

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How dare you, sir. Eleven is not a fine young fellow, he's a dullard and a cipher.

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Now this is a DQ3 throwback I can get enthusiastic about.

Back with the main story, where we finally get to the Gallopolitan Palace and discover that it is swarming with cats. Apparently the king took a shine to them, and it's a positive wonder the staff isn't as flea-bitten as they should be. An exploration of the king's bedchamber and his closets net me some questionable items, including a pair of fishnet stockings that may or may not have belonged to the queen, and the accumulated lore from the books and citizenry alerts me to the fact that once upon a time the king was once upon a time a hero in good standing. Before the cats.

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Not anymore, clearly. Today's episode of Ugly Guy, Hot Wife is interrupted, however, by the arrival of Prince Faris, which opens up a round of amusing dramatics that makes me like both doofs, father and son.

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Meet Prince Faris, the successor to Charmles of VIII as the resident unworthy prince. After his discourse with his father, he gives Eleven the eye and beckons us to his room, which instantly sets Erik on edge because of the whole Wanted Dead or Alive thing we have going on (which I can't recall whether we told Veronica and Selena about). Turns out, Prince Faris, despite his kingdom-wide reputation, is a complete sham, and bargains with us to take his place during his coming-of-age challenge. I gotta say, comparing Charmles and Faris is a bit of a mixed bag: while I think Charmles was a better-made and -implemented character, being directly relevant to the personal story and major themes of VIII, I appreciate Faris for being part of a more mature take on the situation that understands that the unworthy prince is not a self-contained problem, which almost makes up for the prince's schlocky arc.

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See, Faris' problem isn't that he's this self-contained bundle of failures, but that he's built up the illusion of success that he's been able to maintain for entirely too long because no one is actually close to him. His parents and retainers neglect him, which creates the distance necessary to create the illusion; which is something that always irked me about King Clavius from VIII, who was also a neglectful parent, but the story never got around to meaningfully acknowledging it. And because his life is so falsified, Faris has never had to accomplish anything for real... until now, when he has to win the local horse race against lifelong competitors.

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The hood again? It can't be that effective. (Ahem). Faris invites us to the circus to discuss his plan, which basically amounts to the horseman of the group (ol' Woodface himself) being swapped in and out before and after the race, and once we've agreed to it, because we really want the family stick, makes his escape without notice.

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Ha. I lied! I will give it to the scene though, which is smart enough to throw in the circus man doing circus things while Faris exposits for a while to distract us.

So we swap ourselves in for Prince Faris and head for the race course, along the way we discover that Faiz, an otherwise tertiary character who only matters because he was the intended challenger, and who should show up in his place but Mr. Circus himself?

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Now this is a narrative misstep. Between Sylvando giving Faris the eye back at the circus and the sheer coincidence of him filling in for Faiz, this should be a blatant clue that Sylvando's up to no good. He's not. Faiz actually did overdo it during practice and Sylvando just so happened to be available, which is... contrived. So one humiliating race later -- and when I say humiliating, I mean Sylvando blew us out of the water so thoroughly that I'm wondering whether I should be mad at more NPC horse hax (I'm not sure, because my computer lags extensively when playing this game, doing things like failing to load the BGM whenever I enter or leave the palace, and during the horse race drops to maybe eight frames per second, so I have no idea if Sylvando is beatable normally) -- we get off the horse to let Faris take the credit for giving a good race anyway (second place against at least perfect play AI is nothing to sneeze at), only to meet up in the aftermath and WHO SHOULD WANDER IN but Sylvando, who discovers the ruse in yet another contrivance that really should have been deliberately staged, but screw it.

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Don't you look at us like that. You're not completely stupid, but this schlocky, contrived story is doing you no favors.

So with the looming threat of clownish blackmail hanging over our heads, what should happen but more complications? Back when we were still exploring the Gallopolitan region, the knights stationed at the northwest checkpoint vaguely alluded to something with the sinister nomenclature of The Slayer of the Sands, which has apparently re-emerged from dormancy, and it naturally falls to the main man, Faris himself, to put it away. Faris naturally begs us to save his skin and so that's why we all end up back in the desert, marching through the northwest checkpoint into yet more desert, which I don't actually mind as I have two sidequests to run through, including using a chance-based three-man pep power, which means I have an excuse to grind, and in an area with metal slimes!

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Full disclaimer: Metal Slime not pictured. But XI does do something that I like, and conveys size and presence in a way that a lot of previous games were never really able to -- one of the main reasons I love the Heroes spinoffs so much was that you were immediately confronted by how concrete the enemies were in space and time, as opposed to the generally abstracted combat lineups from previous games, even in things like VIII. XI is able to preserve that sense of concreteness, so props.

Oh, also, you can't see him, but Sylvando has inserted himself into this adventure, ostensibly to keep the halfwit prince from killing himself. I keep reminding myself not to be so annoyed with the performer so much as with the disorganized, misleading, schlocky story we're all stuck in together. Prince Faris is a sympathetic character, and I appreciate the game making him a sympathetic character, but the story relies on contrivance and idiocy (I mean, really, did none of Faris' teachers ever notice his failures and try to help him at anything? Was there no gossip? The lifetime of logistics necessary to put Faris in his current predicament is mind-boggling). Prince Charmles, the last inadequate prince with a coming-of-age failure arc, was at least on point as a character (though behaving as if all his vices were self-contained is really rather a cheat), and his story had a clear and definite idea of where to go and how it's relevant to the story at large; Faris' story struggles because it's also doubling as a vehicle to highlight Sylvando's "intrigue", but between at least two up-to-no-good signals (though it knocks the count down to one by insisting that a suspicious coincidence really is a chance event) and his current insistence of noble intentions is proving less intriguing than just disorganized. It makes it seem like Sylvando's story was going in a more sinister direction and then dialed it back at the last minute.

So we travel all the way to the furthest tip of the desert and discover that instead of another dungeon, we jump right to the Slayer of the Sands...

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a really rather kickass looking insect-monster that probably earned its reputation for killing Gallopolitan soldiers. In a rather weak demonstration of supposed badassery but really more like possible sociopathy, Sylvando tells Princey-Poo to show the man-eater bristling with claws, blades, spikes, and needles what real knights are made of. The only real excuse for Sylvando doing that is if we grant him the Omniscient Morality License, because otherwise we'd have to point out that Sylvando just goaded someone with no substantial combat experience into waging battle with a man-eating beast that has killed a lot of people who do have that experience.

It sure is lucky then, that after some rallying words from Sylvando, the slayer ignores Faris and turns to fight us, and that once we defeat it in combat that the monster doesn't vanish in a puff of smoke like other bosses, and also that Sylvando just so happens to have a huge chain necessary to tie up the corpse for Faris and his lackluster knights to drag back to town. We follow afterwards, forgoing the use of the Zoom spell that Veronica gave us as we were leaving the Hottan region (which is, as always, promised to take you anywhere you've been, but won't let us return to Heliodor or Cobblestone because the game wants to have its cake and eat it, too), and we get to see the Gallopolitan Stonehenge a second time and think of what will happen if we ever get to come back.

Once we return to Gallopolis, we get to sit through the last part of today's schlocky children's anime episode, in which Faris grandstands as much as possible (of course), only for the Slayer of the Sands to awaken (of course), to break free of its chains (of course), and to terrorize the people... who immediately prove themselves worthy of Darwin Awards by sticking around to watch Faris fight like they're spectators. Sylvando shows up dramatically (OF COURSE), and finally manages to do something actually heroic and inspiring and nudges Faris into actually confronting the problem (which would be much nicer if it weren't so painfully contrived), only to jump in at the last moment and save Faris from death by dropping the slayer with a single blow.

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The schlock is killing me. It has already killed the slayer. It may kill yet again.

So once the episode ends and the credits roll and we can finally do something, Faris, who has at least always been a man of his word, arranges to procure the Reading Rainbough that we were informed of by Noah, famed knower of things and all-around creep, only to learn that it was SOLD and the proceedings spent on his birthday party this year, which is also why he didn't get any presents. Even after wading through all the schlock, I can't hate Faris, and he does have at least a strong sense of debt and obligation, and we do get some nice gifts -- letters of transit and a new crossbow minigame (new dialog with the Bodkin Fletcher cosplayer unlocked!) and the friendship of father and son.

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I just can't hate them.

All in all, Gallopolis was a nice place, and there's a fair bit of appeal in the local color -- the kids running around everywhere are very cute. I'm not a huge fan of the chapter, but that's mostly because of Sylvando getting shoehorned in and the story distorting to fit him, which the game pretends away via contrivance and shilling. Sylvando's big finale is cheap and unimpressive; knowing the knight's creed is not an especially magnificent thing considering you can read it on a local billboard next to the palace and something close to half the town consists of knights who know it by heart; the creed is Gallopolitan Culture 101, week 2.

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Week 3, on the other hand, is the dancer's outfit, because yowza. It's fascinating that this version of the outfit, which shows less skin than the typical outfit (which is a derivative of Maya's bikini), is actually more erotic, but that's a tangent for another conversation. (The story is over, which means I'm allowing myself to buy things now).

Anyway, time to go and, oh, wait, new character alert.

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Sylvando the superfop catches us on our way out the door, makes some noise about how he's concerned with the Dark One taking away people's smiles and that's why he wants to join us, which is an obvious dodge, but we let him show up anyway. Between his immense skills and casually dropping his ability to purchase things like personal sailing ships he sounds like a rich kid who ran away from some pretty big expectations of his own, but he actually got some training in beforehand. We'll see, after the game spites me by telling me I'm only allowed to have four player characters on the field after demonstrating it's clearly capable of running five.

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I am, however, looking forward to him not getting along with Erik. That particular dynamic has been pretty engaging so far.

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Love these long posts. Crack me up!

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