Posted by: seanmalstrom | October 13, 2016

Email: Final Fantasy vs. Dragon Quest

You’re absolutely right about Dragon Quest having no mythology. I love the series (have beaten the 4-6 remakes and original 7, playing through 8 and 9 now), but I can admit that every Dragon Quest game has the same types of environments, NPC characters, world design, story beats, etc, to the point where they all feel like the exact same game. Heck, they even re-use sounds from the NES games in the modern ones. This slavish devotion to tradition ends up ruining entire installments. Take #7, for example. It totally wastes the cool premise of going back in time to fix the present by not having ANY visual or technological differences between the two time periods. The world-building in Final Fantasy is unquestionably superior.
What keeps me coming back to Dragon Quest is the gameplay. After 5, Final Fantasy decided that, rather than challenge the player, the games would be nice, easy progressions to the end, with only the occasional boss fight putting up any kind of roadblock. The monsters in Dragon Quest have access to all of the same abilities that you do, and will wipe out your party if you’re not careful. Unlike in Final Fantasy, wiping actually has consequences (you keep your experience, but lose half of any gold you’re carrying), so it forces you to play conservative and pay attention to the battles at all times. The monsters also have a nice ramp up in difficulty and stay tough right through the end. I only beat 6 by the skin of my teeth because the final boss killed all of my powerleveled characters, leaving the scrubs to finish him off.
Also, after 7, Final Fantasy got stuck VERY far up its own ass, not unlike the second and third Matrix films. Square was so hell-bent on telling (what they thought was) a deep and compelling story that they forgot to make the games FUN. So in FF8, they made it impossible to grind (while adding an overcomplicated magic system that required it) and cut or minimized a bunch of other JRPG elements, all so they could tell their crappy story about the worst protagonist in entertainment history. 9 was a fun throwback to the old games, but because there was no challenge (at least until the surprise final boss), it was a joyless slog through boring environments we had mostly seen before. 10 was a step in the right direction, but it was also when Square decided that players would rather follow a straight line than explore on their own, and that cutscenes would be prioritized over gameplay (two concepts they doubled down on in 13, to disastrous results).
Dragon Quest is under no such pretensions. Ever since 8, the U.S. versions have embraced the silliness of their universe’s premise (cartoon people fight cartoon monsters) and peppered the localizations with nonsensical accents, silly puns, and other malapropisms. Example: in #9, you have to fight a monster spreading a virus called The Ragin’ Contagion, and he inexplicably talks like a Texan. I have no idea if the original Japanese is anything like this, but honestly, I don’t care. I’m sure stuff like this pisses the hardcore off, but I love it. There aren’t many games that can make me laugh out loud, but modern Dragon Quests will do it.
So TL:DR – Final Fantasy overall has better settings, but the modern games are ruined by lack of difficulty and Square’s pretension. Dragon Quest’s world-building sucks, but the games are hard, funny, and charming. They’re both good, but I’m not sure if one series is superior over another. Modern Final Fantasy has a lot of issues, while modern Dragon Quest isn’t that far removed from the NES games, flaws and all.
One last point in DQ’s favor – once you’ve played a bunch of them, you realize that Chrono Trigger is basically a much prettier Dragon Quest game. Makes sense, since Yuji Horii was the lead designer. :)


I’m a huge fan of Final Fantasy 6. Was the game challenging? I thought it was, at times. I remember the Flying Island giving me trouble the first time around, as well as Zozo and the southern continent. The second half of the game, not so much. FF6 seemed more broken, but broken in the good way of making the player feel overpowered. Sabin’s blitzes were grossly overpowered. And what about that Ultima spell? (Obviously named to reference the Ultima series.)

I never could get into FF7. I think the 3d aspects just really removed it from me. I also never liked the story line.

Then Final Fantasy series just goes off the rails. So sad.

Dragon Quest seems to be, mythologically, the same game over and over again.

What is interesting is Nintendo’s response. Nintendo seems to love Dragon Quest for whatever reason. They keep trying to get it on their system, even gave away the first game with Nintendo Power subscriptions. With Final Fantasy, they did make a strategy guide (which was a good one). But speaking as a Nintendo consumer, the biggest blow was Final Fantasy leaving the Nintendo systems, and Nintendo seems not interested in getting it back. Final Fantasy 15? Nintendo doesn’t care. But the latest Dragon Quest? Oh, Nintendo wants that. Why? No one buys Dragon Quest outside of Japan.

As you have so written, emailer, Final Fantasy likes to, or at least did, delve into mythology with its rich art and music while Dragon Quest, using old music and art, chooses to deliver ‘comfort food’. And this distinction makes me have an epiphany about Nintendo.

The reason why I became mesmerized and a fan of Nintendo games such as Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kid Icarus, as well as other companies’ games from Mega Man to Castlevania to PC games such as Warcraft, Starcraft, Ultima, Wing Commander, etc. was the mythological narrative. THIS IS NOT STORY. It is not even the ambiance. It is the WHY to the game. The gameplay largely sucks. Yet, we still must go back and replay Super Mario Brothers 1, 2, 3, and World again and again.

Look at Zelda. Despite the Aonuma wrecking ball (“Puzzles! Puzzles everywhere!”), the fanbase of Zelda is obsessed with Zelda’s mythology. Oh, you know it, reader, and I know it, and Nintendo knows it too.


Above: No gameplay is shown. But finding out what happens ‘next’ in this mythology is what Zelda fans want to know.

Right now, I am playing Super Mario Galaxy. Did you know the game is almost ten years old? How time flies. But as I play it, I am gloriously devouring the ambitious game production such as the orchestra music (which is glorious) and the celestial themes. However, I am very disappointed. There is no real mythology going on here. Super Mario Galaxy is Mushroom Kingdom in a blender. The 3d is annoying to me, and I dislike when I have to play the game upside down.

Nintendo games have become boring and lame because Nintendo keeps going the Dragon Quest route of ‘comfort food’. “Wii U has many great games,” we hear. So what? I can miss them all. There is not one damn thing on the Wii U that I feel that I can miss. But that new Breath of the Wild Zelda game? Oh yeah, I am not going to miss that.


When I saw the above commercial in the early 1990s, I was jazzed. The better graphics and sound meant a closer connection to that mythology. I remember getting to Bowser’s castle and at the very end, you hit a spotlight. There was a jumping black suited ninja guy that just hops up and down. I stopped, stared at it for a while, thinking of what a momentous event had occurred. The jumping ninja guy was a character from Super Mario Brothers 2 (American version). What Nintendo just did was acknowledge the two universes into one by having the SMB 2 character in Super Mario World. Now, one can point to Bob-ombs and some other critters in the past, but Bob-ombs are somewhat generic. It wasn’t as blatant as a Shy Guy or Birdo appearing, but it was still meaningful.


Super Mario Land’s gameplay was and is pretty bad. But the appeal of 2d Mario was exploring these new lands and worlds. If that were not the case, then why are the worlds differentiated in Super Mario Brothers 3? The game doesn’t feel like an adventure without it. (Did you catch the ‘Give Mario a happy ending’ line from the commercial? Oh yeah.)

Humans have a need for mythology. We make mythology out of stupid things… nothing stupider than politicians or history. But the point is that humans need it, humans crave it, humans consume it. Notice a young child. They show an early interest in the Greek mythologies. The world’s religions all have their tales of wonder.

What is a video game? Is it just gameplay that we play to hit some buttons in our brains, as a type of psychology treadmill? But if that were the case, we would not be obsessing over these games THIRTY YEARS LATER. Even Miyamoto is surprised about that. So why does it matter?

Video games create a harmonic experience of music, visual arts and animation, and player involvement. But what does that do? Why play it? Why not bounce a ball off the wall? The reason why is the mythology presented in it. Ninja Gaiden would not be as compelling if it didn’t have its mythology, its mythos, which was revealed with each new stage. Mega Man would be forgotten without its mythos. Walk into any retro game store and look at the prices of games. The expensive games are always the games with the richer mythos. The cheap ones are generic games, sports games, and such that no one wants. But these games were ‘great’ back then. Today, no one wants Blades of Steel, but damn do they all want that Dragon Warrior 4 or Mega Man 5.

I remember playing Mega Man 2 for the first time, pausing it, and stepping back to tell a friend, “Listen to that!” This happened repeatedly when I first played Final Fantasy IV. “Have you ever heard such music from a game?” I would ask in awe.

Do you know how tell when music, sound, art assets, and gameplay are good? IT IS WHEN THE PLAYER DOESN’T NOTICE THEM. No one, aside from strange ones like myself, noticed that the music or art in these old games were brilliant until these guys grew up and realized such quality wasn’t in the new games. WHEN THE PLAYER NOTICES THEM, IT IS BAD. GOOD GAMEPLAY IS INVISIBLE TO THE PLAYER. The player is having too much fun being absorbed in the game to notice the gameplay. But should the gameplay be bad, the player would notice it fast. The harmonic whole is disrupted.

Aside from Zelda, Nintendo doesn’t do mythology anymore. No wonder no one cares about Nintendo. As amazing as Wii Sports and Wii Fit are, they are sports games, so they have no mythology and their value drops like a rock. But a game like Mario and Zelda will have mythologies that can be converted to books, movies, roller coaster rides, cereal, etc.

And here is a tune to highlight the Nintendo mythos we used to get:




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