The SeedsVideo

A Beautiful Grind

Dragon Warrior brought pen-and-paper “leveling” to video games.

By John Teti • October 22, 2012

In case you missed it: Previous episodes of The Seeds looked back at the heady freedom of Grand Theft Auto III, the inner space of Metroid, and the tense multiplayer camaraderie of GoldenEye 007.

The Seeds’ season finale unfolds a bit differently—it’s mostly a critics’ affair, as the majority of our comics hadn’t played the game in question. But despite being a little shorthanded, I wanted to include Dragon Warrior because it was a personal choice for me. Playing this game, thanks to a Nintendo Power giveaway, was the first time I can recall that a video game affected the way I look at the world. The whole notion of a “level” being something you raised in yourself—rather than a world you overcame—was mind-blowing at the time.

That may sound silly to the experienced players among you since “leveling up” is so commonplace now. Overused, sometimes. But I think that Dragon Warrior played its own small role in making it common. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with developers that, when the talk turns to Dragon Warrior, give way to this moment of recognition: Yes! The Nintendo Power freebie! (By the way, Drew Toal will expand on this topic in a To The Bitter End feature tomorrow.)

Thank you for watching the series this month, and for your insights in the comment threads throughout.

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1,109 Responses to “A Beautiful Grind”

  1. PugsMalone says:

     “Kiss the Slime” sounds like the name of a Spinal Tap album.

    I didn’t play this until about a decade after the fact, on an emulator, and didn’t get too far. I find it really amusing how much they tried to hide the fact that the games were Japanese- the covers for Mega Man 1 & 2 and Bomberman are really good examples of this. As if any red-blooded American kid would want something with Japanese cartoon characters on it.

  2. rvb1023 says:

    Dragon Warrior is the one major JRPG franchise I could just never get into, put me in the Final Fantasy corner. That said, I always feel I owe early video game RPG’s for the impact they had and still have. 

    If you ask me,  video games will evolve and genres will shift between FPS, RPG, Action, Puzzle, etc., to just having genres like comedy, action, drama, horror, etc. and most games will have some sort of RPG elements implemented just because it’s a fantastic way to personalize a game to the player.  It’s also a great metric for progression, as I become more familiar with a game new opportunities open up for me to explore.

    So here’s to you DQ, Wizardy, and Ultima. A bunch of games I will never play that shaped the genre I love so much.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       I think Extra Credits just made a video recently about how broken game genres are.  No other medium would define their genres the way games do, by a mechanical aspect.  You would see “Close-up Shot” as a film genre or “Jangly Guitar” as a music genre.

      • Bad Horse says:

        I think we’ll see a trend away from that as fewer and fewer games fit neatly into any genre. What do you call Mass Effect 2 and 3? There’s not enough shooting to really call them shooters and not enough menus to call them RPGs.

    • PaganPoet says:

      So my question is: Okay, so you’re a no-go for Dragon Quest, but do you like the Megami Tensei series or not?

      It’s essentially my litmus test for judging other gamers.

      • rvb1023 says:

        I love SMT, fear not. I have to keep some credibility in the face of XIII-3: The Revenge of the Inane, Pretentious Title

      • NarcolepticPanda says:

        I’m not rvb1023, but I remember you’re the Persona guy. I FINALLY figured out why Persona looks so much more interesting than other JRPGs to me. I found an old copy of Devil Survivor on DS and memories came flooding back. I played it a ton a few years ago, don’t even know where my DS is anymore though. So yeah, that’s why Persona looks cool. You ever play Devil Survivor?

        • PaganPoet says:

          I haven’t played Devil Survivor, unfortunately, because I don’t have a DS. But I’m confident it’s quite an amazing game, because 6 out of the 7 SMT games I HAVE played have all been spectacular. (Well…Persona 4 Arena is quite amazing as well, but since it’s a completely different genre, I’ll not include it here).

          My love for the series essentially comes from the PS2 games: Persona 3 and 4, Digital Devil Saga 1 + 2, and Nocturne; I’ve also played the PSP remakes of Persona 1 and Persona 2: Innocent Sin; Persona 1 is the only “meh” game of the series that I’ve played, I’ve been blown away by everything else.

      • caspiancomic says:

         Poet, you’ll be happy to hear I started Persona 3 last night and after a somewhat slow start, I am now having a good old fashioned blast. I played until 5 am, like some teenager.

        • PaganPoet says:

          We’re Persona 3 buddies! I’m not playing it with fresh eyes, like you, but I actually DID start a New Game+ last night so I can finally beat that bonus dungeon and try to max out all the social links.

        • NarcolepticPanda says:

          Can I join the Persona 3 buddy club? Pleeease?

          I’m buying it tonight from PSN. Even though I’m a bit apprehensive about buying games digitally, my reasoning isif I ever get a Vita, I’ll be able to play on that, unlike my poor Patapon 3 UMD. I’ve watched gameplay videos and found out Devil Survivor is a SMT game (PaganPoet: it is very good), so I don’t think I’ll get burned. I’ll probably play until 5 AM because I AM some teenager.

          Oooh, it has New Game+, but I’m guessing you can’t switch genders. I’m going to start with the constantly “headphoned” dude, because I’m a chauvinist PIG (and a teenage guy gamer, girls are YUCKY). What about you, CaspianComic?

        • caspiancomic says:

           The more the merrier, @NarcolepticPanda:disqus! I, too, used to be apprehensive about making digital purchases, but once you’ve taken the plunge and done it once, it becomes that much easier to do it again in the future. A lot of my favourite games from the past few years (Journey, Bastion, I’m currently playing Tokyo Jungle, etc) I only own digitally, and indeed many of them are only available digitally.

          Also, what, you can choose your gender in this game? I think I might have sleepwalked through that option. I’m playing a mute, possibly one-eyed androgynous teenager who wears his school uniform to bed, if that helps narrow it down. Oh, and yeah, he wears headphones a lot. I’m going to get a few more hours in tonight. Appropriately enough, I’ll start playing somewhere around midnight. Thematically appropriate!

        • NarcolepticPanda says:

          Oh no, I don’t think you can switch genders actually. You purchased the PS2 classic Persona 3: FES, correct? That just has the constantly attired with headphones guy. The PSP version Persona 3 Portable adds the option to play as a girl who probably has pink hair. I’m beginning with the guy because that’s how the game was originally, but I’d like to do a playthrough with the girl as well (contrary to my earlier comment; girls are actually pretty cool), but I would assume New Game+ forces you to continue with your original gender. Three playthroughs, I suppose!

          I do realize many great games are only available on PSN, although I’ve never purchased any. For me, my apprehension is based on my age. (1) I don’t have a credit card, so I can’t just say “hey, that looks good” and make a quick purchase, I have to take the bus over to GameStop and buy a card and take the bus back home, and (2) I don’t have a lot of disposable income, so I can’t just say “hey, that looks good” and make a quick purchase, I have to research extensively with the possibility of hating it, whereas if I go to GameStop (even though this is evil and horrible and ruining everything) I can buy a game “pre-owned” and try it for a week.

          I will be purchasing Persona 3 Portable after Game 7 of the NLCS. Possibly thematically appropriate, depending on how long the game is!

      • Citric says:

        What if we bounce back and forth on Megami Tensei? I don’t like old school first person RPGs, so the SNES entries are out, was lukewarm on Nocturne, really loved Persona 4, made the mistake of playing Persona 3 right after Persona 4 and got annoyed by the stupid AI – I know, they fixed that in other versions, but I’m reluctant to repurchase a game I own already.

        The rest I haven’t played, in spite of owning many of them.

        • PaganPoet says:

          Fair enough, at least you’ve given the series a fair chance!

          I’ve never actually played any of the pre PS1 games, so I can’t really say how I feel about them.

          The AI thing in P3 doesn’t bother me so much since that was my entry into the series. Not gonna lie, though….I’ve definitely cussed at Yukari many times for using “Diarama” on herself instead of “Mediarama” on the entire party! P4 is overall the best game in the Persona subseries, especially for fixing annoyances such as that.

    • Dikachu says:

      I played a bunch of Ultima IV, and some of Ultima V… I always thought Ultima V was the best-looking and most intriguing of that birds-eye style game ever made… but it was just so open-ended I never knew what to do next so I didn’t play for very long.

      • Kevin Irmiter says:

        Ultima VII is better. You might consider trying that one–it does give you more guidance in where you’re supposed to go, but at the same time, you can have so much fun exploring the massive game world.

        To this day, I don’t think there has been a game that put so much effort into working on the little details to make the game world seem alive. You can pick up and interact with every object that isn’t too heavy for you to do so (and some that are). Every character, even shopkeepers and guards, has a daily routine they go through including a place they sleep and meals they eat. And there is soooo much detail, so much to find. I wouldn’t be suprised to hear there are still hidden things that no one has found yet.

      • djur says:

        Ultima VI is the pinnacle, if you ask me. Great art, relatively accessible gameplay, one of the best plots in the series. (I’m a big fan of the didactic “Enlightenment” plots in IV/V/VI, and VI’s is the most interesting of the three.)

        VII is a technical masterpiece, extremely fun to fuck around with, and just generally impressive with an interesting plot, but I’ve never loved it as much as its immediate predecessor (VI) and successor (Serpent Isle).

        Serpent Isle, despite being rushed to market about half-complete and not having the open-world aspects of VI and VII, is the best game in the series. It’s probably also a good place for people to get into the series, because it’s linear and modern enough to keep you from getting very lost.

  3. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I was overjoyed to get Dragon Warrior from my Nintendo Power subscription. To get a free game -a role-playing game nonetheless- was the kind of rare windfall that leaves a fairly indelible mark on one’s childhood.
    And I still have nothing but fond memories of the game and I know I replayed it numerous times. But it’s funny to watch the video now and think of what a horrible time I’d have playing it today.
    The redundant and obtuse interface, the one on one back-and-forth combat. The fixed character progression and the dungeons requiring a candle means seeing only one radius distance tiles around you in identical red and grey brick.
    But if one does play today, Protip: go ahead and buy the copper sword first instead of the wood club and leather armor. The sword is much better and will allow you to kill slimes quickly, meaning after only two stays at the inn, you’ll be able to purchase the leather armor and have a much better starting build.

    • Victor Prime says:

      You don’t get enough money to buy the copper sword at the beginning.

      • Mikehole says:

        You get the bamboo stick for 10 gold and then save up for the copper sword. That way you only have to kill 20 slimes instead of 60 slimes and drakees.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Sorry friend. It’s been nearly a quarter century between now and the last time I played the game. And many of those were prime paint-huffing years, shrouding that information behind an extra brain-popping layer of fog.

    • Girard says:

      Because I was a latecomer to the NES, I totally missed that promotion, and I kind fo wonder how playing Dragon Warrior at such a young age would have affected my attitude as a youngster toward gaming. I can’t tell if little me would have been really engrossed by it, or alienated by the obtuse controls (and inability to go down stairs).

      As it was, my first JRPG was FF Legend III on the gameboy, which I remember quite liking, but for some reason it didn’t really spur me on to play other JRPGs. I still stuck mainly to platformers and action-RPGs like Zelda, Mana, or Willow. Other than an enthusiastic one-time rental of Earthbound, I didn’t play any turn-based RPGs until the 32-bit generation, and that’s when I got majorly sucked in.

      • Moonside_Malcontent says:

         Strangely enough, I think my first “JRPG” was actually Earthbound (see avatar for a metric of how much that game stuck with me), which is a very strange place to start because it’s a JRPG making a winking pastiche of Western RPG genres.  To this day I wonder if my RPG preferences have been shaped by beginning with what is essentially a Japanese funhouse mirror reflection of Americana in all its forms.

        • Girard says:

           Content-wise, it’s definitely a pastiche of Western culture (I suspect if it were just a pastiche of Western RPG genres, it would be more sword & sorcery than Leave it to Beaver), but gameplay-wise, it’s JPRG through and through, even incorporating a more DQ-style menu interaction and first-person battles.

          I remember thinking, when I first played FFLIII, how novel it seemed to combine fantasy tropes with technological stuff like an airship (that looked like a stealth bomber), robots, and time travel. It wasn’t until later that I realized that juxtaposition was pretty much JRPG’s bread and butter (and much of anime’s, really).

        • PaganPoet says:

          I came relatively late to the RPG game. I think my first was Secret of Mana? Needless to say, that game sealed the deal for me, and once I played through Final Fantasy IV, VI and Chrono Trigger, I became pretty fanatic. I think my fandom for console RPGs has waned in recent years, particularly in the PS3/XBox360 era, but I’ll always have fond memories of them.

          Funnily enough, and I may be alone on this one, but I don’t consider the Zelda series RPG other than Zelda II. The reason? You don’t get stronger in Zelda games by gaining experience from fighting enemies, you get stronger by finding equipment and powerups. Some may consider that a pretty silly criteria for determining what an RPG is, but to me it’s fundamental.

        • Girard says:

           @PaganPoet:disqus : Actually, if we’re including action RPGs, I owned and played plenty of Secret of Mana, FF Adventure, and Zelda back in the day.

          And now that I’m inventorying all of my pre-PSX RPGing, I also had a pretty intense Mario RPG rental – I probably got at least as far into it as I did Earthbound.

          I guess I would put up with pre-1997 turn-based RPGs only if they were unconventional affairs that were also hyped out the ass by Nintendo Power.

      • Dikachu says:

        My first JRPG was FF 1, and I was enraptured with the series through all its iterations (plus SoM and Chrono Trigger, and even liked FF Crystal Quest)…

        Until FF VIII came out.  That was like a little kid catching “Santa Claus” blowing a dude in an alley for crank.  So utterly disillusioning.

        The signs for Square going from Tolkienesque/steampunk fantasy to J-rock fashion show/emo-teenager bullshit were in FF VII but it still managed to be a great game.

        The only two Square games I’ve enjoyed since then were Chrono Cross and FF XII.  Didn’t bother with ultra-glam FF X, X-2, or XIII, and I couldn’t get into FFIX cuz of the excessive invisible monster battles.  Square is dead to me.

        • Girard says:

           I actually loved FFIX, as after FFVII awakened a love of JRPGs in my adolescent self, I got really into FFI alongside the various SNES and PSX JRPGs I was catching up on and/or playing through at the time, and found IX to be a lovely return to FFI form after the off-putting FFVIII.

          That period kind of burned me out on JRPGs for life, as even the good ones were so plentiful that I kind of gorged myself. Now to get me to play a JRPG it has to be doing something really formally ambitious (like Live-A-Live), be an undisputed classic that I never got around to (like when I played Chrono Trigger in college), or have such a strong tone and artistic and narrative direction that it transcends its mechanical JRPG conventions (the Mother series does this for me – Ni No Kuni might).

          But another game with a generic swooshy-haired teen/twenty-something chosen one wearing too many belts and facing off against your bog-standard megalomaniac infused with cosmic evil? No mas.

        • rvb1023 says:

          I have kept with the series in spite of it’s increasingly rampant stupidity, probably because I started with X and worked my way backwards. But I am with you on VIII. I will defend even the dreadful XIII before I come to defend that piece of crap. VIII is by far one of the worst RPG’s I have ever played.

          I think at this point any shift in style would be nice. I remember SE’s Agni’s Philosophy tech demo and it was the first time I saw a concept trailer taking place in a middle eastern-esque world where I went “This is a step in the right direction.”

        • caspiancomic says:

           My heart belongs to FFIX, although VII was my gateway to the series and genre. The last game in the series I played was XII, a game that despite myself I actually sort of enjoyed, even while I could feel myself lamenting for the series mid-play. I was playing around the other day with the idea that Final Fantasy has entered its Baroque period- if the golden age glory of VI-IX represents the series at its zenith (some people would include X in there, but I couldn’t stand that game), then X-XIII represents the series getting pointlessly complicated and self-congratulatory, to the point of alienating its audience. I wonder if Versus will ever actually come out.

        • Girard says:

           @caspiancomic:disqus : “Baroque” is definitely the word I typically use to describe the series, since that encapsulates the series’s aesthetics, gameplay, and all-around philosophy at this point. It’s caked in pointless filigree, both literally and metaphorically.

          That term also lets me make stupid puns about the series being “baroque” and needing “fixing.”

  4. Kevin Irmiter says:

    DQ is probably the most influential RPG series of all time next to Ultima. I think people in the west don’t realize how huge the game was–it basically defined what an RPG is to 99% of Japan. Aside from a few very extreme computer nerds of the 80s, almost every Japanese person’s first experience with an RPG was a Dragon Quest game.

    For me, DQ holds up a lot better than FF1 for two and a half reasons:

    Reason 1: it’s short. The game may not be very deep, but you can get through it in a few hours. Final Fantasy is much longer to slog through, and the battles move EXTREMELY slow unless you turn the message speed so high that you can’t read anything.

    Reason 2: It looks gorgeous. Probably the best artwork on the NES, and the whole game world is so colorful and pleasant. Final Fantasy is pretty ugly, except for the characters and a few bosses.

    Reason 2.5: The music is great. Just packed to the brim with catchy, upbeat tunes that complement the game world perfectly. I call this one a “half reason” because half of Final Fantasy’s music is also very good. Unfortunately, the two songs I like the least (battle music and marsh cave theme) seem to be songs that I spend an especially long time hearing…

    • duwease says:

      I think I’d give Wizardry the crown of the game that brought RPG wonder to Japan.  It blew up way more over there than it ever did over here.  Hell, they had manga, animation, board games, and all sorts of Japanese-only entries in the series over there at the same time we were all only mildly interested in the later entries in this hemisphere.  I’d argue that it was Wizardry’s popularity that spawned DQ in the first place.

      • PaganPoet says:

        I agree that Wizardry certainly blew up in Japan, but Dragon Quest was really the first RPG that set up a strong narrative and defined characters. I think that’s a distinction that still seperates console-style RPGs with PC-style RPGs (outdated terms, I know, since they now bleed over into all platforms, but I’m just somehow uncomfortable with the term “JRPG”)

        • duwease says:

          I get what you’re saying about the game relative to its predecessors, but I still had a bit of a laugh about “defined characters” in Dragon Quest.  I imagine the main character would be the most complex, and here’s the full list of what the game reveals about him:

          – From a long line of people who kill bad things before bad things kill them
          – Wears armor
          – Not disabled (can fight monsters)
          – Heterosexual or repressed homosexual (marries princess)

        • PaganPoet says:

          @duwease:disqus  Yeah, it was essentially “The Odyssey” for 8-bit RPGs at the time. ;)

      • Kevin Irmiter says:

        Wizardry (and to a degree Ultimas 1-3) was pretty popular, but it was never more than a niche game. Its fans were very passionate but not that many. It was only available on a computer, which meant the vast majority of Japanese people didn’t even have access to it. Whereas practically everybody who was under 40 when Dragon Quest came out has played it or one of its sequels. Wizardry may have led to Dragon Quest in some ways, but it was most definitely Dragon Quest that introduced RPGs to the Japanese public at large.

    • rvb1023 says:

      It doesn’t help that old FF games tended to not be that good. You’ll find defenders of every FF game, but the series really didn’t hit it’s stride until IV.

      • Dikachu says:

        I still think FF II/IV was the best old-school RPG of any system…. just chock-full of awesomeness, from the epic, hugely ambitious storyline to the beautiful (even now) graphics, to the myriad of crazy locations to visit.

        The remake for the DS made me very, very sad.  I bought it expecting it to be like the “remake” of Chrono Trigger: a port with a few additional tweaks (including restoring the “hard” Japanese version).  I played maybe 15 minutes of it before sacrificing it at an altar and crying myself to sleep.

        • rvb1023 says:

          Despite not being a huge fan of IV, it is when they really began stepping up what they could do with those games, the ones before felt like test runs for different concepts while this felt like a full-fledged deal.

          And this game gave me Spoony in some way or another, along with actually letting me know what happens when you try casting a spell without mana, a question I often asked myself in other games before that one.

        • NarcolepticPanda says:

          FFIV had a remake for PSP, with an exclusive prologue and the after years from the Wii. Never played it, but it was critically acclaimed.

        • PaganPoet says:

          Yeah, I’m gonna go with @NarcolepticPanda:disqus  here…if you have a PSP or PSVita, check out FFIV: The Complete Collection; IMO, it’s the best version of the game yet: FFIV, an interlude, and FFIV: The After Years, plus updated sprites (instead of the awful polygons from the DS remake) and music.

          I hope they do something of the sort for FFV and FFVI…there have been plenty of slightly enhanced PORTS of those games, but nothing done to really update them in any way.

        • djur says:

          If you get the Complete Collection, I advise just giving yourself an icepick lobotomy instead of playing The After Years, though. What a stinker.

    • Bad Horse says:

      I don’t know any NES-era RPG that has a sterling reputation – they are all extremely grindy. You have to wait for the 16-bit era to get the unimpeachable classics.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        While I would happily put Final Fantasy III, Radia War: Chronicle, Just Breed, and LaPlace’s Demon up there, I still disagree.

        Dragon Slayer: The Legend Of Heroes, Dragon Quest III: And Into Legend, Dragon Quest IV: The Guided Ones, and Crystalis/God Slayer: Sonata Of The Far Heaven are definitely heralded as much as something can be.  There are tactical and strategy role-playing games, too.

      • djur says:

        Yeah, like @GhaleonQ:disqus says, Dragon Warrior IV is right up there. It’s relatively grindy, but no more so than (say) Final Fantasy IV. You also spend time with different characters from chapter to chapter instead of continuing to grind up the same party. The plot is pretty engaging, and they (mostly successfully) try out a lot of interesting gameplay ideas.

        Killer music, too.(The CPU-controlled party in the final chapter is kind of a drag, though.)

  5. BarbleBapkins says:

    Having never played the games, I can only assume that there are many, many puzzles solved by standing on stairs without going up/down them. I know that would not be a useless… “feature.”

    However, I did play Dragon Warrior Monsters for the GameBoy. It was a kind of an obvious cash-in on the popularity of Pokemon, but I absolutely loved it. Having no knowledge of the series (I don’t think I even realized DWM was a spin-off and not its own thing at the time) it was kind of an inscrutable experience. I had no idea what the monsters were or even how many were supposed to be in the game, so it felt strangely mysterious compared to Pokemon, which I knew inside and out at the time. Everyone I knew was obsessively into Pokemon, as I was at THE perfect age for it when it hit America, but only one of my friends had that game, and I remember rushing to school to discuss what new thing we had found the night before.

    I think there is a part of me now that subconsciously avoids reading too much about that game, or the series in general, to preserve that feeling of mystery I had as a kid.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      It says a lot for the formula of that series that the game hit none of your nostalgia buttons, but you still enjoyed it.  If the 3DS remake ever comes here, you should revisit!  Anyway, the same goes for me and another spinoff.

      I adore IV, VII, and V, but merely enjoyed the rest.  Dragon Quest Heroes/Slime Of Gusto, however, is exactly what I want.  Ironic cuteness, 2-d puzzle solving, jokes that are half-awful, half-charming, and slapstick action sequences make for a potent combination.  In enjoyment-per-game, I prefer the 3 of that series to the Dragon Quest series proper.

  6. Citric says:

    I actually can only play the DQ remakes, because FF spoiled me. It’s all in the contextual button, which can talk, search or whatever depending on where I’m standing. I just can’t abide going through menus to go down stairs, don’t ask me why but it just gets on my nerves. FF didn’t have that, DQ did, so FF was my bag. Didn’t even get into DQ until new entries and remakes started coming around that fixed it, then I was seduced by their multitude of charms. Still haven’t finished DQ II or III though.

  7. Enkidum says:

    A guest lecturer last week gave us a talk on why slot machines are so addictive, and it sounded an awful lot like what y’all were saying about the grind. You have a series of repetitive actions with a fair bit of potential frustration built in. He was specifically talking about the frustration that comes from getting a spin that almost but not quite produces a jackpot, which happens 12 times more often than by chance, because manufacturers know that these little moments make people likelier to continue playing – it’s like you’ve been denied what was rightfully yours and now you’re going to fight for it. The steady incremental progress of the grind is much like that, I think. Every time you get beaten by a monster, you know that couldn’t have happened in a just world, and you’re just that much more likely to continue. Coupled with occasional big fights or big drops, which are akin to jackpots, I guess.

    Of course a lot of people hate the grind, but most people don’t get addicted to slots, even most regular players. What I can’t help but wonder, then, is if the people who love grinding are the same ones who are susceptible to slot addiction.

    EDIT: for what it’s worth, I often like the grind and I think I’d hate slots.

    • Merve says:

      I think there’s another important distinction to be made between grinding and playing slots; the latter often doesn’t involve any real skill. There’s an element of learning-by-doing in grinding that isn’t present in playing slots, and perhaps the opportunity to finely hone one’s skills is what players respond to.

      • Jason Reich says:

        You can learn how to make your grind more efficient, but you can also dump more money into more slot machines and you’ll hit a jackpot faster too. You still have to pull the lever or hit A over and over to get there. “Learning” in these games isn’t really acquiring any new skills, it’s about pushing A fewer times.

        Edit: I like these kinds of games, btw.

      • Enkidum says:

        Yeah, well it’s generally true that in any reasonably complex behaviour you’ve got multiple motivating factors. And I’d guess for 95% of grinders the skill aspect is more of a motivation than the frustration-leading-to-addictive-behaviour, but I’d still say that’s probably a component for some. Could definitely be wrong, though.

    • Kevin Irmiter says:

      One thing about grinding is that you can try to “perfect” the grind, i.e. maximize efficiency or try to get through with the bare minimum level, etc. That’s one thing that can make them fun in a way, and DQ being short and simple makes it good in this regard. Of course there are a number of indie games out there now which simplify it even more, like Desktop Dungeon. That minimizes DQ’s appeal now. But I think if you combine the artwork and music of the original with a streamlined interface that lets you move through the game quickly, I think this is still a very fun and playable game.

      I can see the similarity to slots, though, especially in the older games where they made things more random. Even underleveled, you could sometimes almost make it if you got lucky, and that feeling of “If I just do a little more, I could make it!” That keeps you going.

      One more major difference, though, is that in slots the feeling of “I almost won” is a deliberate deception. The game is making you feel like you are getting closer to winning than you are. Whereas with these games, when you feel like you almost won it’s because you were almost strong enough to make it.

      • Enkidum says:

        “One more major difference, though, is that in slots the feeling of “I almost won” is a deliberate deception. The game is making you feel like you are getting closer to winning than you are. Whereas with these games, when you feel like you almost won it’s because you were almost strong enough to make it.”

        That’s definitely true – generally the perception of near-victory is accurate in an old school RPG. But in terms of what motivation, what matters is just the perception, not whether its accurate or not.

    • Jason Reich says:

      I think the big difference here is the element of luck. Any type of gambling involves chance. Even in competitive poker, a weak player can often beat a professional on a lucky turn of the cards. Gambling addicts like the rush of hitting a jackpot – the thrill is in its unpredictability.

      Real grinding is brutally predictable. A weak character will never beat a strong one, no matter how lucky he is. The only way to win is to do the same task over and over, but unlike gambling, you are guaranteed a reward — leveling up — at regular, predictable intervals. It’s more like work. Slot machines may be a grind but my boss is never going to randomly hand me a check for a million dollars just for coming in.

      Grinding eliminates the random chance. The only element of luck would be something like scoring a critical hit, which is the equivalent of hitting a jackpot on a slot machine, then having the casino manager come over and say, “Great, now do that 10 more times and we’ll pay you.”

      • As I alluded to below, slot machines are more akin to grinding for loot. You can spend hours fighting for a rare drop, and you’re still no closer. Even after fighting 127 of those Star guys in Earthbound, your odds of winning the Sword of Kings are still 1/128.

      • Enkidum says:

        Yeah, the analogy breaks down if you look at it too carefully. But I swear, if you squint at it from a distance, grinding is just like slot machines and OMG THE GAME COMPANIES ARE COMING FOR MY CHILDREN!

    • I wasted a lot of time on slots in Dragon Quest 8. The rewards are too great to pass up, but slots are really boring. I usually watch TV whilst mashing the action button.

      I find grinding relaxing, because you’re steadily building up your levels. Anytime randomness gets thrown into the mix, as in slots or in battling monsters for a rare drop, frustration sets in. 

      • Enkidum says:

        Yeah, I think you’re right here. My trouble with grinding was often that I’d go for the bigger guys than I was capable of fighting, or try to go to the higher level area than I was capable of. Which made it frustrating, which in a weird way may have motivated me to keep playing.

        • Oh man, I love overly ambitious grinding. The original Final Fantasy was best in this regard.

          Once you’ve got a few charges of Fire2, it becomes worth your while to fight the Frost Wolves on the peninsula north of Krakova. You can level up really high in a relatively short time.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

        I go back and forth on grinding myself.  I generally don’t like the walk-in-circles-for-random-encounters retro style of grind, but I’m usually okay with a more natural grind that you might see in a open-world modern RPG where the grind is born from the notion that you keep having to take a certain path because you can’t handle the tougher monsters quite yet.

      It is funny that the grind is such an integral part of video game RPGs but any DM worth his salt would shut down that nonsense if pen-and-paper players tried it.

      An idea:   Why not make a video game where all the stats are hidden from the player, so that the player had  to figure out from presentation and gameplay cues how their character was doing?  Like, if you were wounded, you’d be able to tell by the audible groan of pain and the wound.  Or your skill would be seen in the performance of that skill and the the end result, like the difference between the clumsy sword strikes of the beginning warrior and the precise deft strikes of the master swordsman or the difference between a sloppily-concocted meal of a novice cook and the gourmet feast of a master chef.
      In pen-and-paper RPGs, this kind of setup would be maddening for the DM to keep track of, but computers are built to deal with that kind of number crunching.

      • Enkidum says:

        Yeah, I’ve always liked the idea of games which made the stats slightly less transparent. I guess the trick is to do it in such a way where you don’t just learn to treat whatever cues the game does use as a new version of a stat – e.g. the “health bar” just gets replaced by “degree of redness of the screen” or what have you.

  8. PPPfive says:

     DQ8 is one of the best games of all time!

  9. Bad Horse says:

    A VIDEO draws near. 



  10. dmikester says:

    This video was great, and the only thing I would add is how wonderful and iconic the music in the Dragon Quest series is.  Sure, it’s easier to appreciate it in a sweeping orchestral arrangement like Dragon Quest VIII, but even as a chiptune in the original game, the music and especially the theme is perfect: epic, heroic-sounding, and passes the important test of being able to be heard a billion times throughout the game on repeat and not get annoying.  I think it also reflects a nature of the Dragon Quest series that you talked about in the video; it’s dramatic but cheery, which says that you’re going on an important adventure, but you’re also going to be walking through a beautiful world and fighting cute slimes while doing so.

    • One of my favorite experiences in 8/16 bit games is that moment when you first hear the latter part of a familiar background tune. In JRPGs, you almost never hear a full loop of the overworld theme, due to the random encounters. But sometimes, you’ll linger on the map for whatever reason, and this amazing bridge will come out of nowhere. Final Fantasy IV’s music had a lot of this depth; so did Chrono Trigger. I don’t think I ever heard the full version of the Epoch theme until I bought the soundtrack. The chocobo battle music in Final Fantasy 7 was another one.

      In non-RPGs, the example that comes to mind right away was the Turbo Tunnel music from Battletoads. In order to hear the whole loop, you have to get at least as far as the last checkpoint without crashing. That’s not an easy task, but the trippy music is a great reward.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        This made me smlle so big.  It holds for any era, though.  Final Fantasy IX has 12 or so high-quality tracks that are used in 1 or 2 scenes.

        Even my favorite game references this in its parody section.  It’s a brilliant tune that plays 1 and doesn’t play out unless you don’t advance the text.  Otherwise, random battles always skip everything after the 1st 10 seconds.

      • PaganPoet says:

        I know exactly what you mean. You mentioned Chrono Trigger…remember the music in the forest, with the harp arpeggios? In the later part of the song, there are these really cool jazzy piano chords played staccato…it’s an amazing part of the song, and it’s likely something you would never hear unless you just stopped playing.

  11. feisto says:

    I love RPGs, and they’re my favorite video game genre these days, but man did I hate the Dragon Quest series when I was a kid.

    I used to play video games at friends’ homes all the time in the late 80s, which is all you ever did at a friend’s house in late 80s Tokyo if you were a boy (play outside? no way!), and it was a blast trading controls every time somebody died, cheering each other on to make it past that tough spot that we’ve already failed dozens of times to clear, or even just goofing around with the character just for the hell of it.

    Then Dragon Quest II comes out, and everything changes. You go to a friend’s house, and they’re already in the middle of Dragon Quest II and you just watch…and watch…and watch…maybe distract yourself with your friend’s books and manga…and watch…and then go home. You want a turn? Forget about it. You want to talk? Anything unrelated to what he’s doing right now in Dragon Quest II doesn’t interest him. And nothing interesting seems to be happening onscreen (even if those monsters sure look cool).

    Suddenly every company was making Dragon Quest knockoffs, and every kid was playing and talking about nothing but RPGs. And unless your parents bought you a Famicon (NES), you were left out, because there was nowhere to experience them firsthand outside of your home.

    So yeah, like Teti says, “instead of level being an external thing, suddenly it’s an internal thing,” but I think the play styles of my friends also suddenly got a lot more internal. I love my solitary grinds today, but man did they suck when I was just a console-less kid wanting to play on my friend’s Famicon.

    • PaganPoet says:

      Too true. I was actually pretty grateful that Final Fantasy VI allowed a second player to control some of the party in battle. It’s not much, but it’s certainly a hell of a lot better than watching someone play the game for hours.

    • I’m sure many of us have had the experience of turning single-player games into de facto multiplayer through controller-swapping or coaching. RPGs were rarely conducive to that, especially ones that basically required you to halt progression in order to grind.

      The 16-bit era was a big improvement, though. Final Fantasy IV was the first RPG I played where the difficulty curve seemed to scale naturally. As long as you don’t run from too many battles, you can get away without stopping to grind. If you’re watching a friend play, it never gets boring, because the game is always moving forward. (Final Fantasy VII was probably the most spectator-friendly single-player RPG, because of its mini-games and CG visuals.)

      • Girard says:

         I remember having a spare save game of FFVII at the Golden Saucer so when my little cousin came over he’d be able to play the fun mini-games, rather than be bored and confused by all the wordy RPGs which comprised most of my games for the system.

    • Andy Tuttle says:

       I used to play Final Fantasy 2 and 3 on the SNES in our living room when I was a kid and my mom couldn’t stand it. She hated the game so much because she couldn’t figure out what the hell she was watching. It just looked like a bunch of little cartoons fighting a picture of a monster and no one ever moved. Her and my dad used to ask me “So are you going to play that game where the people just stare at each other until they die?” Parents, amirite?

  12. Andy Tuttle says:

    This game was so below my radar as a kid, I didn’t even know it existed except for my one friend who got it free from Nintendo Power and told me it sucked. I wish I would have been able to play it so I could have that memory like so many kids who grew up in that era did. My first RPG experience was actually paper and dice with the Robotech game. I had a friend who I played that with pretty much every day after school. Then one day he tells me about this game called Final Fantasy II for the Super Nintendo and how its similar to Robotech except that its about fighting monsters with magic and swords instead of running around in giant robots. I played it at his house and was instantly hooked by the story and characters. I didn’t play Dragon Warrior until I was in my early twenties on an emulator and I was instantly drawn in again. It was simple but elegant, and I wish I would have discovered it earlier.

  13. caspiancomic says:

    Aw man, that’s the end of the series? Hopefully sometime in the future we’ll be seeing the impending release of Quake III Arena: Lightning Gun Edition so that we can get another dose of The Seeds talking about the influences of, I don’t know, Guitar Hero, Wolfenstein, Mega Man, and Street Fighter.

  14. TheWhiteBoomBoom says:

    I replayed this and Final Fantasy back to back about 6 months ago, after having played them when I was a kid.  FF was still plenty fun, but DW became a slog.  I don’t mind doing a bit of leveling up, but it shouldn’t be one of the most important factors of the game.  I’ll stick with FF.

  15. James Slone says:

    So, are pc games not considered video games for the purposes of this feature? PC games had leveling going back to Ultima. 

    • John Teti says:

      Sure, tell us about your thoughts re: Ultima.

      • James Slone says:

        The first Ultima, which was released in 1981, featured a D&D-inspired leveling system (with hit points and weapons damage) that would influence RPGs in both Japan and the United States. Ultima III (1983) had more detailed D&D-based stats (Strength, Charisma, Dexterity, etc.). Enemy encounters were random like in Dragon Warrior, but the battle system itself was designed as a top-down turn-based tactical fight similar to the tactical RPG genre we have today. Ultima IV (1985) introduced (overly) complex spell-casting components to add another layer to the system. Of course, by Ultima VI (1990) they had adopted a faster-paced, near-real-time action RPG approach to battles, which become more simple and arcadey as the series continued–this also puts them slightly ahead of the curve. The thing is, starting with IV, the series had relatively complicated stories, decent dialogue, sophisticated world interaction and a great deal of atmospheric immersion for the time–all this in addition to developing an addictive (if initially slower-paced) level-based grind. Along with Wizardry and Bard’s Tale (maybe the SSI games as well to a lesser extent) Ultima pretty much defined the turn-based, level-based combat system in PC/video games. I think it’s worth mentioning as a kind of precedent to the development in console games.

  16. Andy Lopez says:

    This reminded me to hook my DS up to a compatible wi-fi connection today. I’m sure the DLC quests for Dragon Quest IX are available by now, right? 

  17. My favorite memory of getting DW for free from my Nintendo Power subscription was the poster it came with that had every enemy, their HP, how much gold and XP you got for beating them, and where on the map they were located.  I have such a distinct memory of needing to level up to achieve some task critical to moving the game forward but being so far away from the necessary XP.  So I looked at my poster, saw that metal slimes were a huge source of XP, and just walked around for hours in the area where they were supposed to be.  The worst part about it was you came across them extremely rarely, and then when you did finally find one, they almost always ran away!