To The Bitter End

Dragon Warrior

Save It

A battery-powered memory chip in the Dragon Warrior cartridge lets you test the bounds of good vs. evil.

By Drew Toal • October 23, 2012

In 1990, Nintendo Power ran a promotion packaging a free copy of some game called Dragon Warrior with a paid yearly subscription. Back then, there were far fewer games to choose from on store shelves, and a “free” game was something to be coveted—a thing to harass your parents over and a thing to play into the ground once they gave in and got it for you. It was a thin era, a time when you would play and replay any game to death, no matter how unfathomably boring it was. (See: The Three Stooges.) Dragon Warrior, despite being promoted as a subscription perk, turned out to be not only playable, but pioneering.

It was among the first of its kind, a dungeon-crawling role-playing game before “dungeon crawler” was an established thing. You play as the descendent of Erdrick, a hero of yore. The back of the box says it all: “All is darkness. The Dragonlord has captured the Princess and stolen Erdrick’s powerful ball of light. You are Erdrick’s heir. To you has fallen the most dangerous task—to rescue the King’s daughter and recover the mystic ball of light.” Not that you have any choice in the matter.

For players seeking a familiar parallel, Dragon Warrior bore a faint likeness to The Legend Of Zelda, in terms of its swords and sorcery and kidnapped princesses and evil wizards. But where Zelda’s hero Link has to only collect certain items and find keys to progress, Dragon Warrior requires you to level up—increasing your power and abilities with points earned from successful battles—by defeating a steadily more powerful menagerie of enemies. Sure, those smiling blobs of gelatin aren’t too threatening, but venture too far from your home base and you quickly find yourself beset by the likes of werewolves and sorcerers, who spring themselves upon you at random. Underpowered heroes are quickly exposed, so you’re forced to “grind”—that is, walk around the map, fighting and leveling up, until you’re sufficiently empowered to survive more grueling areas.

Dragon Warrior

The grind is lessened, though, by Dragon Warrior’s save feature, which was somewhat uncommon for the time. (Zelda had one, too.) The game allows you to save your progress, to be taken up again at your leisure. To manage this minor technological miracle, though, you were advised by the game to hold in the reset button as you powered it down. The NES wasn’t originally designed to accommodate battery-powered save files. Unlike today’s games, which often save your progress every few minutes, your Nintendo could easily suffer a minor stroke and fry your saved game. The slog of Dragon Warrior wasn’t for the faint of heart, constantly playing in perpetual danger of oblivion. I vividly recall accidentally kicking the machine one night more than 20 years ago and losing what seemed like years of work.

The game begins at the king’s castle. Across the river, not inches from you on the map, lies Charlock, home of your antagonist the Dragonlord. He’s so close, yet so far away. The people of this kingdom, Alefgard, have apparently not mastered the building of basic watercraft yet, so you’re forced to circumnavigate the entire world map on land when a simple raft would’ve cut out a lot of this nonsense. After buying “The Club” and “The Clothes” at the nearby town of Brecconary, you’re off to kill monsters and prove worthy of Erdrick. (Some villagers in the game actually ask you for proof of your descent. Alefgardian birtherism at its worst.)

After building up your hit points and magic spell arsenal, and collecting Erdrick’s discarded gear through many, many tedious hours of fighting and healing, you must fetch this artifact called the Rainbow Drop. It’s held by a cranky old man in the southeastern corner of the map. This essential item magically bridges the continent to the Dragonlord’s island fortress. (Again, boat.)

Dragon Warrior

Once at Charlock, you make your way to the catacombs. In dungeons, you need either a torch or the Radiant illumination spell to navigate the tunnels. It’s a claustrophobic experience. Blue dragons, axe knights, and other irritating enemies harry you constantly, but eventually you wander into the center of the labyrinth, where you find Erdrick’s Sword. This, you’re told earlier in the game, is a weapon capable of cleaving steel, an Arthurian blade fit for the chosen one.

Once out of the cellar, kill your way through the Charlock courtyard until face to face with the Dragonlord himself. Up close, this infernal presence is much less intimidating than you had been led to believe. This underfed blue elf is, apparently, the unholy terror we’ve all been worried about. The waif doesn’t lack for confidence. “Welcome, Drex,” he tells me. (It’s a typo I was too lazy to fix.) “I am the Dragonlord—king of kings. I have been waiting long for one such as thee. I give thee now a chance to share this world and to rule half of it if thou will now stand beside me.” It takes a few seconds to sort through Dragonlord’s Arthurian grammar, but it seems as though he wants you to join his cabal of evil. “What sayest thou?” he asks.

Why sell out Alefgard and the princess now, especially after all you’ve done to get to this point? Well, for one thing, the temptation to break from the preconceived narrative—the shattering of Erdrick’s descendent’s unbreakable Calvinist destiny—is strong. The whole encounter is not unlike the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, except with spookier music. You’ve killed so many monsters big and small, healed yourself from grievous wounds so many times. You’ve spent countless hours wandering the wilderness, increasing your power for… For what? So far, you’ve done all of this because it’s expected of you as Erdrick’s descendent. But where’s the payoff?

Half the world? Very well, Dragonlord. I accept your offer. “Then half of this world is thine, half of the darkness and… If thou dies I can bring thee back for another attempt without loss of thy deeds to date.” So far, so good. Perks are decent (half the world), and the benefits package can’t be beat. But he’s not done talking. “Thy journey is over. Take now a long, long rest. Hahahahahahaha.” The screen goes red, and your gold reserves go down to zero, effectively ending your game. Betrayed!

But this is the beauty of that save-game chip inside the Dragon Warrior cartridge: It’s a mechanism of redemption. I can flirt with evil, try out the “cackling, pointy-haired blue elf” life for a moment, and still come back and be the hero, because that memory chip has my back. That is, as long as I don’t kick the machine, which is the ultimate sin. So, with my saved game restored, now I know not to trust the Dragonlord’s silver tongue. This time, when he asks, “What sayest thou?” I draw Erdrick’s sword and get to work. Turns out he has a couple more tricks up his sleeve, and he transforms into something resembling Epcot’s Figment dragon. He’s tougher than he looks but eventually falls before Erdrick’s mighty blade. I head back to the castle to claim my prize, the lovely (if clingy) Princess Gwaelin. Eh, better than nothing.

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  • Cloks

    If I remember my stories correctly, this was only free because it was massively over-produced due to popularity in Japan. With that ill-informed business decision, NOA eventually decided to give out copies with subscriptions to Nintendo Power – subsequently creating a significant number of RPG enthusiasts.

    Growing up with computer games as I did, I didn’t play Dragon Quest until I was far beyond acquiescing to the outdated mechanics and I turned it off rather quickly. I did enjoy IV’s remake on the DS immensely and have been meaning to play VIII for a while.

    • Citric

      I love VIII so much. Though I was disappointed to find out that a puff puff wasn’t quite what I assumed it was.

      • jessec829

        Dragon Quest VIII was my first new-system rpg. Before watching my roommate play that game on her PS2, I stubbornly clung to my NES and SNES. But I got hooked on DQVIII and never looked back.

    • Kevin Irmiter

      “If I remember my stories correctly, this was only free because it was massively over-produced due to popularity in Japan.”

      If I remember my stories correctly, you are right. And I’ll bet I do remember them correctly, since I heard them yesterday on “the Seeds.” ;)

      • Cloks

        Awww, what? This is what I get for not watching all the videos.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

    A comment box draws near!

    Command?

    • http://www.facebook.com/kylemhale Kyle Hale

      HERB

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

        A Herb Tarlek draws near!

        Command?

        • NarcolepticPanda

          SWINE

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

          A Todd Akin draws near!

          Command?

        • NarcolepticPanda

          NAP

        • Bad Horse

          @MattmanBegins:disqus WAIT

          The Todd Akin says women are asking to be raped!

          The Todd Akin’s hits decrease by all of them.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

          @NarcolepticPanda:disqus

          A memory foam mattress topper draws near!

          Comm–ZZZ.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

           @Bad_Horse:disqus ,

          Thou hast indeed done well in defeating the Todd Akin.

          Thy experience increases by 2012.

          Thy GOLD increases by 3 Super PACs.

          Being educated and desiring greater gender equality have served thee well.  Thou hast been promoted to the next level.

          Thou hast learned a new spell (INFORMEDVOTE).

          Thy McCaskills have increased by 1.

  • PaganPoet

    *holds the Rainbow Drop toward the sky*

    • NarcolepticPanda

      I’ve always enjoyed dropping rainbows.

      • Chum Joely

        Totally, man.  Double rainbow, all the way.

  • Citric

    It’s odd that they allow an alternate ending there, but any attempt to ditch the princess gets protests of “But thou must!”

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

      A clear inspiration to the young Antonio Banderas, who took the must-ness as a lifelong mission.

  • feisto

    I like how the Dragonlord’s first reply to your “YES” is a decidedly non-Arthurian “Really?” Like he’s so surprised that you’re buying into his crap that he momentarily falls out of character.

    I love the inconsistency of old-school localizations.

    • The Guilty Party

      “I can’t believe you fell for the oldest trick in the book! What a goof. What’s with you man?”

    • doyourealize

      Reading some of the dialogue above, I’m pretty sure the guy who did the localizations and the guy who wrote The Book of Mormon were one and the same.

      • Effigy_Power

         ”Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum”

        • Asinus

          Effigy Power smart smart smart

  • Dunwatt

    I never did finish this game.  I didn’t play it until about five years ago, and the grind was just too much of a…uh, grind.  Usually, when I pause a game, gaze ruefully down at my hands and mutter, “Why am  I doing this?” it is an ironic, knowing nod to my love of gaming.  In Dragon Warrior’s case, it was a genuine inquiry.

    I enjoyed the game for what it was.  I’ve played plenty of RPGs, some more grindy than others.  And I was a little disappointed with myself for not completing one of the genre’s classics.  But also, I was pretty relieved that I didn’t have to face the prospect of wandering around in circles waiting for scorpions to appear.

    I really enjoyed this article, though.  Apart from getting to see the ending(s) I denied myself, I discovered I’m not the only one whose name is made better by the old d-pad keyboard typo.  “Oatrick” has a nice little ring to it, if you ask me.  Although you really have to commit to that typo from the beginning.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      That’s the same symptom that kept me from even inching into Final Fantasy I.  I need a decent motivation, such as story or characters, to put up with the brain numbing grind.

      I couldn’t even deal with it in Zeboyd’s excellent Breath of Death VII RPG-parody where grinding takes around 5 seconds. It’s just not a fun gameplay mechanic.

    • Maudib

      I also never finished the game.  I was seven or eight when I got it via the Nintendo Power subscription, so my skills were… lacking.  I could grind fine, but what got me was crossing the huge southern desert.  The one with the high level ghost town in the center that led to the land where you had to put a type of golem to sleep with a flute.  That region demanded more finesse than my simplistic hack and slash strategy could handle.  It was a literal wall of frustration, to the point all my games were abandoned when I was expected to cross it.

      As one would suspect, I lacked the ability to save the princess from the dragon.  Level 14 is recommended?  Bullshit.  The only time a real warrior uses magic is to heal himself or needs light.

      • Dunwatt

         Ah, the frustration wall of youth.  Ran into that with the Legend of Zelda.  Never finished that one, either.

        From your description, it sounds like you needed a mage or two by your side.  But oh wait, it’s just you out there, roaming the desert and rescuing the entire world by your lonesome.  I guess “party members” were an advancement too far for good ol’ Dragon Warrior.

    • ultramattman

      Dragonwarrior I isn’t just a grind.  It’s THE grind, the longest, slowest, most brutal grinding RPG ever.  Even the strongest monsters in the game only give 60-70 experience points, and by that point it’s 4,000 points to level up – 60+ battles for each level.  Grinding past level 15 or so of Dragon Warrior is absolutely torturous.  (You need to be about level 20 or so to have a shot at beating the Dragonlord.)

      And battle is BORING.  I hit, you hit.  I hit, you hit.  I hit, you hit.  Most battle spells are completely worthless and a waste of a turn better spent hacking.  I hit, you hit.  I hit, you hit.

      Dragon Warrior is a great series, and DWIII and DWIV are NES classics, but the first game holds up terribly.  It’s not fun to play at all.  There’s a reason most RPG’s went party-based after this one.

      Final Fantasy I, on the other hand, isn’t nearly so bad.  There’s really only one bottleneck point where you have to grind for a while to gain enough levels to continue (before the Earth Cave.)  After that the rest of the game flies.  

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    ” (See: The Three Stooges.)”

    Now that you’ve reminded me of that game, now I can’t not see it.  Especially the pie-throwing level.  Thanks.

  • EmperorNortonI

    This was not the first dungeon crawling RPG.  Not by a long-shot.  Wizardry, anyone?  The original was rather unusual, in that it allowed players to be a Ninja.  The original Bard’s Tale series?  The 4 schools of magic and class changing system in those games still stand as interesting and unique game play elements.  Sure, they were PC only, but they certainly qualify.  Hell, the first three iterations of my beloved Ultima were little more than glorified dungeon hacks, pained as I am to admit it.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I’ve just made peace with the fact that these are intentionally written from a subjective viewpoint – and considering the fact that Dragon Warrior was the first such game to have a wide console release (the only prior console RPG I can find is “Dragonstomper,” for a relatively obscure Atari 2600 cassette peripheral), and that it was exposed to a huge audience through the Nintendo Power promotion, it’s a subjective viewpoint that likely aligns with most people’s.

      It’s not THE first turn-based, dungeon-crawling RPG, but it is Drew’s and John’s, and a significant portion of their readerships.

      That said, I’m definitely not dismissing your point or saying you shouldn’t correct assertions like that. If these pieces are written in an overtly, intentionally subjective way, that’s all the more reason for others to share their dissenting subjective experiences (or objectively substantiated perspectives, as in your case) to help provide a fuller picture.

      • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

        I’m glad you appreciate the individual viewpoints on the site, and your attitude is right on. I don’t intend for the facts to be subjective, though, so if Drew had written that Dragon Warrior were The First RPG or whatever, I would have edited that (and would edit it now if a comment called my attention to the mistake, as I have done a number of times in the past).

        Certainly you could dispute the notion that the dungeon-crawling RPG was not an established concept before Dragon Warrior, but that part was a judgment call, and I think it’s a pretty fair judgment. In any case, I’ve tweaked the language so Drew’s point is clearer.

        • http://twitter.com/itisdancing djur

          It wasn’t well-known to console players, sure, but Dragon Warrior was a re-introduction of the RPG genre to the US. After all, it was directly influenced by Wizardry, when that series was imported to Japan.

          I would say that a “dungeon crawler” was an established thing by 1990. If anything, the genre was reaching its peak. By 1990, we were up to Wizardry VI, Might & Magic II (III to come out in ’91), Bard’s Tale III, three D&D Gold Box games, Eye of the Beholder. Ultima had already moved past the dungeon crawl with Ultima VI. EA had dipped into more tactical RPG combat (Wasteland) and real-time combat (Sentinel Worlds). The next year, the first MMORPG (Neverwinter Nights) would be released.

          This article is clearly from a console perspective, and I respect that, but by this point PC gamers were very familiar with dungeon-crawl RPGs and had already started to demand more.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          @twitter-167620977:disqus Good points all.

        • Asinus

          Thanks for all of that, @twitter-167620977:disqus ! I didn’t know about (that) Neverwinter Nights!

      • EmperorNortonI

         Yeah, my tone was a bit out of line there.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      That’s why it says “among the first.”

      • George_Liquor

        About the line “The NES, being the first of its kind and therefore a kind of cobbled-together technology…” I hate to sound pedantic, but the NES was neither. It wasn’t even Nintendo’s first video game system; they were cranking out pong consoles & LCD games years before the NES hit the market. The NES itself packed a custom-designed CPU and PPU, and it was much more powerful than its competition when it was released.

        • http://twitter.com/itisdancing djur

          Also, in Japan, they just ended up coming out with a disk peripheral for the Famicom the year after it was released. A lot of games which were password or battery-backup based in the US were converted from Japanese games which supported the FDS.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          Yup, that line is just wrong. Thanks for the heads-up.

    • Asinus

      Bard’s Tale was ported all over the place. I think the PC version was a port. 

  • doyourealize

    My mother being vehemently anti-video game, I had to get my NES fix at friends’ houses, and therefore was never able to play this. Actually, the only Dragon Warrior / Quest game I’ve ever played is 8…and some of 9. I could imagine my 10 year old self falling in love with this game, though, as I was always drawn to the Final Fantasies and Zeldas, and Dragonlance was my novel brand of choice. After reading this, though, and being familiar with the NES save game failures, I guess the ball could have easily rolled the other way, and games like this could have been a colossal failure. If they didn’t have something about them that was a such a draw in the first place, people may not have had the patience to play a game like this through a second time if they lost a lot of progress. Of course, like you said, this was a “time when you would play and replay any game to death, no matter how unfathomably boring it was.” So that alone could have been key.

    The first RPG I ever got into on my own was Dungeons and Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun on the Genesis. I don’t know anyone else, besides members of my immediate family, that played this game, but I’m sure there are some of you here. I tried to play it on an emulator recently, and I couldn’t get too far. Not sure if this is because the emulator didn’t work properly or because it’s really a horrible game. I absolutely loved the exploration aspect of it, though. It was split between a top down, turn-based kind of game, though there wasn’t a separate battle screen, preceding the MMORPGs of today, and dungeons were in first person perspective. It’s a little weird, now that I think about it. The point of the game, in a land where the sun never went down (hence the title) was simply to open a trade route to another land, and it ends after you slog through a dungeon populated by some of the toughest creatures in the game (upon entering the dungeon, accessible from much earlier in the game, you are greeted by a red dragon who immediately casts entangle on you and beats you to shit, effectively telling you, “You’re not supposed to come here yet!!”), and some guy or girl eating grapes meets you at the end and tells you, “Sure, we’ll trade with you!” I remember being underwhelmed by the end, but the path there was just what I needed in a game. You could witness your characters progress just because you’d be able to travel through a part of the game that slaughtered you hours before. Seems par for the course now, but back then, for me, I loved every second. Also, when you cast continual light to blind an enemy, the entire screen turned white, which I thought was cool.

    • Bad Horse

      In a way, almost every game on the NES was a grind. NES action games can generally be completed in 30 mins-1 hour once you know what you’re doing, but in order to get to that point you have to die, and replay the same level, and die, and replay, and die, etc. They compensate for their length by being brutally difficult, thus keeping you busy with them. In order to get through, you have to learn them inside and out.

      Dragon Warrior is different in that you are constantly receiving little rewards for grinding, without ever necessarily learning. You’re never stuck as such, because your character is getting stronger even if you aren’t learning anything or playing any better. As long as you keep playing, you will be able to beat the Dragonlord eventually. You could get to that level just by killing blue slimes if you take enough time, and you never have to learn jack. 

      Now I’ve never played an MMO, but I’ve seen my friends do it, and it sure looks to me like they operate on the same principle, just with more interesting mechanics and prettier window dressing.

      • doyourealize

        The difference being that when you go back to the beginning in an action game, you can get back to the same point in 30-60 minutes. In Dragon Warrior it will take considerably longer. Since you’re grinding instead of learning, there’s no real shortcuts.

      • Asinus

        I don’t know… WoW could be pretty tough with endgame content you couldn’t win with bad players (except maybe until an expansion made the end game stuff no longer end game). It’s not the same sort of hard as, say, Kid Icarus, but I knew players with great gear who just flat-out sucked because they didn’t know how to play their class correctly. Similar to a Super Mario Bros grind, I practiced my DPS rotation for a long, long time on practice dummies in game until I learned to time cool downs, hear the right cues to do an instant Slam… it was actually a LOT like playing SMB now that I think about it.

        But, really, yeah, two really good players will be separated by their gear in WoW, but for some reason, some people just always do more damage, more heals, etc., than anyone else. 

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       My only experience with Dragon Warrior is with a friend who similarly was not allowed to have video games in his home growing up. While his parents must have thought this would contribute to his becoming a well-rounded, well-adjusted person, it in fact meant that anytime he was in a house with an NES that was all he wanted to do, and he turned into a weird socially-retarded zomboid.

      In late elementary and early middle school, a mutual friend of ours would always have an overnight birthday party thing, and every time he did this, the no-Nintendo-having friend would arrive, start up a game of Dragon Warrior (one year it was Ninja Gaiden), and just play it non-stop all night, glued to the screen while the rest of us did other, equally dorky, but at least semi-social things.

      • doyourealize

        Eventually my parents did buy us a Genesis, but that was short-lived. After it was in the house a while, my mom made a deal that if we sold it, she’d buy us a video camera. We sold it, but never got a video camera. I’m still bitter about it.

        In any case, I’d say maybe this short time with a Genesis was what prevented me from becoming a “weird socially-retarded zomboid”, but I would never avoid friends in order to play. I’d play if they were playing, but if they weren’t, I’d join in whatever it was they were doing.

  • Moonside_Malcontent

    I always picture the faux-Arthurian dialogue in these old games as being voiced by Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  You know, where his accent switches between London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Malibu all in the time it takes for Morgan Freeman and Alan Rickman to feel pretty disappointed in themselves for taking their paychecks.

  • Andrew

    “It was among the first of its kind, a dungeon-crawling role-playing game before there was such a thing”

    Really??? I can remember playing Tunnels of Doom on the TI99/4a years before this. And I’m sure Wizardry and Ultima predate it too…

    • NarcolepticPanda

      “It was AMONG the first of its kind”

      And since it was given away for free with Nintendo Power, many people played it.

      • Andrew

        Let’s see: Wizardry 1981; Ultima 1980; Tunnels of Doom 1982.

        Dragon Warrior: 1986.

        So 4-6 years after the genre had hit the shelves (and spawned many imitators, including Dragon Warrior)

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          That’s like saying that the Coleco Telstar wasn’t among the first video game consoles because the Odyssey and Pong came years earlier and spawned a bunch of imitators. You could certainly argue that, and insist that “among the first” applies to a limited range of years. But you’d be missing the forest for the trees.

          That said, if you think there was a significant generational break between those earlier games and Dragon Warrior, that would be interesting to hear about. That’s really the context of the statement—looking at generational trends.

        • Bad Horse

          I think a big part of the problem is it’s still pretty easy to play Dragon Warrior, if you’re historically inclined. It’s not so easy to play the original Ultima, or Wizardry. 

        • Andrew

          Remember also, the review claims “a dungeon-crawling role-playing game *before* there was such a thing”

          I would say that it was part of the 3rd generation of such games- The 1st appearing on the Apple IIs and early PC clones; the 2nd appearing on home computers such as the Commodore, Spectrum, BBC Micro etc.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          Yeah, I thought that Drew’s point was clear in context already—if you take it literally, then Dragon Warrior came out before itself—but I certainly make my share of editing mistakes, so I re-edited that language to clarify.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           @JohnTeti:disqus : If Drew had had your watchful proofreading eyes alongside him earlier in life, he’d have been spared a virtual lifetime of being called “Drex!”

  • ItsTheShadsy

    I might be the odd one out, but I’m not a fan of save games giving you the option to experiment with different critical choices. It’s a feature unique to games, but one that I think cheapens the experience.

    The best example that comes to mind is from Condemned: Criminal Origins, a overlooked gem from a few years back. At the very end of the game, you are given the option to either kill Serial Killer X or spare his life. One obviously sends you down the path of corrupt retribution, but the other choice is impossibly selfless. I killed him during my first playthrough, and it took some guts to make that decision. When I talked to my friend who I borrowed the game from, I was really upset to see that he had just chosen arbitrarily because he knew he could just reload and pick the other option to get all the achievements.

    There are many, many other examples.

    Any time there’s a significant choice like this in a game where you are given the option to reload and choose which one you’d prefer after seeing the results, I feel that devalues the interactive element that makes moral forks so compelling in games as opposed to other, non-interactive mediums. It’s too easy to say “I don’t like the outcome” and switch your decision. It defeats the point of having to make a gut choice. I appreciate when games like Heavy Rain force auto-save for those moments.

    • Andrew

      Actually, the save game here did the opposite of what it should have done- If you chose to join The Dragon King, it should have wiped your save game, forcing you to replay it to see the ‘good’ ending.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

      Some games avoid “narrative save-scumming” by putting major decisions long after the most recent save point (e.g. the Persona games). It’s one thing to replay a few minutes; it’s another thing to replay an hour or more.

      I’m not a fan of forced auto-saves. I think it’s the player’s responsibility to hold him/herself responsible for following through on their choices. Forced autosaves seem like a great creative choice, but from a mechanical perspective, they’re problematic. Real life is full of disruptions. It’s not unusual for me to miss a critical cut scene due to the phone, family, or my own careless button pressing. Screw any game that doesn’t accomodate that.

    • Fluka

      Speaking as someone who is grateful for the existence of save games due to her, er, lack of gameplaying skill, I still somewhat agree.  I like the option of still having the option to reload in case I do something really stupid, like mis-hear a character.  Or when my cat walks over and sits on my mouse hand and makes a choice for me (*this has happened*).  But if I go and really make a choice in a game, good or bad, there’s no going back.  I remember reloading before one of the “dialogue bosses” in Deus Ex: Human Revolution after it had horribly wrong, but somehow that felt much more like cheating than getting shot and reloading.  I’m not a real person running around with a run and jumping and doing super-human videogame things, so failure in combat feels natural, and reloading a save is fine.  But I *am* a real human being making choices (moral, dialogue, strategic, etc.), so the decision and character based failures can’t just be erased by reloading.  

      Of course, not everyone feels this way.  Mr. Fluka actually downloaded a save editor to save the life of a certain character in Mass Effect 3, who had died due to his poor decisions in ME2.  The monster!

      Also, interesting article today in Rock Paper Shotgun on the re-emergence of Things Going Wrong in modern gaming, in games like FTL and XCom Ironman mode.  I certainly couldn’t imagine FTL being half as good if you could reload before you made a terrible decision and now your entire crew is on fire or getting sucked out the airlock.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I think it’s less a hard, fast, “It’s always better THIS way” sort of thing. In a game like Walking Dead, you’re stuck with your choices (unless you replay the whole episode), which makes sense as it is largely a game about choice and lending those choices weight.

      There are other situations, though, like, say, in an IF or Sierra adventure game, where it is customary to have countless saves at every choice point so you can double-back in the event you’ve condemned with a choice at some point (and in IF games, the death text was often comically written enough that you felt obliged to save and then do something stupid and fatal just to have the narrator mock you).

      And I would imagine many games fall in the middle, and a preference for one or the other comes down to how you play them. If you’re the type of person who like to role-play and carve a single path through a labyrinth, then you stick to your choices. If you’re more of a metagamer completionist who wants to experience everything the game has to offer, then it makes sense to save a game at each choice node and essentially play the game as a depth-first-traversal of the narrative tree rather than as a particular narrative experience.

      • ItsTheShadsy

        You’re dead on, there isn’t a way to handle it that addresses both situations. Good call bringing up the Sierra games, those are ones that require you to go back to different points and redo parts of the game.

        It’s frustrating that narrative decisions and gameplay choices are infrequently distinguished, especially when players are always trying to get the best outcome (seeing the Mass Effect 2 suicide mission broken down into a series of bulletpoint choices is accurate but sad). But more often than not, games mix the two in a way that’s impossible to separate tangibly.

  • Enkidum

    Let’s face it, “Drex” is just a cooler name. You should change it IRL.

  • BenderBukowski

    Anyone else get a sense of deja vu after leaving Batman to twist in the wind during the Selina Kyle DLC part of Arkham City?

    It all makes sense now!

  • spacelizards

    This reminds me of the choice you’re given near the start of Golden Sun, except there the question is whether you go on a quest in the first place. You’ve met the villains and know you must leave, only to be asked if you want to go save the world or not. Say no and the world ends; you then have to make the choice again “correctly”. I was surprised at even the illusion of choice when I first played it as a kid.

    • BarbleBapkins

      Something similar happens in one of the Paper Mario games (Super Paper Mario, I think). At the beginning of the game, some elder says you are the chosen one to save their world. Answer “no” enough times and he essentially says, “well, I guess we are doomed then,” and you get a game over.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/22FIQ67WM34PZISN4HOGQRRYWA Jesse

    Wait can we just keep talking about that Genesis Game D&D Eternal Sun?  What was that game?  I never did figure it out but I remember I may have liked it.  Also, the game “Faery Tale” for Genesis.

    • caspiancomic

       Whenever someone mentions the Sega Genesis, I am morally obligated to appear.

      Actually, though, I think the closest parallel between this game and a Genesis title lies with Shining in the Darkness, which I believe was the first game in the Shining series. It was a pretty standard first-person dungeon crawler, but contained a lot of the Shining charm in an embryonic state.

      • Asinus

        I’m going to have to see if I have SinD in my ROM pile! I love Shining Force I and II but don’t know a lot about the series. I just remembered that my friends played it and decided to finally give them a shot. 

        • doyourealize

          SinD isn’t really much like Shining Force 1 and 2. The action is all in first person. That said, I played it on my Genesis and remember enjoying it. It’s mostly just work your way down levels of the dungeon, warp to town, repeat. Kind of a first-person Diablo

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          1. They’re all by Camelot when the Takahashi brothers were at their most ambitious.

          2. You should really play the fan-translated Shining Force III, which was 1 of the most coveted import titles long ago and fully meets expectations.

          3. The Game Gear subseries are possibly the best games on the system.

          4. The non-tactics-role-playing games are still high-quality, but aren’t very innovative.

          5. The series went through various hands and is now all non-canon, but the timeline goes okay action role-playing games__awful action role-playing games__arcade multiplayer role-playing game like all of Sega’s other multiplayer arcade games that aren’t about robots__okay but weird action role-playing games with other stuff in them, and nowhere near Camelot quality

        • http://twitter.com/itisdancing djur

          I like SinD better than the SF games, but that’s probably because I lack whatever gene is necessary to enjoy tactical JRPGs.

          It’s awfully cute, too.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         Get back in your cave and keep working on that blog post, you!

        • caspiancomic

           Yes sir =(

          (Should be up this Friday! For real this time! After all this time, it is certain to disappoint!)

    • http://twitter.com/itisdancing djur

      That game has amazing music, and not entirely awful gameplay for a console D&D game. It also has the most metal ending of possibly any game ever, so there’s that.

      SPOILERS FOR THE END OF A 20-YEAR-OLD GAME

      You get attacked by Cthulhu and then a T-Rex god comes and saves you and kicks Cthulhu’s ass and tells you how rad you are while this really great music plays.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         @doyourealize:disqus  said the ending was a giant anticlimax where you are confronted by an urchin eating grapes, who’s like “Thanks, dudes.”

        WHO AM I TO TRUST?

        • doyourealize

          I remember there being an Elven Cave as the second to last dungeon that was pretty awesome. That may be the cave @twitter-167620977:disqus is talking about. Or I could be remembering it wrong (maybe you get into a fight with Cthulu and then meet the grape-eater, but I’m pretty sure there were grapes involved). In any case, I’m inspired to go find an Android ROM and find out for myself.

          However, the music was indeed kickass @yahoo-22FIQ67WM34PZISN4HOGQRRYWA:disqus .
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVqw0A5CwUw

        • http://twitter.com/itisdancing djur

          @doyourealize:disqus must have it confused with another game. This is how Warriors of the Eternal Sun ends:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIxCosjqako

  • WTFkid

    One of my best memories of hanging out with my dad as a kid was playing the original Zelda game on the NES when I was 8 years old.  He had made it about 1/3 of the way through the game when I accidentally kicked the console and erased all of his hard work up until that point.  The look on his face was crushed to say the least.  As my “punishment” he made me stay up all night with him eating snacks and drinking sodas until I was able to get him back to the point he had been before, which was sometime around 6 in the morning.  Good times.

    • NarcolepticPanda

      My dad ragequitted after precisely four minutes of playing Uncharted 3 co-op with me; he ran into a wall, pointed the camera at the sky, and that was that.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         Wait, in co-op play, they give one of the players control over the camera? How does that work??

        • NarcolepticPanda

          Nope, it’s split-screen. Each player controls their portion of the screen.