Second prize is a set of Copper Knives, third prize is you’re dead

dragon quest 2

Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line (1987)

I see someone thousands of miles away from me won the Euromillions again. A hundred million quid, if you don’t mind. The lucky sod. They’ll probably end up being unnecessarily frugal with it too, or worse than that, they won’t even give up their job. Can you believe how many people say that they’d keep working if they won the big prize? Well, it’s easy to look all noble by saying that, but talk is pretty cheap, isn’t it? Especially after you’ve won yourself a nine-figure bank account.

Even if you were a diligent little worker, happy to slave away at your desk for the rest of your young life (and in that case, why even play the lotto?) you can’t tell me that you’d hang on to your job just for something to do. The first little bit of nonsense that comes your way, whether that’s a snotty email or a pilchard colleague or a broken piece of software or a manager with no understanding, you’ll be straight out that door. No ifs, no buts. The only thing uncertain is whether or not you decide to defecate on your boss’s desk before you say sayonara to your impoverished colleagues for the last time.

We sometimes do a group Euromillions punt in work, I suppose you’d have to call it a syndicate although that puts us a bit uncomfortably close to being labelled as a crime organisation. I think the most we’ve ever won by doing this is €16, which would go on to be reinvested, and wasted almost as quickly.

I decided to be all boring and awkward and drop out of the syndicate altogether, although even saving this extra fiver per week hasn’t been too comfortable for me. After all, what if they bag a massive win and I’m the only one not part of it? I know, I know, they could be playing until the heat death of the sun and still not scoop the prize. But still, what if they do?

I remember one of the first times I didn’t join in with them was a Friday before a Bank Holiday weekend. It turned out that a not insignificant amount, a few hundred thousand, had been won in a “Dublin newsagent”. I was sweating bullets, constantly refreshing the news, just in case that was the ticket which I could have been part of. The odds were millimetric really, but you still get that primal fear.

Since they all showed up for work again on Tuesday, they mustn’t have won anything unless they’re terrific liars. And as mean-spirited as it is, I was thrilled. I’d have never heard the end of it. I would’ve missed out on about seventy grand – very tasty, but not strong enough to finance gangland drug wars or whatever other hobby I wished to take up. But imagine I’d missed out on the top prize?

Although I’d still moan about winning 70 million Euro, only to watch it being split seven ways. A mere ten million won’t pay for both my castle and my yacht, so I’d have to win again, on my own. What’s the odds on two major lottery wins? Does buying two tickets double my chances of winning? Does buying a million tickets guarantee it? I can’t see why not. You have to spend money to make money, that’s what the richies tell us. You’d be a fool to defy them.

After that, what do you do? I’ve told you before I’d immediately buy a European castle. Does that requisite luxury purchase of coke and hookers ever get old? If these were to be enjoyed on a daily basis, for example, would you eventually get sick of a mountain of charlie for breakfast and Charlie’s mountains bouncing in your face for dinner? Would there be any fun in gambling again? Perhaps I could move towards being a professional gambler, and blow all the winnings just as quickly as I’d won them? A fool and his money is some party.

Make no mistake, the lottery is a hell of a compelling draw (little lotto pun for you there). And as a minigame, it provided just one of the many much needed innovations for the first Dragon Quest sequel. The original DQ game wrote the book on JRPGs. The third DQ game was a seminal release, unless you were in Europe and you had to play Super Tennis instead. So how would the middle child fare?

Well, in a nutshell, Dragon Quest II is more expansive than the first game, that’s for sure, but its still bite-sized nature and improvements make it a more palatable prospect to play. Forgive me – from this title onwards, each Dragon Quest game was subtitled with some wild alliterative title, in this case, Luminaries of the Legendary Line.

You’ll still want a guide all the way of course, and save states as standard – don’t ever let yourself fall victim to enemies because it’s still half your gold if you get bodied. Designer Yuji Horii does this on purpose, as a fervent follower of fanciful flutters (that’s enough alliteration). It’s to make you think about the gamble of pressing forward, at the risk of potentially losing half your money. So using save states might spoil this fun somewhat, but what kind of a fool wouldn’t rig the gambling odds in their own favour?

You can also access a basic lottery game in DQ2 and cheat likewise, including netting yourself a vital Gold Card for discounts at shops, cutting your grinding time significantly – finally, a bit of customer appreciation. Don’t think of it as cheating, think of it as evening the odds. And at least you’ve got other compadres to pick you up if you fall, because now you lead a party of not just one but three blank slates. Yes, the grind still exists but at least you’re not a lone potato.

Still, that does also mean you’ll be up against not one but multiple enemies at a time in the random encounters here, which is actually a step-up from the first game if you can believe that. In keeping with my status as an ex-syndicate member, I played this by dodgy means – the Super Famicom fantranslation of the game. This port has the power to get around a limitation of the NES original, where the higher amount of monster sprites in the battle screens meant that the backgrounds were just a depressing black.

On the SNES, that is, the SFC, it’s all nice colour in the background. That’s along with updated music, naturally, of which there’s a slightly wider range, and the difficulty is (only a tad) easier. And it matters greatly which Dragon Quest versions you play, let me tell you. Will you go MSX, SNES, SFC, NS, DS, 3DS, PS1? Trust me, this stuff is like knowing which fork goes with your lobster. Or after you’ve won the lotto, which key goes with your cocaine.

Talk about gambling, towards the end of the game you might as well put your faith in the good old three-legged rocking horse, the Sad Ken of the fold, because you ain’t gonna win. The difficulty level spikes like my ECG would were 1990s Bebe Neuwirth to walk in whilst I’m in the middle of my aerobics routine. At the end of the game, which the designers readily admit they didn’t playtest as there was no time, you’re really in for it.

The odds are massively against you, and just like the first game you’re gonna want to be save-stating after every battle in case you lose some progress towards the Blaessed Staff of Anorakia. It’s still a bit like DQ1 in that a battle can turn on you on a dime if you shall be that unlucky.

You can grind your characters down to the bone, get them the very best equipment, perfectly execute what threadbare strategy there is, but still lose everything if the computer decides it hates you. And gosh, it decides that often. There was one instance where an enemy mob ambushed us, and killed both itself and all three of us before we could move.

Now in games, I always set the text speed to its Fastest, which in DQ2 means messages will fire at you like an automatic rifle. And split-seconds into this particular battle, I was told that we’d all died and jolly bad luck, old chap. It must have been the quickest battle in RPG history. Quicker even than the instant win battles in EarthBound. Quite simply, I was speechless.

So is a guide advisable, then? Forget advisable, you’d be a fool not to. This is a game so obscure and obtuse that I might as well be playing it in its original Japanese for all the sense it makes. I’d have a better chance at reading my girlfriend’s mind. “If you don’t know, then I’m not going to tell you,” sort of thing. Certainly the villagers won’t tell you. Vague hints maybe, but never “search this exact, nondescript spot in the corner of a tiny room for an invisible item that is literally the key to you winning the game” – they won’t help you out with that one, no matter what translation you play.

The Dragon Quest series would surely improve as it went on, and if you’re desperate, or desperately geeky, you can still get into Dragon Quest 2 – just about. But doing it without the aid of save states, the most handholdy walkthrough you can find and more than a few hours grinding? Don’t bet on it.

10 April 2020

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