When I find a chav paradise I like, I stick with it

dq3

Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation (1992)

People often talk about what’s in their bucket list, this bucket presumably being the one that we’ll all eventually kick. Top of most peoples’ lists is ‘travelling around the world’, which I find extraordinary. I’m a miserable old sod as you well know, but this travel the world thing was never for me. To be honest, with the exception of Japan, New York and maybe Vegas for a laugh, I’ve done just about all the places I wanted to. Australia, where I have to wrestle with spiders? China, where God knows what’ll happen next? African safari, where I might get eaten by lions, or far more embarrassingly, giraffes? No no, that ain’t for me.

No, once I find a place I like, I stick with it for as long as I can and revisit it every year. This does stifle me culturally, and it means I need to take an unconventional route around the usual social pitfalls at swanky dinner parties. After all, it’s good to get out there and see the world, I suppose. For me, my comfort zone is the Greek islands, which have that wonderful mix of sun, excellent food, great prices and non-ghastly locals. I suppose if you’re into mountains or something, then they’re also there for you. ‘Landscapes’, I think they’re called.

Don’t you have a spot like that? My parents go to Majorca twice a year without fail. They’ve even got hotel loyalty points, first name terms with the hoteliers, the lot. Even those new noise restrictions over there ain’t deterring them. If not for that accursed virus striking this year, this year probably would have been some sort of anniversary for them, their 50th trip with trumpets blaring as they get off the plane.

I’m sure some of this would strike a chord with the guys behind Dragon Quest III, if they understood pidgin English, because this game rounds off a trilogy of sorts. More specifically, it links in with the first two games of this famous series by having you revisit the world the earlier games took place in. I’ve dropped a bit of a massive spoiler there, but it’s only a spoiler insofar as it’d never been done before and it was a shock to gamers at the time. After all, by the time DQ3 came out, Final Fantasy 1 wasn’t long out on the Famicom, and we all know how stone age that one was. The Dragon Quest series was already getting bigger and better, and the launch of this game was an event in itself.

I wouldn’t know about any of that of course, firstly because I wasn’t born and even more importantly, I am one of those wretched philistines they call “Europeans”. Still, I’m told that DQ3’s launch was an event so grandiose that it led to two enduring factoids of information – the first being that young kids were actually getting mugged on the streets of Japan for their copy of the game.

And second, related to the first point, a persistent rumour that Enix were told by the Japanese government to schedule the releases of subsequent Dragon Quest games on weekends in order to avoid public unrest, and also stop millions of Japanese schoolkids and workers from slapping the economy in the face by pulling a sickie. Jesus, just let them have a day off work, will you?

As for the former point, I’m not too sure I believe that any muggings have ever taken place in the history of the Japanese feudal state. I would have to do further research on this, but I actually think there’s been more recent cases of orchard apple thievery than there’s been of muggings in Japan. The do-goodery over there got so bad that the police were having to come down like a ton of bricks on traffic offences in order to fill their days.

But then a number of years down the line, you end up getting the legal system from Ace Attorney, which seemed to be advertised to us Westerners as a desperate cry for help on behalf of one of the developer’s imprisoned brothers. Those games showed us that the criminal and judicial system in Japan (they say it’s the US, but… you know…) is so backed up that all of the criminal trials have to be done over a long weekend.

How did that scary phenomenon occur? There must have been some sort of seismic shift in Japanese criminology, but that can’t have been down to a crackdown on drugs. After all, games like Dragon Quest 3 and many others like it are ample evidence that drug use is alive, well and encouraged in Japan. How else do you explain Cho Aniki?

Unlike the first two DQ games, you definitely stand a chance at playing 3 without a guide, which is nice. Although that does mean you’ll be resigned to a life of rooting through peoples’ drawers, indiscriminately, since you won’t know which ones contain those all important seeds, sticks and boxer shorts that will help you progress.

Seriously, this game is definitely a bit more mature about things but there’s still some mission critical items that your character finds down the back of a sofa, when probably these articles could stand to have a bit more grandeur about them. Now, apologists will say that this is part of the series’ “charm”. Don’t mind those nimrods, they’ll dress anything up as charm – if they got mugged in New York they’d call it part of the city’s charm. If they got mugged in Tokyo… well, you’ll know why.

What’s that back there? Why, it’s the fairy flute that’s needed to get to the final boss. Quite an irresponsible thing for the townsfolk to leave lying around, it might just as well have been a hydrogen bomb. You can get vague hints on items and next steps off the NPCs, but if you’ve got anything about you, you’ll consult the Legendary Scrolls of Nintendo Powerdonia, available 30 years ago for 8 gold pieces.

I played this one as a Super Famicom fan-translation, not exactly legally acquired although with the trouble and time it cost me to set up, financially I probably still came out behind. Ultimately though, this is a NES game, so it’s still got tiny dungeons, which suits me if I’m honest. It’s also understandably primitive, which is par for the course for a Dragon Quest game really, although the day / night feature is quite nifty. Not many games would have pulled that trick before.

And there’s no point calling the plot predictable, because DQ3 is one of those dealies where it was the leader that everyone followed. The long and short of it is that you and a party of fighters, mages or jesters will be sailing around the world to gather orbs, and the world actually resembles our own – even little old Ireland is there. Not sure about New Zealand being present in this world, but not many cartographers are.

Once you have those orbs, you’ll sail to Antarctica to plug them in and watch the sparks fly. Sounds a bit like Terranigma. Actually, it sounds like pretty well every game in the world where you put together a party of guys and geezers with different roles, fight a few bosses, pick up some trinkets and then put them somewhere to open up the way to the final boss. Again, don’t mock DQ3 for sounding like the most generic role-playing adventure you’ve ever heard of – come and admire how it paved the way for great games such as, erm, Tecmo Secret of the Stars.

I probably haven’t really done much to convince you to play Dragon Quest III. Well, I thought it was good. I’d prefer to be more articulate about it than that, but ‘good’ sums it up perfectly. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s not staggeringly tedious. You may see the adventure through, or you might baulk and abandon it early on. It might not exactly live up to the billing it’s got. DQ3 didn’t cure cancer, it doesn’t give you oral stimulation.

But it was still hugely important, and had a profound effect on gaming, particularly in Japan. Perhaps ‘significant’ should sum the game up, rather than ‘good’. It’s the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids or the Mona Lisa, meaning you’re an uncultured swine if you’re in the area and pass up the chance to check it out. But if you don’t like it, don’t worry – you can always go somewhere else next time.

26 May 2020

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