Games That Changed My Life #1: Dragon Warrior

A blog entry draws near!

I’ve been working on this idea for a while now, and have decided to take some time to write up some nostalgia-injected mini-essays on the games that changed my life. I’ve got a list worked out now, which I will go through in chronological order of my exposure to and immersion within them. The titles on this list do not necessarily correspond to those on my list of all-time “favorite” games, mind you. Instead, each of these interactive gaming experiences somehow made its own unique impact upon my existence, and my overall development as a human being.

I’m going to kick this list off with the game that got me started as a gamer: Dragon Warrior, for the NES.

Dragon Warrior was the game for which I originally begged and pleaded my mother to buy me a NES at the ripe and impressionable age of ten. I recalled seeing it elsewhere – at a friend’s house? in a magazine? on TV? I can no longer recall – and instantly believing beyond all doubt and concern that every. single. ounce of my essence needed to acquire and play this game. I cannot now tell you how I knew this then, or from whence this undeniable need stemmed, and I doubt I could even begin to explain it back then, either. All I can tell you now, in hindsight, is that this craving somehow manifested itself into me purchasing a subscription of Nintendo Power Magazine before I even actually acquired a Nintendo. Why? Because Nintendo Power gave the game away for free with every subscription.

Once I had both game and console in my possession, I glued myself to the television for the remainder of the summer. Upon first starting the game up, I was given an option to name my own character. Oh. My. GAWD. My mind was blown. I had no idea how to respond to this. I stared at the television for minutes that felt to my hyperactive prepubescent mind as the infinite times a million billion eons of the time before creation, wondering what to type. Then, all of a sudden, it came to me. I typed in “Relganor”1 (making maximum use of all allowed name characters), and never thought twice about it.

After naming my stalwart blue-armored eternally-jogging-in-place 8-bit hero, the epic journey began. Within a few minutes of playing a style of game I knew jack and crap about, Relganor met a squishy death at the hands of some drakees, after which I learned my first lesson in the ways of Gaming:

Gaming Lesson #1: The King is a Gigantic Asshole

At the beginning of the game this fat king told me all about how I was the great hope for salvation in the land, and how everything rested upon my shoulders. Then he told me how I should grow more powerful and get better gear and blah blah blah. And then, every time I fell in battle, the king brought me back, but then took half my gold! What a jerk! I quickly learned that all quest-giving despots were in truth gold-digging tyrants who ruled their kingdoms with economic systems based entirely upon the influx of currency stolen from “brave adventurers” like myself.

No wonder Erdrick stopped defending these bastards. I was starting to think maybe this DragonLord fella had the right idea after all.

Gaming Lesson #2: Every Adventurer Should Carry Torches

My second lesson was learned pretty early on when I ventured into a nearby dungeon. Once thing that I still to this day love about the original Dragon Warrior was its light mechanic. Quite simply, when you are in a dark smelly dungeon, you can’t see anything unless you have a light source. The game allows you to buy torches, which provide minimal-range light, and later you can acquire a Light spell to see even more of the dungeon. This mechanic made the exploration of the game’s dungeons an exercise in terror and suspense for this ten-year-old, and I still shudder sometimes when remembering some of my frantic attempts to get back to the light of day while hopelessly lost without a torch.

To this day, a bushel of torches is the first piece of adventuring gear I purchase with every new tabletop fantasy RPG character I create. Few GMs ever enforce lighting restrictions beyond the simplest of skin-deep mechanical penalties, but I have played with a handful who had some really immersive and creative ideas, and I’ve got a few myself that I may share in the future.

Another important lesson I learned:

Gaming Lesson #3: Ten-Year-Olds Love Gold Farming

Or at least I did. I distinctly recall a particular area of hills in the far western continent of that game’s world which was teeming with an enemy type called “Goldmen,” which – you guessed it – were made of solid gold. Obviously, killing them earned you quite a mint in pocket change, which of course I spent several consecutive hours out there farming mining for gold.

A Goldman Draws Near!

For some reason, this activity absolutely thrilled me. These days I have little patience at all for such monotony, but at that age it was the greatest thing ever. I could see brave Relganor stalking from hilltop to hilltop, seeking the lairs of these twisted beasts of alchemy-gone-wrong, and thinning their numbers as best he could. I never did find whatever imaginary factory was perpetually spitting out droves of these bizarre monstrosities, but I had so much fin killing its creations that I didn’t care.

Eventually I made it to the final leg of Relganor’s epic quest, and learned yet another valuable lesson:

Gaming Lesson #4: The DragonLord is also a Gigantic Asshole

Seriously, what a douchebag. My first time trekking through this game, I was feeling pretty bad ass near the end, having just carved my way through the labyrinthine halls of the DragonLord’s palace, leaving a trail of dragon corpses steaming in my wake. Upon reaching his throne and flourishing my bloody sword before him, he laughed an offered me a choice: fight now, or join him as his dark disciple. Watch this to see what happens when you accept his offer.

End of Game. Seriously, what an asshole.

After fighting my way through the DragonLord’s palace again and this time choosing to give him a damn good trouncing, I made my way back to that asshole king and this time basically told him to go fuck himself, I’m gonna go rule some other, better kingdom (PS: that would be a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t played this two-decade-old video game, yeah, sorry). His daughter then wants to come along with me, and here I learned the final gaming lesson that Dragon Warrior would teach me:

Gaming Lesson #5: The Existence of “Choice” in RPGs is Debatable

“Can I come with thee?” she said. It gave me a choice of yes/no. Apparently I didn;t learn my lesson from that last choice I was given (by the DragonLord), and the anarchist in me once more said “no.”

Her response? “Oh, but thou must! Can I come with thee?” (Yes/No)

What? Okay… no. No you can’t.

“Oh, but thou must! Can I come with thee?” (Yes/No)

…No.

“Oh, but thou must! Can I come with thee?” (Yes/No)

Lady, I know I saved you from a vicious green dragon that killed me three times before I managed to take its life, but I’m not interested. I said no.

“Oh, but thou must! Can I come with thee?” (Yes/No)

No, goddammit,

“Oh, but thou must! Can I come with thee?” (Yes/No)

NO! NO NO NO NO!

“Oh, but thou must! Can I come with thee?” (Yes/No)

Dammit. Fine. Yes.

“Oh I’m so happy! Blah blah blah happily ever after blah…”

In one game, I experienced not one but two actual “choices” which turned out to be complete crocks of shit – the only two yes/no choices in the entire game, in fact. This was my first such encounter with the concept of fake choices in gaming, having just graduated into this medium from the realms of Lone Wolf and Choose Your Own Adventure books. At least in those books, the choices were definite and varied, and while some of them turned out to most certainly be the wrong choices, there were enough right choices to balance them out. This, on the other hand, was just insulting; even ten-year-old, brand-new-to-video-gaming me recognized that immediately.

Well, almost immediately… I did fall for it twice, I guess.

If only it really had gone as this video below shows:

In Retrospect…

Dragon Warrior laid the foundations upon which my current existence as a self-identified gamer has since been built. I later went on to acquire other games in the series, including Dragon Warrior III, Dragon Warrior IV, and finally Dragon Quest VIII almost two decades later. I branched out into other games of the genre, too, and even a few of the more “western” styles, such as Might & Magic, Wizardry, Pool of Radiance and more. Now, at the age of 30 years, I am proud to have over a hundred different video rpgs under my belt – many of which I actually finished, a feat which has become increasingly rare as my patience for tedium dwindles with my age2.

But Dragon Warrior… that was there it all began. One day, a few years down the road from there, I would be initiated into the world of tabletop gaming… but that’s a tale for a different day.

Footnotes

1 I have no idea why this name felt so right, but in the years following I sure gave it a hell of a lot of use in video games, tabletop games, crappy fan-fiction, and more.
2 In my teens I would finish one or more games a week and still have time for school and management of a large group of friends. These days I lose patience with most games after ten hours, with rare exception.

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  1. Pingback: Hey Man, well this is Babylon » Lighting Mechanics in Video Games, Tabletop

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