This week, Yahtzee reviews Dragon Quest XI.
I like to think I'm always keen to try new things, as long as it doesn't involve my bottom; trust me, whatever you think I'm missing out on, I'm quite content with the maximum amount of entertainment value that can be extracted from my butthole being "doing crosswords on the toilet". "Nobody else is talking about your butthole, Yahtz." I know! I'm just saying! Anyway, the point is, I never played a Dragon Quest game before, but I thought I'd give the new one a go, which obviously means I can't say if it's a "good" Dragon Quest game, but I can certainly compare it to other games and to objects being pushed up my butthole.
One thing I did know about Dragon Quest going in is that Japanese people go double-downward-dog bonkers for it - like, "unofficial public holiday every time one comes out" bonkers - putting it, in impact terms, right up there with terrorist strikes and dead princesses. But having played Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age - and yes, I am so going to slowly pervert that subtitle as this review goes on - I am now slightly concerned about the Japanese, as I would about a school friend who confides that they have a crush on the dinner lady, knowing they're going to be driven to suicide by mockery within a week... by me.
Like the dinner lady, Dragon Quest's appeal seems to lie in it being a nice, comfortable, unthreatening place, always good for an extra helping of dumplings if you put in the right words. The plot of Dragon Quest XI: Emissions of an Infected Arse is, you are in Generic JRPG Swords and Sorcery Fantasy World, east of Java; you are the last surviving heir of a deposed royal house who was found as a baby and adopted by peasant farmers. There's a weird birthmark on your hand that magic occasionally comes out of, and you grow into a strong, handsome lad with a girl's haircut, so when you come of age, your adoptive parent takes you aside and says, "Look, let's not beat around the bush; you couldn't be more obviously a destined fantasy hero if your high school graduation picture was painted by Boris Vallejo. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any global crisis going on at the moment that would require a destined hero, so why don't you just wander around the countryside for a bit, and destiny will presumably strike at some point?" I'm not being dismissive here; that's literally how we start!
You go to the royal castle on the off-chance that a kidnapped princess needs rescuing, but get thrown in the dungeon 'cos the king's played too many Elder Scrolls games and thinks that's just what you do with destined heroes. You break out within minutes, and the plot becomes "go from city to city looking for the person who isn't one of the five or six endlessly-repeated NPC models, recruit them to your party, then do whatever they want to do until the next one comes along".
By this method, we enlist to our cause a toddler, two hotties, an old man, a comedy stereotype of a homosexual, and an actual homosexual, and after the last party member joins, they say, "What do you mean, 'destiny hasn't struck yet'?! All right, let's just gather the six Destiny Balls; that'll wake the fucker up." I only had three or four days to play the game in, so I was under no illusion that I'd finish the fucking thing, and I dropped out after the third or fourth ball. About twenty hours in, and still no sign of a big villain; couple of "Darth Vaders", but no "Palpatines", you know?
But you can see what I mean about "comfortable and nonthreatening"; at least, the plot is. Couldn't say the same for the visual design; the characters all remind me of those anime cosplayers who wear masks with anime faces drawn on to look more, open-quotes, "authentic", the kind that look like, if you woke in the night and saw them at the foot of your bed, it'd be the last thing you experience before blackness and the sound of tearing cartilage. Well, let's be accepting of cultural differences, which are presumably why pressing "Start" doesn't open the pause menu, but turns on "auto-run mode". I wouldn't think an "auto-run mode" would be much use in an RPG; the overworld can be big, but it's full of random encounters, so it's not like you can just point yourself at your destination and then nip off for a quick tea ceremony.
Gameplay-wise, Dragon Quest XI: Errors of an Illicit Anus embodies a nostalgic "if it ain't broke, don't mentally progress past the age of twelve" attitude, with a simple, heavily text-based, retro turn-based combat system. Although, you can move your character freely around the battle space, possibly as a joke; it seems to be a feature put in for very superstitious people who want to convince themselves that serpentining will actually affect whether or not Malicious Chimp A will whiff his "Handful of Feces" attack, or for very easily-amused people who want to stand behind the enemy during battles so that their alert, hunched-forward pose can become part of a hilarious suggestive tableau.
The funny thing about random battles in Dragon Quest XI: Elegies of "Eddie the Eagle" Edwards is that you only ever get into them because you choose to; random enemies only notice you if you accidentally stumble up one of their nostrils, and you can run faster than them, anyway. Even during the, what I will only call "stealth sections" if a small dog nervously pissing on a cello is a "string quartet", the armed fanatics convinced that you are the spawn of Satan get winded and stop pursuing you after chasing you the approximate length of my dick. You can literally sprint unmolested through an entire dungeon and back just to use the save point before you take on the boss, but if you don't get into random battles, then you'll be severely under-leveled for the fights you have to do. So while the game doesn't force us to run a gauntlet of cricket bats to the arse, it has laid a cricket bat down in front of us and locked the door with a special mechanism that would only open if we fill a jar with our tears.
I think it's fair to say that Dragon Quest XI: Erections of an Aggressive Emu isn't going to light any fires as an innovative or challenging work; I mean, it's not even half-heartedly clicking an empty barbeque lighter, but that's precisely not what it's setting out to do, and you know what? I think I respect that; as I sailed inexorably through this entirely obvious plot that, at times, feels like we're playing a D&D campaign that the DM is making up on the spot in the brief moments when he can get off the phone with his divorce lawyer, visiting the standard environments - grasslands, desert, ocean... grasslands, grasslands, ocean again - fighting twee monsters that all seemed carefully designed to be potentially made into plushies to sell on Etsy, I felt myself being taken in.
I was sinking down into a cozy, warm bath where I could doze blissfully off to a fluffy dream world where no perceptions are being challenged, but everything's just nice. But I think it worth mentioning that I could only enter this state after I had muted the music, or to give it its proper name, "the fucking music". Yeah, I get the game's dedicated to the "retro nostalgia" thing - hence, the "bleep, bloop" 8-bit battle sounds - and that's why a lot of the music sounds like it came from a 16-bit-era mini synthesizer, but it also sounds like someone took that synthesizer, turned up the "BLARP" setting to 100%, and proceeded to stomp on it like a grape in a French vineyard. It's minute-long loop after minute-long loop of string and brass sections honking like pigs queueing up to have their throats cut. Let that be the lesson, viewers: cozy a place as the past may seem, don't forget it also contains potato famines, Hitler, and synth music.
- Warrior of destiny: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I mean the dude breaks me out of prison for no reason and then suddenly wants us to go have a bath together
- Wait, couldn't we just fill the jar with piss