Sunday Soapbox: Tradition

No matter the context, tradition is a very interesting concept. On one end, the idea appears to be lunacy. People will make decisions that impact their (and others’) entire lives based on the fact that other people did the same acts and have been doing them for quite some time. On the other end, tradition can be a comfort. Something you expect and even look forward to. Maybe a family dinner or even just a morning coffee. But these are sprinkled pleasures and not a way of life. Even the stubborn Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof realized that the world was changing and so he must change with it. So why can’t Dragon Quest do the same?

Yes, Dragon Quest IX has some new features. The multiplayer in a large-scale JRPG is the first of its kind. Such a grand adventure has probably never been developed for a portable system, and it also takes a few steps from within the series to progress it.

But despite these evolutions, the series also has misguided inspiration about where it should keep its traditional roots. I understand the desire to keep some things the same, I really do. I don’t want every JRPG series to slowly turn into Modern Warfare. However, Dragon Quest IX’s ability to do away with random battles, but inability to change its excruciatingly slow method of displaying text or its horribly ugly and unintuitive menu screen baffles me.

The battle system, I'm okay with.

There are plenty of ways to honour traditions that make sense and move on from ones that simply don’t anymore. The turn-based battle system is a great example of a tradition to stick with. It is a system that is simple to operate, but has a lot of depth in the way it upgrades, and even the way it controls during more difficult battles. A perfect balance of stat building and strategic challenge. A great tradition of JRPGs worth keeping.

Not being able to open the main menu without vomiting? Not so much a tradition in need of keeping.

Churchs for non-quicksave save points? Being able to climb down wells? Reoccurring musical themes? Slimes, metal slimes, Toriyama’s artwork? Sure! Those are all examples of traditions that encourage nostalgia, keep Dragon Quest unique, and do not murder the experience.

Drawn out and repetitive text explanations coupled with poor item management and requiring a spell or visit to town to check experience needed to level? Those are not positive gameplay elements and serve no purpose in the series and are not at all justified by the explanation of “that’s the way Dragon Quest is”.

Tradition does not innately make a mechanic nor a design choice better. It can instill nostalgia into elements that are clever or fun to begin with, but it cannot fix anything that is broken. Perhaps most of my complaints are about the menus, but in a menu-based JRPG, it is something that should not be slow, unattractive, and unintuitive.

So how long before Dragon Quest, the traditional RPG with the most tradition, will finally realize that the world of intuitive interfaces is changing and that it – too – must change along with it?

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3 Responses to “Sunday Soapbox: Tradition”

  1. SiliconNooB says:

    Dragon Quest is really too set in its ways for me to contemplate playing one that does not have stellar graphics …

  2. breaka666 says:

    that’s what’s always bugged me about dragonquest. why is the UI still shit in a menu based game? it’s like having a long running Action franchise that for traditions sake keeps bullshitty fixed cameras. Oh wait, that’s Devil May Cry ain’t it?

    @NooB – I wouldn’t bother even if it did look amazing. I played as much of DG VIII as I could stand and the shiny didn’t help much. a man can see only so many forests and green fields before he loses interest.

  3. SiliconNooB says:

    I didn’t finish my DQVIII playthrough either, but I felt that the time I did put in was worthwhile. I greatly enjoyed the charm of the presentation, but it wasn’t enough to sustain a game of its length.

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