Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Dragon Quest Series's Heal All Option

All credit to my friend Queelez for this rant. And, honestly, quite a few of the rants that I’ve done in the past. The guy’s a great source of topic ideas. Cheers, mate!

...Now finish that guest rant you promised me! You can’t reveal to me a whole new fascinating perspective on an RPG I played decades ago and then NOT follow through with a rant about it!

Ahem.



You may have noticed that I don’t have a lot of good things to say about the Dragon Quest series as a whole.* DQ games tend to be generic to an extreme, feature a cast utterly devoid of defining characteristics, and be engaged in a fierce competition with Suikoden 4, Rune Factory 1, and Ricky Gervais over who’s the most potent sedative. You know how I can be sure that the conspiracy theorists are wrong, and the government’s reason for putting fluoride in our water isn’t to make its citizens docile and complacent? Because if Uncle Sam really were trying to do that, he’d get serious, ditch the fluoride, and slip some Dragon Quest 6 into our pipelines.

Some of the cause for this problem in the DQ series comes from its overall goal and premise, that being that Dragon Quest seeks to be a ‘traditional’ RPG, maintaining a ‘classic’ feel like it had in its beginnings back on the NES. This shouldn’t actually be a problem, of course, except that someone at Enix and now SquareEnix apparently thinks that part of that tradition should be a bland plot with characters who have more in common intellectually and emotionally with a tree stump than they do human beings.**

With all of that said...there is 1 aspect of Dragon Quest that’s pretty forward-thinking. In fact, in this regard, the series has been ahead of its genre for over 20 years: the Heal All menu option.

Allow me to explain, for those amongst you possessing enough luck or sense not to have played a Dragon Quest before. So, you’re in a random battle, right? During the course of the battle, your foes manage to get in some good licks on a few of your characters, so when you finally emerge from the fight victorious, your party needs some healing before continuing. Standard stuff, right? Of course. So you open your menu, select your party’s healer, and either have to heal every party member 1 by 1, or spend probably more MP than was necessary for the convenience of a party-wide healing spell, assuming you have that option to begin with. Mildly annoying to have to do frequently, but it comes with the RPG territory, right? We put up with it as players because we have to.

Except that we don’t have to. Not in Dragon Quest, at least.

Since early in the series--I couldn’t say when, exactly, having never played anything before DQ4, but Queelez reports that the option is present at least as early as DQ3--there has been an option in the menu of Dragon Quest games called Heal All, which just does all that crap for you. You select Heal All, and the game automatically has whatever members of your party are capable of casting healing spells bring everyone in the party back to full health (or as close to it as possible, if your MP is running out). As far as my experience goes, most of the DQ games I’ve played are even fairly economical about the process, too, not usually wasting MP on larger spells if smaller ones will do the trick, at least as far as I’ve noticed. Then again, when I’m doing the healing myself, I’m usually lazy enough to just select the biggest all-healing spell I can get and be done with it, so what seems efficient to me might not seem that way to you. Nonetheless, it’s not as wasteful and lazy as I am, so, y’know, that’s a plus for me, at least.

Needless to say, this is a fantastically convenient and useful little gameplay feature, and regardless of my feelings for the series as a whole, I give it and its developers full credit for coming up with it. Heal All may not seem like that big a deal in the long run, saving only seconds at a time, but think about just how many damn times you wind up going through the process of after-battle healing in an RPG. Especially a Dragon Quest game, whose traditional difficulty level means a higher than average frequency of post-battle boo-boo bandaging. At Hour 39 of the game, after your 1245th random encounter, those seconds saved from each healing session thanks to Heal All are probably going to have accumulated close to half an hour altogether! And let’s face it, folks--can anyone really argue that being able to press a single button rather than navigating 5 extra menu options every damn time you want to take care of the most basic gameplay process of an RPG is a bad thing? I love Heal All for the convenience alone, let alone the time and admittedly tiny effort it saves.

The question I have is, why the hell hasn’t the rest of the RPG world caught up with this damn concept? This isn’t a new feature for Dragon Quest! Like I said, this hearkens back to some of the series’s earliest titles! What, the mighty NES could handle the lines of code for the feature, but a fucking Playstation 4 can’t? Were the early guys at Enix some sort of coding savants, incapable of writing a genuinely interesting plot twist or convincing line of dialogue but able to create some master healing logarithm that the entire rest of the gaming industry can’t hope to recreate? Did Enix take a patent out on this single menu option? I want to know, RPG industry, what’s the hold-up on this convenient, useful, seemingly-obvious-on-a-common-sense-level feature being a standard for menu-based games?

Sorry, but the situation just kind of annoys me. It would be nice if I didn’t have to reluctantly admit that a series I don’t like made by a company that I can’t stand is STILL, after over 2 decades, ahead of practically every competitor in terms of such a patently obvious gameplay feature. A series that takes pride in having its head shoved up the ass of its own history, for that matter. This is like if your mentally unstable grandpappy, who still thinks he’s flying a B-52 under the command of General Lee against the Visigoths, had invented a can opener back when he was 12 and is STILL the only person on the face of the planet who recognizes its utility. I mean, I’ve played close to 300 RPGs now. While obviously I can’t claim to value my time all that highly, especially since some of those 300 were Quest 64 and the Golden Sun series, I still feel a certain righteous annoyance when I think about how many hours of my life could have been saved, ultimately, if I’d had a Heal All option in the majority of those games. When is the damn industry as a whole going to catch up on this issue?

So, in the end, I say kudos to you, Dragon Quest. I gotta hand it to you--you’ve had a legitimately good gameplay idea, and it has been yours and yours alone. I may criticize you for being hella dumb, but in this regard, every other game, series, and company in the industry, at least that I can recall, is apparently much, much dumber.













* Except DQ8. I still have no idea how such a solid RPG came about from this dull as dirt series.


** The rest of the problem, of course, is probably just overall incompetence being the official business plan for Enix and SquareEnix’s writing staff.

7 comments:

  1. One correction: a programming algorithm (not logarithm, even though they're anagrams) are the lines of code/instructions to make a computer go through a specific task.

    DQ8 had at least 14 people working on the story-related aspects (image; source) which seems to be a recipe for disaster like FF12.

    Another (probably similar) basic gameplay idea that I like that hasn't been adopted in other RPGs is Lufia 2's magic system. Any spell that you can cast on a single enemy/ally also be casted on a range of enemies/allies (the spell costs the same amount of MP, but the potency decreases depending on how many targets are selected). It's useful for me since there are situations where I have multiple allies on the verge of death since I could heal both of them and avoid their deaths in one turn instead of healing one ally, while the other might die.

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    1. And now I know that much more.

      Yeah, Lufia 2 was good that way, but there've been a fair few RPGs that have done that. Off the top of my head, I'm pretty sure Final Fantasy 6 did with the regular magic, and I know FF Mystic Quest did. I haven't played an RPG for a while that's used that magic system, though. Someone needs to bring that back.

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  2. Personally, DQ is my favorite console RPG series since it avoids most of the crap I dislike in the genre. One really good aspect is its traditional difficulty that is still present in later entries. DQ8 has quite difficult encounters and requires conserving your mana in dungeons which I've always loved about the NES entries.
    Furthermore, the battles are FAST - I despair over most PS1/PS2 bigname RPGs for having all those long animations and gratuitous camera panning. I cannot emphasize enough how annoying lenghty attacks are in games with a whole bunch of turn-based fighting.

    Another aspect I like are the plots - mainly episodic and devoid of tiresome japanese cliches you find in these games all the time. I never could stand the Final Fantasy school of drama and pretentiousness. Dragon Quest's fairly classic plots make it easy to play the games over a large span of time since the story never overshadows the gameplay - they're about the only RPGs I comfortably got back to after several months and didn't feel lost.

    Recently, I finally caved to the pressure and decided to try Chrono Trigger. After all, this is a jRPG classic and should be much better than boring old DQ, right? Not really. The truth is, once you get over the initially fascinating plot, the game itself is rather boring and painfully easy. It's just about impossible to be seriously challenged outside of a boss battle, you gain varioud instakill abilities and end up with inventories full of unused potions, the sure mark of a badly balanced game.

    When it comes down to it, I stick with DQ because I've found every entry in the series to be meticulously well-designed. All your fancy plots and advanced mechanics don't mean anything if all the enemies are insignicant obstacles to the next cinematic. Though I will admit that some of the post-SNES entries made questionable decisions.

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  3. I don't remember this being an option in the NES version of DW3. I haven't played DW4 yet, so can't confirm it's there.

    I think this was first an option in the gold box games starting with Curse of the Azure Bonds. The Fix command in camp was a godsend for that game because not only did you have to select individual spells to cast, but had to select them again to memorize.

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  4. Chrono Cross has that after-battle option to automatically use up remaining "element power" whatever it was called to use healing elements on the party. There were a couple of ways of having the game going about it, to boot, maybe by including/excluding consumables.

    Quality-of-life features are becoming more and more out of touch over the years, mostly out of not advancing much over time. I'm frankly shocked and dismayed at all the things games won't do or allow me to do, from auto-healing to adjusting (or even looking at) ally AI to volume mixing to registering character builds for instant "class changing".

    "I mean, I’ve played close to 300 RPGs now. While obviously I can’t claim to value my time all that highly, especially since some of those 300 were Quest 64 and the *~Golden Sun~* series"

    Hey. HEY. There's mediocre to the extreme, and there's aggressively bad. If you aren't willing to acknowledge the distinction, flintlocks at dawn.

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    1. Shoot, I think I completely forgot that option in CC. Well, damn. Why is it all the shitty games get this great feature?

      (Also, I have discovered that Dragon Fantasy 1 has this Heal All option, but I don't know if you can count that, given that it's deliberately a spoof of 8-bit RPGs, the most prominent of which being Dragon Quest).

      Sure, sure, flintlocks at dawn, but before I'm shot, can you clarify which of those titles were aggressively bad? Cuz the plots and characters of Q64 and the GS series were all equally uninteresting to me, but I'd say neither was aggressively bad.

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    2. Never played Quest 64, and the slow summer that was '04 may be coloring my perception of Golden Sun 1/2 into the realm of Aight as opposed to Ugh. I'm sure as hell not willing to prepare a defense.

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