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In Defence of Dragon Quest: Your Story

For an American JRPG fan, I am something of an oddity. Even though I got into JRPGs at the height of Final Fantasy-mania in the late ’90s, that is not the SquareEnix franchise that I am most familiar with. While I like the games I’ve played, there’s another SquareEnix franchise I tend to get more excited about. That franchise is Yuji Horii’s Dragon Quest series.

I have experienced most of the mainline games in some form or another, whether by playing them firsthand or by going through a let’s play of it, and I thoroughly enjoy them. While my knowledge of the series is far from exhaustive, among a certain set of my friends, I am the Dragon Quest guy.

Image Credit: Dragon Quest: Your Story – Netflix

Dragon Quest’s Role in my Life

Dragon Quest has become a part of my relationship with my girlfriend as well. She was not hugely familiar with the series, but she saw how excited I got about Dragon Quest XI and wanted to see what I was seeing. On date nights, we will stream the game to each other. For Christmas last year I got her the artbook. We have gone through lets plays of some of the other games together, like the dorks we are. It is a series that has become very special for both of us.

So, obviously, when we were scrolling through Netflix this past Valentine’s Day, Dragon Quest: Your Story immediately caught our eye. The movie was originally released in Japan in 2019 but came out worldwide to Netflix on February 13, 2020. It is loosely an adaptation of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, one of the most beloved entries in the franchise, and one that my girlfriend and I are quite fond of.

Film adaptations of video games tend to be divisive, and Dragon Quest: Your Story is no exception. I have seen numerous Dragon Quest fans come down hard on certain aspects of the movie. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dragon Quest Your Story
Image Credit: Dragon Quest: Your Story – Netflix

Dragon Quest is kind of a niche series in the West as opposed to Japan, where it is among the most popular franchises in history. There is a good chance that if you are reading this, you have already seen the movie. Still, I do recognize that some of you may not have seen the movie yet.

So, the rest of the article is in two sections: the section that assumes you’ve played the game before (much like the movie does), and the section that assumes you have seen the movie already. If you have not played the game, there is a mobile port available on GooglePlay, and there are far worse ways to spend your time.

I Have Played The Game

As previously mentioned, Dragon Quest: Your Story is a loose adaptation of Dragon Quest V. It follows the tale of a young boy, Luca, who is on a journey with his father Pankraz to rescue the boy’s mother from an evil cult of monsters. Along the way, Luca befriends a young girl named Bianca and a sabrecub, Purrcy. Luca winds up being captured by the evil Bishop Ladja, witnesses his father’s death, grows up and attempts to learn to be a hero. The stories of Dragon Quest tend to be standard hero’s journey tropes, and the movie adaptation is no exception. Even though I was already familiar with this story, I still thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Luca’s Second Child

Much like any other film adaptation of a video game, Dragon Quest: Your Story must be pragmatic in what it portrays. Attempting to recreate every single detail of the game would result in something that you probably would not want to sit through in one session. As such, there are parts of the game, parts of the story, that wind up on the cutting room floor. The one I tend to see people complain about the most is Luca’s daughter is removed from the story.

Dragon Quest
Hero’s Daughter – Dragon Quest V (Source)

Luca’s daughter is important from a gameplay standpoint. She helps round out your party, giving you a solid magic-user for the last chunk of the game. From a narrative standpoint, she does not add enough to the story in which the Hero’s son does not already add. The son is the Zenithian Hero. He can use the legendary Zenithian Gear to defeat evil. The daughter is, well, she is just kind of there. It pains me to say it but it is understandable why she was cut from the movie.

The Differences Between Game and Movie

There are certainly some changes the movie makes to the game lore that I adore. In the game, Bjorn the Behemoose was a boss fight centered around the wedding plot. There is nothing inherently wrong with this in the game. But by making Luca befriend him in the film, it not only illustrates the monster befriending ability from the game but sets up an awesome Chekhov’s Gun for the final battle against Bishop Ladja.

And speaking of Bishop Ladja, I love what they did with him. Dragon Quest villains are not exactly known for having deep and riveting backstories (with one or two exceptions). Ladja falls into the mold of “cackling, evil for the sake of evil” villain. But the filmmakers do such a good job of making him utterly despicable. There is almost a Joker-esque quality to the villain: utterly deplorable, yet still incredibly charming to watch. He definitely rates among my favorite Dragon Quest villains.

The Wedding

Of course, no discussion of Dragon Quest V would be complete without the wedding. While Dragon Quest usually plays up the hero as the strong, silent type, that obviously does not work well for this sort of adaptation. Instead, the film decides to roll with the awkwardness of everything. Luca and Nera are obviously attracted to each other but do not know how to express it entirely. And there is, of course, Luca’s childhood friend Bianca to deal with. Luca very much seems like he’s out of his depth in this scenario, and comes off as more than a little dorky.

Dragon Quest Nera
Image Credit: Dragon Quest: Your Story – Netflix

It makes perfect sense. Luca has either been on the road or a slave most of his life. He has not had a typical upbringing and is still learning about relationships and feelings. Heck, he is canonically a teenager at this point of the story. Their brains are not fully developed, and they are riddled with those good ol’ teenage hormones, which make everything more confusing. I enjoyed the way the resolution played out.

Overall, it’s a fun adaptation of a fun game. Does it get every detail right? Absolutely not. But it generally stays true to the spirit of Dragon Quest V, and chances are if you enjoy the game, you will enjoy the movie.

I Have Seen The Movie

All right, are all the people who are not already familiar with the movie gone? Good. Time to address the elephant in the room: The Ending.

This is the thing that most people being up about the movie. We learn at the end of the movie is that this was not actually a straight adaptation of Dragon Quest V at all. The entire movie is based on something straight out of the matrix. Someone living 20 minutes into the future is playing a virtual version of Dragon Quest V. And the final boss, Grandmaster Nimzo? He has been replaced by a computer virus, designed to ruin the game experience for the player, which even tells him to “Grow up, loser.”

Dragon Quest antivirus

The hero rallies, remembering all the good memories the game gave him as a kid, and with the help of the Slime that has been with him most of the game (which is actually an antivirus program), he destroys the virus, saves the day, and vows to remember this experience of the game.

“This is made of cat drugs.”

My exact words to my girlfriend were, “This is made of cat drugs.” It is not foreshadowed fantastically, and unless you know it’s coming, it can feel like a little bit of a sucker punch. Especially if you were just expecting a straight adaptation of Dragon Quest V. And there is definitely a good chunk of the fanbase that didn’t entirely appreciate that ending.

That said, I personally wound up enjoying it. And I feel that the people who complain more about, “They ruined a decent adaptation of Dragon Quest V with this” may be missing the point a little bit. And for this, I’m going to have to go a little bit art house, so bear with me for a minute.

Dragon Quest: Your Story - Netflix
Image Credit: Dragon Quest: Your Story – Netflix

This movie was made for Dragon Quest fans. Now, in Japan, that is a sizeable chunk of the gaming population. In the West, it is a significantly smaller portion. But the movie is assuming that, if you are watching it, then you are familiar with this series, and with this game. You know the story, how Luca was not the Legendary Hero, and that his child will be. You’re aware he time travels to get the golden orb, and that he defeats Bishop Ladja, thwarts Grandmaster Nimzo, and that good triumphs over evil. You know all this. You’ve seen the story, you’ve played the game, you already know this inside and out.

And that is not the point of the movie. Look at the title again.

Dragon Quest: Your Story

This film, ultimately, is not about the tale of Dragon Quest V. No, what it is about is the fans of the franchise. Why they love the games, and what brings them back to it. I have seen more than one JRPG fan bash Dragon Quest for being formulaic. The villain of the ending, the person who made the computer virus, pretty much did it to make fun of fans playing this childish game (“Grow up, loser”).

The hero can overcome this because he remembers how much joy Dragon Quest gave him as a child. He comes back to these stories, formulaic as they are because they inspire him. They remind him that, as dark as the world can be, good exists, and that it can overcome great evil. It is not just about the games: it is about what the games teach us. About ourselves, the world, and what we can become. To butcher a Discworldism, the games teach us to believe in the small things so that we can believe in the big ones.

It is About US

Now, was the movie hamfisted in its approach to this? A little. Could it have been foreshadowed better? Definitely. Was the execution rough? Certainly. But it is attempting to take a Gaimanesque or Pratchettesque approach to the power that a story can have. This series is over 30 years old; it invented the JRPG genre, and fans keep coming back to it. Because they want to believe that there is a light shining in the darkness.

Hero and Bianca

This movie is not about Dragon Quest V. It is not even necessarily about Dragon Quest. No, what it is about, is us. What inspires us, and what moves us to greatness. Sure, some of those things may seem small, silly, simplistic, and even childish. But starting small is how you become big.

I loved this movie. Not just because it was a fun adaptation of a video game that I adore. But because it reminded me of the power that these games, that stories can have in our lives. All stories get inspired by something. What will be yours?