Celebrating Dragon Quest
A lot of major video game franchises are having landmark anniversaries this year: Zelda is turning thirty-five, Sonic is celebrating its twenty-fifth, Donkey Kong is turning forty. While a bunch of these are generating a ton of noise from their fandoms, there’s a couple that I feel are relatively flying under the radar. Maybe it’s the gaming circles I hang out in, maybe it’s a side effect of living in the US. But while I see a lot of people clamoring for a big Zelda or Metroid celebration, I don’t see nearly as much excitement for the upcoming Dragon Quest thirty-fifth anniversary.
Honestly, I think that’s a shame. While the series never managed to get as big in the West as Final Fantasy, it is an important one. Yuji Horii’s baby was basically the thing that invented the JRPG and is one of the most beloved franchises in Japan. Gaming historians consider Dragon Quest III to possibly be the most influential Japanese video game ever made. And it is a series I absolutely adore.
So, as part of my attempt to celebrate this series, I thought I’d kick things off by talking about some of my favorite party members in the game. Keep in mind, I haven’t actually experienced Dragon Quest VIII in any fashion (which by all accounts has some of the best characters in the franchise). As such, fans of the franchise are definitely going to notice some gaps in my list. But, with that said, let’s celebrate one of the most iconic JRPG franchises of all time.
RAGNAR MCRYAN – DRAGON QUEST IV
While Dragon Quest IV does have a central story to it, this core story is in turn driven by the tales of individual character. In fact, in the original NES release of the game, you don’t meet the main character for quite a while. Instead, you play several chapters focused on each of the party members. Those of you out there who have experienced Mother 3, this is where they got the idea from. And the first character that we experience is Ragnar McRyan.
Mechanistically, there is nothing all that interesting about Ragnar. He’s sort of the vanilla fighter of the game, receiving no magical abilities. He basically hits things with swords and is good at taking a beating! In terms of gameplay, compared to the other party members, that’s not necessarily all that interesting. He’s certainly useful, but not flashy.
The main reason I love him is the nature of his story. Ragnar is a town guard. Children have started to go missing, and he and his cohorts are tasked with finding them. Over the course of this adventure, Ragnar learns that these abductions are related to bigger things going on in the world, that they’re part of a greater evil plot. He successfully rescues the children (and several other people), thus completing his mission.
But he also decides he’s not done yet. Upon completion of this task, his king asks him what reward he would like. Ragnar concludes that even though he rescued these children, they still aren’t safe as long as there is a greater evil in the world. Ragnar asks to be allowed to go on a journey to find the Legendary Hero. Because, darn it, when Ragnar sets out to save all the children, he is going to save ALL the children. The sheer determination of this regular guard, who could be an NPC in any other game, makes him a hero in my book.
BIANCA WHITAKER – DRAGON QUEST V
Dragon Quest V is one of the most beloved entries in the series. While it is hard for me personally to pick a favorite entry in the series, V is certainly up there. Following the journey of one person’s battle against evil over the course of his entire life, this game certainly packs an emotional wallop.
And of course, one of the things that everyone remembers about this game is the marriage story. At one point in the game, the Hero discovers that one of the legendary artifacts he’s questing for, the Zenithian Shield, is owned by the wealthy Rodrigo Briscoletti, and will be given to the man who marries his daughter Nera. This results in the hero going on a quest to prove himself worthy and results in him having to choose between a few different women to marry.
One of these women, the one who is more or less the “canon” choice, is Bianca Whitaker. Choosing her as a bride feels the most narratively satisfying to me: she is a childhood friend of the hero, they go on a small adventure together when they are young, and promise to always be friends even when they’re far apart. The memory of Bianca is an important part of recruiting another party member on this list. And when the Hero goes on his quest to prove himself to Rodrigo Briscoletti many years later, Bianca joins him on the adventure without hesitation, even though it means she may lose him forever. That lifelong bond gives marrying her SUCH an emotional payoff. It’s incredibly difficult for me not to choose Bianca when I go through the game.
THE HERO – DRAGON QUEST IX
I will be the first to admit that this is an odd choice. Because IX was designed to be multiplayer, and because it uses the job system similar to the way that the third game in the series does, every party member in the game is effectively a blank slate. The focus is generally less on the party members and more on the events surrounding the party.
But that isn’t to say that the Hero doesn’t have a story in IX. In this game, you are a Celestrian, essentially an angel. You have been tasked to do good for the people in the world below, and once the Celestrians have done enough, they will get carried off to a promised reward. The plot of the game kicks off because things go wrong during the course of this.
Over the events of the story, you come to understand something. While most of the Celestrians are doing good things, they’re not doing it necessarily for the right reasons. They’re doing it for the reward. The player character, on the other hand, comes to actually legitimately care for the human beings in the world, and begins to do the right thing not because they expect anything out of it, but solely out of the goodness of their heart. Ultimately, you get a surprisingly moving tale about sacrifice out of this game that, on the surface, is very silly. And for that, I adore the Hero in Dragon Quest IX.
ERIK – DRAGON QUEST XI
My girlfriend and I each have copies of Dragon Quest XI. The franchise has become part of our relationship, and we have (very slowly) been going through the game together. It’s a fun way to have low-key date nights, and Dragon Quest XI has become one of our favorite games ever.
I don’t usually get into the whole “shipping” scene for video game characters. Don’t know why, guess I’m just not wired that way. But as we were going through the early parts of Dragon Quest XI, and the Hero (who we named Potato) and Erik break out of prison, my girlfriend and I had the exact same thought at the exact same time: “I ship it!”
Something about Erik’s immediate bond with the Luminary struck a chord with both of us. His general snarky nature and his less-than-legal solutions to most problems make him an incredibly fun party member. In a game full of amazing characters, he certainly is one that I have a lot of fun with. And his various thief abilities certainly don’t hurt anything either.
AMOS – DRAGON QUEST VI
After the powerhouse that was Dragon Quest V, the sixth entry in the series is considered something of a letdown by many of the fandom. It is by no means a bad game; the utilization of the job system is definitely a fun one, and I thoroughly enjoyed playing through it back when I had a copy. But it is much less character driven than the previous entries were, and has less of an emotional impact. In fact, when I was brainstorming for this list, I had trouble remembering details about any of the characters from this game.
The exception to that is Amos. Amos is kind of a secret party member you can get, in that you have to go out of your way to find him, and don’t recruit him as part of the main story. But, if you go off the beaten path, you discover a small town that is being attacked by a monster at night. They have utter faith in their local hero Amos’s ability to protect them from this threat. But not all is as it seems, and you have to go on a little sidequest to help Amos with this. Once you do, he happily joins you in your quest to stop Mortamor from conquering everything.
Amos is a small-time hero. He knows it. He’s from a town out in the sticks, where he happens to be a big fish in a small pond. He is well aware of the fact that he is out of his depth when it comes to your adventure to battle demons. And he doesn’t care. His simple, country bumpkin nature adds a lot of fish-out-of-water charm to him, which gives him some hilarious pieces of dialogue. Of all the characters in VI, he is the one who sticks out in my mind the most. And I love him for it.
THE SABER CAT – DRAGON QUEST V
In the late nineties, the world was introduced to something that would become the biggest multimedia franchise on Earth. A game series that no one at Nintendo thought would succeed, but wound up injecting new life into the Game Boy, extending its lifespan and helping it continue to be the king of the handhelds for several years more. I am, of course, talking about Pokemon, a franchise where you catch and battle monsters. Dragon Quest V did it first.
One of the mechanics of the game was that, when you fought certain monster types, there was a random chance that you would wind up befriending it at the end of the fight, and could use it as a party member. While this isn’t as useful in the later parts of the game, when you have a bunch of incredibly powerful party members at your disposal, this is a godsend in the midgame.
And my absolute favorite of these monsters is the Saber Cat. In the first part of the game, the Hero and Bianca rescue a saber cub from some bullies, and the Hero keeps it as a pet. Events cause the Hero and the saber cub to be separated, but many years later, the Hero discovers a town troubled by a wild monster. He goes to battle it, and it recognizes him. It’s the cub he befriended, all grown up, and it immediately joins him on his journey, becoming a useful fast attacker, a symbol of childhood friendship, and a lifelong companion for the hero. While other monsters that you can recruit have flashier abilities, none of them have the emotional impact lost friends reuniting, and it is definitely a moment I love in this game.
TSAREVNA ALENA – DRAGON QUEST IV
In a lot of games, a Princess character is a soft-spoken, demure individual. They behave with grace and class. They are often some sort of magic user because only classless brutes engage in physical combat. These princesses are often the peacemaker in the party, the diplomat, and unfortunately, often have to be rescued repeatedly.
Alena’s father WISHES she was like that. He has gotten her tutors in magic, diplomacy, geopolitics, elocution. She is not interested in any of them. The main thing she is interested in is kicking butt. Much like Ragnar, she is a physically oriented character, but whereas Ragnar is a knight, she is more a martial artist, with higher speed, and much more limited equipment options. Her storyline involves her kicking a hole in one of the walls of her home castle so she can leave and go on adventures. Her beleaguered magic tutor Borya and her best friend Kiryl sneak out to follow her, in an attempt to keep her from getting into too much trouble.
Alena is a lot of fun. There’s a lot of humor among her group, whether it’s Kiryls awkward attempts to romance her, Borya trying to rein the group, or Alena just being Alena. And there’s something to be said for a character who wants to prove themselves to the world. Especially if they want to do so by punching the entire world in its cocky face.
SYLVANDO – DRAGON QUEST XI
Jesters and minstrels have long been a staple of the Dragon Quest franchise, and Dragon Quest XI is no exception. Sylvando is a mysterious well-to-do traveling entertainer that the party encounters. After assisting the party with a monster, and learning what they are up against and attempting to do, Sylvando joins them on their quest.
I was not expecting to enjoy Sylvando as a character as much as I do. In a game full of characters that I adore, Sylvando stands out. He doesn’t just view entertainment as a job; he believes that making the world smile is his sacred duty, and (as he demonstrates when you first meet him), he takes the idea of duty VERY seriously. Whether it is through juggling, dancing, tumbling, or thwacking evil-doers with a sword, Sylvando will do anything he can to ensure that the world smiles.
The juxtaposition of his utter hilarious campiness with his serious devotion to making sure that the world is a brighter, happier place is an interesting one, and once you learn his backstory, it makes absolutely perfect sense. And it certainly adds to an idea prevalent in the series; there is more than one way to help save the world. Sometimes you don’t need a strong arm or a tome of eldritch lore. Sometimes, what you need is a heart full of compassion and a desire to make someone smile. And believe me, underneath the camp and the silliness, Sylvando has an iron will and a heart of gold.
RUFF – DRAGON QUEST VII
The seventh entry in the Dragon Quest franchise is a bit of an odd duck, in that it’s the one I tend to hear people talk about the least. For a while, it was the best-selling entry in the series, being the first one released outside of Japan since IV, and coming after a long gap from VI. But, much as I love this particular game, and consider it to be one of the most ambitious in the franchise, it does tend to get overshadowed a bit by other entries in the series. And, much like VI, I tend to find that the party members didn’t leave much of an impact on me (as opposed to games like IV or XI).
That said, I have a soft spot in my heart for Ruff. Ruff is actually a wolf cub, the scion of a legendary protector wolf, who has been turned into a human. As such, a lot of his dialogue involves him being perplexed by human behavior, or indulging in his wild side. Most of the humor centered around Ruff is the fact that he is a dog in a human body, behaves as such. It adds a certain charm to the character.
He is also the party member who is most consistently around in game. Once you recruit him, he never leaves the party. Combine this with the way the job system works in this game, and the fact that he is the one character who can naturally take monster vocations, and Ruff tends to be the most useful party member you have by the end of the game. He is a lot of fun to use, and his antics are entertaining.
DEBORA BRISCOLETTI- DRAGON QUEST V
When Dragon Quest V was re-released for the DS, several things in it got reworked. But one of the most notable changes to it involved the marriage section. In the original SNES game, you had two choices for marriage: either Bianca, the Hero’s childhood friend, or Nera, the beautiful and demure daughter of the wealthy Rodrigo Briscoletti. While Bianca is a little more rough and tumble than Nera, they were both pretty traditionally feminine characters, following the Hero’s lead.
Well, the DS remake added a third bride: Nera’s adopted older sister Debora. She takes one look at the more traditionally female gender roles and wants no part of it. She is not afraid to be loud, crude, and to say what she thinks. Her father believes that no one would ever be willing to marry this rambunctious woman.
As much as Bianca tends to be my first choice in the game (not that there is a wrong choice), I’ve got to admit, I find Debora to be a lot of fun. Mechanically, she’s more physically oriented than the other two brides, and, honestly, her personality is a lot of fun. There definitely isn’t a wrong choice when picking a bride in Dragon Quest V, and Debora is definitely worth experiencing in game.
TORNEKO TALOON – DRAGON QUEST IV
As you can probably tell from this list, I REALLY like Dragon Quest IV. The fact that it is so driven by the individual party members means that each of those characters sticks out so vividly in my mind. And I must admit, I had trouble not making the entire list just characters from that particular game. But there is one character from that game that people tend to remember more than any of the other members of the incredibly colorful cast: Torneko Taloon: Merchant Extraordinaire.
Of all the chapters in Dragon Quest IV, Torneko’s is the most unusual. Torneko starts off working at a shop, trying to provide for his family. In an attempt to make a better life for himself, he sets off to seek his fortune. In the course of this, he becomes a major force in international politics, and can eventually set up his own shop (which can be very useful in breaking the game). He eventually sets off to find some legendary equipment, to truly become the best merchant in the world. This and his actions promoting international unity attract the forces of evil to him, causing him to team up with the Hero.
The offbeat nature of Torneko’s chapter makes it not only one of the most memorable parts of the game, but one of the most memorable sections of the franchise. And as a party member, Torneko himself is incredibly entertaining. While his stats are nothing to write home about, he has some useful field abilities (being able to appraise goods for you, among other nice utility powers).
In battle, Torneko has the chance to do several random actions. Ever wanted to see someone summon an army of merchants to beat up that horde of enemies attacking you? Torneko can do that. Ever want to see someone shame the enemy into ceasing their actions? Torneko can do that. Ever want to see someone tell a pun so bad that the gods themselves face-fault? Torneko can do that. In a game full of amazing, loveable, and fun characters, it is incredibly hard not to enjoy Torneko Taloon.
Who Did I Miss?
There are so many more characters I could talk about in this storied franchise, and there are definitely some I haven’t experienced. Who are some of your favorites? Why do you love them? Feel free to give your thoughts in the comments.