Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dragon Quest 8, part 10

I finally acquired the power to fly in Dragon Quest 8, and it has really been a fun experience so far. The developers made exploration of the game's overworld a major part of the game's experience, and it shows in the way the game handles flight. I think the way the game handles this system has added quite a bit to the experience.

The flying system in Dragon Quest 8 is remarkably close to the system in the Square classic Secret of Mana. When the player uses the item that allows the party to fly, the game switches over to a more zoomed out and less detailed overworld. However, while this extended overworld doesn't let the player make out fine detail, it does let the player accurately see every hill, lake, house and road in the main overworld. When a player tries to land somewhere, the game drops the character off at the closest landing point available, typically near a geographic landmark. However, the number of landmarks makes it feel like the player can be dropped off anywhere on the map.

Of course, there are also plenty of areas that can only be reached by flying. What I like about the DQ8 system is that it makes it very clear where the player can and cannot land. There is a shadow made by the bird the player flies around as, and when the shadow is surrounded by a white border, the player can land at that spot. Furthermore, the special places that can only be reached by flying are visually distinctive. They often have unusually colored grass or dirt, and usually have a white cloud floating above them. These visual clues practically shout: "explore here!"

What really stands out about this system is that I have found quite a few surprises while just flying around continents I have explored already. For example, I was surprised to see a giant stone structure on top of a mountaintop while I was flying. I had passed by that mountain several times on foot earlier in the game, but I did not see it at all back then. Furthermore, the structure was not on the world map. I felt like I had suddenly stumbled across some amazing discovery. When I landed back down on the ground nearby, I was surprised to discover that it was possible to see a corner of the structure from the ground if you look at it from the right angle. RPGs rarely give that kind of feeling of sudden discovery.

Finding things like that stone structure or a ruined old house on a mountaintop near the first area of the game made flying a very fun experience in Dragon Quest 8. It really makes me disappointed that many RPGs of late, most notably the Final Fantasy series, have been limiting air travel to selecting a destination from a menu. Flying around in an airship or on the back of a bird or flying dragon can be made into a fun experience in of itself.

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