Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Dragon Quest 8, part 4

I am really surprised how easy of a time I have been having in Dragon Quest 8 right now. While there has been a recent sudden increase in the power of the monsters I am fighting in the last dungeon I went through, I had no trouble clearing the dungeon at all. This is particularly surprising considering how hard the early part of the game was. However, I guess that it reflects a general tendency of RPGs to become easier as the game progresses.

In the early stages of Dragon Quest 8, particularly before I recruited the full party, I was running into stretches of serious difficulty on a regular basis. For example, this go-through of the game stalled after I had my team wiped out by the second boss of the game multiple times. While I managed to defeat the game's third boss on my first try, I lost two out of my three characters in the attempt. I even lost a character to a rare monster I encountered while exploring around the overworld soon after the third boss battle. During those early parts of the game, I also found that I could only handle four or five consecutive battles in a new region of the overworld before I ran out of disposable resources.

Now though, I can run through brand new dungeons and overworld regions without much fear. I can even encounter enemies somewhat earlier than I am meant to and still have a fair chance of victory. I haven't even lost a party member since my run in with the rare monster I described above. The game just doesn't feel as hard anymore.

The reason the game isn't as difficult is due to the vastly increased options I now have over those early days. Thanks to higher levels, my characters have a lot more options when it comes to healing and defensive spells. Whereas early in the game, I only had one healer with limited MP (the main hero), few healing items, and no way to resurrect dead characters, I now have two healers (one of whom can regenerate his MP), a resurrection spell, and the ability to mass-produce healing items using the game's alchemy system. Furthermore, three of my four characters have special moves that can potentially prevent enemies from attacking. The addition of all of these things has made my team of heroes nearly impossible to kill in a game that I had pegged as extremely lethal when I first started playing it.

While this trend towards the game becoming easier as the player progresses is a fairly common element of RPGs due to this effect caused by increasing player options, I still don't like seeing the difficulty of a game change. The beginning of a game should not be the hardest part, since undue frustration might put off a new player. It also creates false expectations in the player about what the play experience of the game is going to be like. On the other hand, introducing more complexity and options to the player as he becomes familiar with the game isn't necessarily a bad idea, particularly since new character options, items, and abilities are all a kind of reward. So I am not really sure what can be done to tweak Dragon Quest 8's difficulty curve. Maybe I will get some ideas after playing it some more.

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