Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dragon Quest 4: Equipment and Nostalgia

When I first walked into an equipment shop in Dragon Quest IV: CHapters of the Chosen for the DS, I was greeted by a very familiar sight: a cypress stick, an oaken club, and a copper sword were for sale, along with wayfarer's clothes, leather armor, and a leather shield. For me, that simple list of weapons and armor is full of nostalgia that dates back to my earliest memories of playing console RPGs. The fact that the Dragon Quest series keeps even the list of low-level equipment more or less constant throughout is a pretty good example of how the series utilizes consistency in order to cultivate nostalgia. This is a sound strategy, since nostalgia can be a very powerful thing, since it is what drives people to become dedicated, long-term fans for a series.

The first console RPG I ever played was the original Dragon Quest, renamed Dragon Warrior in the US. By far, my strongest memory of the game is the decision the player faces at the very beginning of the game: to spend his meager amount of starting cash to buy an oaken club and a set of wayfarer's clothes, or to focus on defense and buy the cypress stick and a suit of leather armor. Since I have never put a whole lot of time into the game, I never really made it much further past that point. As a result, that early experience of shopping ended up being particularly memorable, especially since I repeated it several times to experiment with different starting equipment set-ups.

The next time I played a Dragon Quest game, it was Dragon Quest VIII, Journey of the Cursed King, for the PS2. Farebury, the very first town, had the same stick, club, copper sword, and leather armor that was available in the first shop in the original Dragon Quest. Based on some quick research on GameFAQs, it seems that this near-exact list of early equipment is available early on in pretty much every installment of the series. Even when I was playing Dragon Quest VIII, seeing a copper sword immediately brought my childhood memories of struggling to save up enough money to buy one in the original Dragon Warrior. I experience the exact same feelings of nostalgia when I started Dragon Quest IV last week. All it took was that little bit of familiarity to get me really excited about playing the game. The nostalgia value has been enhanced by the use of the same graphical representations for these pieces of equipment in both DQ IV and DQ VIII.

In the greater scheme of things, something like the names of early pieces of equipment is pretty minor. Yet, I would argue that nostalgia is built upon the familiarity of what would otherwise be inconsequential details. For that reason, I think maintaining consistency in things like monster choice, equipment choice, and so forth between different iterations of the same series is important. These things are what build recognition, familiarity, and nostalgia among fans. I believe the Dragon Quest series is a text-book example of all of this done right.

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