Monday, November 11, 2019

Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation Review

When I beat Dragon Quest XI, I was confused but intrigued. I had never played Dragon Quest III, so a lot of the references went right over my head, but I knew DQXI was constantly referencing it. I just didn’t know how much. Since then, I've wanted to play DQIII, but haven't had a good way to do so until now. An English port of the Super Famicom remake has been available on mobile for a while, but it had never been released on consoles in English until this Switch version, even though ports of the SFC remake have been released on Wii, PS4, and 3DS in Japan. I usually stay away from old-school RPGs, but I made an exception for this game, and I don't think I'll be picking up the Dragon Quest I and II remakes after this.

The main story in Dragon Quest III is very simple; you play as a teenager who is summoned by the king on their 16th Birthday. He wants you to kill the Archfiend Baramos. You're not a legendary hero or anything, you're just the son or daughter of the last guy who failed to kill the Archfiend. So, of course, you recruit a party of random mercenaries who have zero bearing on the story and set off on your adventure. The game’s story does get pretty good as you progress through the game, though. Like in other Dragon Quest games, each town has some self-contained scenario that ties into the overarching story on a more personal level. These always seem to be my favorite part of these games. There's tragic stories, funny stories, and of course, morals. I also enjoyed them because some are obviously the inspiration for some of the scenarios you see in DQXI. I often found myself thinking, “I saw this in DQXI but with an extra twist”. Now I want to play DQXI again.

Your party members don't play a part in the story because they are either recruited from a premade list or created by you. There's a bar in the starting town in which you can create a party member of any class. All non-Hero party members can also switch classes at level 20 and keep the old class' spells, so you can have a mage switch to warrior and have a tanky mage if you want. I like the level of customization this system allows for, but I like party members with a story even more. Dragon Quest VI had both a class system and story characters, and I liked that much better.

I wish I had played Dragon Quest III back in the day, but I didn’t start playing RPGs until Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. I have no nostalgia for NES RPGs, and at its core, that’s what this game is. It has a modern DQ UI and SNES era graphics, but it plays like an NES game. When you talk to the king, he simply tells you to take care of the Archfiend. There's no big cutscene explaining things, and he doesn’t tell you where to go or what to do. You have to figure everything out by talking to villagers and exploring the world.

The game starts off fairly linearly, but quickly opens up when you get a ship and are free to sail all over the world. I've played the DS remakes, so the sudden shift to a non-linear open world adventure wasn't a big surprise, but I still found the lack of direction a bit frustrating. I don't think anyone even told me I had to collect orbs like Dragon Balls. I actually got one orb before running into the altar of the Bird God and putting 2 and 2 together. Even though you are free to go anywhere at this point, that doesn't mean you should because monsters don't scale to your level. That first orb I got was from Orochi, a dragon in a cave that was probably one of the last places I should have gone to. There's also no way to tell what level the monsters will be in an area since this game has random encounters. Lots and lots of random encounters.

It seems like there's a random battle every five steps you take in any direction anywhere outside of towns. This is to be expected from old RPGs, but it gets really annoying when you’re aimlessly sailing around the world in search of the next town with an orb to advance the story and you’re spending most of your travel time fighting monsters. I rarely had to grind for equipment money because I always had tons of gold from fighting. Thankfully, there is a Zoom spell, so you don’t have to travel everywhere by foot or ship after you discover a town, but it doesn't let you Zoom everywhere, just the main towns. There is a Holy Water item that’s supposed to keep some monsters away, but it doesn’t work like Repel from Pokemon games, you still have to fight at least every ten steps.

Another thing that makes this game more work than it needed to be is the way that NPCs talk. The localization uses heavy accents with non-English words mixed in, combined with Yoda-like backwards speech patterns, and lots of thous, thys, thees, and eths at the end of words for no good reason other than to make them soundeth like Old English. Nobody talks like this in real life. It makes gathering information about what to do a real chore. It’s really hard to separate flavor text from hints when people talk like French Yoda from the 5th century.

There are a lot of very bad and puzzling things about the graphics in this version of the game. It uses the SNES game as a base, but for whatever reason, they felt like they had to mess around with the original sprites, and the results are never good. The backgrounds are the only thing that looks okay because they didn’t mess with them. All the character sprites look like they have one of those gross emulator smoothing filters on, but they still look pixelated around the edges as if they were scaled up from a lower resolution after the filter was applied. All the battle backgrounds have been cut down to a small window around the monsters and also have an ugly smoothing filter on them. The monster art looks like it has been replaced with key Dragon Quest art, like what you’d see in a manual or guide. That Akira Toriyama art looks great, but it's not animated like the sprites in the SFC version. I don't understand the logic behind that at all. Why even touch them if you're going to remove the animations? Who could possibly see this as an improvement? The scrolling in this version also looks very choppy, like it’s skipping a ton of frames.

The music is technically in a higher quality than the SFC version's, but it sounds like its missing instruments. It sounds very weak and flat compared to the original soundtrack. I feel like I always diss the music in these games, but I don't hate DQ music. I actually like the songs. It's just that they all sound the same. I've heard every single one of these songs in other games, and in better quality in games that were released before this. There are fully orchestrated versions of these songs out there, so why are those not in this version?

I was really curious about DQIII after playing DQXI, so I just had to play this, but I can’t recommend it to anyone looking for a fun RPG on Switch. Buy DQXI for that. Then if you're really curious about DQIII, maybe get this. It's better than the mobile port, at least. It’s not just that it has terrible graphics and lame music, it's just too old-school and not that fun to play. There’s too much aimless wandering around, too many random battles, and the localization is incredibly annoying to read. What Dragon Quest III really needs is another remake, not more ports of this. I feel like this could be a great game if it played more like DQXI and less like an NES game.