After years of development, Square Enix has finally released Dragon Quest X, their massively multiplayer online swan song for the Wii.
Dragon Quest X released to relatively small fanfare. Its Thursday release is unheard of for a Dragon Quest game, which are generally released over the weekend so people don’t take work off in droves to play them. Its predecessor, Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS, sold over 2 million copies in just a few days, whereas perhaps due to the Japanese public’s aversion to MMOs, this title has yet to break half a million two weeks after release. Even if the masses have yet to pick it up, Dragon Quest X does provide an enjoyable, albeit “beginner’s” MMO experience.
Playing DQX requires you have a 16GB USB hard drive to plug into your Wii and run the game from. After all that hassle trying to get Virtual Console games and other downloadable content accessible from the Wii’s SD Card Slot, finally, in its last year, the Wii gets the ability to run a game from the USB port. Installation is straightforward. The game comes as two discs, so you plug your USB drive in, boot up the Wii, and then select the disc channel with DQX’s first installation disc in to install to the hard drive. Installation takes a little over an hour, but after that the game runs great from the hard drive. While some noticeable slowdown can occur in areas with lots of online players, load times are quick and the game looks pretty good for a Wii title. I’ve noticed a few little graphical touches, such as depth of field and reflections on floors, that I haven’t noticed in any other Wii game.
DQX is the series’ first foray into the MMO space. You begin the game by creating two characters—your main character, who is used online, and his or her younger sibling. The sibling is used in a short offline campaign; it took my wife somewhere around 10 hours to finish that portion of the game. The offline section is relegated to one comparatively small area, though all the mechanics are identical to those used in the online game. In both parts of the game, you only have direct control of one character. However, both also allow you to recruit AI-controlled teammates at any town’s local pub.
Related to the topic of parties: the battle system is functionally identical to Final Fantasy XI (incidentally, FFXI is the only other online game with which I’ve ever had experience, not including a very brief and confusing stint with Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast). A battle begins when your character (or someone in your party) runs into an enemy walking around the game’s field. You are then presented with a standard JRPG battle menu in an Active Time Battle format. After you selected a command (you choose from attack, magic, skill, or item usage) and your character performs it, you can act again when a certain amount of time elapses.
Whether you have magic or skills available to you depends on what class (or “Occupation,” from the Japanese) your character uses. You can currently choose from Warrior, (Black) Mage, Healer (or White Mage), Thief, Monk, or Minstrel, with the option to change your class at any time by visiting the chapel in any town. All skills and magic you obtain are standards of the Dragon Quest series, and are acquired by either simply leveling up or by distributing skill points you receive with each additional level you get. It’s a straightforward and easy to understand system, with the caveat that when you level up it is only for that class. So if you level up to say, level 38 as a Warrior but decide you actually want to be a Healer, you’re going to have to grind back up from level one again.
And you will be doing a lot of grinding. DQX does seem to have lots of content—there are plenty of quests you can take on, though you will have to do plenty of additional grinding to proceed through the story. At the beginning of the online portion you’ll be able to beat the first boss on your own, without partnering with any other online players and with minimum leveling, if that is your preference. Once that battle is over, the credits run along with an opening cinematic. When you run into the next new area afterward, you’ll find getting through that field requires that you buddy up with other online players—or die trying to get through alone.
Luckily, the overall MMO experience of DQX is pretty pleasant. Part of that may be because the game has only been released in Japan at the moment, and Japanese people are actually incredibly polite in online games, but there are also design choices that help ensure the experience is comfortable for everyone. Finding players to party up with is relatively straightforward—the majority of them wait at the entrance to any given town. People looking to party up generally congregate there and call out phrases such as “Anyone care to party?” or “Please, help me level up.” To further help your search you can set one of several help icons to display over your character to let other people know you’re looking to form a party. (Other such icons include the “Beginner” icon to let people know you’re still getting used to playing online, or the aptly named “No Keyboard” icon, which indicates any communicating you do will be from the controller.) Adding people as friends is also straightforward—you can add a person by entering their character’s name and eight-digit friend code, or if it’s someone in your vicinity, just face them and press the A button to bring up their contextual menu, then select “Add as Friend.”
If you don’t have a USB keyboard, you can still communicate text messages to other players by either pressing the minus button or any direction on the D-pad to bring up the Japanese software keyboard. The fact is, with the four Japanese alphabets comprising way more characters than the standard characters we’re used to in English, if the software keyboard were laid out like a real-life keyboard it would take an eternity just to type the word “Hello.” Square Enix’s solution is to set the input system up around the keypad, somewhat reminiscent of how the Japanese are accustomed to typing on feature phones. This method of typing gives you a layout where pressing one button multiple times gets you different character inputs. So in DQX, pressing up once gets you the Japanese character for “A” and subsequent presses gets you the next sequential letters of the alphabet. Holding down a key will also fast-track to the next set of Japanese letters, which can help speed things up.
However, if all communication were based around this input system, people would never be able to communicate in time, and Japanese people, being as well mannered as they are, need to be able to say “Thank you!” as soon as some random stranger decides to cheer them on in the middle of a battle or “Congratulations!” as soon as someone in their vicinity levels up. This kind of predetermined communication can be done from a quick text menu that you pull up with a long press of the B button on the Classic controller, at which point you select your phrase of choice with the A button. You can do other little things while running around on the field, such as the aforementioned cheering (approach an unrelated party’s player, press A to bring up their contextual menu and then hit A again to select “Cheer”), which gives that player’s party an attack boost and increases the amount of money that player will make from that battle. You can also press LZ to automatically run in your current direction (helpful if you want to do some management from the menus and have your character on auto pilot, running to an objective), and RZ to jump. You can also hold RZ to bring up an in-game camera, pictures taken from which are uploaded to your Square Enix account automatically.
Just in case you absolutely don’t want to have to play with other humans, Square Enix has given players the opportunity to hire other, offline players as AI for a small fee from any town’s pub. Players can put themselves up for hire as a “Support Buddy” by visiting these pubs, and can be hired by other players of the same level or greater. You can form a party of up to four, and once you’ve hired someone you can use them for 48 hours. Your character can also be hired by up to three different people at a time, and once you log back in you get whatever gold and experience points your character made while partying as a “Support Buddy.” This is one way Square Enix has designed the game so you can still “progress” while you’re not actually playing.
In addition to parties, battles, and quests, you’re also able to choose a trade. Trades include woodwork, weapon forging, and armor forging, among others, and all involve collecting materials and creating a certain type of equipment or item from those materials. When forging a piece of equipment, you’re presented with a mini-game. For certain trades, this comes in the form of a roulette wheel you spin. Depending on where the wheel lands, you’ll either make a normal piece of equipment, a great piece of equipment, or will fail outright. For other trades, you’re presented with an iron smithing mini-game in which your hot piece of iron is divided into a grid, and you must hit each grid area just enough times to fill up a bar corresponding to how well formed that grid location is. If you go overboard, you’ll fail and the materials used to make that equipment will go to waste.
Naturally, you can equip whatever you make with your trade, but it behooves you to make better and better equipment so you can sell it on the online bazaar, as well as level up your trade so you can make better equipment. You have access to the bazaar from any location where tradesmen can make their wares, as well as from other shops and such. The bazaar is literally the in-game auction house where players can offer up their equipment and items for an asking price and other players can purchase them for said price. It’s a pretty straightforward system. I’ve heard there is also a real money auction house, but I’m still unclear as to whether it’s already in the game or coming at a later date (such as a PvP colosseum, which I’ve heard is coming in October).
While the game is padded heavily with grinding, it is meaty—my wife has put in well over 100 hours by now and she’s just at the end of the online campaign, having only leveled up to about level 39 as a Warrior and with plenty of uncompleted quests to finish. In case that isn’t enough to keep people paying ￥1000 a month to play, Square Enix has suggested they’d like to keep creating content for the game over the next 10 years, starting with a set of high-level quests for players over level 40 released on 8/13.
There is a lot to Dragon Quest X, but it is all presented in a straightforward and streamlined way to help players ease themselves in and get a handle on all the game offers. While it’s padded with a large quantity of leveling up, doing so online and with friends is enjoyable thanks to easy ways to communicate and the option to hire AI versions of players if you’re averse to human interaction. DQX may not take the Wii out with a bang, but it’s a solid, enjoyable JRPG experience that has promise to be enjoyable for years to come.