Playing your whole hand at the start of a story is generally an imprudent move. Whether it be a character’s entire backstory, the complete purpose of the plot, or a point-blank run-down of events – don’t expect your audience to stick around. What do they need with the meat of your work when you already fed them the cookies?
The intrigue is in the details, and how you parse them out. When done right, they can work as clues that draw the audience toward the greater scope of the tale. What do I mean?
Look here at this fella. As you can tell by the lack of color, this is your run-of-the-mill flashback. Like any device of fiction, the flashback can work for or against the narrative. At times it’s used as a lazy way to establish the backbone of the story; here, it serves as a bridge between what’s been shown and what’s yet to be revealed. A far more tantalizing premise!
At the start of Dragon Quest VIII, before this flashback even rears it’s sepia-toned head, we’re given only the barest details on our heroes and their story: two apparent mercenaries have been traveling with an odd frog-monster who calls himself a king, and they all refer to his cart-horse as “princess”. The audience clearly requires some explanation here, but Dragon Quest takes its time to supply it. It knows, however, where and how to drop its hints.
For example, let’s focus on these mercenaries: what do we know about them? Well, Yangus (pictured at right) is a bit crude and uncultured (can’t you tell by appearance alone?); we also get the vibe he’s been unscrupulous in the past. His story is expanded in short time, but what about our silent protagonist (pictured at left)? Is there any way we can know about him and his connection to this larger tale?
There’s a genius use of RPG tropes in this case. Because when you first see your party’s inventory, you notice our lead possesses a “Soldier’s Sword”. Now, any RPG will have your typical starter weapon equipped to the main character, which you’ll quickly trade for the first available upgrade in town. But doesn’t it arrest your attention that this lead’s sword is so specifically described?
He certainly doesn’t look the part of “soldier”. Sure that head wrap is swag, but it’s no formal helmet. What’s the real story on this classically mute hero?
You’ve probably made your own deductions already, right? That’s what a story is supposed to help you do. That way, when you come to the flashback later in the game, you’ve intuited something of this fellow’s background already – and his connection to the plot as a whole.
And guess what the game does with that flashback? That’s right – It leaves you with MORE questions to be pondered!
Think of it this way: Are you more likely to develop a friendship with someone who shares their experiences in engaging parcels? Or with that random person who approaches you in the grocery store and tells you all about the surgery they had on their intestines last Thursday? (I mean, maybe you do meet your friends that way. Who am I to judge?) Let the subtle details of your story cause the audience to want to pursue what you have to offer. Prove there’s still some patience to be found in this era of instant gratification.
Dragon Quest VIII is the property of Square-Enix. You can purchase it to play via Android, iOS, or Nintendo 3DS.