Freebie Fiction – Dragon Quest IV

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As previously promised in my last post, here’s a special treat related to Dragon Quest IV.

When I want to practice a writing style or technique, I like to do so through fanfiction (when there’s other, more important things I should be doing with my time). This is a rewrite/interpretation of one scene in the game.

In case you’re wondering, Meena and Maya are the most fun to write. Torneko is the most difficult. Who knew an Irish lilt would be so hard to accurately portray?


Solo stood before the room door, knuckles poised to knock. He tilted his head to look at Maya and Meena waiting expectantly behind him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Should we really bother someone in their own room? I mean, even if he is a Chosen.”

“If it is truly fate, he will not be annoyed by our visit,” Meena said. “You must trust the prophecy’s guidance.”

“Yes, but does the prophecy say specifically that we should knock on strangers’ doors?” Solo persisted.

“Oh, for pity’s sake!” Maya bustled forward. “What is the worst he could do? Smack you with his walking cane? Just be letting me handle this.”

She bumped him roughly to the side and rapped three times on the door. From inside the sound of shuffling feet neared; the door swung open, and there stood the old man, leaning on his staff. He looked Maya over and squinted.

“You are not chambermaid,” he stated. “But perhaps they send you with cloths?”

“Arey? Why would I be sent with your dirty dirty cloths?” Maya said. “We are here to be talking to you about destiny and other such nonsense.”

“Sis!” Meena protested from behind.

The old man looked from Maya to Meena and then to Solo, who attempted his best ingratiating smile.

“I am not interesting in such prattle,” he said. “Please to leave without further pesterings.”

He began to shut the door, but Maya quickly wedged her wrist in the gap.

“Wait! Just be listening for two seconds. The world is going kaput in so many ways, no? What if you could be stopping all the mess and bringing back peace? That is being worth your time, surely.”

Meena couldn’t help gaping as Maya finished. “You…you have said such a beautiful thing, sis. I am stunned speechless! Maybe you are able to be serious after all.”

Just as she gave her praise, Maya wiggled her hips coquettishly. “Besides,” she said to the old man, “Such selflessness is bound to make you famous and rich, which is reason enough, no?”

Meena groaned and glanced heavenward in a silent plea, maybe asking for a new sibling. The old man, for his part, was unmoved.

“I am regretful,” he said, “as you are appearing sincere with desire for to change world. But request is currently inconvenience for me. I am waiting only for cloths, which hotel staff seems tarrying to supply.”

A clatter of bagged merchandise announced Torneko’s ascent up the stairs. As he came round the corner toward Solo and the others, he held out a tray clasped in his hands.

“Sure an’ it’s odd, but when the concierge gave me the key to our room he asked would I bring up these damp cloths fer your man stayin’ next door. Figured I might as well do a good turn as ‘twas on my way.” He took in the scene: Meena and Solo standing to the side, Maya’s hand still barring the doorway, the old man peering through the gap. “Aye, ye’ve gone an’ had a craic without me, have ye? I get the feeling this’ll be common fare in our travels.”

“Unnnngh…” came a groan from within the room.

The old man looked over his shoulder and turned brusquely away, leaving the door to swing wide open. Inside, a young fellow lay doubled up in one of the beds. His face was ashen and blotched with green, like mold on white bread. His brow shone with perspiration and kept furrowing in distress.

He swallowed between belabored gasps and seemed to be trying to speak. The old man rested a hand on his shoulder and mumbled some words to him, which seemed to calm him down, at least somewhat. He kept clenching the bedsheets near his stomach.

Torneko peered into the room and whistled.

“Japers, that fella’s sick as a small hospital, so he is. Reminds me of the time my own Tipper went down with the measles. Had a right go of it for weeks against the disease, he did.”

“The man is doing poorly?” Meena said. “Sis, Don’t be standing so close to the doorway! You will catch his awful awful sickness!”

“Ugh, it is not like he is breathing on me, silly-billy,” Maya retorted. “Besides, things are now just getting juicy!”

Meanwhile, as though he completely understood what needed doing Torneko sauntered in toward the bedridden fellow and set the damp cloths on a stand close by. He cheerfully handed one cloth to the old man, who took it, bemused.

“I am marveled at kindness of pure strangers,” he remarked. “It is no use to hide more longer, I judge: As you are seeing, my compatriot is severely ill. We are arriving at town in hopes to procure medicines, but…”

He tapped on the rounded top of his staff, seeming to mull over how much more he should reveal. “I am Borya, esteemed court magician,” he continued. “My hapless compatriot Kiryl is priest-in-training. We are residents of most excellent castle Zamoksva, in the country of Maestrel.”

Solo edged inside the doorway and finally spoke up.

“Zamoksva? Isn’t that the kingdom whose inhabitants mysteriously disappeared some time ago? But you somehow escaped.”

Borya nodded. “We are final remnants of once-glorious castle: Kiryl and I…and our Tsarevna Alena, whom we have responsibility to escort.”

He laid a cloth across Kiryl’s fevered brow and patted it in place. “I am concerning for her safety also,” he said more to himself. “Yoy… Such trouble Kiryl has caused by his infirmity. I am sure to give him sharp reprimand for this inconvenience when he is again healthful.”

“Listen,” Solo hedged, “could we help you in any way? We’ve had our own share of…troubles, so we understand the value of a hand in hard times.”

“Tch! Solo, you are so very confused, no?” Maya said. “I am personally only understanding the value of a nice gold co- Yowch! Why do you pinch me on the arm, sis?”

Borya studied Solo and then glanced around at the rest of the party. “This is exceeding kindness. I cannot to impose own problems upon you. But…you say I am meant to join your band of travelers?”

“Yes,” said Meena. She lifted her glass ball and gazed into it. “You, and the sickly sickly priest, and also the Alena girl, who is not here.”

Borya still seemed to hesitate. He looked down at Kiryl, who moaned and flopped over in bed.

“I am of mind to trust you,” he finally said, “as other options are few. Very well.” He turned sternly toward the group. “Tsarevna Alena is gone to procure feverfew root, which local commoners say is cure for Kiryl’s condition. It is said to be grown in neighboring village, but Alena has been gone so many days without word. She is like stubborn and reckless goat, and I fear she has come into some peril. I cannot depart Kiryl’s side else he expire from improper care. You see how I am jammed by current circumstance.”

“Well, since there are four of us and only one of you, we’d likely be better help in searching for your…ehm…Tsarevna.” Solo tried to cover his unfamiliarity with the title by slurring it quickly. “We’re seasoned travelers and would be able to rescue her should she be beset by monsters.”

“Agya, she will more likely need rescuing from own self, I mind,” Borya grumbled. “But is no matter. You have my complete gratitude for this offer.”

He bowed shortly over his cane, then turned to change the cloth on Kiryl’s forehead. Solo and the others took it as a cue to take their leave.

“I am hoping we can assist them quickly quickly, so our band of Chosen can become more complete,” Meena said as they exited the room.

“I am hoping this Zamoksvan princess will reward us with great riches since we are being such excellent help!” Maya added (to her sister’s consternation).

Torneko brought up the rear. “Don’t suppose I might sit this one out, fellas? Give an old man some rest? …Aye, I thought not.”

Stellar Squad Series – Dragon Quest IV

[Currently listening to: coffee shop music. Nothing like sipping a cold brew on a mild autumn evening…]

You might remember, back in July, I started a series concerning memorable openings in video games. (You might not remember because you didn’t care to read it, but I’m going to try to suppress my disappointment.) Since I’m fresh outta inspiration again this month, you know what that means…

…TIME TO INTRODUCE ANOTHER BLOG SERIES!

(There’s very little you can do to create a Thanksgiving-themed video game post. I’m just sayin’.)

In this series, we’re going to address a crucial ingredient to any story: the cast. And not just any members of the cast, but your main squad. You know – your Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Your Luke, Leia, and Han. Your Star Trek deck team.

You can have any number of characters in your lead team, but one thing you must be sure to do: make them each important. Distinguish them from each other. Give them personality and purpose. Think about how they would interact. Your audience is going to spend a lot of time with these people; don’t just craft cardboard cutouts.

And since listening to all that Dragon Quest music has got me in the mood, I’m going to use the party members of Dragon Quest IV as my example.

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The final tally: Frowns win over smiles, 5 to 4.

Let’s break down the roster, shall we? In order from left to right:

Ragnar McRyan

A stout soldier who’s made it his life’s calling to seek the destined hero. Seems rough around the edges and looks gruff, but he’s got a gentle soul.

Tsarevna Alena

Pint-sized, tomboy royalty who would rather test her physical mettle than learn how to be a proper ruler. She thinks more with her fists than her brain. Oblivious to a certain priest’s feelings for her.

Kiryl

A priest-in-training and retainer to Alena. Has a desperate crush on her and is definitely a lovesick goober. Serious, devoted…terrified of heights and ghosts.

Borya

Alena’s other retainer, an old and crotchety wizard. Constantly scolds her and Kiryl both. Complains about nearly everything, but it’s only his way of showing concern.

Solo/Sofia (Main Character)

Suffers from “main character muteness”, so there’s not much to say (literally). You can make them either a boy or a girl at the start of the game. Whoop whoop.

Torneko Taloon

Portly merchant who’s skills lie in item appraisal. Bit of a jokester and brings levity to the most dire situations. Hey, look, he’s got his own blog post!

Meena

Maya’s younger and more sensible sister. A seer of the future who makes her money telling fortunes. Typically a realist in most situations.

Maya

Meena’s older sister. She makes her fortune dancing, but is quick to squander it all in casinos. Dreams of marrying into rich society.


I know I keep saying this, but…with party chat these character qualities become all the more clear. So…GO WITH PARTY CHAT! DO I HAVE TO SPELL IT OUT FOR YOU?

*hem* Anyway, already you can see the disparate personalities that have had to join forces. Dragon Quest IV further emphasizes the diversity by giving its characters different “nationalities”. Torneko speaks with an Irish lilt; Ragnar is barely understandable with his Scottish; Meena and Maya use stereotypical Indian idiosyncrasies; and Alena, Kiryl, and Borya are politically incorrect but adorable with their thick Russian grammar.

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Is fantasy world, so such playful dialogue is acceptable, da?

Add to this their many social positions and trades, and you have quite the mix of characters. Imagine the interactions between a young priest and a night-life dancer. Or a Russian Zamoksvan princess and a merchant. They would view certain scenarios in very different ways – and possibly also find a peculiar few traits in common.

For many Dragon Quest games there’s a party “gimmick” that contributes to the overarching story. For V it was the experience of controlling three generations of one family as your main party. For VI it was learning about each character’s real self and dream self.

IV focuses on gathering heroes from all over the world to defeat a great evil, and for that reason it’s key to identify the characters’ disparities within their common goal. Imagine the differences these eight people would need to overcome in order to cooperate – and how strong their bond would be because of it. Now, if that doesn’t give you team feels, I don’t know what will.

The Dragon Quests also give plenty of room to further develop characters beyond what we see in-game. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I absolutely love it. It gives me the opportunity to create more of the story and interactions in my mind as I play; it gives me a chance to contribute to this epic tale and understand the characters in my own fashion.

Which brings me to this ending announcement: expect to see a special second Dragon Quest-related post later this week!

 

Dragon Quest IV belongs to Square-Enix. You can purchase it to play via Nintendo DS or as an app on your phone. (Go with the phone for party chat.)

Writing to Bore – Working as Torneko in Dragon Quest IV

[Currently listening to: the Super Mario Galaxy OST. Holy buckets, that game was a masterpiece.]

Have you ever been bored with a story?

No, no, I’m not talking about bad writing or poor pacing that leads to the onset of ennui. I’m talking about intentionally inspiring you as the reader/player/viewer to feel bored. Have you ever found a character’s situation so empathetically dull that you exactly understand their desire to break free of routine?

Let’s explore via example. In celebration of Dragon Quest‘s upcoming 30th anniversary, I present to you:

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Torneko Taloon!

Some months ago I was playing Dragon Quest IV on my phone. (What? I wanted party chat. Don’t judge me.) I’d just finished Alena’s chapter – kickin’ tournament butt and taking names – and was about to roll from there into Torneko’s merchant story. I knew ahead of time that his chapter would adopt a slower pace from my time playing as the rough-and-tumble princess, but I didn’t figure on how firmly the plot’s brakes were going to be pressed.

Torneko is a family man, working his daily 9-5 to provide for a wife and son at home. He’s a mumu-wearing middle-aged shopkeeper with an ample tummy: not exactly your typical RPG hero. The chapter opens on him getting ready for the work day, with his wife packing his lunch and scolding him good-humoredly on sleeping in. Then, as the player takes control of his movements, we’re given the opportunity to start Torneko on his EPIC JOURNEY…

…across town to his full-time job.

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(I mean, you could take him out to the world map, if you want to get totally pasted five steps later.)

Basically, Torneko starts out with inadequate equipment for dealing with the battles outside town, and his stats without weapons and armor aren’t all that great. The opportunity’s there to buy him a sword and cuirass, but that takes a bit more money than he starts out with, which means – you guessed it – he has to work.

My first day helping him on the job, I was laughing. These customers come in and ask to either sell or purchase an item; it’s a simple, straight-forward process. Most times they complete the transaction with no issue, but from time to time a customer will ask to buy a weapon, then realize they either don’t have the money or they can’t even use it. And they flake out. I thought, “Oh man. What a hilarious representation of retail work.”

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But by the third day, when one of those customers realized they couldn’t purchase their item, I was like, “DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND I’M GETTING PAID ON COMMISSION?! I NEED TO BUY SOME FLIPPIN’ ARMOR SO I CAN GET PAST THIS GRIND.”

This is the precise feeling Torneko’s chapter needs to convey. As we learn more about him, we figure out that his real dream is to be proprietor of his own shop (not a counter worker), and that, as an aspiring weapons dealer, he wants to find the legendary Zenithian Sword.

Imagine him slouching at the shop’s counter with his jowly cheeks in his hands, trying to muster up a little extra charisma to make his sales. What he really wants is a chance at entrepreneurship – and maybe a bit of adventure – but to get there he’s got to save a few Gold. The process is dull to the extreme.

With our expanded game memory and new innovations nowadays, there are ways to present merchant gameplay as interesting and engaging. Dragon Quest IV, originally released on the NES, didn’t have such luxury; but even so, I think if they’d had the ability to make it more complicated, it would have taken so much away from the story Torneko’s chapter was trying to tell.

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#throwbackFriday

The effect may not have been intentional, but in any case it worked. By the time you as the player can finally venture out with Torneko onto the world map, you feel an excited sense of freedom. That’s some great “show, don’t tell” if you ask me.

I can’t think of a book that’s given me an intentional “bored” feeling. Maybe authors prefer to focus on the more passionate emotions: love, sorrow, anger. I bet there’s a way, though, to capture effective tedium in the written story, too. What do you think it’d look like?

 

Dragon Quest IV belongs to Square-Enix. You can purchase it to play via Nintendo DS or as an app on your phone. (Go with the phone for party chat.)