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February 12, 2016

Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors (Part 1)

^ AKA How To Spoil Two Key Elements Of Your Plot Within The Insanely Long Title Of Your Freaking Game.

When the Wii came out, it was seen as a very innovative new way to play games. It still is to this day. However, for any game developer out there, a question quickly arose: How do we adapt certain gaming genres to this? The motion capture is very useful for games where you have to move a lot, and that’s why Just Dance has become such a popular series… but what do we do for the other genres? For platform games, Nintendo answered that question by having a mechanic in New Super Mario Bros Wii where you must shake the Wii remote in your hands to take flight when Mario’s equipped with a certain power-up. Some puzzle games could be adapted in a rather simple way. Other games, such as Super Paper Mario, mostly used the buttons but had a few features – mostly the use of Tippi the Pixl and the mini-games in Flipside – using the Wii remote’s movement detection. Mini-game collections benefited from this the most; after all, I love the Raving Rabbids games on the Wii (well, for the most part, anyway). Other action games have some of the character’s actions be dictated by the buttons, with “quicktime actions” involving the Wii remote popping up from time to time. But how do we apply this new control mechanic to an actual RPG?

Yeah! Kill them with kindness! ...Wait...
Square-Enix (oh hey, it’s them again!) found the solution: Make it a hybrid between a Hack and Slash game and an RPG! In this game, when you go on your adventure, you follow a pre-determined path with the same encounters, and sometimes getting to choose between two paths at a fork on the road. At the start of the game, most such forks have one option blocked off, so you still need to follow a single way. Afterwards, as the game progresses, you can upgrade your sword and make it strong enough to destroy those rocks blocking the bonus paths. Along the way, you can get new allies and bring them along on your journey, but there’s a limit of one ally fighting by your side due to how this game works. Last but not least, you can’t explore freely around the world…

Sounds bad? Oh, it’s much better than that. The Wii remote’s capabilities are still put to use with a unique battle system that lets you defend yourself by pulling up your shield, and attack by swinging the remote around like it’s a sword. And the special finishing moves also require moving the Wii remote in patterns.

Still doesn’t sound awesome? …No? …Well, tough! This is Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen And The Tower Of Mirrors. …I’ll shorten it to Dragon Quest Swords, because I refuse to type this entire name every time.

This mask looks too ominous to be good.
The game’s intro begins with numerous shots of a strange mask, while a Narrator with a French accent tells of how she saw the mask. Oh, sorry: Ze mask. Hey, I’ll make fun of her accent all I want, I have an accent too and it’s very noticeable when I speak English. Ask my American pals on Discord. The scene cuts to the main town of the game, Avalonia, and its enormous castle. We learn that the villagers are celebrating the fifth year since the defeat of a mysterious evil character named Xiphos the Deathbringer. Villains sure love the letter X, right Organization XIII? Oh, and we can see that subtlety isn’t this guy’s forte.

This game’s cutscenes are fully voiced and well-animated, although for the lip-syncing, we’ll pass.

It depends. Do I have a chance to win? You're not gonna
break your back fighting me, are you?
Tomorrow is your character’s sixteenth birthday, the day he becomes a man – and no, I don’t mean that way. I mean that today, he learns how to fight with a sword and a shield, as tomorrow he’ll go pass a fighting test in an easy dungeon, as per the customs of this people. He thus comes up to Swordmaster Dao, the wise trainer. Your character also happens to be the son of Claymore, an acclaimed hero who helped in taking down Xiphos five years prior, and one of Dao’s pupils. Obviously, being the son of a hero means you’ve got in you what’s needed to be a hero, so you are brought to Dao to prove your talent. This serves as a tutorial where Dao teaches all you need to know about the fighting in this game.

During the Tutorial, Dao explains how to swing your sword, always in straight motions, vertically, horizontally, diagonally, while keeping the remote level with the ground. You can also select a focal point on the screen by pressing A, and all your attacks will be centered on that point while it’s on the screen. You can also thrust forward to do a stronger attack that can only hit one enemy. Next you learn to use the shield to block both physical and magical attacks (in the case of projectiles and magical attacks, you’ll see a colored dot on the screen indicating where the attack is going to hit, allowing you to move the shield there; blue dots mean the attack can be knocked back with the sword). Finally, the hero is introduced to Mighty Strikes, special moves that can be activated when a gauge under his Hit Point bar reaches 100%. You can get new Strikes as the game progresses, with some being more complex than the others. After you prove that you can do the Mighty Strike, the tutorial ends along with the fifth anniversary festival of Xiphos’ defeat.

You know, I just realized that in the most convenient timing ever, the hero’s birthday falls the day immediately after the day Xiphos was defeated. Huh. Fate sure moves in mysterious ways… After this training, we learn some important bits of exposition; in his fight against Xiphos, Claymore lost his right hand, which means it was replaced by a magically-enhanced robotic limb; however, this also means that he can no longer wield a sword, for some weird reason. What good is a hand if you can’t use it to hold stuff??? Prince Anlace comes down to this room and explains that his mother, Queen Curtana, has been feeling unwell, hence why she wasn’t at today’s celebration. Quick side-note, the prince has this kind of aura about him, like he’s gonna be a rival and whatnot, and since rivalries tend to go bad in Video Game Land, I’m afraid “good Prince Anlace” might just stop being good at some point. After the hero and his father return to their modest house in the oddly small village, we see a sea creature by the shore, screaming and then going into the water.

I have a feeling it's too early to party.
On a lighter side-note, that might not be the only fireworks we see in this game.

On the next day, Claymore wakes his son and tells him that today is the day he takes the Walk of the Worthy, the day he “becomes a man”. I just realized the sexism in the idea of “becoming a man” as shown in this game. I mean, we see a few teenage girls around the village, but none of them seems to show any interest in adventuring, nor do they even seem forced into such a ritual – and yet, we do meet two adventurer women later on. So, why are their customs all about “Becoming a man”? I dunno. I’d say that we just don’t see any teenage girl being sent on this trip, which would be a case of poor world-building. My headcanon is that teenage girls also go on this test quest, the game just doesn’t bother to say this… and, thus, looks horribly sexist. But oh well, by now I’m just wasting words. I mean, it's not like the adventuring ladies are blatant fanserv-

Also, she has two main expressions in this game: Angry or
sad. Not quite what we'd expect from Fanservice Lady.
…Okay, this woman says she came from another village so she could meet the Prince, but due to what’s going on with the Queen they don’t allow outsiders inside the Castle. Besides, I really wonder how she managed to travel all the way to here. I mean, look at her armor. This adventuress is not wearing an armor, she’s wearing… well… she’s wearing far too little to fight against the many dangerous creatures out there. Seriously lady, a bikini chainmail will NOT protect you. And no, this helmet and this shield won’t do much good if everything else is uncovered. At least you got one thing right, you're carrying a sword! And where did you find this armor? In DnD’s Book of Unlawful Carnal Knowledge? I think I know why you want to see the prince, but I really don’t want to say it. Yes, I know, your eyes are up there. I’m sorry I’m not talking to your face. It’s all my fault. But seriously lady, find a better armor ASAP. This is an RPG, something terrible is going to happen soon, and you’ll NEED better armor. Look, I’m all for fanservice, I’d even accept it, but this is just ridiculous. I know it’s a silly request, but damn, have the fanservice make sense! If the world of this game made sense, she wouldn’t be dressed like this to go on an adventure! …Well, unless that’s not the kind of adventure she’s looking for, since she wants to see the Prince… Although it’s not like she acts slutty in any way, either. She just stands around. And the worst part in all of this is that I can’t even tell if this woman is meant to be a parody of scantily-clad heroines who jump into action almost in the nude, or if she’s just another sad example of that trend. She doesn't say jokes, she doesn't point out anything about herself... Alright, enough with that long parenthesis.

Hurry up, I'm itching to slice some slimes!

We get to the castle, and the Queen doesn’t accept to see anyone. Not even Anlace, her own son; instead, it’s Minister Misericord who gives the speech and sends our hero on his test quest. The hero then leaves the castle. Before we go, I think I should explain the village a little. There are two entrances into the castle, the big door and the training room where Swordsmaster Dao gave his tutorial. Right next to the main character’s house, there’s a shop, and there’s both a weapons smith and an armor smith living nearby. There’s a bar, although hardly anything of value happens there (outside of seeing your score for each level). To save your game, you go to the church. Yep, apparently prayers do wonders when there are things you don’t want to do twice. Past the church is a guy offering mini-games with rewards at the key. There are some secret zones, like a shop led by a catlike creature (cats are businessmen? Might explain their behavior of no give and all take), who only accepts a second currency called Mini-Medals. This cat has unique items in his shop. Make sure to see everything.

They know how to hurt you, but nowhere as much as their
orange or grey cousins. Yeah, there are Metal Slimes here.

Good to know we can trust living suits of armor here...
We leave on this trial, and on the way we see the ever-popular blue Slimes. Ah, the Dragon Quest trademark. The Walk of the Worthy brings us to a cave, where poisonous blobs and witches armed with arrows await. At the end of that cave, we fight the first boss, Sir Dirk Worthington, a living suit of armor that knows how to defend itself. It’s not a very difficult boss, and the strategy will be similar for most, if not all, bosses: Protect yourself with the shield, and when the opponent is stunned, hack and slash. When the opponent attacks, bring up the shield, or hit the projectiles back at it. That’s all there is to it, really. When Sir Worthingtom is defeated, we come back to the village, with proof that the hero has succeeded on his trial.

And that's good, I like the strokes. Er...I hope this didn't
any remotely wrong.
This game also has a secondary scoring system, where you receive a score – and a grade – on your performance on a “level”. The higher the score, the better the grade. And the better the grade, the more people will hear about the hero’s exploits. This works like another EXP bar, except it allows to gain some new bonuses in battle when it levels up (such as better resistance to poison, longer-lasting spells, or a higher starting percentage to use Master Strokes earlier from the start). You can also gain other rewards allowing you to upgrade any piece of equipment.

Upon his return, the hero goes to talk to the Queen- er, to Minister Misericord, and then goes back to his house. There, he has a spot of tea with his father, but Prince Anlace interrupts. He says he knows his mother headed off to the Galantyne Glades, home of a special type of hot spring that heals most illnesses. He desperately wants to retrieve her, seeing as the Glades are home to many dangerous monsters. Claymore refuses to join Anlace, but our protagonist volunteers. As a result, Anlace joins the party!

Now, your character cannot use magic, but the allies you get on your journey can. If you’re in a tight spot, you can press 1 to ask Anlace to cast a spell that defeats the enemies in front of you. Your ally cannot attack, outside of offensive magic spells of course – and sometimes, they may cast spells without you asking, as you can set them to do such in the game’s options. The enemies will still mostly attack your character, but they might hit the ally as well, and you must be careful not to have your ally die… though, if it happens, you can use an expensive herb to revive them. However, since you’re the only one able to use items, this also means that if you die, it’s a guaranteed failure.

Oh, by the way, when you leave on a quest, you can only bring one ally with you. Even when all of your allies have followed, in battle, only one can participate. Sorry, as good as it would be to have a full party against the next bosses, you can’t. The other two? I dunno, they play thumb wars while waiting for your fight to end.

Brick golem? Ah crap, I forgot my wrecking-ball at home!
The hero and Prince Anlace make their way through Galantyne Glades, and as they reach a clearing they encounter a golem who brings them into a fight. Although, before the fight, the golem mentions a human woman who escaped him… Huh, oh well, guess that’s nothing important. After this golem is defeated, the hero and Anlace find a little shack in the forest. They approach, but the door opens, and a woman comes out: The Queen, wearing a strange mask. Okay! We got the Masked Queen! Where’s the Tower of Mirrors?

She may be petite, but she packs a punch.
Too  bad her only offensive attack is shooting hearts.
We’ll deal with that later, another character comes out: A teenage girl with hair that would make anime characters proud, and an attire somewhere between punk and lingerie. She’s not nearly as “near-nude” as that warrior woman at the village, but still, she’s not exactly wearing protective gear; I’ve never seen striped stockings in the DnD book of armors. She reveals her name to be Fleurette, and she speaks in a pronounced French accent. You know, like the narrator at the beginning of the story. Is that an attempt at making her sexier? She looks like a teenager... When asked about Anlace’s mother, Fleurette instead explains that her brother Aruval has been feeling a strange sickness recently. We get a nice bit of exposition that the hero’s father Claymore wasn’t the only one who took down Xiphos; he was helped, among others, by this Aruval guy, as well as the King of Avalonia, hence why there’s only a Queen as of now. Anlace, now convinced that his mother's problem is caused by Xiphos, returns to Avalonia. Meanwhile, Fleurette remembers seeing the mask at Arondight Heights when she was young, and that the mask scared her. To find a solution for her brother, she feels she needs to ask the Queen about this mask, so she decides to go back with the hero to Avalonia.

I think I’m going to stop there for now. Tune in this Monday for Part 2.