I’ve been making good progress through Dragon Quest: Chapters of the Chosen so far. I think I might be nearing the end of the game. Or at least the end of the main story.
So far I’ve been playing for about twenty hours or so, and the game has provided a pleasant amount of variety during that time. It hasn’t really got what I’d call especially complex at any point, but sometimes that can be refreshing; it allows you the freedom to enjoy what mechanics there are, and more importantly, the other aspects of the game such as its world design and characterisation.
Today I wanted to talk a little about Chapters of the Chosen’s more “traditional” aspects, and how they make it quite a refreshing experience when played from a modern perspective.
A lot of games today are pretty linear. Yes, even the big, sprawling open-world games — despite them typically overflowing with a ton of activities to do, there tends to be a “critical path” you can follow and get to the credits without too much difficulty or deviation if you so desire.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — linear games, in my experience, tend to have much stronger narrative components, for example — but sometimes it’s nice to feel like the training wheels have been taken off and you’re being trusted to figure out what to do next yourself.
Such is the case in Chapters of the Chosen almost from the outset. The four character-centric “prologue” chapters each confine you to a relatively small geographic area, but you’re still not always given explicit instructions to “go here and do this” — and certainly no waypoint markers, checklists of quest objectives or glowing breadcrumb trails to follow. More often than not you’ll be told something interesting might be happening somewhere, and then it’s up to you to figure out how to get to that place and what, if anything, you’re able to do about the thing you heard about.
As you might expect, once the game “proper” gets underway in Chapter 5 as you take control of the true protagonist, this aspect of the game is very much emphasised, particularly once you gain access to the vehicles: initially a ship, which allows you to traverse the oceans and land anywhere with a suitable coastline, and later a balloon that can fly over the otherwise impassable mountains and land anywhere that isn’t one of those aforementioned mountains.
After a particular point in the game — I believe it was around the time the entire ensemble cast had finally been assembled — I very much felt the game “letting go” completely and expecting me to determine what I was supposed to do next. There was no big cutscene of the heroes having a conference and concluding that they needed to go “here” next; now, it was down to me to gather information and listen out for rumours. If an NPC I chatted to happened to mention something that sounded interesting, I’d go to the place they mentioned and investigate. And, sure enough, there’d be something to do there. The important thing is that I wasn’t explicitly directed to that specific NPC in the first place, nor was I told that “this” was the next thing I had to do. I was free to ignore the rumour and continue seeking information if I desired.
The cool thing about this approach is that it makes the game somewhat non-linear. The major “main quest” for the part of the game I’ve just completed involves collecting several pieces of the legendary Zenithian armour set: a breastplate, a helmet, a shield and a sword. The only one of these that was really “gated” off from me was the sword, which requires the balloon to reach (which, in turn, can’t be used until a specific part of the story is complete) and thus is clearly intended to be the last piece you acquire. Even then I managed to collect it before getting the breastplate, which I hadn’t realised was in a very obvious location that I had forgotten to check previously.
I’ve always really liked RPGs in which part of the quest involves gradually acquiring something that genuinely benefits you in terms of game mechanics, be it an excellent set of equipment as it is here, or an approach seen in something like Compile Heart’s Omega Quintet, whereby you unlock abilities that allow you to traverse previously impassable obstacles. It was extremely satisfying to finally gather the completed Zenithian set, and even more so to make use of it to enter and ascend the huge tower dungeon, The Stairway to Zenithia.
And, of course, meeting the great dragon god at the top was pretty sweet, too.
The upshot of everything I’ve described here is that Chapters of the Chosen has pretty much constantly felt like an honest to goodness adventure that I’ve been playing an active role in, rather than simply following a predefined script I’ve been given. At the same time, there’s been a tight focus and a sense of what I should be doing at all times, rather than the feeling of aimlessness I always feel in modern, content-bloated open-world RPGs such as Bethesda’s titles.
Chapters of the Chosen strikes a great balance between freedom and focus, in other words, and that’s what makes it really work. While you may not have the freedom to go and steal wheels of cheese from shopkeepers and carpet the floor of your local lord’s throne room with them, that particular breed of “freedom” is not something I’ve ever found particularly appealing or enjoyable for more than a few minutes at a time.
What Chapters of the Chosen offers — and what I’m anticipating from subsequent installments in the series — is a clear structure, but a sense that you’re being trusted to work your way through it at your own pace, without handholding and without guidance.
That, it seems, is very much a sweet spot for me — and how much I’ve enjoyed Chapters of the Chosen so far makes me both curious about and excited to explore the subsequent games!
More about Dragon Quest: Chapters of the Chosen
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