Okay, I got it wrong. I have not yet finished Hand of the Heavenly Bride, nor was I near to doing so.
Well, actually, that might not quite be true. But I have been getting a little distracted on my way to what I can only assume is the final boss: first with grinding to get Bianca up to a similar level as my protagonist and their children, and subsequently with the subject of today’s article.
Many RPGs today concentrate primarily on their core mechanics, with their optional content involving those same mechanics: challenging combat, deep dungeons or hard-to-find items. But the Dragon Quest series, like Final Fantasy, is one that has always incorporated minigames into the mix, with their own completely separate ways of playing. And it’s that I’d like to talk about today.
Shortly after starting Hand of the Heavenly Bride, my then-child age protagonist looted a chest only to discover an item called a “T’n’T Ticket”. At the time, I had absolutely no idea what this would be for, but suspected it would be used for some sort of optional side activity.
It would be quite some time before I’d actually get to use the T’n’T Tickets I’d been gathering — into the second main “era” of the game, as I recall — but it was a pleasant surprise when I did, because they opened the way to a highly enjoyable but pleasantly lightweight side activity that I’ve had a lot of fun with over the course of my complete playthrough.
T’n’T stands for Treasures ‘n’ Trapdoors, a play on Dungeons & Dragons (sometimes abbreviated as DnD) and an in-game “board game” that was added for the Nintendo DS version of Hand of the Heavenly Bride. It’s a completely optional activity, but one that it’s worth engaging in, as the rewards can be significant. But, and here’s where part of its addictive quality comes in, there are also risks.
T’n’T is, at its core, a simple roll-and-move board game. You begin on the marked start point, roll a six-sided die, move that many spaces, then obey the instructions on the space you land on. If the space has no instructions on it, there is a chance you will get into a random battle. If this does not occur, you have the option to search the space for random treasure, but this carries its own risk, too, as there’s a chance that instead of discovering treasure, you’ll fall down a trapdoor and prematurely end your run.
The aim of T’n’T is to make it to the finish space and land exactly on it before you run out of your allocation of die rolls. If you successfully achieve this, you gain access to a special treasure room that carries (usually) unique items. Each T’n’T board you encounter over the course of the game’s duration — there are five in total, one of which is only accessible in the postgame — has its own distinct layout and roll allowance, and they increase in difficulty in accordance with the order you’re most likely to encounter them. The final “secret” one, which I’m yet to reach since I’m not yet in the postgame, has a roughly 3-5% chance of success, according to people who have bothered to calculate such things.
There are a wide variety of different spaces to land on, both good and bad. Some will add or take away from your gold stockpile, some will add or take away from your die roll stockpile, some will nudge the participating character’s stats up or down by a point, some will have completely random special effects on either your character or your particular round of T’n’T, and some offer the potential for treasure. Chests, pots and drawers all have the potential to provide excellent items — as well as a load of old crap — and some of the later boards have separate “dungeons” to explore that unfold as their own completely independent board, often with a much higher chance of receiving beneficial items or effects.
The early boards are fairly linear but as you progress to the harder boards, you’ll often find yourself with a choice of routes, and so it pays to know which way is “best”. Alternative routes don’t necessarily tend to be “shorter”, but sometimes they have teleporters that allow you to skip part of the board, the aforementioned dungeons or a higher incidence of treasure — but this tends to be counterbalanced with an increased element of risk.
The fact you can only take one character across the T’n’T board forces you to think carefully about who is right for the job. The protagonist works pretty well in most cases, to be honest, since he has the ability to heal himself as well as output some good damage if he gets into a fight, but preparation is key on the later boards, since there are many spaces that drain your magic points or deal significant, unavoidable damage. Taking an item like a Sage’s Staff (which allows “free” heals) or MP-restoring items thus becomes important to your success.
And this is, I think, what is most interesting about T’n’T. Although, as a roll-and-move game, your success is ultimately mostly down to fate and luck, there are ways of preparing and strategising to maximise your chances of success. Learning the boards is important, as you’ll definitely determine an optimal (or at least favourite) route after a few attempts. Figuring out the monsters you’re likely to run into is helpful, too, because although the battles on the board tend to not carry much risk, an untimely successful Whack can put you out of commission at a moment’s notice if you’re not ready for it. Thankfully, “death” on the T’n’T board is not considered a “proper” KO so far as the game is concerned, so there is no real penalty beyond simply having to try again.
It’s a great example of a risk versus reward mechanic, in short, and anyone who has ever gambled, played old arcade games or just enjoyed a round of Yahtzee with friends will know how addictive that can be. There’s actually an element of persistent risk in the game as a whole, too; there’s only a finite number of T’n’T tickets scattered around the game world, so if you don’t complete the fourth board by the time you run out, that’s it for your board game adventuring career. On the flip side of that, one of the prizes for the aforementioned fourth board is a T’n’T Pass that allows you to play T’n’T without tickets for the rest of the game… so you can either win big or lose hard.
It’s a simple, silly little diversion of very little relevance to the main quest of Hand of the Heavenly Bride… but gosh, it’s swallowed a good few hours of my playtime so far, and I expect there’ll be a few more before I’m all done!
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