a review of Dragon Quest Swords : The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors
a videogame developed by square-enix
and published by square-enix
for the nintendo wii
text by tim rogers
I’ve wanted to play Dragon Quest Swords since I was six years old. Back then, of course, my parents and schoolteachers were confused as to whether I was Gifted and Talented or just mentally &^#$#ed, and in such a state of emotional probation, it would have been rare (and probably perverted) of anyone to give the time of day to a design document I’d banged out with a pair of purple crayons. I hardly even knew what Dragon Quest was, and all I could think about is how awesome it would be to swing a sword at a television. Well, I’ll tell you one thing I was for sure back then: I was unemployed. I certainly didn’t have enough money to buy a condo with my credit card, I’ll tell you that much. What I did have was a large forest near the house, and fields and rivers and creeks and hills to play in, me and my brother bleating and screaming at each other with toy guys. That was a hell of a something to do. Ultimately, it was probably better than playing videogames. Too bad we ended up in Tokyo, where environmentalists and educators united to declare in 1991 that The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was more wholesome than the actual outdoors, what with all the rapists in panda costumes and abandoned amusement parks we seem to have growing like fungus in the back alleys around here.
Twenty-some years have passed, and any kid in his right mind would rather play Gears of War on his big brother’s Xbox 360 than with some broken GI Joes in the rumpus room. Action figures are, perhaps slowly, hurtling into obscurity — now almost exclusively the playthings of seriously adjusted adult collectors with full-time jobs — because videogames are able to reproduce at least the same thrills without requiring any of the imagination. Dragon Quest Swords is a mutant fried-chicken-wing of videogame design. It’s half action-figure, half videogame. It’s half a serenade to that little boy fallen headfirst into the well of our hearts, who used to heave a giant rubber Godzilla twenty feet across the living room, toward Cobra Commander’s giant purple plastic headquarters, filled to the gills with meticulously posed Star Wars figures at action stations, and it’s halfway just another Dragon Quest game. It’s halfway a joyful exploitation of the Nintendo Wii’s remote-control gimmick, and halfway a disappointing clash of cool concept versus watered-down execution.
A couple of years ago, Square-Enix released Kenshin Dragon Quest, which was, at the time, kind of a shameful thing, though also kind of hilarious, and also kind of awesome. Sporting a box large enough to contain delicious cereal and coated in original art by Akira Toriyama, Kenshin Dragon Quest was essentially a plastic sword that you plugged into the yellow and white jacks on your television. There was, somehow, a game inside that plastic casing. They showed this at Tokyo Game Show — the line to play it was bafflingly three hours long. I took a picture of a guy swinging the plastic sword at a television, and later loaded the photo onto a computer workstation, where I realized that the sword was glowing fiercely white, like a lightsaber. At first, I wondered if the sword had been, perhaps, possessed by the ghost of a vampire, though I soon realized: that’s how the TV knows where the sword is.
When released, the game had an odd amount of depth. There was walking, there was fighting, there was leveling-up, there was Dragoning, there was Questing. It was good enough, when one considered it was a plastic sword that you plug into your television. I first played it with a playground-like delight, then eventually felt a little stupid and guilty. To make a menu choice, you have to hold the sword up, and point it at the choice you want to make, and keep it held there for a couple of seconds. That feels kind of weird; it feels kind of like Sony’s EyeToy games for PlayStation 2 (while we’re at it: why does no one yell at Nintendo for “stealing” the DS’s touch-screen concept from the EyeToy? enough people yelled at Sony for “stealing” motion controls, hell). Though eventually, one remembers those “Captain Power” TV games from the early 1990s: you aim a plastic toy spaceship with a gun handle at a television playing a videotape of hokey animation full of epilepsy-inducing orange patterns that, when detected by your ship’s light sensor, cause you “damage”. If enough “damage” is scored, the action figure in the pilot’s seat is ejected. The thing is, “Captain Power” was only ever just a videotape; it couldn’t assess your performance any way other than negatively. It could only tell you “You Lose”, and never “You Win”. (If we wanted to keep beating off to this rhythm, we could mention Tetris, and how the only things you can see in Tetris are your mistakes, the blocks “left behind” after a successful line-clear. In Tetris, when you lose (and lose you must), you growl and start over. At least Tetris can tell you your score.) All “Captain Power” did, to the kids unfortunate enough to stumble across it at a yard sale in 1993 and beg their mothers to buy it, was instill a kind of gentle, furious justification for rule-breaking: if Captain Power gets ejected, you just put him right back in the hecking pilot’s seat like nothing happened, maybe yell at mom if those frozen pizzas are done yet.
A year after Kenshin Dragon Quest was released, Square-Enix released Dragon Quest VIII for the Sony PlayStation 2, and my, it was such a gorgeous little videogame. It was the biggest little videogame in the world. Like the original Dragon Quest many years before it, it wore its heart on its sleeve, only now its sleeve was so three-dimensional and lovable and touchable. The adventure was huge, the environments painstakingly rendered, and the insides of houses looked so lived-in. The color palettes were breathtaking. The battle system was the same as ever — the same as in all seven Dragon Quest games before it — and no one whose opinion is worth trusting really cared too much, because the heart of the game lies in the adventure, anyway, hence the word “Quest” in the title.
A year later, Nintendo announced the true shape and form of their Nintendo “Revolution” controller. A video presentation shown at the press conference contained footage of an interview with Yuji Horii, Dragon Quest series producer. He said he found the controller quite brilliant, and he looked forward to developing something for it. A year later, the name of the “Revolution” was revealed: it would be called the “Wii”. A game called Dragon Quest Swords would be a launch title. Japan halfway imploded, then halfway exploded. In other words, Japan ended up pretty much how they’d been to begin with, only after experiencing a little quick and drastic pressure change.
Dragon Quest Swords didn’t make the launch window. One thing that did make the Wii launch window, however, was the announcement that Dragon Quest IX would be an action game for the Nintendo DS. The collective gasp-scream sucked the air out of the island of Honshuu for a full three seconds.
Dragon Quest Swords would actually be released eight months after the release of the Wii, though before that, it was announced that Dragon Quest IX would not, as previously reported, be an action game. Rather, it would be a multiplayer menu-based RPG. Half the world hated this revelation; the game, nonetheless, still sits at the top of Weekly Famitsu‘s top-twenty “Most Wanted” games chart, leading Final Fantasy XIII for the PlayStation 3 by some 500 votes, at the time of this writing.
Why did they change Dragon Quest IX back to a menu-based battle system? Yuji Horii said, in an interview, that too many people were scared of it being an action game. Blame Famitsu, then, for running a four-page feature of reader moans and groans.
Playing Dragon Quest Swords, though, I’m not really sure if that was the case. It’s a subtle thing to put precisely into words. Let’s try:
Dragon Quest Swords kind of sucks. It also kind of doesn’t suck. It’s in the weirdest state of flux.
Let’s try to talk about the good stuff. First of all: it’s a Dragon Quest game. It has precisely one town, though that town is big and bright and beautifully rendered, like the towns in our darling Dragon Quest VIII. There’s curious, flames-of-fantasy-igniting architecture on display, like the giant stone staircase leading from the bottom of the town up to the castle. There are shops to buy items, weapons, armor. The characters in town all have friendly faces, and many of them speak in animated voices: this is the first Dragon Quest released in Japan to feature any voice acting, as such.
The story segments are lovingly presented, as well — about as lovingly as the segments in Dragon Quest VIII, plus voices, and delightful midi music by either the great Koichi Sugiyama or the kind-of-great Manami Matsumae, whose compositions are almost indistinguishable (she’s no doubt been astutely listening for years). The story itself is a little (or, well, a lot) thin: you play the part of a boy who’s just turned sixteen years of age, which means you’re old enough to be recognized as a man, though only if you complete the hero’s trial at the dungeon-like cave close to town. Complete the task, and the prince confides in you: his mother has been acting strange lately. She’s wearing a weird mask and seldom leaving her room. Go with the prince, now, on adventures to discover the nature of the mask. On your first hiking expedition together, you’ll meet a big-haired, rag-doll-like Gothic Lolita named Setia, who, should you select her as your questing partner instead of the prince, will incessantly tell you you’re cool and/or strong at precisely the exact same point during each loop of the battle music, in addition to casting a spell that makes your shield bigger. If only I could find a girlfriend with such attention to detail. The full title of the game is Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors, which makes it the first Dragon Quest adventure to name a dungeon in its title. I’ve already told you about the “Masked Queen”. You can probably guess the rest of the story, maybe with the assistance of some crayons. Just because you can approximate its narrative arc with crayons and construction paper, however, doesn’t mean that Dragon Quest Swords can’t end with a nice little splash of emotion. Though when it does, it kind of feels like Dragon Quest: The Spirits Within, taking all the feelings normally evoked in a Dragon Quest game and condensing them all into an easily digestible goo of entertainment. Too bad that the preceding 99% of the game has been pandering nonsense-bullstuff.
Yes: the biggest and blackest blotch on Dragon Quest Swords‘ report card would be that it took me four hours of casual, mostly-naked play to complete. Yes, four hours. I’m normally not one to complain about the lengths of games, seriously. My favorite game ever, Super Mario Bros. 3, can be bested in less than an hour. However, in the case of Dragon Quest Swords, which comes from a long line of excessively long-winded games, the shortness is a symptom of a minor-class disaster. There is love in its construction, though there’s hardly any empathy. It’s the first Japan-released Dragon Quest to feature voices, though it does so at the cost of featuring only a fraction of a story, a fragment of a “Quest”, a mere sliver of the attention granted to other games in the series — though not without half of a good reason.
Tragically, however, the game’s thinness is most startlingly revealed by just how thick and juicy the good parts are. I’m talking about the control scheme. It’s wonderful. At a Nintendo Wii event in Chiba in 2006, the game was playable, and it required both the nunchuk and the Wii-mote to play; soon after, the game missed its launch-window release date. By the time the Square-Enix Party event in early 2007 rolled around, the game only required the Wii-mote. Someone on the team had seen through the bullstuff. Why should you need the nunchuk? You can walk perfectly fine with the D-pad on the Wii-mote (though I’d still kind of wish it was just an analog stick). I mean, what else is it there for? Press up on the Wii-mote’s D-pad to walk forward, or just keep the B button trigger held, and use left and right on the pad to steer. Listen to the cute little footsteps coming out of the Wii-mote speaker! Press the B button and up on the pad at the same time to run. Listen to the cute running sound effect coming out of the Wii-mote speaker! (Oh, wait, it’s just the walking sound effect, sped up. And . . . glitching. It makes a little pop-squeak sound, now. I guess the cuteness is unintentional.) Using this control scheme, we can quite flawlessly navigate the town in first-person. If you see a suspicious barrel, hoist the Wii-mote up out of your crotch and point it at the TV. Click on the barrel, and its top flips off. You got an herb! Wow. It’s like one of those point-and-click adventures all over again. Yeah. You know what this game is? It’s the world’s first FPDQ.
Then you leave the town.
Click a location on the world map to enter a stage. Now, here you are. Out in the wilderness. The very first stage pits you against a bolt-straight path through a grassy field, headed for a cave in the side of a mountain. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to walk straight down that path, straight into that cave, and straight through to the boss. Beat the boss, and you’ll be shown a status report: how many enemies you killed, how many you let get away, how much damage you scored, et cetera.
The catch is, you can’t deviate from the path. All you can do is walk straight forward or slowly step backward. You can’t even turn around. All turning around would accomplish is to make you realize that you can’t fight any enemy party more than once. My first run-through of the game, I was so excited to be swinging a controller at my TV that I barely had time to notice this potential for joylessness. It was more like a creeping suspicion, that first time through. Either way, it spoiled my full enjoyment.
One could justify the game’s design choices, kind of. The dungeons aren’t “dungeons” so much as they’re DQ-flavored “action stages”. You walk from fight to fight. The fights are exhilarating. Sometimes you ace a battle, sometimes you make a couple mistakes. The aces make you feel awesome, the mistakes make you want to do better next time. Between run-throughs of stages, you can assess your performance, buy new weapons or armor, and head back and try it again. Never before has a Dragon Quest encouraged such nonchalant controller-passing, either: give the Wii-mote to a buddy and tell him to try an action stage. It’s a nice kind of a camaraderie, a good beverage-sipping game (just don’t sip beverage during a battle, when your arms are flailing). You won’t mind your friends playing your save file because, really, there’s nothing they can mess up. And therein, kind of, lies the flaw.
In a game with all the trappings of an epic adventure, it just never feels like your epic adventure. The most brilliant way to capsulate this vacant feeling is to merely describe what happens between battles in an action stage: absolutely nothing. You just keep walking. Straight down the path. You may not deviate. Win two battles in a row and then walk backward, all the way to the front of the stage, and you can enjoy a super-slow, merry stroll. You can stand still and drink your way through an entire six-pack of beer, and the white clouds wafting in the blue sky won’t know any better. The action stages, shockingly, are wallpaper. And even more shockingly still, it makes you realize that that’s typically all videogames are, is wallpaper. I could do without the existential dread, Square-Enix!
What a role-playing game (RPG) should do is tell me a story, make me forget it’s all just wallpaper. Japanese-style RPGs take a lot of guff in the game-critique community for being vapid and shallow button-mashers with sub-literary stories. Personally, I’ve always tried to give them more credit than they’re perhaps due, probably because game designers deserve encouragement too, yeah? In recent years, I’ve wondered why the battle systems in RPGs — the oft-criticised, oft-bemoaned battle systems — are always so drab and boring. Xenogears might have been recognized as brilliant, if the battle system hadn’t been plain as hell. What about all these Gundam games? Why can’t someone make an RPG with an action-packed, dynamic battle system? How about the plot, pacing, and love that a developer puts into an RPG, applied to one of those giant-robot action games, or even a Dynasty Warriors-like action schlock-fest? Would it be too much to budget? Game developers would rather divide up the talent: have team A make a slow-paced game with a great story that some people will like, and have team B make a fast-paced schlock-opera that some other people will like. Some people might like both — well, they can buy both. Maybe it’s naive to imply that someone should at least try to please everyone at once. Though really. Maybe if Xenosaga‘s battle system had at least matched the, um, ambition of its story, it wouldn’t be regarded as the most fantastic bullet-train-wreck in Japanese game design history.
. . . Right?
Or maybe it would have just revealed how pale the rest of the game is. Hmmm.
Dragon Quest Swords has a hell of a battle system. Enemies pop up on the screen. You slash at them. There’s more to it than that, though. Sometimes the enemies are far away. They might cast a spell — hold down the B-button to change your pointer to a shield! The spell’s target location shows as an orange dot on the screen. Hold the shield over the orange dot to block the spell. Sometimes enemies get really close. It’s hard to do damage when they’re too close, so use the shield to block their physical attacks. It can get pretty tricky: you have to be looking for actual visual cues. Some enemies will fly at you in formations. Press the A button to lock on to a specific point of the screen. Now swing the Wii-mote horizontally, vertically, or diagonally in order to hit all of the enemies at once. (Some people have complained about the screen-locking, though seriously, if I had to slash a precise vector every time I wanted to take out a line of enemies, I’d have probably not bothered to play through the game. Enix have studied the Wii-mote in all its glory, and made the right design choice.) Some enemies might prefer to stay back and shoot projectiles — like, say, arrows — at you. The arrows’ targets will be marked with little blue dots. Lock on to the blue dot, and then swing the Wii-mote with the correct level of fierceness, and in the right direction, to send the arrow back. The geometry gets even more interesting when two or three arrows are coming at you at once. Occasionally, you’ll meet an enemy that can only be slashed vertically, not horizontally, and sometimes, you’ll have to block an enemy’s attack in order to get him to fall back and open himself to your own attack, and sometimes, these enemies won’t attack you if you’re just standing there holding your shield up. Sometimes, you’ll need to “lunge” at enemies by locking on to their location and jabbing the Wii-mote at the screen.
These are the basic elements of the battle system, and it’s mildly fascinating to see how many permutations the designers can put them through without it ever feeling old. If you’re really good at it, or really bad at it, however, the weirdest little quirks become visible. Namely, it’s not much fun if you’re very good, and it’s too easy if you’re very bad. Let’s put it this way: most enemies’ middle-strength attacks will knock you back for a full five to ten (maddening) seconds if you’re hit, so you can assess the battle without danger of being hit by any of the other enemies. Get hit too much, and you’ve still no worries: you can open the menu at any time, which pauses the action, so you can heal yourself. Your partner will probably be healing you at all times anyway, though if he or she runs out of magic, you can use an herb on yourself. (As a side-note, the menus are great. Very Wii-mote-optimized. After surviving Resident Evil 4 for Wii’s menus, I’m tipping my hat at Dragon Quest Swords.) If you run out of herbs and magic, you can just head back to town by choosing “Head back to town” from the menu at any time, even during a battle. There, you can spend all your money on new armor or weapon upgrades.
The first armor upgrade boosts your “defense” stat from 3 to 7. The second upgrade boosts your “defense” from 7 to 22.
Math fans in the audience: you now have enough information to solve the mystery of “Who Killed Dragon Quest Swords?”
Exhibit B: the sound effect that plays when your sword is fully charged. The sound effect, a radiating “SHOOON”, is something like the mental reverberation that occurs when it’s time to stop delaying and put on the god damned condom — before it’s too late. When the sword is charged, you can pull off a deathblow attack, which is basically a super-strong attack that kills everything on the screen if it’s done correctly. Doing it correctly requires mild precision in a Wario Ware-like mini-challenge. Hit, and the sword depletes to 0%. If you miss, your sword is depleted to 90%, so that you’ll be back up to 100% in no time. Even from this, we can crayon-draw a loopy line straight to a red hand: the better you are at the deathblow attacks, the less frequently you’ll be asked to use them; the worse you are at the deathblow attacks, the more frequently you’ll be asked to attempt and then fail them. This isn’t even the clue, though: the clue is the sound effect. It’s loud and piercing. It cuts right through the heart of a battle, letting you know your sword is charged. In Final Fantasy VII, a character’s “FIGHT” command is highlighted in pink when their “LIMIT” gauge is full. If you don’t want to use that character’s Limit Break, you can just keep putting it off for several battles, until a boss battle, if needs be. In Dragon Quest Swords, it isn’t that simple. The sound persists. Even when the battle ends, the sound persists, even as you continue to walk slowly, stand still, or peruse the menu. It reminds me of this microwave I had once, which kept beeping every thirty seconds after the burrito was done cooking, to remind me, hey, jackass, you have a burrito in the microwave, and it’s getting cold.
Likewise, the game commits the 3D Zelda Sin, and sees fit to throw up a tutorial window in front of your face every single time you meet a new enemy whose projectiles can be slashed back at him with your sword. If only the first tutorial window had mentioned something about all attacks with blue target markers being returnable! Well, maybe it did, and maybe the designers just knew we weren’t going to read that tutorial window, anyway. Again, we recall the mad-scientist-like discovery of Team 3D Zelda: players absent-minded enough to forget that keys unlock doors have probably lost the box and the instruction manual, though miraculously not the game.
What this all indicates — well — I won’t dare put it into words, for fear of being flamed. All I can say is that, maybe, “Nothing in excess” isn’t the best rule for designing videogames. Maybe there always should be at least one thing in excess. Let’s leave it at that. There you go. I’m done.
Okay, maybe not: the simplest way to put it is that Dragon Quest Swords is a brilliant, shining shell. It has some ripe gameplay concepts that could, quite easily, be popped into place in a game of more integrity. It gives me a newfound appreciation for scenario in RPGs — why not just take the scenario of, say, Dragon Quest VI, render the game in first-person 3D, and replace all of the random, turn-based battles in the minutely-plotted dungeons with these clever action-based challenges? Because that would make the game too hard for some people, obviously, and this new age of videogames isn’t about that. We can’t render a huge quest in a game if we’re not certain that everyone will be able to get through it to the very end. Millions of people play these things; in Japan, if a Dragon Quest was too hard, people would give up, and then, when the next one came out, they’d think, “Well, I didn’t quite finish the last one, did I?” If nothing else, these games are balancing acts, and Yuji Horii is a veritable master of the tightrope, a king of the flying trapeze, able to smoke a cigarette and down a snifter of brandy even when upside-down. This kind of action-heavy play is a loose cannon, and it’s just exciting enough to tip the scales, to send Dragon Quest Swords down into the fiery hell of games that just weren’t made as well as they could have been. As-is, the game doesn’t take a moment to flirt with any dynamic possibilities, and just squanders every damned moment of its running time; it takes until 90% of the way through the game for the designers to realize that hey, they can have multiple paths through stages, which are activated by the players’ performance in battle, and then about two-percent more of game for them to drop it altogether in favor of keeping everyone — even Comatose Grandpa — from feeling inadequate. And then there are drop-dead-Square-like, physiologically appalling spots, like how the game doesn’t offer to buy back your old armor right away after you buy new armor, nor does it let you sell something that’s currently equipped (Dragon Quest VIII did, damn it), even if the shield you want to sell is worth just enough to bump your current supply of gold to the price of the new shield. The truth is clear as mud: the game doesn’t want you to be without a shield for even a second, because then you might forget to ever equip the shield again, and when one of the pop-up tutorial menus in the final stage mentions the B button and the shield and you press the B button and there’s no shield, your tiny head might explode. Either that, or because the coal-tar-stuffters at Square got the better of the production, and forced in as much menu-navigation as possible. They — the men who play PowerPoint like a piano — call that “replay value”.
I’m going to be as mean as possible in the next paragraph. Maybe it’ll be funny, though it probably won’t be.
Why it took them seven extra months of stalling, of inverse wheedling, to release this game, I have no clue. They could have thrown it on the hecking Wii Play disc and got it over with. I’d dare to say that it isn’t even a real hecking game. Sure, you can play the stages over again, though why would you bother? To get higher scores? To make money to buy more groovy items, so you can have one of every sword? Or you can be extra daring, and take the secret path hidden in each level. Yes, this would be the part of each level where, after a fork where you’re given a chance to go left or right, you end up walking five feet into a solid wall and then being told you have to turn around, and then returning to the fork. Once you beat the game, go back to those forks, and get your revenge on that wall to, eventually, find a hidden final boss. This kind of OCD just isn’t fun in Dragon Quest Swords, when the only action between battles is stoned walking, imprisoned between two invisible brick walls, unable even to rotate your character’s head left or right. Almost everything about this game, come to think of it, is an afterthought, the only fore-thought being “Let’s make a game about slashing with the Wiimote, and let’s make it straightforward enough for lobotomites to play”. They didn’t put in any, say, puzzles, I guess, because that would distract the team from the meat: the battle system. I guess, if you put it that way, it sounds noble. Though guess what, jackass? It’s not noble. It’s actually kind of pathetic! The developers knew they had a surefire hit on their hands — phenomenally selling console, casual fans popping out of the woodwork — and this whole cancer of an industry is too bone-headed to shake off the “only the first weeks of sales matters” mentality, so the game ends up, essentially, a shell — not even half a game, or a quarter of a game, or even an eighth of a game: it’s a sixteenth of a videogame. Square-Enix, whose last dozen or so “big” games have ended up on the bargain racks, needs to learn, like Nintendo has, to harness the power of the word-of-mouth sell. Because right now, the word-of-mouth on the street is that Dragon Quest Swords isn’t worth six thousand yen, and that word is right. It gets two stars for the gall and the balls possessed by its benefactors, who published a game with a design document apparently written by a six-year-old. (For comparison, Kingdom Hearts gets zero stars on account of the forty-year-old who wrote its design document’s being mentally handicapped.)
Fortunately or unfortunately, the odd “I’d rather play my real guitar instead of Guitar Hero” argument doesn’t quite apply to Dragon Quest Swords; it’s with the weirdest sensation of guilt that I admit the reason I wouldn’t rather swing a real sword than play Dragon Quest Swords is because I would probably rather play a real Dragon Quest game. In that sense, Dragon Quest Swords is to Guitar Hero as a regular Dragon Quest game is to a real guitar. Puzzling times, indeed.
Another sign of puzzling times: Akira Toriyama’s character designs. Some of them, like the father — who used to be the greatest swordsman in the kingdom, until he lost a hand, which is now replaced with a robotic metal hand, which you would imagine might make him a better swordsman — are pretty inspired. The prince is unlike any nobleman Toriyama has designed before. The young girl character, however, a gothic lolita of the highest distinction, is already being moaned about on the internet: “why must Toriyama give in to the times and make a maid-like gothic lolita character? Has he no dignity!?” These same complainers might have said as recently as two weeks ago that all Toriyama ever does is draw the same three faces. Make up your minds, people! I find the character designs a remarkable gesture; as long as Toriyama’s willing to design characters, I’m willing to have him design characters. I’m not the biggest fan or anything, though hey, he’ll be missed when he retires. Distinctiveness is something games have all too little of and too much of at the same time. If the gothic lolita in Dragon Quest Swords is Toriyama’s way of imitating Kingdom Hearts‘ Tetsuya Nomura, then it’s even more classy than I thought. Nomura obviously got into videogame character design because he was a fan of Toriyama; he asked himself, one day, “What would [Dragon Ball Z’s] Son Goku look like, if he was real?” and then answered his own question, by drawing a cartoon character who would eventually be named Cloud. If art is self-expression and design is theft, then getting better with age requires a pinch of in-breeding. Mr. Toriyama, we look forward to Dragon Quest X, as long as it’s not for the Nintendo Wii. To everyone involved: thanks for the preview. It was kind of fun. You know my number; give me a ring the next time you decide to release a real game.