Designing a “Dragon Quest clone”

I’m gonna be real here and say that a lot of westerners don’t really like Dragon Quest because of how it’s designed. There have been takes of it being “poorly designed” and the like but I’d like to discuss a certain game for a little bit, today.

Cosmic Fantasy: Bouken Shounen Yuu (Adventurous Boy Yuu) is a simple Dragon Quest clone with some odd mechanic choices and lots of jank. Sprites get laid on top of one another in the order that they shouldn’t be, the music is pretty so-so even for 1990, the game feels overly punishing and while you do get lots of EXP from enemy formations once you get your second party member, Saya, it doesn’t feel good to grind.

The game follows the exploits of a young Cosmic Hunter named Yuu, part of an association meant on safeguarding the galaxy, crash landing on the planet Norg after a collision with some asteroids. As he goes on, he discovers that the planet’s villages and towns have been attacked by monsters and the like and its up to him to stop the once defeated evil mage Morgan and her “shitennou“, from wreaking havoc upon the planet.

Along the way he meets a young village girl named Saya who has magic powers and after the requisite “walking in on a girl taking a bath” scene, she joins his quest to stop Morgan. Yuu also has the ability to channel his bravery and love into psychic powers during brief parts of the story, enabling him to also use magic. It isn’t the best implemented thing.

Cosmic Fantasy is, as I said, bizarrely punishing, expecting you to grind a bit every town as Dragon Quest types are wont to do. But unlike Dragon Quest or Legend of Heroes I, there isn’t an incentive to grind in the form of items and weaponry, with weaponry being far and few between and shop prices being generally cheap. I commonly used this to help me boost levels, but as is, it feels like it’s asking you to gain levels for the sake of it.

Which wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the enemies weren’t also a huge pain. While 7th Saga’s Japanese version had some rude enemies, they could be managed with strong attacks with moderate MP requirements for casting. In CF1, there is the chance that enemies can just decide to pile up on Yuu and knock him out, sending him back to the last place he saved, be it a tent or an inn. And here is where the biggest problem of Cosmic Fantasy lies.

Yuu can’t die, else it’s an instant game over, similar to Lighting in Final Fantasy XIII. As an aside, gaming over sets you back to where you were, last you saved, and this means levels and experience. 7th Saga and Dragon Quest allowed you to coast on the fact that wiping out meant you got to keep your EXP at the expense of halved money. Furthermore, Yuu and Saya’s status ailments are not healed in inns, requiring items to be used on them.

Imagine my bemusement when Saya got petrified by a Medusa enemy in the Lighthouse near Nimlud and I couldn’t do anything about it because, another problem: Monmo, the adorable talking mouse bike that serves as fast travel, simply cannot go through the Volcano Cave, making your fast travel menu reset upon leaving it and Mars City, unless you go back through said Volcano Cave. Furthermore, Nimlud’s store does not carry Moon Drops, the item that heals petrification, and Yuu had no access to his psychic abilities, nor Saya’s inventory since she was petrified. I couldn’t also reset because I stupidly saved, hoping the inn would heal it.

My only resource was to savescum my way back to Mars with Mednafen’s savestate option. It felt horrible, but at least the game sets specific tiles at random to be the encounter tiles so they can be avoided. It’s kind of a Kaizo trap, and not one that feels good. All of this and easy access to stores to stock up on general healing items is things that Dragon Quest and other games have taught me to take for granted, so it’s bizarre that a game released in 1990 has none of that, not even a sort of in-town paid healer option. Which if I’m not mistaken, Dragon Quest III and IV had, forget if FFII and III did, I had to wait until the remakes.

It’s biggest upside is the beautiful, if overly still cutscene visuals, but if the gameplay suffers, it feels sort of hollow. Following up on games like Tengai Makyou Ziria and the TurboGrafx port of Ys I & II, it had some big shoes to fill and. It kind of feels average at best, mediocre at worst. It’s not a game worth being obliterated in an edgy, circa mid 2000s YouTube cringefest where some guy gets bizarrely overly angry at a game trying to ape someone who did that as a joke, no game is, but it’s a game one should approach with caution. I’m sure it has a lot of fans, especially due to the appealing character design, but it’s not for me, even if I’m gonna finish it.

Published by KobaBeach

Queer nerd who likes RPGs a bunch. Not rocket propelled grenades you dummy! Subpar at Japanese but plays JRPGs in Japanese, still.

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