Dragon Quest: A Look at Accessibility Through the Years

Dragon Quest

By Taylor Park Cross and James Poggione

Ahh, I’ve been playing a sizable chunk of games in the Dragon Quest series recently on my Nintendo Switch Lite. They’re actually quite relaxing to play. Especially the remakes of the older NES titles. They have a certain simplicity to them that I really like. Sure, they also have annoyances that are inconvenient to those who like modern JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Game). However since they were the among the earliest video game RPGs and the original Dragon Quest is the granddaddy of all JRPGs some growing pains are to be expected. Having said that, I can proudly add Dragon Quest 1 to the list of games I beat. I honestly was charmed by its simple game mechanics, design choices, the sheer openness of the game, and the simple story.

The plot is as follows. You are a knight of the kingdom of Tantagel who the last descendant of the legendary hero is, Erdrick. Your king has summoned you so he can send you off on a quest to take down the evil Dragonlord. Like the awesome hero you are, you accept the best supplies the kingdom can offer, which is a paltry amount of gold, a stick weapon, and some ratty clothes that probably need a good washing. Really …. the king couldn’t have offered something better, like I don’t know, a full suit of armor and a sword? Either way, this game just decides this is the point at which the main crux of the story lies, and once you’re done with the intro, you don’t encounter any other cut scenes in the game until the very end. Which is honestly refreshing.

The refreshing change of pace just doesn’t stop at the simple story in the original Dragon Quest, since the game was designed as a stripped-down version of more complex RPGs at the time like Ultima or Wizardry. And even later JRPGs which tend to be more complex by nature, make Dragon Quest look like a kid’s basic shape puzzle by comparison. To start, there is only one party member (you) which means managing equipment is easy as pie to do. Then, when you enter a battle, there is only one monster on screen at any given moment., making battles way less complex than they can get in other RPGs. Combine that with the fact that it’s just your character doing the fighting and you get the most bare-bones battle system of any JRPG ever. That doesn’t mean the gameplay is bare-bones, though, far from it. In fact, it’s like a lean steak.

That is mainly because Dragon Quest’s main drive is in exploration. Take the very first thing you see in the game after leaving Tantagel castle, for example. You see your castle, your starting town, and the final dungeon. Now, you can’t immediately enter the final dungeon, but its placement and its distinct features automatically create this idea that as the final destination for your quest, you will need to find some way to get there. And oh boy is finding that path not going to be easy.

See, the game is one of those games that will definitely require some amount of thinking about where you can go, where you’ve been, and what your goals are. Which is my only real gripe with this game when it comes to the main thing I write about. As a game, the amount of memory retention can be a little much for someone with mid-to-low functioning capabilities. Even I had to use a guide to beat it, and I have high functioning Autism!

Aside from that, there is one other issue that I will have to bring up because it will help you in the long run to understand this game and its ports if you do decide to use a guide. If you do decide to use an online guide, you have to go in knowing that there are multiple remakes of Dragon Quest, and this includes re-translations that go beyond cleaning up grammar.

There are a lot of places that are renamed, too. Why this is important is because many of the guides online are based on the original NES game, and that includes the names of places in the original game (If you plan to go into the others in the NES entries, this counts for them, too). It honestly makes getting through the game much hairier (not harder, just more annoying), but it’s nothing too hard to get through if you can either do it yourself or have someone else who is ‘normal’ help you get through it.

Besides those two things, there’s nothing really that’s all that annoying about Dragon Quest. I mean the fact that you can only save at Tantagel castle is kind of annoying but it’s not that bad since the game puts the castle as close to the center as possible and is incredibly easy to reach. Dragon Quest, especially with the changes the remakes made, still holds up really well. If you’ve got a modern console of any kind get it, it’s super cheap and well worth the buy. Future entries within the series are better, but this is a great starting point for people who are interested in the series and want to know where to start. Just, remember to do a proverbial Toe-Dip instead of just diving right into the game if you have a cognitive disability.

Taylor and James

Taylor Cross is an adult living with Autism Spectrum Disorder who has dedicated his life to helping others with autism be able to experience gaming in any capacity they can. This came about at first because Taylor made a feature length documentary at in 2006 called Normal People Scare Me. The movie was about what it is like to live with autism from an autistic individual’s perspective. Taylor interviewed 20 people with autism an asked about their experiences of living with it as well as telling his own story. Ten years later Taylor and his mom Keri Bowers made another feature length film called Normal People Scared Me Too a follow up of his previous film. Taylor again interviewed the same individuals to see how their life is now that they are adults with autism.

In 2016 Taylor volunteered to help out Able Gamers for PSX 2016. Mark Bartlett recognized Taylor from his past expertise in the disability community and wanted him to assist on cognitive disabilities because they focused at the time on how to assist individuals with physical disabilities. Taylor brought his expertise and went to multiple conferences and conventions like VRLA, GDC, and E3 where he made great contacts and started the process of helping devs with autism accessibility.

When Taylor starts an accessibility review or assessment he looks first at the visual and auditory stimuli in the game because many individuals with autism get over stimulated with high frequency audio, high contrast images, and repetitive flashing sensation on the screen. Hyper-sensitivity is an experience where stimuli whether it is auditory, tactile, or visual is so overwhelming for the autistic individual that it causes physical pain. As a result of the over-stimulation the individual can’t enjoy the game. After Taylor looks at the stimulation issues, he looks at the controls and sees if the controls are going to present an issue with someone who has processing issues or fine motor issues. Taylor then starts assessing button mapping or alternative modes of interfacing with the game because the more ways to play the more ways individuals can interact with the medium.

Taylor believes gaming is great for autistic individuals not only because it is an escape but because it can teach how to interact with people in a party especially if the narrative is well written and has realistic characters. It also can teach individuals with autism how to behave in a group environment whether it is a co-op game, competitive multiplayer game, or a singer player game with a cast of well written characters.

Taylor and his support staff James started a support group for gamers with autism in Southern California. Many times individuals with autism have a hard time relating to other people but when games are introduced it gives them something to talk about and discuss. As a result of people feeling more comfortable, they are more likely to open up and discuss other issues they may have. Email James Poggione James.poggione@gmail.com if interested.

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