Electric Pinocchio V: The Mute King
In the previous installments I illuminated different kinds of Geppettos and Pinocchios: creator and puppet, creator and robot, game creator and game character, parent and child, player and player character, bildungsroman and reader, game and player…
In this installment we will look at another one of these pairs: king and hero, as portrayed in Dragon Quest, the starting point of the Mario myth turned JRPG. The hero, being an avatar for the player, is mute, so the player can give him his own voice. The king on the other hand, being the most important non-player character (NPC), does talk. The function of the NPCs is to tell the player what to do, they are the voice of the game creator(s) explaining how the game is played, the king being the first one the hero meets in the original Dragon Quest (1986).
The king also commands the most authority, obviously, and can both save your progress and also tell you how much experience points you and your fellow party members need to reach the next level of your bildungsroman. In the Mother games (1989-2006) by ITOI Shigesato, where the Dragon Quest formula is transferred to a contemporary setting, the king in this function is replaced by an absent working father only reachable over the phone; in the later DQ games christianity-esque priests (fathers) serve these functions.
But at the end of their quest of becoming the legendary hero, the heroes themselves get to marry the princess and are crowned king. The hero of the sequel Dragon Quest II (1987) being their son. Finally in Dragon Quest III (1988) we get to play as the original hero Roto (or Erdrick, as he was called in the early NES Dragon Warrior translations), that served as a role model for the hero in DQI. In game he ends up being named what the player chose to name him, sent off by his mother to go out into the world and to again fulfill the king’s missions:
The hero’s quest marks their coming of age and so it is only fitting to give them a taste of what awaits them once they finish it. In Romalia, when you return the stolen Golden Crown, you can be king for a day:
You’re getting a lot of praise and respect as a king, but as a mute player character you lack the capacity to command and actually rule. Instead you’re confined to your work space. The former king on the other hand, freed of his duties, enjoys gambling at the casino. So eventually the player will return to their journey, following the bildungsroman narrative.
There are some recent examples of games in which this nice little subscenario is more played out in full, for example Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King (2008) or Little King’s Story (2009). In the former game the king is also confined to his city but actually builds it himself and can command heroes to go out on quests for him. In the latter the king is more fashioned to be like an ordinary hero and sets out on his own quest. Both games try to provide an alternative to the frustrating experience of being a mute king without a voice to command or the freedom to go where they please.
These games were foreclosed by a small optional subquest in Glory of Heracles IV (1994). Like the above mentioned Mother, this series is one of the more faithful imitators of the DQ formula. But instead of transferring the fantasy setting to a contemporary one like Mother, it reimagines DQ in ancient Greece. One special trait of the hero of the fourth Glory of Heracles game is that he lost his body and instead of changing jobs and thus abilities, he becomes completely different persons he meets. A great number of NPCs can become player characters this way, among them animals, workers of all kinds of trades but also even kings and queens.
One of them called Tairos has a problem with his speech:
“I can’t… speak well.
Zapetto… cut corners…”
Upon locating Zapetto, a puppeteer whose name slightly resembles that of Geppetto, he has the following to say:
Where are you…?”
“Because I cut corners when I made him, Tairos can’t speak well…”
So the player changes to Tairos’ body to reunite puppet and creator:
“Oh! It’s you, Tairos!”
“Let me fix your speech for you right away.”
“A little bit here, a bit there…”
“How do you like it?
Now I have no regrets.”
Back in Troy, Tairos’ speech indeed is fixed:
Listen to how eloquently I can articulate myself!”
“I couldn’t be any happier!
“I wish he hadn’t just fixed my speech but also this king appearance.”
“I guess that’s too much to ask for, since I’m just a puppet, after all.”
“But I’m really strong, maybe I can find work in some other country.”
“Ah, I so want to become a human.”
“It’s so much fun to talk!”
While the NPCs become heroes they’re as mute as any DQ hero, but when going about their NPC lives they all have something to say for themselves. They are individuals with their own stories and secrets that can be discovered.
Optional tasks and detailed NPCs aren’t a new thing by any means, but the mission based structure in which the player can basically search for and choose their own tasks to create part of the narrative has gained prominence in recent game culture. After breaking the barrier between player and non-player characters, Glory of Heracles IV writer and director NOJIMA Kazushige again challenges JRPG traditions in the Last Ranker (2010). In that game, online game inspired ranking matches make any NPC a potential battle opponent and rival. But also a little king, who can offer missions and rewards.Tags: Dragon Quest, Glory of Heracles, HORII Yūji, NOJIMA Kazushige, Pinocchio