18/07/2012

QUIZ & DRAGONS (ARCADE)

Four brave warriors set out on a quest to fight some dragons, defeat a demonic overlord and restore peace, blue skies and random-encounter-free countrysides to the kingdom. So far, so exactly the same as every fantasy-themed videogame... but what if instead of using sensible things like swords and magic spells to achieve their goals, they used the raw power of trivia to free the land from evil? Hah, bet you didn't see that one coming! Unless you read the title of this article, of course. There's a pretty big clue in there. Anyway, I hope you've memorised that big book of pub quiz questions I sent you, because it's time for Capcom's 1992 arcade pop-culture-ephemera-and-sporting-stats-em-up Quiz & Dragons: Capcom Quiz Game.


To answer the question burning foremost in your mind, yes: this game is about quizzes and dragons. That's pretty much all it's about, really, and there'll be plenty of time to enjoy those two elements in due course. First, though, it's time to let Capcom set the scene for us.


I'm going to assume that the Mayor of Capconia is Mike Haggar. Yes, Capconia is a merry and colourful kingdom, a land of contented citizens who live in the shadow of a giant clifftop castle, a place where the King's men are quick to offer the populace a wide range of amenities, although they do have a tendency to build a slightly improved version of said amenities a few months later and tax people all over again to pay for them.
Capconia is home to the Wisdom Seed, an artifact of vague purpose that can grant the holder power...


...although apparently not the power to stop a demon king called Gordian from entering your land and stealing it. Wisdom Seed sez: giant horned monsters called Gordian are generally evil and should be kept away from peaceful clifftop kingdoms. In Capconia's defence, Gordian did bring an army of "his foulest monsters" with him, and there's only so much a seed can do to protect against that. I mean, Gordian even has a regiment of dragons to do his evil bidding!


Quizzin' dragons, naturally. Just take a second to contemplate what that last sentence implies about the world of Quiz & Dragons, won't you? The kingdom is under attack, day turned to night by the shadows of a dragon's wing, and as you prepare to flee the city and leave behind all you hold dear one of these mighty beasts swoops down from the skies and lands in front of you. "Answer me well, mortal, for your very life depends on it!" shouts the dragon, because as a species they are rather given to pomposity. "What is the capital of Burkina Faso?" You think for a moment as the dragon regards you with his baleful eyes, and then you say "Ouagadougou?" "Bugger," says the dragon. "That's right." Then the dragon flies over to Terry from down the road and asks him who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1976. This is the world of Quiz & Dragons.
Clearly this situation can't go on, so four brave heroes assemble to reclaim the Wisdom Seed by quizzing their way through monster-infested countryside before eventually matching their wits (or at least their knowledge of unimportant factlets) with Gordian himself.


Before you begin you must select a character, each with a different special power that'll help them to quiz more effectively. The Fighter - not usually a class I'd associate with intellect, but what the hey - regains health points more frequently than the other characters. The Wizard can sometimes select the category of the questions you'll be facing before the round starts. The Amazon has the power to randomly remove one or two incorrect answers from a question, and the Ninja sometimes inflicts two points of damage on an enemy instead of the usual one when answering correctly.
I know you'd think that the Wizard, a 318-year-old man of great learning, might be the obvious front-runner here but half of the questions are about pop culture (the pop culture of the late eighties, at least) and if he's anything like my grandmother he won't be able to remember anything that happened in the last thirty years.


Capcom actually did a good job of balancing the four heroes: each of their powers are useful and no-one is the clear best option. The Wizard would be fantastic if his power activated more often, but I think the Amazon is probably my favourite because removing answers facilitates the guesswork that I was frequently reduced to. If you're feeling particularly confident about your knowledge of trivia then I'd suggest taking the Ninja, because if you answer correctly he makes the game much faster. I started out as the Ninja, but please don't take that as a sign that I'm supremely confident in my quizzing abilities - I just pressed the wrong button on the character select screen. That... doesn't bode well.


Your journey is presented as a board game, complete with rolling dice - you move the number of squares shown on your dice roll and then fight whatever monster you land on. In this case I rolled a one, so I'll be battling a slime.


Bad things to say on a first date no. 1,275: "Prepare for slime."


At last, here's the meat of the game. You'll be seeing this screen a lot, and it's all fairly self-explanatory. In a way I've reviewed this game before, because the gameplay in Quiz & Dragons is almost identical to SNK's Quiz Daisousa Sen: you press the button that corresponds to what you think is the right answer. Get it right and the enemy takes damage, indicated by the "Points Needed" bar at the top of the screen. Get the question wrong, or fail to answer before the timer runs out, and you lose a point of health. Answer enough questions right and the monster is defeated, defeat enough monsters and you'll reach the boss. Simple, concise and easy to play. I killed the slime with my knowledge of Greek Mythology and a lucky guess on the topic of the movie Mr. Destiny, and my next opponent is a goblin. What have you got for me, little man?


Whoo boy, you're quizzin' against the wrong son of a bitch now. Even spelling "Hicks" and "Henriksen" wrong isn't gonna throw me off - if you come after me with questions about the greatest action film ever made you are going to be destroyed.


After making that goblin the laughing stock of Gordian's army, I managed to land on an Inn square. The Inn Master, a mustachioed plump-gut who looks like Goku from Dragonball Z if he'd really let himself go, promises to restore your health if you can answer one question correctly. Whatever, man, it's not like I'm out there trying to save the kingdom - your home, you ungrateful prick - from eternal enslavement. Fine, I'll answer your question: how hard can it be?


Ah, fuck. Here we witness my most treacherous foe in all of Quiz & Dragons: American Sports. Obviously, I know nothing about baseball, or American football, or basketball, especially not things like which establishment of higher education former players attended. And this is one of the less impenetrable questions, because at least I know what sport it's referring to (unless baseball also has quarterbacks: I wouldn't know) and I have actually heard of John Elway. Still, I don't know the answer or anything useful like that and so this question - like every other question about American sports - becomes a wild guess with a 25% chance of success. That's okay, I'm cool with the fact that I don't know everything and there are bound to be gaps in my knowledge and I wouldn't have a problem with it if wasn't for the fact that seemingly every other question is about American sports. I know it's easy to put sports questions into any quiz, because you can just buy a big book of statistics and make the questions up from there, but it does get very tedious for European like me. If all the questions about American sports had been replaced with soccer questions, my final percentage of correct answers would have almost certainly been about 80% instead of the 65% or so it turned out to be.
In the end, none of this mattered because I already had full health. Screw you, Inn Master.


This is a wyvern, and he's barely even a proper dragon so no wonder he's the first boss. Can I handle your questions? Well, it depends if they're about batting averages and yards gained or about something I might actually know.


Or there's always guessing. Guessing works too. Boss fights work exactly the same as ordinary battles except with longer health bars, and once you've beaten the boss you can move on to the next stage.


Not before the wyvern has a little tantrum, though. You would have to have either a very limited imagination or an extreme phobia of quizzes for what follows to be considered "hell," but I'll let the wyvern have his moment because it looks like I've severely wounded his semi-dragon pride.


That's about it for the gameplay, really. The only other type of square you can land on besides monster and inns are the Elf tiles.


The Elf works like the Inn except instead of restoring your hit points, she grants you a magical item if you answer her question correctly. The items mostly have the effect of one of the player character's skills and are guaranteed to work in the next battle, but if you get really lucky she'll give you the Ring of Wisdom. I managed to collect a Ring of Wisdom just before the stage two boss. The Ring of Wisdom's power? It shows you what the right answer is.


That'll be my bones staying un-charred, then. Fantastic.
And that's Quiz & Dragons: but it is fun? Well, I enjoyed it. Of course, a quiz game like this lives or dies by the questions on offer, and I think Capcom did a decent job of covering a lot of different bases. The prevalence of sports questions aside, there's a good mix of categories and levels of obscurity, although the difficulty of the questions does seem to vary quite a lot from one to the next and you're sometimes presented with things like "What is the capital of Russia?" followed immediately by "How many calories are there in a cup of dried almonds?" (the answer is 1,032, apparently). As this game was released in the early Nineties some of the questions are outdated or rely on knowledge of the 1980s, so if you're younger than me, say 18 or so, you might have a bit more trouble.


One of the more interesting aspects of the questions is that Quiz & Dragons ends up revealing what subjects you know most about. What did it say about me? That I'm a colossal fuckin' nerd, quelle surprise - almost stereotypically so, doing well on science, mythology and science fiction and really, really badly on sports. My knowledge of the rock music of the '80s also helped out quite a bit:


Personally, I find it hard to dislike a game where a necromancer asks me questions about thrash-metal legends Anthrax. I do wonder what age range Quiz & Dragons was aimed at, though: there are a lot of questions here that I wouldn't have expected most younger kids to know, (although I'm not sure what the average age of arcade attendees was in 1992,) and the fantasy setting might have put older players off. But what do I know? I'm sure children would have at least known about Jack the Ripper's preferred victims.


As this is a Capcom game from the early nineties, at least you know the presentation's going to be good and so it proves to be. It’s hardly the most demanding game in terms of the graphics, but the spritework is nice and the enemy designs are good, fun takes on the standard fantasy tropes. I particularly like the White Dragon, because he looks utterly insane.


It's a nice change to see a dragon who isn't proud and regal and all that; this guy's just a huge monster with a lunatic's stare and a dire need for some dental surgery. I've invented him a whole backstory and everything, where he was driven mad by years engaged in the solitary study of trivia books and this also caused his teeth to somehow turn into giant bananas. Look, I've not got it all figured out yet.
Would you like to see the final boss? Of course you would!


It's the Lord of Darkness from Legend! If only Tim Curry was the final boss of every videogame, that'd be... well, it'd make Silent Hill even weirder but I think he'd fit right into most Final Fantasy games. Can you imagine Tim Curry as Kefka? Hell, now I can imagine nothing else. I also love the way he greets you - "ugh, I guess I should congratulate you, you nerds." Naturally the final battle is only as difficult as the questions that come up, so Gordian isn't much tougher than any other enemy in the game, and son you'll have completed Quiz & Dragons.


You get the standard "cheers for saving the kingdom and that" ending, with King Santa Claus here dropping subtle hints that we shouldn't leave the kingdom because some other hell-spawned dark lord is bound to steal the Seed of Wisdom again soon. The ending tells of how your names have gone on to become "household words," presumably as by-words for valour and courage and soup. Wait, what?


Yep, those are the final words of the ending: an enterprising restaurateur immortalises our heroes' names for all times as flavours of canned soup. Nothing wrong with that, it's a pretty common reward - I'm sure you all remember the tale of how Mr. Heinz destroyed the Dread Magus Krexullor in days gone by.


I must admit, Quiz & Dragons is pretty good fun, especially when played with friends who will shout out conflicting answers and call you a moron for not knowing that the nickname of New Mexico is "The Land of Enchantment." There's even a two-player mode, where the player who stumbles upon the right answer first gets more points. The presentation is nice, it's simple enough with a few little extras to keep it from being too basic and the questions strike a decent balance as long as you're old enough to know what they're talking about. My only major gripe is that, especially if you're unlucky with your dice rolls or the questions that come up, it can take a long time to get through a game. Over an hour, even, and I wouldn't want to be standing in an arcade playing Quiz & Dragons for a full hour. That doesn't really matter nowadays, though, so if you want to play a quiz game you might as well make it Quiz & Dragons because it's got werewolves and wizards and Tim Curry.
But I'm not quite done with this yet. You see, the Japanese version of Quiz & Dragons wasn't released until two years after the US version, and Capcom spent that time completely changing the way the game looks. Take a peek at the character select screen near the top of this article, and now look at the Japanese version:


The same four guys, but now in an art style that reminds me of Red Earth / Warzard. It's not just graphical changes, either, because while the core gameplay is identical Capcom also added some RPG-style touches.


You enter a name when you select you character, (and you can't switch characters when you continue,) and as you play you can gain experience and level up. I'm not entirely certain what levelling up does, besides that it sometimes increases your maximum hit points, but I'd assume it has other effects like making your special skill more likely to trigger. Why did Capcom spend all this time and effort changing a basic quiz title into a semi-RPG? Well, without wanting to make too broad a generalisation I'd say it's because Japanese gamers bloody loved games with RPG elements bolted on. Personally I think it's kind of cool, and it's a shame that the US version didn't get the same treatment, but I don’t think it would have made that much difference to my overall enjoyment of the game.


One final thing worth mentioning about Quiz & Dragons: included with Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2 for the PS2 is a version of the game where all the trivia questions are replaced with questions about Capcom games. My "correct" percentage on this version was much, much higher than on the original. I need to get out more.

5 comments:

  1. So planing on doing a Quiz Nanairo Dreams article in the future?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Possibly, it depends how capable I feel of wading through all those questions in Japanese.

      Delete
    2. Well, I wouldn't have asked if you hadn't already taken a look at Quiz Daisousa Sen.

      Delete
  2. The graphics in this game are gorgeous, like so many other CPS-1 era games. It especially reminds me of King of Dragons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, definitely - I assume that a lot of the staff that worked on this also worked on King of Dragons, too.

      Delete

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