Some kids grew up with monsters under the bed, boogy men in the closet, or villains from horror movies giving them nightmares. I simply had Dragon Warrior (aka Dragon Quest) for the NES. In an age long before Survival-Horror was a genre, I already had a game that I could use to scare the bajeezus out of myself at the tender age of Six.
When I was a young boy, my parents owned a small store that distributed and repaired Atari computers, which is where I spent my weekdays from infancy up until kindergarten. My daily activities involved watching Sesame Street, napping, and playing games on the Atari ST computer system. I think I can safely say that I had the coolest childhood ever. Granted, many of these "games" were not really games as much as they were edutainment. But at age 3, typing out the word "Elephant" was about as fun as anything else you could do on those computers, and it made me feel smart. But when not being tricked into learning basic reading skills, I played other games, such as Joust, Pac-Man and anything else they put onto ye-old Computers back then.
So, having been playing video games for literally as long as I can remember, eventually I wanted a NES, which was simply known as the "Nintendo". On Christmas when I was 5 or 6 years old, I was blessed with one from "Santa". Actually, that's a lie. Santa only bought me Dr. Mario, but now system on which to play it. It was the most confusing Christmas ever. I told my parents that a mistake had been made. That I needed the system on which to play this game on. Since I was 5, I imagine the words came out a little more awkward that I would have liked. So, that was the worst Christmas ever until we went to my Grandmother's house later that day, and SHE had the Nintendo as a gift for me. Those bastards were in cahoots and took pleasure on my confusion. But I didn't really care. I had just gotten a Nintendo.
Mario and Dr. Mario were the games I received first, and for the most part they were enough to keep me occupied or an hour or so a day. Then one day, a relative bought me a little game called Dragon Warrior.
Look at this. Guy with sword fighting Dragon. How could this NOT be the best game ever? At the age of six, I was able to read quite well. Dr. Seuss and other such literature were literally child's play at the time. But even I was not ready for the raw text-based power of Dragon Warrior.
Maybe if you were a teenager or 20-something in the 1980's and lived off of text-based adventures such as Zork or King's Quest, Dragon Warrior would have been something right up your alley. To a kindergartner, it was raw confusion.
The game starts you off in a little room. The King's throne room. And the King then proceeds to talk. A LOT.
So...that's a lot of words. Written in ye olde English, no less. Had the King simply said something like "Greetings, Hero. You must stop the evil Dragonlord and save the world." I would have probably gotten the jist of it. But no. I was six. "Take now whatever thou may find in these Treasure Chests to aid thee in thy quest," is sheer nonsense words. The man might as well have been speaking Spanish. At least I knew how to count from 1 to 10 in Spanish from the Mexican chick in Sesame Street.
So, after listening to the King ramble on about the Ball of Light stolen by the Dragonlord, There you are in the throne room. Trapped. Behind a door. At this point, this was the longest period of time I had ever spent in a video game without breaking or killing something. I had no idea what was going on, and the system of doing actions was archaic.
In later Dragon Warrior games, "Talk" would do a default action, whether it's talk to a person, open a chest, door, whatever. And when you walked over a staircase icon, you would go up or down the stairs. It was that simple. But not in Dragon Warrior number one. No, if you wanted to open a chest, first you had to stand on top of the fucking box and hit "Take". Opening a door? Well, just scroll on over to the handy "Door" button. You get the picture. At age 21, this is simple stuff, but as a mere child, it was too complicated to bear.
Eventually, with the help of an adult to explain some things, I was able to figure it out and get outside of the castle onto the field. So I wondered around.
Then, without warning:
OH SHIT, RANDOM ENCOUNTER!!!
I admit, I was a bit jumpy as a child. And after Dragon Warrior, I would never play another RPG until Final Fantasy VII. I can safely say that this was because the random encounter. Without warning, the music stopped, the screen flashed, and suddenly you were being attacked by a monster. It was very unnerving. After a while, I refused to play with the sound on, simply because the abrupt music crashes upset me, much the way that in a horror movie a sudden sound will make you jump a lot more than whatever it is that actually happens in the scene. And listen to the battle music. That is a terrible ballad of death! A harsh contrast to the usual happy tunes of Mario or Zelda.
And while we're on the subject of music and me not wanting to hear any of it, let's talk about the music. Dragon Warrior. Creepy. All of it. With the exception of the town, every single song in that game was just disturbing.
And I usually played this game alone in my room, when I was still in that "Monster under the bed" age where the stupidest things keep you up at night.
Later on, my father and I played this game together. It was probably the closest thing we've ever done, up to that point or since, to bonding. My dad and I get along fine enough, but we're not really close. He raced cars as a hobby. I didn't like loud noises. We didn't really have much in common. So, twice a week or so, we would sit down and play Dragon Warrior and level up our character.
Eventually I found a whole new thing in the game that made me on edge. Dark cave areas. Areas that were completely blacked out except for your character, unless you used a torch, or RADIANT magic. The torch lit up a small area, just enough to move around. The RADIANT spell lit up a larger area, enough that you could see most of the screen. Despite my father's claims that the torch was enough to get from point A to point B, I refused to use it. I was more or less afraid of the dark, despite the fact that there really was nothing there besides more random encounters.
So, together we made it all the way to the very end of the game. To the Dragonlord. Now the Dragonlord was creepy himself, mostly because before you fight him, he asks you to join him. And you can. You lose all your HP and stand at a guard at his side, unmoving until you reset the game. That never sat too well with me. The whole idea of doing that was just wrong in my mind and just made me feel uncomfortable thinking about it. We never beat him, on account that we thought that it would be smart to do nothing but spam HURTMORE and use HEALMORE when we were hurt, rather than just attacking and saving all of the MP for HEALMORE. And there were no items that restored your MP, save for the Inn in the town at the beginning of the game. So, we usually ran out of MP too early, no thanks to my overuse of the RADIANT spell in the spooky dark areas.
So, as a child, I never saw any scary movies with characters like Freddie Krueger, Jason or Chucky. The Dragonlord was the monster under my bed, and any nervous behaviors I had during my prepubescent life could probably be loosely accociated with the purchase of this game. And the eerie music along with the abrupt random encounters was enough to make me stray away from any game that didn't involve me directly controlling the actions of my character, as well as give me an anxiety disorder.