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773 Hours Later, Steve Tolin Is Finished With Dragon Quest IX

The road to 100% completion is paved with hundreds of hours on a single cartridge.

Note the amount of time spent in multiplayer, or, you know, the complete lack thereof.
Note the amount of time spent in multiplayer, or, you know, the complete lack thereof.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies launched on July 11, 2010. The final piece of downloadable content for the monstrous portable RPG, Quest 184, was released last week, a whole year later.

Steve Tolin has been playing since the beginning, plucking away at the cartridge's every nook and cranny. The last quest finally allowed him to complete his ultimate objective of exploring every part of the game.

He had originally projected this ambitious task to take him 100 hours. As it turned out, not quite.

It took him 773 hours--just over 32 days--of game time to cross the 100% completion threshold.

"For the last couple of months I only played about a few hours each Friday to get the new quest complete," he explained to me. "Then a bit each morning once the DCVC store [an in-game online shopping network] refreshed to get the new items. So I've been staring at the game clock above 650+ hours for a while now. My sister jokes: 'Still playing those Late Night Chronicles.'"

35-year-old Tolin has been playing the Dragon Quest series since the Nintendo Power promotion where Nintendo unloaded more than 500,000 copies of the original as a benefit to subscribers, after realizing the game wasn't going to be a runaway hit.

Back then, the series was called Dragon Warrior, changed for the US because of trademark worries. It reverted back to Dragon Quest with the cel-shaded Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for PlayStation 2 in 2004. The Dragon Quest series has never achieved same sort of popularity outside Japan as its rival Final Fantasy series, but fans are just as dedicated.

"I've played everyone of the mainline games and most of the spin-offs over the years," said Tolin. "Since then [I] have Day 1 purchased each game of the series. It takes long enough between releases that it's still an event for me. I even just replayed the DS trilogy remakes. I still have all the original cartridges and discs."

Whereas other games series have chased after Western design, Dragon Quest has stayed true to its Japanese roots, even in art style.
Whereas other games series have chased after Western design, Dragon Quest has stayed true to its Japanese roots, even in art style.

His day job involves being the owner and creative and technical director of game developer Deep Fried Games, who developed the PSP version of Full Auto 2 for Sega and ShadowPlay, the first WiiWare release to use the MotionPlus accessory.

It took Tolin an already-impressive 62 hours to finish the mainline quest in Dragon Quest IX, which means the vast majority of the ensuing 711 hours were spent working through the side content.

"It really wasn't until about the 300-hour mark that I realized how much more content there was to play," he said.

Um, yeah.

Tolin achieved 100% before the one-year anniversary of the game's release, which means 8% of the last year of Tolin's life was wrapped up in the latest release from Yuji Hori. That's especially impressive for a non-MMO. In games like World of Warcraft, sometimes the act of playing can take a backseat to chatting and socializing.

The first marathon session was during a two-month road trip from Vancouver to Yukon and Alaska. By the time the trip was over, the in-game clock read 250 hours. During his journey, he'd update the message board NeoGAF with his progress.

At 328 hours, this is what his DS looked like:

Time spent playing: 328:21
Defeated Monster List Completion: 87%
Wardrobe Completion: 64%
Item List Completion: 88%
Alchenomicon Completion: 74%

Only 445 hours to go until 100%.

The longest break Tolin took between sessions was two weeks--but only by accident. He simply forgot to bring the cartridge with him for a trip. He claims he didn't go through withdrawal.

This is what Tolin's character looks like after 773 hours within Dragon Quest IX's world. I wonder if my hair would qualify for
This is what Tolin's character looks like after 773 hours within Dragon Quest IX's world. I wonder if my hair would qualify for "legendary" status.

"It wasn't an obsession, more like a few comfortable play sessions a week," he said. "Like watching an HBO mini-series that just kept going weekly for a year. If there's DQ withdrawal it's from the time in between title releases or having the next game released in Japan and then waiting a year for localization."

By "comfortable play sessions a week," he means four-to-six hours several times per week spent in front of the glow of his DS.

I know what it's like to play for a ridiculous amount of time, having maxed out the clock to 99:99:99 in several Final Fantasy games back in the day. The last time I sank that deep into a game was Fallout 3, where the downloadable content pushed me over 80 hours. And as much as I enjoyed those many, many hours, when I confess the total time to less dedicated gamers, sometimes I get a suspicious eyebrow.

Tolin said it was never like that for him with Dragon Quest IX.

"Everyone who knows me knows that I really enjoy and complete my games," he said. "Most of my friends and peers usually come to me for game advice or recommendations. Video games are also my career so it's never 'wasted' time. I've got a lot of deep knowledge of many game series dating back pre-NES days. I've put that to use and will continue through the rest of my career."

Dragon Quest IX is not the first game he's done this with, either, as he regularly sets out to 100% games that he's especially fallen for, but he does believe he's the first one to hit 100% on this game.

"There are quite a few forum posters who stop in the post-game around 100-200 hours," said Tolin. "Since Quest 184 was released and people have seen my 100% file they have messaged me that they are going to pick the game back up to play more."

For now, however, with Dragon Quest IX behind him, Tolin goes back into waiting mode. Dragon Quest X for Wii has not yet been revealed, but details on the game are expected later this year. He's also crossing his fingers the Operational Rainfall campaign to bring The Last Story, Pandora's Tower and Xenoblade to the US is successful. He may be waiting a while.

Patrick Klepek on Google+