A Horse Draws Near
Sometimes you have to earn the horse, like a weapon or a boat or an airship. You acquire it by completing a fetch quest for a cranky farmer, or jacking a horse out from under some random villager. You are not punished for this because you are saving the world.
Sometimes the horse is not a horse at all, but a fluffy yellow Chocobo or a bog unicorn or a color-changing dinosaur with a fruit addiction and a prehensile tongue.
Sometimes the horse comes with a name, like Roach or Shadowmere or Epona. When you choose its name, it gets called Shitstain or Ianto Pones or Twinkletoes Shoeboffin. But even these are powerful names, bellowed loud and long in cavernous Downy-scented basements and dank dorm rooms and basement dorm rooms whenever your digital Secretariat comes through in the clutch, helping to outrun a grizzly or shoot a bandit or fire a fatal acid arrow into the red flashing heart of a boss.
Sometimes your horse pulls a covered wagon that, clown-car like, manages to house a Zenithian celestial with giant angel wings, a fire-breathing dinosaur, a fortuneteller, an exotic dancer, a traveling merchant, a tomboy princess and her retainers, a purple-clad knight, and the green-haired Chosen One (that’s you!), along with an impressive assortment of weapons, armor, and medicinal herbs. All party members collect experience as normal whenever the wagon is present, which means you imagine them sitting in there playing cards or jabbing their swords at brass rings or whatever as the four active party members march alongside the wagon.
Acquiring the horse and wagon lets you swap out unconscious party members during a boss fight—an essential feature during the endgame. But your B-team is always under-leveled, no matter how much you grind. It turns out playing solitaire in a covered wagon isn’t roughly equivalent to crushing Metal Slimes in your bare hands.
Sometimes the horse is treated like a mere item, an inert possession unceremoniously shoved into a bottomless knapsack or sold into forgotten oblivion at any random item shop, regardless of whether accommodations for livestock are visible in the village.
Sometimes the horse is able to scale mountains all by itself, glitching through hiccupping sky, phasing through terrain and enemies, an equine Kitty Pryde.
Sometimes party members disappear whenever you mount, since there’s only one horse for all ten of you. Despite the fundamental and glaring philosophical, racial, and socioeconomic differences highlighted in every conversation between your allies, all of them are apparently content to ride cozily absorbed into your breastplate. But this arrangement understandably ends party banter, so you dismount. Soon you forget the Inquisition even recruited Horseman Dennet, even though every NPC you met made his involvement seem crucial to your success at the time—like you’d all ride around the countryside together, because the overworld maps were so huge you’d need horses, but they weren’t.
Sometimes the horse is an enemy called a NiteMare or a MadPony or Unicorn, and it travels in herds, grazing in the mossy cracks of ruined dungeons and castles until attracted to the torches of unsuspecting Warriors of Light. The equine enemy family is not particularly difficult to kill, but annoyingly summons more of itself whenever the chips are down.
Sometimes the name of a scrappy black pony is the lone word remaining to the last man on Earth, where life is an endless gallop across an uninhabited and vaguely Celtic plain, studded with insurmountable crags. The motive behind your relentless orienteering and ritual slaughter of sixteen ancient and blameless colossi remains unclear, as does your relationship to the unconscious princess you are compelled to save through sheer force of fairytale. There are no other beings here, nary a bird or butterfly. Panic sets in. “Agro?” you implore, then shout, then cry, pressing X again and again, just to hear a human voice.
The horse is already standing beside you.