Costume Quest does a fantastic job at being Costume Quest. That is to say: Costume Quest is an exploration of JRPG mechanics and story telling with the intent of introducing younger gamers to the genre. As far as the JRPG genre is concerned, everything is present from turn based battles to leveling, classes to equipment management, and everything in between. The plot is pretty much taken straight from a generic JRPG: “A girl experiences a coming of age tale as she attempts to rescue her brother from monsters intent on destroying the world. She will meet new friends who help on the quest as she discovers what true strength and bravery are.” The combat mechanics are reminiscent of Super Mario RPG and the class system is familiar to Final Fantasy III. The core gameplay is completing quests for NPCs to advance the story while fighting monsters to advance in power and using your spoils to upgrade your party.
Where Costume Quest massively changes up the formula is in its vision. The story is about a young kid, I’m guessing in the 5-8 year range, who fights goblins in search of his or her sibling. Fights begin with the kids actually becoming whatever their costume is as well as growing to monstrous sizes. The combat looks like something out of the old Godzilla movies with the tiny houses and mountains being dwarfed by robots and monsters. The attacks are also pretty extraordinarily. The include missile barrages, meteor attacks, and rainbows that resurrect allies. Equipment is accomplished in the form of stamps. Each stamp has special properties associated to it such as additional attacks, abilities, or stat boosts. Applying a stamp to a party member gives it the associated abilities.
Assuming all of this actually happens, it stands to reason that people who live in his city, the people walking though the mall, and the people at the carnival would be running in fear as 30 story monsters, robots, ninjas, and knights are brawling whilst destroying all of the surrounding buildings. The missile attacks, bombs, and tornadoes would be completely devastating the terrain and injuring bystanders.
Obviously, none of the mechanics fit into this narrative. A couple of children will, most likely, not defeat an army of well trained goblin warriors regardless of how powerful they imagine themselves to be. This, mixed with the age of the characters, leads me to believe the whole game takes place in their imagination. Not only does this fit the narrative better but it explains why other children aren’t running in terror or helping to fight back. It explains why adults continue to give away candy instead of rushing their children home for protection. In this sense the sibling being “kidnapped” simply gets lost and makes his way to the town fair. To make the search more fun the kids imagine this plot for the goblin army to take over this world using candy. None of the fights actually happen but the kids are having fun imagining them. It also explains how a defeat in combat simply places the children exactly where they were before the combat occurred without penalty. In fact, this theory pretty much ties everything together and even fits thematically with the game being about children on a day all about dressing up.
Unfortunately the DLC completely throws this theory off but, having completed it, I prefer to live with the mentality that it doesn’t exist anyways. It functioned as an expansion to the mechanics of the game. More levels, more costumes, bigger fights. It didn’t aid the base game in any sense. Even stranger is the easter egg with hints dropped about their follow up title Stacking. Unless Stacking is really just the kids from Costume Quest playing with Russian Stacking Dolls, and having a very dreary imagination, I refuse to believe the DLC is anything more than a simple mechanical expansion to an otherwise great game with unexpected narrative depth.