Name: Dragon Quest / Dragon Warrior
Format: NES / Gameboy Color
Region Reviewed: NTSC
Year of Release: 1989 (USA) 1986 (Japan)
Reviewer: Trevor Machismo
For the first review, I figured I'd go right to my bread and butter, RPGs. I've been a Role Playing Game nut as far back as I could remember. The old dungeon crawlers where you had to spend hours grinding for loot and levels. Yes, it was a long grind, and that's the way we liked it!
Dragon Quest wasn't the first series I ran into, but I would later find out that it was the series I had to thank for the whole thing. While Final Fantasy might have seemed like the choice for most, I was a Dragon Quest kid, until I smartened up enough to realize I could just like both, but we'll hit that franchise another day. Turns out I wasn't alone in my love of Dragon Quest though. I'm sure it's common knowledge just how big the franchise is in Japan, with the old rumours of the Government forcing the games to be released on the weekends so children and salary men wouldn't attempt to escape their respective prisons for the day to pick up their favourite RPG fix. Go back now, to an earlier time in gaming. No not the SNES, that's not far back enough. No wait...that's the Game and Watch, you've gone too far. Bring it forward to the NES, where in May 27, 1986 Dragon Quest was released for the Nintendo Famicom for Japan....and then 3 years later for America.
Dragon Quest 1, or Dragon Warrior 1 for us outside of Japan due to copyright hodgepodge, was an innovation in the way gaming was looked at the time. Most games were super short, but difficult to artificially inflate the play time. Dragon Quest 1 brought a lengthy adventure, with dangerous perils, lofty goals, and rewarding......rewards. Yuji Horii created the game, believing that unlike an arcade title, players wouldn't have to pour in quarter after quarter to keep going if they lost, they could just start from the last save point and continue, thus giving his concept appeal, and it worked. Akira Toriyama would handle the art, and since Toriyama can only draw Dragon Ball characters, you'll see a lot of parallels between the franchises, especially later in the series. With Koichi Sugiyama helming the music development, they had all the pieces in place to create a masterpiece.
The game starts you off with orders from the King of Tantegel Castle to rescue the Princess and defeat the Dragonlord. Being the descendant of the Legendary Hero Erdrick, how could you resist. That's right...YOU! You are made the hero, and put into the role, hence the term Role Playing Game. Obvious concept now, but it was just getting legs at the time. From there you would take part in the most basic yet rewarding of turn based combat systems, whose roots can still be seen in franchise to this day. On your way to becoming a hero in your own right, you will travel all over the land, righting wrongs, and fighting monsters. At the end you save the Princess and defeat the Dragonlord, though you do actually have a choice to join him instead, in which case the game just kind of ends. I wouldn't choose that one. The grateful King wishes to give you his kingdom as thanks, but the hero leaves instead with the Princess to find his own Kingdom, and this would lead to the events of Dragon Quest II. That's right, the events of one game would lead to the next. Take notes on that Final Fantasy.
The first 3 games would form a trilogy of sorts, and I'm jacked up about getting to those other games later. This one has the bare bones "save the world from evil guy" kind of story that all old school JRPG’s get ridiculed for, but it was a good formula then, and it's still a good formula now, with the 8th instalment being a good example. Sometimes good concepts just stand the test of time, which is the case with Dragon Quest 1. The game got some re-releases, that fine tuned some things, but the core of the game still stands as a testament to the mid 80's birth of the turn based RPG. These days you'll find companies trying to forgo the usual random battle system and the simplicity of the stats, but these simple concepts have always lent themselves well to a simple tight plot.
You have to remember, this was the 80's. A lot of kids still had the Colecovision, the Atari, the Intellevision, or the ZX Spectrum. Simple games, where the plot was written on the box, or in the manual. You had to picture it in you head. Using your imagination would be the only way to visualize the adventure. With the arrival of games like Dragon Quest, the adventure could be fully realized. From the overhead perspective of the over world, to the first person perspective of the battle screens, you would be able to see it all, fighting and problem solving, looting and levelling up, it was all there for you to see for the first time, especially on a home console.
Let's break down the system more closely and take a look. It's not a complicated game, using the directional pad to move around in all directions of course, using the A and B buttons to make your choices. Very simple and easy to get into. The game CAN seem overwhelming when you're in the middle of the woods, looking for somewhere to go. That's why asking around towns and castles can be a life saver. You will find people that will tell you where to go and which direction to get there. It rewards you for exploring basically. Not a lot of side content in the first game, but you can still snoop and around and search to find some hidden treasures here and there that will make your experience richer, and your inventory as well. Seriously, you're going to want that gold, and you're going to need those weapons and armor. While it's not complicated, it can get a little hard sometimes if you're not prepared. Unlike most other RPGs of its kind, this one had you going it alone. That's right, no allies to back you up in battle. It's you versus the world, and by world I mean an odd assortment of Toriyama characters, mostly of the Slime variety. Get used to the Slimes, and they are the mascot of the entire franchise.
Being the sole character gave it a kind of challenge you wouldn't find in most other RPGs. You were on your own. No one to help you, only NPCs to point out the way to the next possible death trap. To aid you, you had the usual suspects when it comes to items, like the healing herbs. Being the only character meant that you didn't have to choose between a fighter class or a magic class either. The hero would learn spells as he levelled up, and you would have a variety to work with as you single handily hacked and slashed your way to the Dragon Lord. If you died, you would start from your last save, and that concept is what really set things apart in the 80's. No password systems here, it was a battery backup that would let you save your adventure. Again, commonplace concept now, but at the time it was a game changer, and the kind of system you would need to be able to play out the long and lofty campaign.
The concept of stats is what got me interested, an idea that came from the classic D&D games, that are really the starting point for the modern RPG altogether. You fight battles, you gain experience, and you level up. It's so simple, yet rewarding and addictive. You want to play and make your character stronger, learning spells and abilities that change the dynamics of the game. Suddenly you learn a warp spell for example, that will take you back to places with a single button press. After spending hours walking around with random encounters, that felt like a much needed relief, especially when you're a kid staying up past your bed time, and you desperately need to make a save before your Mom comes in to turn off your NES.
The graphics may seem archaic now, but back then you would find black and white first person corridors Wizardry style, so this was a big step up. We even got some better sprite work here in the States, but some of the religious icons were removed because I don't actually know. Censorship or something. You would really notice unless you were told though, so it was covered up nicely. If you like that Toriyama art style, you're in for a treat, as he sure knows how to create some memorable monsters. You'll see the same designs appears in all the games in the series, proving the lasting image they have. The sounds and music were stuff of genius at the time. Keep in mind again, what limited resources they had, and yet they were able to weave together some impressive scores, mixed with satisfying sound effects for weapon hits, or magical effects. At the time, it was the best you could hope for, a visually realized D&D game with hours of content.
Verdict:- Rating this on the time it came out, it had the tools of the time, and many who appreciate the classics will still enjoy the old school sights and sounds. The turn based system, open world, and non-linearity of the game were ground breaking at the time, and the legacy of the first game and the games that followed turned the franchise into a Japanese institution. Now, if only America would have jumped on the bandwagon too, I wouldn't have to moan and groan about not getting Dragon Quest X or the Dragon Quest VII remake for the 3DS.
I would recommend this game, but not just because of nostalgia either. I'm perfectly aware of how antiquated it is these days, but it's an important game none the less and worth a look. You can find versions of this game other places such as a double pack on the Gameboy Color with Dragon Quest II, and I would suggest that pack for extra content, and a more streamlined levelling process. I have a friend whose not into the grind so much that preferred that version of the game.
Second Opinion:- When Transbot came to rate this game he was struggling to think of how to best sum it up until he activated his superior common sense chip and then it became clear. So many games in this genre struggle to do the things this particular game did all the way back in 1986, surely an open world non linear game with a turn based combat system that goes on to spawn countless sequels had to be something special? Hell games still copy it to this day!!!
And you know what? It was, it really was but most importantly it still is! It's classic retrogaming RPG and it shows. Go play this now and remember Final Fantasy is not the be all and end all you know!
Transbot Scores:- 7.5 out of 10