There are thousands of video games out there, but what’s worth playing? Today let’s talk about: Dragon Quest.
Dragon Quest (Known as “Dragon Warrior” in the U.S. due to a trademark on a board game called DragonQuest) is one of the longest running Japanese Role Playing Games. Dragon Quest games do not focus on fast reflexes, they’re slower paced, strategic, role playing adventures where it’s not about dodging out of the way of an enemy, but more about tactics and planning. Recently Dragon Quest XI (eleven) came out and has been making some waves for its innovative gameplay. Basically, it allows you to play the game in a retro-style like the old 8-bit versions from the 80’s and has a similar feel in terms of plot.
Cool, but this begs the question as to if those 8-bit versions are worth playing now? Are you going to miss anything by skipping to the eleventh game in a series without playing the others? SHOULD these games be played today? Dragon Quest is a franchise so popular that there is a quest about Dragon Quest in Yakuza 0; a little kid gets his game stolen and a bunch of people are waiting in line to buy the game skipping work and school to get their hands on a copy, so let’s do a deep dive into the past and see if these games that started the RPG craze are worth revisiting. Oh my gosh we are NOT going to play every single one of these. This will be a multi-part review and we’re only talking about the first game today.
This first game did not come out strong; it received a mediocre reception. That’s surprising looking back on the franchise from today, but at the time it wasn’t instantly a hit, even in Japan. The art for the game was done by Akira Toriyama (of Dragon Ball fame) who would later do the art direction for Chrono Trigger and the style was new and fresh in that it wasn’t based on Dungeons and Dragons, nor was the game play overly complex. As a video game, it is a great first start to a series. Why it stalled out of the gate was a bit of a mystery, to be fair early versions of this game are clunky and awkward. In the Japanese version your character doesn’t ever turn around; you always face the camera no matter what, so I get why the game might be off putting.
This game also started the Western JRPG craze as Enix (Square Enix) teamed up with Nintendo Power for a collaboration to expand each other’s market share. That’s how I heard about this game, and it massively increased the read ship of Nintendo Power, each handing out copies of their collaborators work, often for free. This stagey paid off massively; a lesson for all these current day collaborators; each of you need to bring something mutually beneficial to market and a game with maps would be helped by a magazine that could print maps in it.
1: Open world - In other games we’ve talked about here like Fallout or Skyrim have an open world style of play where you can wander around where you want. Dragon Quest 1 started that. You can walk anywhere you want from the first 2 minutes of this game and can even make it all the way to the castle where the boss is (there is a bridge you need to build out of rainbows to get into the castle of course, but still) at level 1 if you want. The barrier is that the enemies do not scale with you as they do in modern games where the enemy difficulty is sort of connected to your level and the weaker or stronger you are, the weaker or stronger they are. Oh no, none of that, if you blunder into a werewolf or metal scorpion with a bamboo stick and a set of basic cloths, they’re going to pull your spine out through your mouth. But, being able to go wherever you want is a lot of fun in that it’s fun to explore, and pretty much nothing, aside from stronger monsters, is going to stop you. I mean, this world is so open that you do NOT have to rescue the princess and you can side with the antagonist at the end. Crazy!
2: The hero is THE hero - a lot of games I’ve played have you as this hero that is destined to save the world and you’re the best and blah blah blah. This game is a good example of that. Since it is just YOU vs monsters, you need to be “good” at everything. Of course, this game is bare-bones basic so you’re good at magic and fighting as those are really the only two options, but you’re equally good at each. Later games in the series keep this sort of aesthetic where the hero character is an 8 out of 10 at everything.
3: KISS: Keep it simple stupid – There is a bad guy called the Dragonlord. He’s bad and has a Ball of Light that makes monster appear. You’re the hero so please go kill the Dragonlord and get the ball of light so monsters stop existing. This game is more about exploration and delving into dungeons and combat; the story is sort of not crazy important. For a game this simple, it works. I like a good story, but here it’s just bad guy is bad, off you go. If anything, having an excessive amount of narrative padding would only make the game worse. But it’s also not an easy game, just simple. It’s a good game to see if this sort of style appeals to you or not.
This seems unfair because this game has been remade a ton, and most of these issues have been fixed, but the issues it had involved the game being very grind heavy. You often found yourself just killing monsters over and over and over again to gain gold or experience. The enemy balance of what they drop in terms of either is rather lacking. The remakes have mostly fixed this by making items cost less money and the enemies drop more money.
Locked doors and keys are an issue. You need to buy keys, and not every place sells keys either, so sometimes you’ll find yourself going to a totally different town to buy keys. You can only hold a certain number of keys too, so you’ll always want the most keys you can buy because you don’t want to NOT reach the end of a dungeon because you lack keys. It’s annoying.
One thing I liked: There is “dungeon music” and it feels creepy and gloomy, especially because without a torch or the radiant spell, the dungeons are pitch black. But the deeper you go into a dungeon, the deeper and slower the dungeon music sounds and the tougher the enemies are. It’s a nice touch.
There is an area south of the starting castle where there are more difficult enemies to fight. Follow the coastline until you hit the mountains and just walk back and forth, and you’ll find them. This is a good way to (sigh) grind for gold and experience points as those tougher enemies will give more of each. Since this is near the castle, and there is a guy in the main castle that refills your magic for free (you have a heal spell) this is a good way to farm. It’s also where the save point is with the king.
The best (cheapest) place to buy keys is in the town of Rimuldar. Walk around the north and west side of the town and there will be the cheapest key shop in the game.
Enemies get stronger in two ways (aside from the glitched area near the starting castle) and get tougher the farther you are from the starting castle OR when you cross a bridge. If you cross a bridge, expect an immediate increase in monster difficulty. Enemies in caves will, depending on how deep you are, be the same difficulty on whatever floor you are on.