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Games Worth Playing: Dragon Quest 2 and 3

April 11, 2022

There are thousands of video games out there, but what’s worth playing? Today let’s talk about Dragon Quest 2 and 3:

Dragon Quest 2 and 3: NES, GBA, Wii, Mobile and Android, Nintendo Direct

Developer: Enix (Square Enix)

It’s not that Dragon Quest 1 failed; in fact it did ok but it didn’t go away. A lot of games struggle with longevity; either it’s a huge hit or it is largely forgotten. Anyone remember Crusader Kings 3? It came out in 2020 but so did Doom: Eternal and Animal Crossing so… that’s how that works. Gee Whiz, that’s almost like why I write this column, to focus on good stuff that often slips through the cracks! Dragon Quest 1 did well enough that it got a sequel, and then like ALL the sequels.

But here is the weird part.

The development team started working on the sequels before they even finished the first game. Being under a tight deadline, it was a little too late to go back and refine the first game from scratch, so they just said, the hell with it, let’s start working on what we want to improve now and make a whole other game. Dragon Quest did well and stuck around that within a year, they had a sequel that did even better.

Dragon Quest 2: Innovative but frustrating. Play a remake NOT the original.

It’s an actual sequel to the first game; this was sort of rare back in the 1980’s. Story wise, your ancestor slew the Dragonlord and saved the kingdom of Alefgard, rescued the (totally optional) princess and went off the found some kingdoms of their own. 100 years later you play as one of those descendants, and together with two of your royal cousins, you are off on an epic quest to save the world from a wizard that wants to summon a demon to destroy the world for … reasons. Jeez, this plot is vague, I mean, in the first game I get it; the Dragonlord in Dragon Quest 1 is also just sitting around waiting for you to show up, but by that point he’s won, so he’s not motivated to continue to do evil; he’s just chilling in his castle.

Anyway, this game was a HUGE leap forward not only in terms of the genre but in terms of mechanics.

What it started:

1: Multiple enemies and enemy types.

In the first game you always encounter exactly one enemy. You and this enemy have a fight until either one of you runs away or one of you dies. Your character always makes the first move, regardless of how strong or fast an enemy might be compared to you, a clunky and slow knight.


Not this game. Enemies appear in greater numbers and in groups. This means combat has so much more variety in it; it’s not just a slugging match. You need to pay attention to what you’re doing and how you’re fighting. It’s tactical and much more engaging. I don’t find myself just mashing the A button through every fight.

2: A party of 3

There is more than one character. While it feels like the character you start with is the main, you pick up two others along the way. This is really the first console JRPG to do this. Not since GTA 4 has a story about cousins on a quest together has a story been so well told. Thankfully the Prince of Cannock doesn’t pester me about going bowling every 10 minutes, but it’s nice to have a party that feels more job or task specific. Your main hero is more focused on fighting, while the others are more geared towards magic, a common theme in most video games like Secret of Mana (link on CBC) and nearly every other game ever made from this point on.

Things it needed to improve: (the remakes have mostly improved these)

The original is too big, everything is sprawled out everywhere, and the game feels empty. Wow, we have this huge map, yes but that means it is that much more of a walk to get anywhere. This combines with another issue.

The enemy encounters were a little too many, meaning that on your long walks, you’re going to be fighting a lot. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem except for one party member that I’m going to call the prince of dead weight.

The Prince of Cannock is mostly useless. He’s not strong enough to use good armor or weapons and his magic is not good enough to kill enemies effectively. He’s right in the middle between two extremes, but he doesn’t do either thing well. Most of the game it will be you, the Princess of Moonbrooke, and a coffin.

One thing I liked:

You don’t just meet your future companions and they go “ok, let’s go”, each need you to do something to get them to join you. One is trapped in an illusionary puzzle, and that’s cool! None of these feel tedious or like they couldn’t just complete this task on their own either as sometimes in games it’s like hey, you have a sword and an army, I have a stick and a set of overalls, why don’t you do it?


Either grind up a lot of experience to keep the Prince of Cannock leveled, or don’t. It is helpful to have him there, but dead characters don’t gain experience from fights, so if you’re out and about and he’s worm food, he’ll be under leveled when he is alive, getting himself killed all over again. This game is winnable with two players if you want.

Dragon Quest 3: The one that sold like crazy!

Dragon Quest 2 blew the house down coming out when Dragon Quest 1 was still selling and before it had been localized for the U.S. market. Dragon Quest 3 was a game changer.

Dragon Quest 3 is what made this series the most popular and set the stage for Dragon Quest being the most popular franchise in Japan, selling one million copies on the first day and leading to Square Enix releasing these games on the weekend so people wouldn't go to work or school. By the end of the first week, it had topped 3 million sales. And we’re talking physical copies in Japan only, not digital downloads. To put that into perspective, within the first week, 25% of everyone in Japan with a NES bought this game.

Well, jeez Captain Chris, how is it? It’s good.

It’s not my favorite, but it’s good. I was turned off a lot by the graphics of the character models when I first picked it up, but other than that, it’s good. It has no glaring flaws, or really any major issues. I think it might be the first sort of RPG game that felt fair and balanced. Nothing is too overpowered or cheap, there are no bosses that just heal themselves of all their damage during the boss battle (looking at you boss of Dragon Quest 2) and there are a lot of choices. Those stick-figure legs though.

What it started:

1: The custom “jobs” party. This game was an early version of complexity that is often attempted but rarely done well and that is letting the player choose their own party including characters that are statistically more or less helpful and letting you change these characters out if you don’t like them. In the first town you, the hero off to destroy a bad guy of course, gain other party members in a tavern. Want a party of all fighters, fine. How about a soldier a wizard and a goof-off? Sure. Oh, is the goof-off annoying, well drop them off and get a new person, maybe a merchant. Sure, they start at level 1, but you’re not locked into any choices and can get a feel for the game and how it plays before you get too deep into it. What is neat is that eventually towards the end of the game, you can re-spec your characters to be other classes! Bored of your wizard, well sha-bam, now they’re a pilgrim.

2: The Sequel Prequel: This is the first game that I can recall that turns out to be a surprise prequel. Turns out this is the Phantom Menace and is the first one in the series (well, of these three games anyway) and your deeds directly cause the events of the first game. You even get to explore the first game in this prequel sort of mode, so that’s cool! It also doesn’t beat you over the head with this, so that helps.

3: Day/Night system and geography. It can be night now. Not in a Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest sort of way, but a transition from one to the other that feels more natural. Townspeople will be in different places and be doing different things. The geography of the world feels more functional, like it’s a real place. It’s also a large map but it’s made smaller or more manageable by travel options that include travel spells, boats, and a ridable flying dragon. Speaking of geography, the map looks like a map of our world, so that’s neat!

Things it needed to improve: (the remakes have mostly improved these)

Aside from the aforementioned stick-figure legs.

There is a little bit of a “what am I supposed to be doing” aspect to it and that is a little obtuse and it’s not immediately apparent at times what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s more open, and that’s cool, but it’s a little too open at times.

One thing I liked:

The ability to experiment without being punished for it stands out to me. Plus, you can try new party members early on, but your main character keeps all of their level statistics, so it’s not a tutorial that you’re trying to burn through; you’re still building to something even as you practice.


At the very start of the game there is the tavern where you get followers. They come with gear. You can hire three soldiers (they have the most expensive starting equipment) and sell it. Keep the gold, dismiss the now empty soldiers, and use the gold on whatever armor, weapons, and items you want. You can do this as much as you want to make the party you want have better starting gear.

The class change ability is most helpful when you can make a sage. Sages know all the spells in the game and have excellent stats as magic users. You get a book that will turn one party member into a sage, or you can have a goof-off become a sage at the shrine. I find that if you have a soldier (slow, lots of HP, strong) and a fighter (fast, can dodge attacks, lots of critical hits) you can make them learn each other’s classes. Then you get the best qualities of both, and they will tear enemies apart as fighter / soldiers.

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