Anyone remember that game? Anyone? Anyone at all? It was released all the way back in May of 1986 in Japan, just seven months after the debut of the NES. I’m willing to bet it was one of the first RPGs for the system. This game was a freaking hit in Japan. In the U.S. (released in 1987), not so much. RPGs never gained much traction in the U.S. until Final Fantasy VII in 1997. This game has plenty of historical significance. It was proof that RPGs could succeed, which led to Square taking a chance on Final Fantasy. Thanks to the success in Japan, it also showed that RPGs were profitable, helping give birth to an entire genre. I find it charming that Erdrick, the legendary hero of the Dragon Warrior series, was buried in Elfheim. I see it as a loving tribute, from one franchise to another.
Since I’m a pretty big RPG fan, and an even bigger Dragon Warrior/Quest fan, I want to take a look at the game which started it all.
A note before reviewing this gem. In the U.S., the series was called Dragon Warrior. In Japan, it was called Dragon Quest. To me, the terms are interchangeable. So in this review, if you see me write ‘Dragon Quest,’ I’m referring to the same game.
With that in mind…
Gameplay: 6 out of 10
Every single Dragon Warrior game uses the first game’s gameplay as the template. This is not an exaggeration. Every Dragon Warrior has roughly the same gameplay. Each game refines it in some way. But if you strip down all the bells and whistles, as well as the refinement, you’ll have the first Dragon Warrior. It’s simplistic and straight forward. In battle and out of battle, the player just needs to pick what action they want the hero to do. They tend to be simple stuff, like casting a spell, attacking, walking up/down stairs, talking and the like. It’s very nice.
At heart, Dragon Warrior is all about level grinding. The player has to fight and fight to gain experience to level up and gold to purchase better and better equipment. This is a huge weakness for this game. The game doesn’t give enough experience and gold for the battles, making the game last for a few hours way too long.
For example, in order to go to the first dungeon, the player needs to purchase a few torches so he can see where he’s going. Each torch costs 8 gp. So to purchase the 4 or 5 needed, it takes approximately 20 fights. If you put the cost of weapons and armor on top of that, you’re looking at upwards of 100 fights before being able to safely enter the first dungeon. I’m a huge fan of level grinding and all, but it gets very tiresome after the 50th or 60th fight.
Story: 2 out of 10
The Dragonlord kidnapped Princess Gwaelin, daughter of King Lorik of Alefgard and stole the Ball of Light. The hero has to rescue the Princess, defeat the Dragonlord, and take back the Ball of Light. Want to know the awesome part? King Lorik tells the hero this right from the beginning.
I love the simplicity of the story. It doesn’t need to get any more complex than that. We know who the bad guy is. We know what he did. So all we have to do is rescue the Princess and save the world. This is a hero’s quest at its core.
The overarching story is fine. The serious problems come into play when trying to figure out what to do in the game. There’s not enough clues to figure out where to go next or what to even do! A lot of the game is spent trying to discover the next town, using the difficulty of the enemies to figure out if I should be at a certain area or not. If the enemy is too difficult, I explore somewhere else to discover where it is I’m supposed to be. That’s not a good way for a story to unfold.
I get that this is one of the first RPGs on the NES, the primogenial RPG. So some leeway should be given with how the story unfolds. Only some. If you’re going to try out this game, save yourself the trouble and follow one of the guides on GameFAQs.
Graphics/Sound: 5 out of 10
The music is in MIDI format. So, for me, there’s a certain charm about it. The music screams “video game,” as all MIDI music does for me. Hopefully it does the same for you too. Dragon Warrior was Koichi Sugiyama’s sixth game that he composed for. He quickly because THE composer for the Dragon Warrior series. Every game had consistent music thanks to him. If you haven’t played this game before and are a Dragon Warrior fan, you have to do it… just to listen to the music. It’ll all sound perfectly familiar to you, I promise!
The graphics are 8-bit, early on in the 3rd generation on consoles. So you can’t really expect the best quality out there. The graphic designer did what everyone else did. He made tiles and made maps out of them. The mountains, valleys, and marshes all used repeating tiles. It’s not very noticeable with side scrolling games like Super Mario Brothers because things go by very quickly. On slow paced games like Dragon Warrior, it is very noticeable.
Replayability: 7 out of 10
I don’t know why I like replaying this game. It’s kind of addicting, especially when you learn what it is that you’re supposed to do. The battles are challenging. If you’re patient, you can pretty much defeat every enemy out there. You don’t replay Dragon Warrior for the story. You replay it because you like the gameplay. So if intense level grinding sounds like fun to you (and it does to me), then this game has decent replay value.
Final Score: 20 out of 40
That score surprises the hell out of me. I’m a huge fan of the Dragon Warrior series. But when taking an honest look at the game, the storytelling just isn’t there. The gameplay is highly repetitive. The graphics were average for its time, though the sound was excellent.
I personally like the game a lot. It’s not that I’m an old-school gamer. There’s a certain charm to the Dragon Warrior series. If you like RPGs, you have to check this one out. I guarantee you that the controls will feel familiar, even if you have never played any Dragon Warrior games before. If RPGs aren’t for you, you’ll hate this game. Though if you didn’t like RPGs, you really wouldn’t have read all this to begin with.