Dragon Quest, or Dragon Warrior as it was known outside of Japan, is the first in a series of role playing games that really need no introduction. The game launched a legitimate phenomenon in Japan which continues on to this day. The game’s artwork being penned by Dragonball creator Akira Toriyama is the icing on the cake. But while this is all well and good, I recently realized that I have never actually played the very first instalment of the series. Partly due to not having a NES as a child (long live the Sega Master System). As I grew up and started getting my grubby hands on new systems, and even discovered the world of emulation, I still never got around to playing the game which started the Dragon Quest series. Until now.
When you look at Dragon Quest as it is, without those rose-tinted nostalgia glasses, it honestly does have a certain charm. You can almost feel the slight uncertainty about what the game actually wants to be, along with the earnestness of the creators in their endeavour to create something new and amazing. Graphically it’s primitive by today’s standards, but for a NES release it is actually pretty easy on the eye. The world and town maps are easily understandable and the sprites in the battle scenes are quite good as well. The game handles just fine, though it’s not as if there are any tricky jumps to make in a top-down turn-based RPG. It has a learning curve like a cliff-face, and you will find yourself grinding quite a lot simply in order to survive and proceed.
I guess my biggest gripe with Dragon Quest is that there just isn’t a whole lot of game there. Most fans of Japanese role playing games will be familiar with the whole ‘evil foozle wants to fuck shit up, so go and stop him’ storyline, but here this is pretty much all there is. Save the princess and slay the dragon. To be fair, you couldn’t exactly fit a Shakesparian play on the tiny space of a Famicon cart, and this is one of the very first games of its kind, but still, a little bit more imagination would have been nice.
One aspect that does show a bit of imagination and thought is the battle system and the enemies. There are a bright array of weird and wonderful monsters to do battle with, along with more than a few weapons and spells at your disposal. Level progression isn’t exactly fast, so you will find yourself grinding at least a little bit in order to get stronger and access different areas. Different areas of the map have different kinds of monsters, and while the areas are not clearly defined by any superficial aspect, after a couple of ass-kickings you will remember quick-smart where the strong monsters dwell. There is a legitimate sense of accomplishment when you finally get strong enough to freely wander around a new area.
There isn’t really anything more to say about the first Dragon Quest game. It might not be anything amazing, but strangely enough I actually think it still holds up today. For what it is, it’s great, and even those who might laugh at the idea of playing a nearly 30 year old 8bit role playing game might just find that they enjoy the simplicity and charm of Dragon Quest.