Pros:Fun Gameplay, Decent 8-Bit Soundtrack
Cons:Tedious Use of Commands Outside of Battle, Simple Graphics, Enemies can be Cheap
The Bottom Line: Time to Slay the Dragon.
Enix never could have imagined the hit they had on their hands when they released the original Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior on this side of the world, until recently) on the gaming masses. It is one of the most recognizable names in Japan, and while it's popularity was short lived on this side of the world we still saw most of the early games. I'm here today to talk about the very first, far from the best, but one of the more memorable titles in this esteemed franchise.
This is the game that invented many of the traditions we've accustomed ourselves to in Japanese role playing games. Level and money grinding, the world map, and many more genre staples we take for granted were premiered in Dragon Quest. While it didn't invent turn based combat (Dungeons and Dragons anyone?) it smoothed out the wheel a considerable amount.
Dragon Warrior doesn't exactly feature the most elaborate storyline, and many gamers will consider it archaic. I don't disagree with this sentiment. The plot involves your character, a descendant of a great hero who once saved the land from darkness, embarking on a quest dropped into his lap by a desperate king. The lovely 8-bit princess has been kidnapped by the evil Dragon Lord and it's your job to save her from his henchmen, and eventually it will be up to you to defeat him in a battle which will determine the fate of the fair land. Unfortunately that's all there is to the story, and the only real plot twist occurs during the final fight of the game.
It may be weak in regards to story, but Dragon Warrior gets top honors for atmosphere. From the beginning the quest is sweepingly epic. You begin the adventure at Alefgard Castle, and across a small river you can see the Dragon Lord's leering fortress - your ultimate destination so close, yet so far away. It's put there almost as if to tease you. Throughout the quest you will trudge through many a dark cave lit only by your torch, putrid swamps, over mountaintops, and finally through the maze-like corridors of the Dragon Lord's den. The final moments of the game are especially atmospheric.
Gameplay is a big part of what makes this game charming. Battles are reduced to simple one-on-one squabbles, and while this may be too limiting for some, I don't find the simplicity to be a major problem. These enemy encounters are turn based and your options for combat are limited to attacking with your weapon, casting magic spells (that either hurt the enemy or heal you) or you can use items. The enemies in the game vary greatly from small and cute slimes to some rather threatening zombies and skeletons. The monster designs are surprisingly nice and one of my favorite things about this game, unfortunately though many of them look the same but are colored differently.
Although simple in mechanics, Dragon Warrior is not to be taken lightly. It is a rather hardcore RPG which offers reward only when you put a lot of work into it. Monsters get progressively more difficult as you wander further from the starting point on the world map, and it's up to you to level your character so that you can deal with them appropriately. Buying new equipment at each new town you venture to is a big part of the game so be prepared to fight many, many battles to earn gold. These aspects can be cumbersome at times, but spending a lot of time strengthening your character as you watch him grow is indescribably fun.
The game's simplicity does lead to some issues however. Firstly, it's far too easy to be defeated in battle later in the game. No amount of leveling can save when the enemy casts the Sleep spell and mercilessly destroys you while your character slumbers. It's a big problem, especially in the final dungeon where nearly every single monster can cast the spell at will. If your character dies then you lose half of your money and are sent to the starting point, so it can ruin your enthusiasm about this game quite fast.
Another major problem is that the game fails to outline your objectives clearly. Speaking to villagers just barely helps - they give only subtle hints or clues on which items you need and where they can be found. These aren't nearly enough - if you've never played the game and don't have an aide (strategy guide) then you're pretty much forced to randomly wander about the world and pray you stumble upon a useful item, or find the next town. Some of the items you'll need are hidden rather well too.
My third and final issue, while not as major as the past two, is that the world is rather small. There are only a handful of villages, castles, caves and other areas on the world map which you can explore before you've seen and done everything. You'll run out of things to do pretty quickly too; the game is pretty short. I can finish it in about 7 hours.
Dragon Warrior certainly isn't going to win any beauty contests. It's pixilated, the colors are dull, and pretty much everything about it is unimpressive, that is, until you enter a battle. The monsters are drawn rather nicely and have a very distinct look to them - so distinct that it would inspire Akira Toriyama to take the helm of character/monster designs for all future Dragon Warrior games. Besides that there's not a lot to rave about - the battle scenes don't even feature any animation.
The music is one of the game's stronger suits. Though rendered in bleeps and blips thanks to the NES' archaic sound chip - there are some pretty decent compositions here that add a lot of character to the game. There are only around five songs in this soundtrack, but each is done pretty well and sounds nice. The sound effects are extremely basic but you will barely even notice them as you play.
I, along with the hundreds of other people, have a serious beef with Dragon Warrior's controls. Don't get me wrong - moving around and selecting commands in battle is easy enough, and that's where it really counts. Outside of battle they suck. You have to select from a list of commands to perform trivial actions such as speaking to another character, opening a door, searching the ground, and even for using stairs. STAIRS! It's very frustrating.
Dragon Warrior is quite a simple affair, but there's a certain draw to it that's inexplicable. The battle system is just plain shallow fun, and somehow that's all that matters. Dragon Warrior is not a game to be underestimated though - taking out the Dragon Lord is no easy task.
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