Posted by theuselessgod (319 posts) -

You may note there's only two games on the list today, and you are probably either sad or finally glad it's a reasonable amount to read in a sitting. The reason for this is my wife and I are currently starting an etsy shop to sell all the perler crap we make (if you want to see more stuff we've made, check out the archives of this blog; there's tons). We will alsob e selling them at a local convention in May, so we've been both making inventory as well as designing a logo, etc. It's been hectic, and as such reviews are going to have to take a slight break.

I also write novels and am trying to sell my tenth and eleventh as well as write my twelfth, all while managing a full-time graveyard shift, so it's been pretty busy. But expect reviews back in full force once stuff calms down a bit.

Regardless, today is about Dragon Warrior (or Dragon Quest, in Japan). So let's put on some Dragon Warrior tunes and get kicking!

Dragon Warrior

A little background

Heh, a "little" background. Right.

In Japan in 1986, Enix invented a genre that would become a staple of Japanese game design. Yuji Horii, who admitted to being a fan of Western RPGs around that time such as Ultima and Wizardry, decided to try his hand at the whole thing with a new way to approach the RPG. Pairing up with the now-legendary Akira Toriyama (manga artist responsible for Dragon Ball as well as the art for Chrono Trigger), they made a fantasy game in the styling of medieval Europe, a popular time period for most RPGs in general (tabletop or otherwise). A simple plot was established: slay the dragon, save the kingdom, and you were thrust into a world full of magic, battles and slimes.

The game sold incredibly in Japan (the series still out-sells Final Fantasy over there, and when a new Dragon Quest game comes out it's practically a national holiday), but floundered in the States, despite having improvements like a battery to save your game (how did they not have this in Japan?!). The game is well known because Nintendo, suddenly burdened with thousands of copies of this game that nobody wanted, decided to hand it out free with every subscription to Nintendo Power magazine. Subscriptions went up, people got Dragon Warrior, and the JRPG craze was born.

The influence of Dragon Warrior/Quest cannot be understated. It single-handedly laid the groundwork for what would become Japan's most iconic genre: the JRPG. Turn based battles with plenty of grinding, experience, and magic are what Japan seems to be known for now, and resulted in some of the best games ever released. Even the famous Final Fantasy series, which is considerably more popular over here than Dragon Quest, only exists because Square, close to bankruptcy , decided to "borrow" and improve on the incredibly successful Dragon Warrior format.

While the battle of whether Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy reigns supreme as the best JRPG series of all time is still ongoing, the truth will never change: Enix did it first. And they made history.

But is Dragon Warrior still any good? Um...

First impressions last forever

YEAAAAAAH THE CASTLE SONG.

Wow, was this game really this...Old English heavy? I guess it was, but the game is really seeped in it. It's like when I replayed Final Fantasy IV and was amazed at how awful the translation was. Anyway...

Oh yeah, you have to use a command for everything. Can't just walk down a stairs, have to Menu-->Stairs. Can't just talk to the guy, have to Menu-->Talk. Sadly, you still can't "Open" the king.

Also, a Slime Draws Near! Command? So classic.

But as I played further...

When I said this game was a framework from which all future JRPGs were molded, I meant it. It's just a framework. This game is as bare bones as you get: go outside, kill hundreds of monsters for money and minor XP, buy the next sword. Kill the next level of monsters slightly farther away. Get the next best sword. Cross the bridge. Die. Grind from the weaker monsters until you get a spell. Cross the bridge. Die again. Grind more. Be thankful for the evolution of JRPGs.

Don't get me wrong, it's still classic. I especially love the text narration during the battles (which Mother/Earthbound copied and made marvelous), which has since become iconic to the series. I also like the music (to a point) and think the dated graphics are charming. It's just ans atrocious grindfest, and doesn't stop being an atrocious grindfest all the way up until the end.

So what's the conclusion?

Dragon Warrior might be one of the most important games ever made, but it isn't all that great to play currently. While I still think everybody should have it in their collection (and copies are all over the place), as far as a game worth playing today it kind of comes up a little short. It's still charming and has some great design, but overall you're probably better off playing the sequels.

Don't get cheated; copies are under $5, and again: they're everywhere.

Dragon Warrior II

A little background

After the resounding success of Dragon Quest in Japan, a sequel was inevitable, and came out in January of 1987 over there, less than a year after the first game. Here in the states, however, we gave the first game such a lukewarm reception we didn't see this sequel until September of 1990 (I'm honestly surprised they brought it and the other two games past it over at all, considering Square didn't bring Final Fantasy II or III over). It's worth pointing out this is just a mere year before Final Fantasy II/IV would smash player's expectations on the SNES, meaning this and the other two Dragon Warrior games to follow were criminally overlooked (and became rare collector's items).

Dragon Warrior II was consistent to the first game, but with a few rather dramatic changes. Gone was just a single character fighting single enemies: you now had a party of three and could battle monster groups. The story was a bit more fleshed out, as were the graphics, though the nice battle backdrops were replaced with just black space (not an improvement). But that's best left for the review.

First impressions last forever

This game still has the whole "open a menu to do anything" tedium, and at first glance it looks a lot like its predecessor. However, after just a little while I noticed the dramatic differences, including the better inventory system, combat, and (of course) better characters (since you get three now!)

But as I played further...

Unlike the first Dragon Warrior, which hasn't aged gracefully, Dragon Warrior II is surprisingly solid. While you'll still do a good deal of grinding, the story is better, the gameplay (especially battles) is faster, and the overall experience is much more enjoyable. When I think of 8-Bit JRPGs, I usually think of this game, Dragon Warrior IV, and Final Fantasy. All have held up very well today, but I still give the edge to the Dragon Warrior games.

This game also has a ton more enemies than the first game, all just as charming and rich with personality as the rest of the series. It's still a lot of fun, while not having jumped off the deep end into that "let's waste your time on useless story stuff instead of gameplay" thing that creeps into modern JRPG.

So what's the conclusion?

Dragon Warrior II is exactly how a sequel should be: bigger, better, and more badass. With faster battles, more characters, a better story (even though it's still kind of nonexistent), charming graphics, and the same great music, Dragon Warrior II is an essential NES JRPG. While you could argue that III and IV are technically better, I still think it (and it's two NES sequels) all stand up as solid to this day.

That's spoilers for later reviews, but you'll live. Unfortunately, the prices are only going to go up from here, with Dragon Warrior II usually running around $20-25 depending on quality.