Dragon Quest was released 35 years ago today in Japan for the Nintendo Family Computer and 3 years later for the rest of the world as Dragon Warrior on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Before Final Fantasy, Persona and Pokémon there was Dragon Quest. Dragon Quest is the first Japanese role playing game.
You play as a descendant of the great hero Erdrick and you are sent off on a quest by the King of Alfegard to rescue the kidnapped princess and slay the Dragonlord. Storytelling rarely gets much simpler than that. And the gameplay reflects this, Dragon Quest does not have gear with enchantment slots, more than one weapon type or even party members. Dragon Quest is a game about going on a grand adventure by yourself.
The game consists mostly of making your way from one town to the next, consulting the map as you go. Each town is full of townspeople to talk to who give cryptic hints and story nuggets to guide you towards your next destination, and to discover the secrets of Alfegard. Between the towns and dungeons is the overworld you must traverse and on that overworld are a lot of enemies.
The enemies of Dragon Quest are designed by DragonBall creator, Akira Toriyama, and he has stuck with the series ever since this first game. The designs are immediately eye-catching and iconic. Be it the simple yet instantly recognisable Slime and Dracky or the menacing werewolf, it's hard not to have a good time facing these enemies, even if you have to do a heck of a lot of it.
The game world and the way you navigate it is beautiful. You start off at the kings castle with the dragon lords castle in sight. From the moment you set off on your quest you know exactly where to go. My first thought upon leaving the castle and checking the map was “Woah, this is big”.
I was wrong, upon reflection, it’s a pretty small map especially as you get to know it but that initial feeling of how large the world is travels with you for the rest of the game.
While small, it's in the feeling of being well developed and the uniqueness that the towns and small outposts of the game have, which i only truly appreciated on my second playthrough. The towns you travel are so, so charming. I immediately fell for the quiet town of Kol, hidden in a deep forest, full of wizards and a mysterious faerie flute item. It felt extremely different to the most Southern town of Mercado, a stronghold town with tall walls and an imposing golem terrorising it.
The game is open but you stand no chance of facing some of those more powerful enemies early on. If you try to go too far southwest early you have little hope of surviving so should travel to the areas with less powerful foes first. The game uses the placement of the enemies and how powerful they are to guide you in the right direction towards getting key items and forwarding your adventure.
Despite this, Dragon Quest is never annoying or frustrating. The map is small enough for you to never get lost, the cryptic hints are descriptive enough for them to point you in the right direction and if an enemy kills you, you always know you can come back when you’ve levelled up and beat them next time.
This progression is what keeps the game so engaging. Although it’s an old game, with arguably little depth, it captured me straight away. The feedback loop of getting more powerful and being able to travel further down a dungeon or to a new town you haven't visited I found extremely addictive and satisfying. Although it lacks the storytelling depth of modern final fantasy games, the social links of persona and the world building of Yakuza; it finds its strength in its simplicity and how well it executes it.
I love the original Dragon Quest. I love it for its simplicity most of all. I’ve always been a little intimidated by Japanese role playing games, with their complex battle systems and stories that often take more than 50 hours to get through. Dragon Quest is as simple as a JRPG can be and only takes around ten hours to complete.
If you’ve ever wanted to get into JRPGs but don't know where to start, why not start at the very beginning, with Dragon Quest.
You can get Dragon quest 1,2 and 3 for the Nintendo Switch here
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