Anybody who was growing up in the NES era and was an RPG fan played Dragon Quest (then Dragon Warrior). It was a magical game that we no doubt sunk endless hours into. It just kind of threw you into the world and left you to figure things out for yourself which is a design choice that seems lost in the modern age, but we certainly didn’t mind back then. In fact, I still long for the days of starting up a game and not having to install it, sit through a 30 minute opening cutscene, and then play through a 2 hour tutorial, but I’m getting off topic.
I played Final Fantasy before I played Dragon Warrior and despite the two iconic series being constantly compared to each other, they really couldn’t be any more different. Final Fantasy is very much about pounding your enemy to dust by using your most powerful attacks and not much else. Using buffs/debuffs (aside from the situational casting of Haste in boss battles) is really nothing more than a waste of a turn. Status ailments are even more useless because they waste a turn as mentioned before and bosses are immune to them anyway most of the time. Just make sure you keep your HP up and unleash the wrath of god on your opponent.
I went into Dragon Warrior with this mentality and boy did I fail. Not so much early on since all you basically have is your basic attack, but especially once I got to the Green Dragon who rests in the cave in which you rescue the princess. This guys hits hard and he killed me over and over again, so I did what my instincts told me to do, I grinded for hours. Now, if you have ever played a Dragon Quest game, you are all to familiar with grinding and how time consuming it is especially in the early games. You will sit there for hours just to gain a level or two and it can be a demoralizing experience. I remember gaining a couple levels, going back to the dragon, and getting destroyed.
I put the game down at this point and was talking about it with a friend at school, remember, these were the days before the internet so we had to network like this. He apparently already finished the game so I asked him what level you had to be at to beat the Green Dragon. I don’t remember exactly what level he was at, but I do remember being shocked at how low it was, much lower than mine in fact. I was aghast with disbelief until he uttered the words that completely changed the way I looked at the game, and the series, forever. “Just put the bastard to sleep”!
Now, before I talked to him, the sleep spell was something I tried however it failed and I just assumed he was immune to it like bosses in Final Fantasy. I took this new information and equip with both the knowledge of the sleep spell as well as my fairly high level from all that grinding, I made short work of the dragon, rescued the princess, and enjoyed the ending of the game. However, as we know now, the game didn’t end, in fact, I was barely half way through. The entire game was a special experience for me from beginning to end and it made me a life long fan and the strategy required in battle is why I prefer it to the Final Fantasy series.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still played all of the Final Fantasy games and hold them in high regard but for different reasons. Final Fantasy, even the older ones, are highly cinematic games that pull you in with the story and characters. The battle system employed the same “smash enemies with the wrath of god” mentality until, I would say, FF12 and FF13 in which they switched the formula up.
Dragon Quest turned my view of RPGs on their head after playing the original Final Fantasy so much before I played Dragon Quest. Stuff like buffs, debuffs, and status ailments absolutely must be used, even in standard random encounters if you hope to survive. If you don’t put that golem to sleep and just mash the attack button, you might not die, but you will take a lot of damage thus exhausting your resources long before you finish the dungeon. The game has a decidedly slower and more deliberate pace due to this and while that might not be your cup of tea, being engrossed in everything, and not just mashing attack buttons between cutscenes is something that I’ve always appreciated about the series.
Not only did it make battles more fun and strategic, but it made resource management something you must think about. In Final Fantasy (not so much the original, but later games) you get so much magic points that buying healing items is, again, a waste of time and money. A quest into a long dungeon in Dragon Quest requires that you bring along the proper supplies since if you relied on your magic to heal all ailments and HP, you would run out of MP before you even get halfway through the dungeon.
All the challenges and triumphs I had in the original game are something I will never forget as far as my gaming history is concerned and until recently with games like DQ9 and DQ10 the series has stuck to it’s roots for the most part, even the strikingly beautiful and high budget Dragon Quest 8. I was drawn to the original game not only because I was an RPG fan and I wanted another game to play but because of he charming character designs by Akira Toriyama, the music by Koichi Sugiyama, and the vibrant fantasy world that always felt, for lack of a better term, alive. The entire series hasn’t strayed from the charm, music, and overall aesthetic that made the original so appealing to me over twenty years ago.
The point of all of this is that the original Dragon Quest is one of the most influential games in the history of the industry and it shaped the fandom of RPG fans such as me and many others. The game first came out in 1986 in Japan and in 1989 in North America as Dragon Warrior and is still going strong today.
If you want to relive this classic, you can purchase it now on iOS and Android for only $2.99 / £1.99 / €2.69 depending on where you are from. If you have never played this before it’s something I certainly recommend. While it is dated by today’s standards and there is no way you can experience it like so many experienced it back in the day it’s still a solid game certainly worth playing. The game will feature some changes to the visuals and controls to accommodate the mobile phone experience. Check out some gameplay from the Japanese version below.