Developed by Chunsoft and released for the Famicom by Enix in 1986, Dragon Quest was a landmark moment in video game history.
Dragon Warrior is the American NES release of Dragon Quest, translated into English and tweaked here and there (I say “tweaked here and there” but the US version had battery back-up saves and the Japanese version used password saves, so there was a big difference there), and released by Nintendo in 1989. These grabs are from the later North American English language release.
Dragon Warrior is a very basic game by today’s standards, but in my opinion still packs a punch as an RPG. Both American and Japanese versions of this game share the same kind of prototype/clunky menu system; turn-based combat, and a very simplistic story and plot, but in spite of the naivety of the game mechanics and dialogue, Dragon Warrior (or Dragon Quest, or whatever you prefer to call it) set the standard (and template) for all other JRPGs to come (Final Fantasy included; see my “final note” comment below).
The command menu is different to later games in the series and contains items such as “door” and “stairs“, which allow you to open doors and walk up and down stairs respectively, which shouldn’t really be necessary, but this a game from the very early days of JRPGs, and – like many early RPGs – it’s archaic. As the Dragon Quest series developed, the mechanics of the game were gradually refined and improved and these early features were changed (for the better).
Dragon Warrior is actually a quite a small, self-contained game, but it is still very challenging when you get into it. The main reason for that is the way the game is structured. You can explore in a fairly open-ended manner, but the path you have to take to progress in the game is fairly linear and involves crossing bridges into different parts of the world. Every bridge you cross leads to tougher monsters, and some of the enemies you have to face are truly scary in their intensity, so it is quite easy to end up out of your depth and in a position where you can die quickly. Which, of course, you want to avoid, so the idea is to pace yourself and to grind levels, and to acquire new equipment (weapons and armour) to help you withstand attacks from stronger monsters. The cost of these new items is not inconsiderable, so a fair bit of grinding is required. And every time you gain a level the more powerful your character becomes; dishing out more damage to monsters and learning more magic spells. Which allows you to venture further into the world and to explore more caves and castles.
It’s true to say that, in terms of graphics and sound, Dragon Warrior is very dated, but the gameplay is still challenging and fun – if you’re prepared to put some time into it. This first game in the Dragon Quest series is arguably the weakest overall, but it’s not a game to be dismissed or taken lightly; completing it takes dedication and skill.
Final note: I have seen “reviews” online by some people who say that Dragon Quest is “a Final Fantasy knock-off“. What these uninformed people (mostly Final Fantasy fanboys) don’t realise is that Dragon Quest came out more than a year before the original Final Fantasy, in May 1986, with Final Fantasy coming out in December 1987. So the “truth” as they see it is not actually the truth… It’s fanboys doing what they do best: being biased and wrong. Dragon Warrior existed first, by some margin, and has co-existed happily with the Final Fantasy series – both influencing each other – for the past three decades; until their respective parent companies (Enix and Squaresoft) merged together to become Square Enix in 2003. Both the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series still exist to this day, and both are excellent in their own right. If you’re a fanboy of either, and hate the other, then I suggest two things; number one: grow up, and number two: accept that the other is just as good as your favourite! And remember that Dragon Quest actually came first… So no more talk about “knock-offs” – unless you’re happy to make a fool of yourself online.