Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dragon Quest

The japanese role playing game, or JRPG for short. The JRPG is far and away my favourite genre of videogames. Ever since getting hooked on Final Fantasy VII, which seems to be the gateway drug to the genre for most europeans, I've fallen in love with the genre and it's very rare that I'm not actively playing a JRPG. It's a hard genre to define and even though I'm not adverse to more western RPG games I just prefer the way the japanese do it. I felt I owed it to myself to play the game that started the genre off, Dragon Quest or Dragon Warrior in the US. Although not the first RPG released from japan, it was the first to really become popular and most subsequent JRPGs have built on Dragon Quests template.
Dragon Warrior on the NES in all its 'beauty'

 The version of Dragon Quest I played was from the SNES Dragon Quest I + II collection, a fan translation of which can be found at This version modernises the NES original somewhat with improved graphics and sound. The game balancing has also been changed I’m told with enemies giving more experience and gold to reduce the amount of grinding required. Some interface changes have also been made. There’s now an all purpose ‘use’ button, whereas the original had you navigating menus for simple tasks like opening a chest or even using a stairs.
Everyone's favourite DQ monster, the slime!

Dragon Quest was a pleasant surprise. I expected a game that was quite archaic and near unplayable in this day and age. I ended up quite enjoying the experience. DQ is a bit more simplistic compared to modern games. You only control one character for the whole game and the range of spells are quite limited consisting of 2 healing spells, 2 damage spells and 2 status effect spells (sleep and mute). There’s not even elemental affinity to add strategy to the battle system. This simplicity also extends to the storyline. The princess has been captured by the Dragonlord, a pretty evil guy that has also been making the world a more dangerous place to live in. It’s up to you to save the princess and stop the Dragonlord. It’s not exactly Shakespeare but at least it doesn’t have Heavy Rains plot holes (oooooh!).

So what made the game fun when it’s so simple? Well the battle system is very quick and not particularly intrusive, like the older suikoden games. The game also has bags of charm. Akira Toriyama’s monster designs are excellent. Some incidental events add to the charm as well. When you finally rescue the princess you have to carry her triumphantly all the way back to the castle and on completion of the game you can wander around the world and check out all the changes your good deeds have made to the world and its inhabitants. Another feature I haven't seen in any other RPG other than maybe Phantasy Star is that entering a cave or dungeon requires a torch, later on replaced by a spell, otherwise you are plunged into darkness and can't see anything.

Dragon Quest isn’t just an important piece of videogame history. It has aged remarkably well for such an early example of the genre and in the SNES incarnation it’s well worth playing. The game is only about 15-20 hours long so not a large investment of time at all. A common complaint aimed at the Dragon Quest series is the stagnation the game mechanic. However playing the first game reveals that although changes in the series haven’t been as radical, as say Final Fantasy, the game has changed gradually over the years and remains one of the best JRPG series today.

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