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Dragon Quest 1 (NES) Review

Radford C. May 6, 2011 2

It’s hard to fathom that this game debuted back around 1986 in Japan and 1989 on its American debut. For those who have been gaming since the 80’s, gamers understand how important this game was to introduce this type of genre to the millions of console gamers who’ve grown up with Atari and the NES.

While Wizardry and Ultima helped create and pioneer the genre forward in PCs, it inspired Dragon Quest Creator YÅ«ji Horii to create something amidst the slew of action, adventure, and platformer games that dominated the NES. During those days, Dragon Quest was going against the likes of Castlevania, Metal Gear, Contra, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, Kid Icarus, Metroid, Zelda I & II, and many other great games that entertained me for hours.

Dragon Quest (a.k.a. Dragon Warrior in USA) did not contain any flashy graphics and fancy animations. Its game introduction screen echoed with simplicity – “Dragon Warrior”. Even when compared to earlier NES games, Dragon Quest’s graphics were subpar and archaic. Alot of the graphics were consisted of a fixed set of tiles and squares which resembled mosaic-style of forests, oceans, and castles.

Dragon Warrior Box Art US

This is the game we knew in the U.S.

There was alot going against this game but DQ’s main savior was its simple role-playing game mechanics and music that many console gamers have not experienced at that time. You fought in a turn-based format and gained experience points which were awarded after every battle, thus allowing your character to level up in strength. While alot of action and platformer games took most of my attention, Dragon Quest was very different at that time. Although Dragon Quest can barely hold a candle to RPG games a few years after its debut, it introduced the gameplay of leveling and progression. Progression consisted of traveling throughout locales and fighting monsters encountered along the journey to gain experience points along with loot, levels, and spells.

The gameplay was new at that time. The pacing was different from the other NES games. No worries of falling off cliffs in platformers (Super Mario). No one hit deaths in shoot-em ups (Contra). Instead, you were left with a series of commands. If you were in a Castle or town, you would “Talk”, “Search”, “Take”, or even open a “Door”. During battles, you would “Fight”, “Run”, use an “Item” or use a “Spell”. In the world of Dragon Quest, you would live or die by your own decisions. While the soundtrack was very simplistic, it was very catchy especially during battle.

Box Art and Sample Screenshots

Yet, for all the boundless praise it so rightfully deserves for being an important game, the original Dragon Quest is not without its shortcomings and design problems even when compared to other adventure games of its era. Gamers who’ve played the game at that time would remember drawing the maps to navigate the dungeons and overworld effectively. At that time, a few games actually had map navigation built in (i.e. Zelda) which was released before Dragon Warrior. In addition, performing actions in castles or townsfolk required selecting commands. Nothing was context sensitive.

Gamplay Video

And while you may find Dragon Quest’s premise of kill-bad-guy-save-princess sound enough at that time, make sure you don’t play Metal Gear, Faxanadu, or Crystalis either. It cannot be denied that the Dragon Quest brand has a very strong following and the game’s sole spark of originality comes from its pacing and Sugiyama’s music composing skills.

We know that Dragon Quest 1 is more about satisfying gameplay than flashy graphics, and the game’s audience knows this. Although Dragon Quest is a nice way to revisit the beginnings of a great game series, Dragon Quest 1 is best left for hardcore fans of the series whos willing to go through the grinding and tedious leveling to play through their whole Dragon Quest collection.