An Evil Wizard draws near! Command? And who the fuck are you that you think you can command me? Ahem – welcome back, questors and questettes, to my look back a one of the seminal JRPG series of all time, Dragon Quest. In this part, we take a look at what for many, many years were the “lost” gems of the series, at least for those of us that neither live in Japan nor read Japanese. You see, Dragon Quest IV, being the last NES title in the series, was subject to the at-the-time usual delays in translation and localization, and hence was one of the very last games released for the original NES, and actually was released AFTER the Super Nintendo in the US. As a result of this poor timing, sales of Dragon Warrior IV in the US were a significant decline from those of Dragon Warrior III – and Enix took this as a sign that the series simply wasn’t worth continuing to bring across the Pacific. As a result of this, for many, many years the following two entries – including what is widely considered to be the pinnacle of the entire Dragon Quest series – were available only for the Super Famicom in Japan. Thankfully, this would not always be the case!
Released in 1992 for the Super Famicom, Dragon Quest V is widely considered to be the greatest entry in the entire series, by fans and the developers alike. The series debut on a 16-bit system managed to retain all of the classic hallmarks of the series turn-based, JRPG roots while also managing to be revolutionary as well. For the first time in the series, rather than the player controlling an entire party of human characters, recruitable monsters would join the hero’s party in battle, leveling up and gaining new abilities in the same manner as their human allies. Monsters had a chance of joining after being defeated in battle, and while the active battle party was limited to three in the original Super Famicom version (four in the later remakes), additional monsters and party members would ride along in the wagon and could be swapped out between battles. The original release had around 40 recruitable monsters, while later remakes of the game would increase this count into the 70s. Secondly, while Dragon Quest III and IV began to flesh out the bare-bones narratives of the first two games, Dragon Quest V featured a plot that was truly epic in scale and scope – a tale that followed the hero throughout the entirety of his life, beginning with his birth and continuing throughout his adulthood. To say much more would be spoiling a tale that you really should experience for yourself – and thanks to Square Enix’s love of capitalizing on its back catalog and talent for producing extremely polished remakes, the West finally got its chance at experiencing Dragon Quest V on the 3DS in 2009. This remake was then flawlessly ported to iOS and Android in 2015 – meaning that regardless of your portable gaming system of choice, there is no reason for any fan of JRPGs to not play this gem.
Released for Super Famicom in 1995, Dragon Quest VI again retained the classic core gameplay of the Dragon Quest series as a whole, while adding its own wrinkles and variations. It was a marked graphical improvement over V, as the developers had several years of additional experience with the Super Famicom hardware to leverage into the visuals. Gameplay-wise, Dragon Quest VI saw the return of the class system first introduced in Dragon Quest III, with some changes and expansions. In addition, VI marked the first time in the series that characters could learn skills and abilities – techniques that were separate from classic spells and cost no MP to use. Later remakes of III, IV, and V would add these as well, but the Super Famicom version of VI marked their debut for the series. The story once again saw a hero and his allies combating a threat to the world – as well as their own amnesia after a failed attempt to defeat the villain previously. While Dragon Quest VI is sometimes regarded as a bit of a letdown on the heels of the revolutionary Dragon Quest V, it is still a finely crafted, deep, and engaging RPG that is well worth experiencing by fans of the genre. While the original release never came to the West, in 2011 a 3DS remake of the game made its way to the US and Europe, much as with Dragon Quest V. This release was also later brought to iOS and Android. Once again, both of these games are now readily available in convenient, portable form – any fan of JRPGs and classic games in general should make an effort to find them and play them.
And with that, we reach the end of this second part in our look back at the Dragon Quest series. Next up, we reach the PlayStation era, and the return of worldwide releases for the series. Until then, go find these games, goddammit! – EWE