Welcome back once again, questors and, uh…questettes? Sure, why not. Once again I welcome you to something a little different from me – while I have profiled various humans here in the past, as well as reviewed some games, I have never before given an overview of an entire video game series. Quite honestly, I feel as if doing so is something that should be reserved for only the most important and influential series in the storied history of video games – otherwise it somewhat cheapens the endeavor. I mean, you can do a profile of the “Destroy All Humans!” Series but that would only be two game that not many people have heard of.
So when I considered doing a retrospective look at an entire franchise, I knew it needed to be one of some import. It also needed to be one that had some personal significance for me – because let’s be honest, this is my blog, and if I don’t give any fucks about a particular series, why the hell would I waste my time discussing it? I’m evil, not stupid. So I figured that I would go with a groundbreaking, landmark JRPG series of fantasy worlds, swords, magic, world threatening evils, and parties of colorful characters growing from relatively powerless youths into earth-shattering Demi-gods intent on saving the world.
What’s that? Oh, no, not that one. There are no rideable chickens or bat winged koala bears in this one. That’s right – it’s time for a look at Dragon Quest / Dragon Warrior if you’re older than time itself (like me, goddammit). And since this is not a small undertaking, I have decided to split it up into a few separate posts, each focusing on a different part of the overall series. This time, we take a look at the origins of the series on the venerable NES.
If Square’s Final Fantasy is considered the father of the modern JRPG, then Enix’s Dragon Quest was the granddaddy of them all. Originally released in Japan in 1986, and in the US in 1989 as Dragon Warrior, the original Dragon Quest was one of the first console role-playing games to take the venerable gameplay of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons and convert it into a streamline, user friendly video game by placing most of the dice rolling and number crunching under the hood and only displaying the results to the player. The game saw a lone warrior embark on a quest to save the Kingdom of Alefgard’s princess from danger and defeat the evil Dragonlord to restore peace to the land. Yeah, as stories go, they don’t come much more cookie cutter than this, but it was the 80s, dammit! Anyway, the relatively simple turn-based battle system was made enchanting by the now-iconic monster designs of famed Dragonball manga creator Akira Toriyama. The game was a smash hit in Japan, but Nintendo wasn’t sure about its chances in America, so they literally gave it away for free – a copy of the game, along with a substantial strategy guide, was given away to every person that subscribed to Nintendo Power magazine. This brilliant exercise in marketing strategy enabled a younger, extremely poor, not-yet-esq. Evil Wizard to fall madly in love with the world of RPGS.
Following the success of Dragon Quest, Enix released the sequel, Dragon Quest II, in Japan in 1987 and in the US in 1990. Everything about Dragon Quest II was an expansion on its predecessor, but in some ways Enix’s ambitions outstripped their abilities at that time. The world of Dragon Quest II was huge – for comparison, the Kingdom of Alefgard featured in the original title was only one small portion of the entire map. The story was also much more central than the barebones plot justification of the original. Dragon Quest II featured the descendants of the Hero of the first game banding together to combat an evil wizard named Hargon. The game featured a party of three unique playable characters, and a ship that could be used to travel between the many continents in the world – however, the combat was not as balanced as other party-based RPGS, and the necessity of grinding in order to keep your weaker characters alive reached levels of absurdity. Still, for its time, Dragon Quest II was an incredibly ambitious sequel and pushed the series forward in every possible way.
Ah, Dragon Quest III. Make no mistake about it – this is my absolute favorite entry in this entire series, and I love a number of these games. In almost every conceivable way, Dragon Quest III is the absolute pinnacle of JRPG game design and execution for the entire 8-bit era, and it inspired nearly every convention of RPGs today. Not just one gigantic world, but two, packed with colorful NPC characters, an epic, sweeping story, numerous towns, castles, towers, caves, dungeons – but the show stealer was the game’s class system. At the beginning of the game, the Hero recruits three characters for a party of four. These characters can be created from a number of different character classes, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Later in the adventure, the player gains access to the ability for these party members to switch their current character class for a new one, beginning at level one but retaining all spells and abilities that they learned previously. This incredibly well balanced system still holds up to this day, and has been copied by numerous other games through the years since.
Released in Japan in 1990 and in the US in 1992 as Dragon Warrior IV, Dragon Quest IV was the series NES swan song, and in many ways was something of a “concept album” for the series. Eschewing the blank slate party building and open-ended class system of Dragon Quest III, Dragon Quest IV featured unique playable characters with their own set classes and abilities – but in a break from the past, rather than put the party together early in the game, IV instead broke the story up into individual “chapters” each focusing on a different party member. Only n the last half of game did all of the playable characters come together to face the common threat to their entire world. The other main problem with IV was that it was released for the aging NES after the much more powerful SNES had come out – thus, despite being a critical hit, it failed to sell as well as its predecessors had.
Now, each of these games is more than worth a play through for fans of classic JRPG game design – and the GOOD NEWS for all of you is that each of these has been remade a number of times – most recently for iOS and Android devices. Do yourself a favor – track down these classic gems and give them a look!
That’s all for this installment – as always, please give me any thoughts or suggestions on this topic or anything else in the blog. I promise, even if they are critical or cruel, I probably won’t rain down terror upon you and all of your descendants for generations to come! Next time I revisit this, we will take a look at the “lost” SNES entries in the series. Until we meet again, kids, remember – not every Trump supporter you meet is necessarily a horrible person. There is a chance that maybe they are JUST horrifically, criminally, incurably stupid. Those ones can be forgiven, and then hopefully institutionalized before they can cause harm to themselves or others. The rest are absolutely horrible people – and this is coming from who LITERALLY wears his evil on his sleeve. – EWE