Baby’s first RPG!
To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 4/18/17 – 4/27/17
My Difficulty: 1/10
Video: Dragon Warrior Endgame
It took me longer than I expected to get this far, but I have finally reached this milestone of the review of my 50th completed game. I thought I might do special games at milestones like this one, but my current plan is to take games as they come. In this case, it ended up working out to a game that is good enough for the 50th post. Dragon Warrior is an extremely basic role-playing game, or RPG, but it is an important game that eased me to the genre and was a gateway to more complicated and challenging games in this style.
Dragon Quest is the first game is a long running series of RPG games under the same name. Yuji Horii created Dragon Quest in response to other RPGs of the time like Wizardry and Ultima. The driving force behind Dragon Quest was that it would appeal to a much wider audience, even those who are not interested in or familiar with video games at all. The result was a much more simplistic game with a larger focus on story to draw more players in. Dragon Quest was very successful in Japan and it still one of the most popular game series there today. Dragon Quest XI was just recently released in 2017, and there are various spinoff titles and remakes as well as forays into novels, manga, and anime.
Dragon Quest was released on the Famicom in Japan on May 27th, 1986. It was developed by Chunsoft and published by Enix, now known as Square Enix. North America would not receive this game on the NES until all the way in August 1989, just a few months before Dragon Quest IV released in Japan. Here the name was changed to Dragon Warrior due to a naming conflict with the pen and paper RPG DragonQuest. Its success in Japan did not translate over to the US and sales were poor. In 1990, Nintendo Power gave away copies of the game as a subscription bonus for the magazine, and that greatly helped the series gain traction. The NES would eventually receive all four Famicom Dragon Quest titles under the Dragon Warrior name.
The plot of Dragon Warrior is a simple one. In the land of Alefgard, the evil Dragonlord had stolen the Balls of Light from Tantegel Castle under the rule of King Lorik. The hero Erdrick managed to reach the Dragonlord’s castle on an island but was never heard from again. Years later, the Dragonlord attacked Tantegel Castle again, kidnapping Princess Gwaelin in the process. You play as an unnamed hero who seeks to follow in the footsteps of Erdrick by defeating the Dragonlord, retrieving the Ball of Light, and saving the princess.
A lot of what I have to say about Dragon Warrior is not only basic knowledge of this game, but of RPGs in general. If you have played any games of this style, most of the game description will be quite familiar. Dragon Warrior was aimed at newcomers, and so this review is also going to be focused on that same audience. I do think there is still value in Dragon Warrior as a beginner’s RPG, so I’m happy to go into detail that might be more rudimentary for some.
When you begin the game, you choose from one of three save slots. When starting a new game, you will give your hero an eight-character name and set the text speed. The game begins in a top-down view in the king’s throne room in Tantegel Castle. The king will give you an explanation of the task at hand, and from there you are on your own. You will want to visit the king often over the course of your adventure because this is the only place you can save your game. For now, this area serves as a pretty decent tutorial for how you navigate the menu and see all the things you can do.
You use the D-pad to move the hero in the four cardinal directions as well as move the cursor to choose options on the menu. Press A to bring up the Command menu. As a rule, the A button proceeds and the B buttons cancels or goes back. You can also press Start to pause while walking around, but there is never a reason to do so.
There are many options on the Command menu. The first option is Talk which lets you talk or interact with the person you are facing. Status lets you see your statistics such as health, attack power, or which weapons and armor you are using. The Stairs command lets you walk up and down stairs that you are standing on. Most games will assume you want to take the stairs when you stand on them, but here you must use the specific command. Search lets you examine the ground at your feet for anything interesting. Spell brings up a list of spells that you can cast, but at the start of the game you don’t have any available. The Item screen lets you view and use items you are holding. You can only carry eight items, but certain items group together so you can hold several of them while only utilizing a single item slot. Door lets you open a closed door you are facing, but only if you have a key. The Take command lets you open a treasure chest you are standing on.
When you bring up the Command menu or just stand still for a while, you bring up a panel on screen that displays some basic stats. The LV counter is for your experience level. This indicates how powerful you are and it begins at one. HP stands for Hit Points and this is your health. MP stands for Magic Points. You spend magic points to cast spells. G stands for Gold which is the game’s currency. E stands for Experience Points and you earn these by defeating enemies.
One of the chests in the throne room contains some gold to get you started. One of the first things you will want to do is spend that gold on some equipment. Unfortunately, there are not any shops inside the castle, but you still want to explore and talk to people here. Exiting the castle takes you to the world map. There is a nearby town to the east called Brecconary that should be your next stop. There are more people in town to talk to as well as places to shop.
The shop in the northwest corner of town is the weapon shop. You can only hold one weapon, one armor, and one shield at a time. There are several options and the more expensive options are more effective. An equipped weapon increases your attack power and either an equipped armor or shield increases your defense. When you buy something from this shop that replaces something already equipped, the shop will buy back the old item at half its value.
The shop in the southeast part of town is the item shop. Here you can buy or sell items from your item stock. It might be useful early on to buy an herb that lets you restore some health from anywhere. The inn is located in the southwest corner of the town. You can spend some gold to stay the night which replenishes all your HP and MP. The shops and the inn are the basic features of each town you encounter in the game.
Most of your time in Dragon Warrior will be spent battling enemies. As you explore the world map or caves, an enemy may appear on screen that you must engage one on one. This bring up a smaller Command menu. Both Spell and Item appear on this menu and they act the same as in the standard menu. Fight lets you attack the enemy. Run gives you the chance to run from the fight and keep exploring, although the enemy may not let you escape. You and the enemy alternate turns until one either wins the fight or runs away. There is a text box at the bottom of the screen that describes what is going on, such as whose turn it is and how much damage is inflicted.
When you win a fight, you are awarded both gold and experience points. If your HP is running low, the text boxes all change color from white to red to show that you are getting close to death. If you succumb to the enemy, then you are returned to the castle in front of the king. Not only does he lecture you on dying, but you lose half of your gold. The good news is you do not lose any experience points or equipment when you die, so even if you lose many fights you will continue to get stronger as long as you keep playing.
When you meet certain thresholds of experience points, you will gain a level. This is noted after a battle with some fanfare. Going up a level gives you stat boosts. You can gain strength, agility, maximum HP, maximum MP, and sometimes even learn a new spell. The strength stat translates into additional points in the attack power stat, and agility translates into additional defense points.
At certain levels, you will also learn a new magic spell. Each spell requires a certain amount of MP to cast. You will learn ten spells in all and they have various uses either in combat, while adventuring, or both. The Heal spell restores some of your HP. Hurt is a combat spell that deals damage to the enemy. Sleep is a combat spell that sometimes lulls your enemy to sleep, preventing them from taking their attack turns until they wake up. Radiant is used in dark caves to see as many as three tiles ahead of you in all directions. Stopspell is a combat spell that may prevent the enemy from casting their own spells. Outside lets you leave a cave automatically, and the Return spell sends you back to the castle from anywhere in the overworld. Repel is used on the world map to keep weak enemies from engaging you in battle. There is also a stronger healing spell called Healmore and a final attack spell called Hurtmore.
As you venture further out into the world, you will come across stronger enemies. Not only do later enemies have more health, attack, and defense, but some can cast spells of their own or do alternate attacks. You will need to spend a lot of time fighting weaker enemies and testing yourself to see if you can take on stronger enemies that bestow more gold and experience. You will encounter other towns throughout Alefgard that have new shops with better equipment, as well as different tips about the world to point you in the right direction for story progress. But most of Dragon Warrior is spent fighting enemies to strengthen yourself for tougher enemies.
I have beaten Dragon Warrior several times over the years and I am very familiar with the game even now. I remember finding the game while going out to yard sales with my grandparents as a kid. It was out of place for sure, laying on a table complete in box amidst random knick-knacks. It cost only $5 and they were happy to buy it for me. I didn’t know anything about the game from Nintendo Power because I wasn’t subscribing then, and it may well have been one of the subscription incentive copies. Happy to find a new NES game that day, I gave it a play that night and I got sucked in. The simplicity of the game combined with an abundance of childhood free time was the perfect recipe for a new RPG addiction.
Aside from tracking down a few items, Dragon Warrior is a very easy game. For me, the challenge lies in making the time to play through it. I estimate it took me 15-20 hours to complete the game, though I insisted on leveling up to the highest possible level. I already knew the areas that were best for gaining experience points more rapidly. That helped keep the game shorter, as well as reaching towns as early as possible to buy better equipment. The more time I could spend fighting tough enemies, the faster I could max out experience points. Another time saving tip is that Dragon Warrior is just about a perfect game to grind while doing something else, such as watching TV. I’m not ashamed to admit I grinded out a few levels while listening and participating on conference calls while working from home.
The speedrunning community has managed to achieve seemingly impossible times in completing Dragon Warrior. What took me over 15 hours to accomplish has been done in a world record speedrun that runs a little over 25 minutes. There are certain timings to inputting commands that lets the hero do things like make higher damage attacks, dodge enemy attacks, and avoid random encounters. By using these timings combined with a heavy dose of luck, Dragon Warrior can be beaten at a very low experience level. It’s all very impressive!
Dragon Warrior was a formative game for me. It was my entry point into the Japanese RPG genre at a time when I could give a lot of energy into the experience. From there I sought out the NES sequels, and I eventually moved that interest over to the SNES and some of its top-class RPGs. Therefore, I have much appreciation for Dragon Warrior. Outside of that context, it’s not a game I see myself playing again unless I get bit hard by the nostalgia bug. It’s too simple, too plain, and too grindy. But if you are looking to get into the genre while not getting too deep into the weeds, Dragon Warrior is a fine place to start.