Game Review: Dragon Warrior
Dragon Warrior is a particularly special game to me, I grew up with this original game and can remember many times where I spent a bored afternoon wiling away at a desert’s monsters gaining experience. Blood-brother actually beat the game on his own, without a strategy guide, when this game was considered to be the state of the art.
I used to own the original cartridge, but one day I decided all my old games were taking up too much space and I sold it to Games Ahoy, a local game shop. I have a little thing which I call my ‘game machine’ which actually allows you to play old games that you have a ROM for. It’s portable, and it’ll hook up to a TV with a digital RCA signal, so instead of cartridges and old boxes that don’t work (my NES in Handyville doesn’t work) I just use my game machine to play all my old games.
Dragon Warrior was originally published in Japan as Dragon Quest, and is the first game in a long series of games that helped define a genre. Dragon Warrior was arguably one of, if not the first, JRPG’s to be released on consoles.
In Dragon Warrior you play as a hero you name yourself. I didn’t know this but apparently depending on the characters in your name your stat growth throughout the game will be affected. This may explain some of my difficulties when I played as a young child, but who knows.
You start out being given a quest by the king to save the Balls of Light and defeat the Dragonlord. After receiving a few items you are thrust out on to your quest to do as you see fit. The game is laid out in a grid, each element in the game taking up one space in the grid. You walk around this grid in the cardinal directions using your game pad. Instead of using an action button as you approach things, as has become mainstay in later JRPG titles, you stop moving and a menu pops up allowing you to speak, look, search, and what have you. The interface is fairly awkward, and when present takes up a lot of the screen.
The thing about this game, to me, is that it uses the what little it has to it to great effect. The majority of the game relies on battling monsters and questing throughout the land. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as you can only save at the King. So you’re tasked with figuring out how to gain experience, forge into new territories, and make sure you can still get back. This is what interested me in the game, a bit of a strange survivor-esque bent to it, with a little imagination, you really felt like you were weighing the pros and cons of your activities as an independent adventurer.
Dragon Warrior was actually inspired by Ultima and Wizardry. At the time, the idea of a long-range RPG on a console or arcade like machine was unheard of. Role-playing games were sequestered to computers and hard core gamers. The makers of Dragon Warrior wanted to bring the fascination found in role-playing games to a larger audience so they decided they’d implement a simplified system on a machine such as the NES where people didn’t have to worry about losing quarters.
The majority of the game is spent in the battle sequences. As you explore the world, the farther you go out (being the more bridges your cross) the harder and harder the monsters you encounter will be. You can only fight one monster at a time, and each time it’s specifically you against the monster. Unlike other later fantasy games, such as Final Fantasy, there was no party. This actually made the game quite difficult at times because in your limited time in battle you were expected to be both the fighter, the healer, and the magic user.
The game actually implements a fairly robust storyline involving an old adventurer named Erdrick, and even (through its sequels), tells tale of the Dragonlord’s origin. The hero must discover the story of Erdrick throughout the game, and then fight through the over-world and dungeons to obtain the relics needed to enter the Dragonlord’s manor and defeat the Dragonlord himself.
The thing about dungeons that was particularly tricky was the fact that you had to have light to navigate. Without a torch or the light spell, all you could see was your character and pool of blackness. Run out of magic points or torches, and you were pretty much toast and had to restart. The game didn’t necessarily hold your hand either. In many JRPG’s today, the game mostly guides you along a certain path of events. In Dragon Warrior you are allowed to explore and navigate around the world and dungeons as you are able. If you are strong enough you will survive, and if you aren’t, then, you die. This made the game as much about well planned exploration as it did about fighting monsters.
Keeping in mind the state of your resources, your hit points, magic points, torches, etc., while fighting monsters kept the game interesting to me. I’m glad they made it this way because if you only fought the monsters without regards to how far you could make it or what you had in stock, it would’ve been more boring. Using its limited graphics and resources, the game makes a valiant attempt at building an engaging adventuring experience by placing your condition in the center of the action.
One complaint about the game is that after a while, once you gain enough levels, gold and items aren’t really a concern anymore. By the time I had most of the relics, I had more gold than to know what to do with. Buying and selling items became totally disregarded as an element of the game, and I would’ve liked to see that particular element in the game be kept up to date. The game rounds this out though with having the player have to figure out riddles and puzzles as to where stuff can be found and where to go next.
Dragon Warrior is simplistic and probably won’t interest anyone looking for hard core mechanics, or beautiful graphics and storytelling. However, despite its shortcomings, its historical novelty as the great-grandfather of the modern JRPG weighs to great effect. If you’re interested in what was state of the art when the NES was coming of age in the US, this game is a definite treat.
This game has been featured in a Let’s Play Classics series here.
This review is part of a larger list of Games Asher’s Played
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photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/80048737@N00/28404772813 via photopin (license)