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CONSOLE: NES DEVELOPER: Enix PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): December 1989 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Finding the torch never felt so moderately satisfying.

The Dragon Quest series is like video game cocaine in Japan. Every game in the series sells like the world is going to end the next day and the only way to survive the apocalypse is to play a Dragon Quest game until dawn. Enix had even self-mandated releasing future Dragon Quest games on a Sunday so kids wouldn't skip school to buy it. This game in particular sold about 1.5 million copies to date. Dragon Quest: it's just that damn good. Enix was gracious enough to let Nintendo port it over to North America...THREE YEARS LATER. Amazingly, RPGs like this still hadn't really found a niche in American gaming! So Dragon Quest, renamed "Dragon Warrior" for copyright reasons, was brought over just in time for Christmas 1989. Eventually, Dragon Warrior sold 500,000 copies...somehow. I'm not sure it was as widely acknowledged here as it was in Japan. They had to friggin' package this game with Nintendo Power subscriptions just to get rid of the damn things.

But when it first came out in 1986, the game looked really old. No, I mean REALLY OLD. It looked even older than Pac-Man. At least Pac-Man faced a different direction when he moved. Every character in Dragon Quest faced forward no matter which direction they were travelling. So the visuals got a redux. Now people face a direction other than down if that's not where they should be looking. The music and sound...well, they're rather similar. Not much you can do to update NES sound quality. Maybe add a few extra scratchy noises as a funky beat.

But what most irks the avid Dragon Warrior fan is that the folks over at Enix decided to "localize" this game for the North American crowd. But instead of simply toning down any foulings (religious symbolism, bad language, girls bending over), they gave us olde English! Yeah, that was nice of them. Instead of the game just telling it like it is, they give us messages like this:

Thanks for telling me about the whole door-key theory, by the way. I thought I could use ye olde coat hanger OR ye olde Mastercarde.

If there's a game that bases itself on building experience, Dragon Warrior is it. I put in, oh, maybe thirty hours of level building, and that was just to get myself to Level 20! Wow. I'd be an old man by the time I got to Level 30 (the maximum, thank God). And because there's so very little storyline, those thirty hours are pretty much consecutive (in terms of the amount of time in which I played the game -- I did stop to eat, urinate, sleep, pee, go to school, take a whiz, hang with friends, and "drain the lizard" sometimes). But after I hit Level 20, I thought 'The hell with it -- I'm going to go after the Dragonlord. I have other games that are crying out to be played. Look at that -- Kirby's Adventure is weeping on my carpet.' So I did, and thankfully, I beat the guy on the first try. But it was Hell getting over there -- too many Armored Knights and tiles that take away hit points. But the ending theme was nice. And it looks like I get to do some more traveling with my hot wife Gwaelin (whom I saved from a Dragon -- wuss).

Also in the game are special items, hidden in the most poor of places. No, they're not really found in chests (like they should be). Using vague clues from townsfolk, you must go to a certain spot, usually on the world map, and search that area. But you must be on the correct tile! If you are one step away from the special item, you won't find it. The game is very specific as to the snatching of the kickass loot. For example, you must be five steps away from a fountain in the town of Kol to receive the Fairy Flute. Damn you.

Thankfully, you're not walking across the continent without being able to do what is now considered standard RPG actions. Yep, you visit towns (usually consisting of bumbling buffoons with the conversational power of a raisin). You buy more protective armor and more powerful weaponry to chop your foes with. That Magic Armor is a saviour, because you can walk around and refill your hit points slowly. You learn spells as you increase in Experience Level. The HURTMORE spell is especially nice during tough battles, as is the HEALMORE spell when you're gettin' low on life and high on the ability to die. (Although there WAS that one time when I really wished I had a HEALEVENMORE spell...) And don't forget the random battles... the crazy random battles... the annoying random battles...

For its time, it was a godsend of a game. It was basically the predecessor of RPGs, when big yawners like Ultima were the only things close to an RPG (and I don't think Magic cards were building up herds of nerds at that time yet either). Now, it's still a cult classic, but it's not a particularly enjoyable romp through the nostalgic poppyfield without putting aside a long period of time for building up experience. I'll give it credit for being original. But unlike today's RPGs where story and innovation is the key to success, Dragon Warrior had to survive on the fact that there was no game like it at the time. But hey, it's cool anyway. Plus, for a very small pixel princess, Gwaelin is one hot babe.


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