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// review by SoyBomb

Attack, Item, Cast... have I done this before?

Within the RPG genre, developers are striving to make their entries unique with enticing new ways to play, be they the creation of items through alchemic means, character transformations, or even just a tweak to the battle system. One series, however, dares never to change: Dragon Warrior (or more recently known across the pond as Dragon Quest) has basically maintained the same traditional text-based system since its first inception into the video gaming world back in 1986. This is where the ol' "attack, defend, item, run" tactics were popularized amongst the owners of the cool new Nintendo system. However, the games have proven themselves to be most entertaining as well, demonstrated by the phenomenal "Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King", released in 2005 for the PlayStation 2, which struck a stronger chord with North American gamers than ever before. But looking at this entry -- which is actually a remake of the Super Famicom (Japanese SNES) version, which was in itself a remake of the NES version -- it's definitely showing a few cracks.

That's not to say that Dragon Warrior III is a horrible game. Far from it, actually. It reeks of the old school charm, something painfully absent from many modern titles. Taking the role of the unnamed hero (Why is it always my job to name the hero in these games? Where are the parents?), you are immediately given quite the task on your 16th birthday: defeat the Demon Lord, Baramos, who is raining evil over the entire world. But why you? Because you are the offspring of the brave Ortega, the greatest warrior in all of the Kingdom of Aliahan. Unfortunately, he went missing in his search for Baramos, so why not try and make this a double tragedy for that family and send the child out as well? And at 16, it's time to go out and get a real job anyway. Working at Ye Olde Pizza Tonite just isn't gonna cut it anymore. Gamers not initially noticing the connections between this and past Dragon Warrior games may have been temporarily perturbed, at least until they played far enough in to discover that this is indeed a prequel to the first two games, once they fall into the world of Alefgard from the first Dragon Warrior game. Oh, I let the cat out of the bag. Oh dear. Sorry. ...Okay, I'm not THAT sorry.

I'm very thankful to report that, by this time, Enix smartened up and allowed more than one character to take the journey. So once the King has given you the details of your quest, head on over to Ruida's Tavern for companions. No, not THOSE types of companions! You get to recruit battle buddies of a variety of classes, including the vicious Warrior, the funky Jester, the magical Mage (obviously), or Cleric! Okay, only mine was sexy. You can also develop your own characters if the default offerings are less than stellar. Take them on your quest, build up their levels through intensive battle, and get yourself a very nice party. I recommend a nice blend -- having all of the same party is practically suicide, unless you're a Dragon Warrior champion. For average Joe Schmoes like myself, I'll gladly take the easy road. Also, there is a day/night system in this game (which often requires you to visit towns twice in order to get the full scoop on what's going on in this crazy world), and the monsters are rougher on you at night, thus giving you even MORE incentive to boast a solid roster. And later on, you can even change your class at a specific temple, leading to some crazy skill combinations.

You'll notice that I used adjectives to describe the classes. Well, the reason for that lies in the fact that personalities also play a role in this game (a new feature not available in the original NES version), though not necessarily a 100% integral one. You can likely live without playing around too much with them, but it's worth diving into if you want nicely-developed characters. To put things briefly, the type of personality each character has defines what and how their stats improve. For example, the Cowardly character will get more boosts in Intelligence and Luck stats than Agility, a characteristic more suited for the Agile persons. But what if you're not satisfied with the personality of a party member? Care to change it? There are books scattered all over the world which, once read, will instantly change the personality of the reader to something else. Boy, I tell ya: if reading a book is all it takes to change someone's personality, I have a few people in mind who really need to flex their literacy power. As well, before you even start your game, you must go through a sequence involving a series of questions and a test task (such as being kind to an old man in the forest, the scenario I always end up with), in order to accurately determine the hero's personality...which can later be altered by a book. Heh.

But the game isn't all about finding the ideal personality for each character, and you'll probably lose all interest in actually going after the Demon Lord after a while. Nay! The game is really a testament to the classic RPG style of hopping from town to town, completing relatively minor tasks, while level grinding until your A-button finger is sore. Trust me: there is no shortage of battles to undertake. The old-school flavour is definitely here, and for those looking for consistent excitement, look elsewhere. In order to truly appreciate this game, a classic gamer's heart is a requirement for the position. You'll spend more time battling to get your level up (and for monetary gain) than anything else. That has always been the focus of early Dragon Warrior games -- the battle is more relevant than anything else. Those used to more recent Final Fantasy games will be sorely disappointed. There is practically no character development here, no real connection to the on-screen avatar. On the plus side, the world really IS vast (and there's actually more than one), so you'll get to see lots of landscapes. Sadly, they are 8-bit landscapes and look very repetitive after a while -- though still a step up from the tiled visions from the NES version. But believe me: the world is HUGE. Make sure you have your trusty map handy, because you might just get lost (especially considering there are actually TWO worlds to traverse).

The GBC version (borrowing from the Super Famicom edition) has a few features that the 1988 original lacked. Aside from the addition of personalities, there are the new Thief class, lest you wish to steal something. New bonus dungeons are available after completing the main game once. Enix also included a system of Monster Medals. Once you defeat enemies, they may drop a certain coloured medal (bronze, silver, and gold -- which must be collected for each monster in that order) that can be traded with friends via the Game Link cable, provided you have friends who love Dragon Warrior III as much as you do. And scattered around the world are Tiny Medals, most of which are well-hidden, often on seemingly random floor tiles, which can be exchanged for interesting (or not) items and equippable goods for stuffing in your seemingly bottomless inventory bag. Lastly, there are a few spots in the game where you can go to play the coolest game in all the land: Pachisi! It's basically a board game where you can win goods, a concept made popular by the Itadaki Street series, also developed by series designer Yuji Horii. I didn't pay much attention to it, but the Pachisi palaces definitely add some variety to an otherwise battle-centric title.

Perhaps my favourite part of the game is the town of Newburg. Located on the edge of the far east ocean is a little area without any development. All you find is a nutty old man, looking to start up some civilization. He requests a dealer to get things going. So if you grab a Dealer from the ol' tavern back in Aliahan and bring him there, the town can begin to flourish. The town name even changes to reflect whatever you named the Dealer. So my town because Billburg, named after Bill the Dealer. As you complete other tasks in the world, you'll be able to return to see the town grow into a bustling metropolis... but at the same time, talking with the townspeople, you'll learn of their disdain towards how hard they are working. Eventually, he is overthrown and imprisoned for his "crimes". I enjoyed that little sidestory, though it's actually a requirement to eventually get a key item. Never entrust the development of a town to an inexperienced dealer!

But all is not perfect. I can somewhat accept the graphics, especially considering the fact that all the enemies are very amusingly animated during battle sequences. But on the same token, there's a step backwards during battles as well. I remember the original Dragon Warrior on the NES -- it actually had scenic backgrounds during battle! So here we are, 15 years later, and they have been replaced with a standard drab off-white palette of pure emptiness? I really don't understand why this could not have been accomplished and refined. The neat battle scene between Ortega and the Dragon at the beginning of the Super Famicom version was left intact, so it's not as though they put together a completely half-assed attempt of porting. At least the colourful music offsets the look of this game a bit, though sound effects are minimal. One other issue I have, and this is something more common to RPGs than anything else, is that I don't always know what is expected of me, and the game has a bad tendency to not make everything entirely clear. So you'll be either checking a walkthrough or making sure you talk to EVERYBODY as many time as you can to ensure you know everything.

The bottom line about Dragon Warrior III is that you'll either like it or dismiss it. Retro gamers who adored the original will naturally see the value here. That, combined with the fact that this one version is likely the most affordable over the others, it's a clear win for the nostalgic bunch. However, those familiar with newer, more robust RPG systems, such as the newer Final Fantasy installments, will find this to be a dull experience. But for what it's worth, there's still a decent game to be found here, provided you don't question why all the innkeepers say the exact same thing.

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