The Dragon Quest series has always been rather obscure in the United States, but it’s super popular in Japan. In November 2015, Square Enix announced that remakes of Dragon Quest VII and Dragon Quest VIII were “coming to the west” for the Nintendo 3DS in 2016. Sounds like a perfect excuse for a list to me!
The Final Fantasy series focuses on dark, epic story lines with constantly changing battle systems, but Dragon Quest series is more focused on tradition — it’s the Fiddler on the Roof of JRPGs. The stories are light and fluffy, there’s a greater emphasis on humor, and the character designs by Akira Koriyama of Dragon Ball Z fame add an extra cutesy veneer to the whole affair. So grab your Club, tighten your Chain Mail, and hunt the nearest Red Slime. It’s time to rank the 16 Dragon Quest games!
[Please note that Dragon Quest spin-off series are only getting individual entries on this list for brevity’s sake. I’m also using the original Dragon Quest name to streamline things a bit: many of these games were first released in the United States under the name Dragon Warrior.]
16. DRAGON QUEST SWORDS: THE MASKED QUEEN AND THE TOWER OF MIRRORS
A sloppy attempt to shoehorn Wii motion controls onto the Dragon Quest formula, Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors is kind of a travesty. It’s nice that there’s a plot of sorts, and the Toriyama character designs are as adorable as ever, but an RPG with waggle just doesn’t cut the muster.
15. DRAGON QUEST II
Dragon Quest II features a larger scope than the original, but it’s also super grind-y. You gain a total of two companions in your party, but they are rather worthless for much of the quest. World building is nice, but it’s a shame Dragon Quest II is a real snooze.
14. DRAGON QUEST MONSTERS
Imagine Pokémon crossed with Dragon Quest — that’s what you get with Dragon Quest Monsters. There are a few games in the series limited to various handheld platforms. It’s fun but derivative.
13. DRAGON QUEST VII
Released at the tail end of the original PlayStation’s cycle, Dragon Quest VII is retro to a fault. It looks like garbage and takes a while to get started. And several enemy animations are somehow worse than the SNES entries! If you stick with it, you get a main quest topping 100 hours in length. For Dragon Quest diehards only.
12. TORNEKO: THE LAST HOPE
Dragon Quest takes a stab at the hardcore roguelike genre with a series of spinoffs. The only one that came to the United States was Torneko: The Last Hope on the PlayStation. The titular Torneko is a shopkeeper right out of Dragon Quest IV, which gives a quirky touch to the adventure.
11. FORTUNE STREET
A spin-off from a mini-game in Dragon Quest III, Fortune Street is a digital board game with all the added fun of stock market and economic shenanigans. The Wii version features both Nintendo and Dragon Quest characters, which makes it fun for the fans. Whether you care for the gameplay or not is a horse of a different color.
10. DRAGON QUEST VI
The last of the SNES entries, Dragon Quest VI (along with Dragon Quest V) was never released in the United States until the DS remakes dropped over a decade later. The story involving a Phantom World is less interesting than the previous few entries, and enemy animations are much improved from before, but Dragon Quest VI comes off as a more perfunctory entry in the saga.
9. DRAGON QUEST I
The quest in Dragon Quest I is as simple as they come: rescue the Princess and defeat the evil Dragonlord. Despite its simplicity, it’s astounding how many tropes the series held from this initial installment. It’s a quick RPG that works as a perfect primer for the series.
8. THEATRHYTHM DRAGON QUEST
Square-Enix’s latest entry in the Theatrhythm series uses music and characters from Dragon Quest. Koichi Sugiyama’s regal score combined with a music game and light RPG mechanics makes for a fun little jaunt.
7. DRAGON QUEST III
This prequel to Dragon Quest I introduces a much needed class system to the Dragon Quest series. Gone are the useless companions from Dragon Quest II. Dragon Quest III instead features a story with some real meat on its bones, along with a heaping dollop of replay value.
6. DRAGON QUEST HEROES: ROCKET SLIME
Although only the DS entry was released in the United States, the Rocket Slime games are tons of fun. Simple but charming puzzles are broken up with tank siege boss battles, and real slime fans can spend hours replaying the levels to collect every little slime for their army. The real star here is Square Enix’s translation, with its brilliant use of puns: one of the boss tanks is a tree known as the Chrono Twigger.
5. DRAGON QUEST IX
Dragon Quest’s long-running class system gets even deeper in this DS entry. Although the graphics are a big letdown compared to Dragon Quest VIII (to be fair, the DS is no PS2), there’s a fun story here about helping beleaguered citizens in towns around the world.
4. DRAGON QUEST HEROES: THE WORLD TREE’S WOE AND THE BLIGHT BELOW
Color me surprised. Koei took the well-worn Dynasty Warriors molds and shoved a bunch of slimes into it. What we got is a fantastic Dragon Quest love letter featuring fan-favorite characters from the entire run of the series. Here’s hoping the sequel keeps the great graphics and sound while adding deeper RPG mechanics.
3. DRAGON QUEST IV
Perhaps the most interesting title from a structural perspective, Dragon Quest IV starts you off playing shorter self-contained quests, each with its own unique protagonist. In the final chapter, you play as a new hero who has to round up the other characters you played in previous chapters to face the big villain.
2. DRAGON QUEST V
Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” might as well have been on the soundtrack for Dragon Quest V. Taking place over the course of a few generations, it has you play various offspring of a humble family that rises to power. Dragon Quest V has several wonderful emotional moments which hold up quite well; it’s easily one of the top 16-bit RPGs of all time.
1. DRAGON QUEST VIII
Crisp manga visuals make the colorful roster of characters look closer to Akira Toriyama’s artwork than any game in the series. The North American version features lush orchestrated tracks which modernize the game even further. This might be a late PlayStation 2 RPG, but it’s a doozy!
Article by contributor Mat-Bradley Tschirgi.