Do you remember a time when the only games with RPG elements were RPGs? Laser Time remembers. Do you remember a time when you had to talk to 200 identical NPCs to find out what to do instead of following a glowing trail on your map? Laser Time remembers.
These games, as infuriating as they were (or still are), formed the foundations of several game empires that still exist today, so they must have done something right. So I have decided to explore the ancestors of our modern role-playing games, beginning with the glorious NES era, and give them a useless, arbitrary rating. I played three games, each of which spawned many many sequels. I took some notes, some pics, and several shots of bourbon, and I am now ready to share my experiences, starting with…
Dragon Quest (a.k.a. Dragon Warrior in the US)
Released in Japan in 1986 and in the US in 1989, this game featured art stylings by beloved Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, whose cutesy characters such as the *ahem* slime are still mainstays in the 20+ year franchise of games, anime, and manga that spawned from Dragon Quest.
C’mon, you know this guy.
On to the gameplay! Our hero Chris (Chri as his four digit-only friends know him) is the descendant of Erdrick, a hero who came to Alefgard long ago, defeated the Dragonlord, and returned light to the kingdom. Now that the DL has returned, kidnapped the princess, and set his darkness upon the lands, Chris must blah blah blah. You know where this is going.
A tale as old as time…
Please note the various commands in the menu — these caught me off guard. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled in the last few years, but I found it very awkward to walk onto a stair, then have to open a menu and select “stairs.” The same is true of doors and treasure chests. I recall a sense of befuddlement as I stood on the first chest and hit search, only to be told, “there is a chest.” Ah, that’s what “take” is for…
Essentially, the game is a series of fetch quests, progressing through territories with stronger monsters. The inventory system is super limited, and only allows you to carry a few healing items — even fewer if you need a torch or other consumable. Fortunately, it treats certain items with the reverence befitting our hero’s namesake.
“Verily! Blaze it 420!”
You are sent to these progressively more difficult locations to retrieve the legendary items necessary to create the Rainbow Bridge and reach the DragonLord’s Lair. Discovering the locations of said items, however, is a much more arduous a task than it sounds (when skipping GameFAQs, at least). You are forced to rely upon information from villagers spread throughout the game, who apparently don’t know you’re in kind of a hurry.
Howard defintely found an herb of his own.
Dragon Quest boasts a whole one playable character — a lonely quest for him, to be sure — and uses the now classic Magic Point (MP) system, which I’m going to assume you’re aware of. Fortunately for our lone warrior, enemies only appear one at a time as well, so there’s no fear of being outnumbered. Battles themselves are straightforward, turn-based, and don’t require a ton of strategy, save for a few times when you have to use a special item. Of course, you would only know about using that item if you talked to the exact right NPC on the other side of the world…
This game is so suggestive!
As you level up, your stats increase, and at certain levels, you can learn new spells. Leveling up is a bit of a struggle, or a grind (heh). But after a few hours of fighting the same enemy over and over, you will finally be ready to brave the Dragonlord’s lair.
Man, Jesus is gonna be mad.
The inconsistent grammatical use of articles wasn’t the most infuriating thing about this fight. He’s such a boss that even the display couldn’t properly contain his might!
Sick “burn,” dude.
I guess since this is the only boss fight in the game, it’s weirdly necessary to have him pelt you each turn with a move that takes just enough HP to force you to heal every other turn, making you to waste all your MP on healing. Even the legendary Sword of Erdrick could barely scratch him.
But 45 minutes later, Chris had finally vanquished the Dragonlord and triumphantly returned light to the Kingdom of Alefgard! For your hard work, you are rewarded with an eight minute FMV explaining what happens to all our main characters. Just kidding, you get this:
Thus ends the first of many games to carry the name Dragon Quest, and the first game in our exploration of the origins of modern role-playing video games.
This was a rough start; it took a lot longer than I expected, and the tedium was palpable. The lack of enemy variety really took its toll on my brain as I struggled to raise my level, and after a while even finding the “herb” wasn’t enough to keep it interesting. Here are my final ratings, which I must note mean nothing, because meaning is dumb:
- Difficulty: 5/10
- Character Cuteness: 9/10
- NPC MVP: Howard
- Size of Dragonlord: 11/10
- Grind Factor: 8 Slimes
Article by contributor Humphrey.