Note: this series used to be called different names in Japan and the United States, but has since largely united under a single name worldwide. To eliminate confusion, I’ll use both names in the title. But to save space I’ll otherwise refer to it as it’s now known everywhere: Dragon Quest.
Dragon Quest is a difficult game to review. At first glance, the ways in which it’s unevolved spring from it being the first turn-based console RPG. But there had been PC RPGs that had as much or more depth than this, the Ultima series being a great example. By the time Dragon Quest came out, Ultima games were bigger and gave you more choices. Then again, PC gaming was so niche that most didn’t think it counted in the official standings. That may sound shallow, but which series has greater recognition?
Plot: 7 out of 10
Basically, it’s your typical 1980s video game story. The Dragonlord is a creature that terrorizes a country known as Alefgard. Predictably enough, he’s kidnapped Princess Gwaelin. King Lorik, Gwaelin’s father, recruits you, descendant of the legendary hero, Erdrick, to stop the Dragonlord and restore peace to the land.
Not much thought put into that, eh? I’d also add, why has the Dragonlord even bothered to kidnap Gwaelin? We’re told that it happened half a year before the game officially begins. Yet there’s no evidence of ransom demands or that the Dragonlord has used Gwaelin for a propaganda victory. And she’s held by a Green Dragon who’s too far from the Dragonlord’s castle for Gwaelin to be an unwilling bride.
Still, the dialogue is pretty clever. Some attempts at humor, such as the one about an old man telling you that you have failed and then magically throwing you out of his home if you don’t have a certain item make me laugh.
Graphics: 6 out of 10
The landscape of the towns, dungeons, and outside world are all pretty basic. They’re not ugly, but they’re not at all detailed. Plus, the same things repeat over and over.
On the other hand, the enemy designs are very good. By far the most visually memorable thing about the game.
Sound: 4 out of 10
I gotta say, the music is not very good. In fact, it’s annoying. I seem to remember it being a lot better as a child.
Sound effects are just fine, though.
Gameplay: 8 out of 10
A clear sign of this game’s age, you have only one man fighting one monster at a time. There’s no such thing as something that can’t be equipped. You learn magic as you advance in level.
Outside and in dungeons, you get attacked by enemies such as Skeletons, Magicians, and of course, Slimes. You basically take turns hitting each other.
While this makes for the most basic RPG I have ever played, it can be fun for the same reason that Flash games can be fun: it’s addicting in its simplicity. Just don’t expect a very sophisticated experience.
Challenge: 6 out of 10
Above average in difficulty. You have to level-grind a lot throughout the game. This is because the further you go, the stronger enemies get. Later towns also have better (and pricier) weapons and armor for you to buy.
Unfortunately, this game commits a frequent sin in this industry: padding its length. Although the grinding makes it take awhile to complete, there are only a few trials by fire. This game doesn’t just train you, it actually relies on level grinding to qualify as a game.
Nonetheless, the few times you actually do spend some time away from towns are challenging enough to not bring this score down low. Plus, it was, again, a different time.
Overall: 6 out of 10
It’s a classic in terms of symbolism, not quality. I like this series because of the sequels, but based on this first effort, it’s no wonder Final Fantasy has always been a far more successful series.