Role playing video games have been around since the advent of the home computer, with the likes of Aklabeth, Ultima, Wizardry, and many others. One of the most important of these is Enix's Dragon Quest (initially known as Dragon Warrior in America.) Created by Yuji Horii, Dragon Quest combined the overhead movement of Ultima with the first-person, random battles of Wizardy, and effectively created the Japanese RPG subgenre. It took Japan by storm, inspired dozens of clones (including Final Fantasy, its primary competitor), and remains one of the most important video games ever made.
By today's standard, it was a very simplistic game. You're a lone knight, off to retrieve a sacred artifact stolen by an evil warlord. Along the way, you'll fight some monsters (including a dragon or two, naturally), buy new weapons, and save a princess. The quest is pretty straightforward, you never gain any extra party members, and fights are primarily determined how much highly you've leveled your characters, as opposed to having any real strategy. And yet, it earned admiration all across Japan.
So why, exactly, did Dragon Quest take off the way that it did? For starters, it had immediately accessible appeal due to the artwork supplied by Akira Toriyama, one of the most famous manga artists in Japan, responsible for phenomenons like Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball. Although the in-game graphics were primitive and barely resembled Toriyama's artwork, it provided a lot of character to the otherwise standard designs of western RPGs, which were heavily rooted in Dungeons & Dragons.
It was also one of the most in-depth games seen on the Famicom at the time. Back in 1986, if you wanted a complicated game, you needed an expensive PC. But while Dragon Quest isn't as remotely in-depth as any of those games, it offered significantly more exploration and play time than most other titles, which concentrated on arcade-style action. The soundtrack was also supplied by classically trained musician Koichi Sugiyama, who had previously carved out a living for himself writing background music for commercials. Although the synth of the 8-bit Famicom was simplistic, it supplied a rousing backdrop to the adventure, with a memorable main theme that may as well be Japan's national anthem.
With its success came several sequels. DQII added a longer quest, more items, more spells, and most important, more characters. DQIII added several different character classes (similar to the original Final Fantasy, which had been released a few months earlier in Japan) and DQIV featured multi-chapter adventure that focused on different characters. Each game sold insanely well and established its reputation as one of the most popular franchises in the nation.
Despite the breakout success of Dragon Quest in Japan, it didn't receive nearly the same response in America. Enix didn't have any offices outside of their home country, so the original Dragon Quest was published by Nintendo of America in 1989, three years after the initial release. Nintendo had a breakout hit with The Legend of Zelda a few years earlier, despite fears that it may have been too complicated for young American gamers, so they anticipated a similar success. They even included a mini-strategy guide that detailed the entire game, in order to groom newbies into the world of role playing.
Unfortunately, most of America simply ignored the title. The graphics and sound were too primitive. The interface was unwieldy. And perhaps most importantly, it lacked the action and puzzle solving that earned Zelda its success, instead replaced with slow-paced, turn-based combat, requiring hours of tedious leveling to advance. Nintendo vastly overestimated demand, and ended up giving away unsold copies for free with subscriptions to Nintendo Power. Because of this, it earned quite a lot of recognition from American NES gamers. However, it was quickly eclipsed by Final Fantasy (designed by rival publisher Square and also published in America by Nintendo), which featured far superior graphics and sound, and far deeper gameplay mechanics. The later iterations -- Dragon Warrior II, III and IV -- were also published in America by Enix themselves. They were all much improved over the original, but they kept the same ugly graphical style and clumsy interface, and came out far too late, where they competed against the 16-bit titles on Sega Genesis, NEC TurboGrafx 16 and -- in the case of DWIII and IV -- even the Super NES. As a result, they're some of the most sought after American released NES games (particularly III and IV.)
Dragon Quest continued to proliferate in Japan, with two more sequels released for the Super Famicom, both of which added greater narrative and character customization. In 1997, Final Fantasy VII popularized JRPGs worldwide with its flashy graphics, which became model for a number of subsequent games. On the other hand, Dragon Quest VII, released in Japan three years later, was comparatively meager, using low budget graphics and barely any CG cutscenes at all. It was greeted with multi-million selling status in Japan, and severe indifference in America. Dragon Quest VIII was released in 2005, this time featuring far superior manga-style cel shaded graphics that finally rivaled Final Fantasy's high budget aesthetics. Once again, it took Japan by storm. In America, it sold significantly better than past installments, but nothing compared to the Japanese sales numbers, and certainly not enough to match Final Fantasy.
There are big reasons for this, of course. Throughout its life, Final Fantasy constantly reinvented itself, keeping certain aspects but bucking trends with each iteration. On the other hand, Dragon Quest has been strongly about keeping with tradition. All of them take place in the same European-style medieval world. All of them feature the same key staff members -- Horii, Toriyama, and Sugiyama. As a result, the method of storytelling, the characters, the battle system and the style of music is pretty much the same throughout. It's a series that prides itself not only on familiarity and nostalgia, but also in its consistency.
And yet, all of these elements coming together is part of the charm. Although Akira Toriyama has a number of haters (thanks in part to the overproliferation of Dragon Ball Z), no matter what you think of his human character designs, he's a damn good monster designer. While Final Fantasy has featured a small handful of recognizable characters -- the Tonberry, the Cactaur/Sabotender, and I guess a few others -- Dragon Quest's foes are some of the most memorable of any RPG out there. The most prolific, of course, is the slime -- a silly little grinning drop of goo that's usually the first enemy you meet, and the weakest foe in the game. Since then, there have been tons of members of the slime family -- metal slimes, flying healing slimes, knight riding slimes, king slimes -- each getting progressively sillier looking.
With Dragon Quest V, gamers could actually recruit monsters in their party, a mechanic later seen in the Pokémon games, which has appeared in all subsequent Dragon Quest games in a variety of forms. The fact that the designs have been kept consistent through over twenty years of gaming is impressive. You could barely tell that Final Fantasy XII had any relation to the original Final Fantasy, but Dragon Quest VIII has many of the same monsters as the first Dragon Quest... although this time they're fully rendered with fully animated, fully 3D cel-shaded polygons, rather than static four color pixellated drawings that simply blinked when it attacked. Part of the nostalgia also comes from the sound effects -- the series has been using most of the same little 8-bit effects when you attack or dodge, or the little shuffling when you traverse stairs.
The music plays as huge a part in Dragon Quest as any of the other aspects. All of the scores for the main games were composed by Koichi Sugiyama, a classicly trained musician with great expertise in writing sweeping, orchestral themes. Part of the problem, though, is that his soundtracks have always been limited by being in video games. The NES/Famicom games had pretty basic sound synth, even for the system, and even the CD-based games stuck with MIDI synth instead of streamed recordings. There are numerous Dragon Quest albums released in Japan, but they're all Symphonic Suite CDs, with all of the music arranged with a full orchestra. If the original soundtrack is included, it's usually only as a "Sound Story", which features sound effects to simulate someone playing the game. There's a huge difference between the in-game music and the Symphonic Suites -- for example, the overworld theme in the original Dragon Warrior is pretty simplistic and grating, but actually sounds pretty beautiful when played by a live orchestra. Listening to these CDs is almost a prerequisite to enjoying the actual in game music.
Dragon Quest is often derided for having poor stories and dull characters. While most of its plots are hardly epic or groundbreaking, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're bad. Furthermore, the few games that actually did have really good stories (V and VI) have yet to be, as of this writing, released in English. However, compared to a lot of other RPGs, Dragon Quest is certainly a bit simplistic in its narratives, as the plots rarely steps beyond the "go into evil dimension and kill ultimate bad guy" cliche. Similarly, the characters are usually somewhat uninvolving, with minimal backstories or personalities. Part of this also has to do with the simplistic graphics and never-changing world design -- it's hard to get attached to things that look like blurry messes of pixels. Toriyama's characters are generally pretty cool looking, but it's only recently that any of his artwork has actually appeared ingame.
Another huge part of the nostalgia of Dragon Quest is that it demands that the player use their imagination. Most of the Japanese instruction manuals had full color vignettes of the characters fighting monsters or generally hanging out -- similar to the artwork floating around from Chrono Trigger -- giving the player's mind something to flesh out the characters with. There have even been fully illustrated books released in Japan that retell the events using Toriyama-style artwork. Again, most non-Japanese gamers miss out on these things.
But Dragon Quest's strength relies more on its episodic storytelling than the overall plot. Rather than concentrating on your party members, Dragon Quest focuses on the little stories of the NPCs you meet and the towns you explore. As heroes, you might reunite star crossed lovers, or amend the heart of distraught widowers, or even trade goods across kingdoms. The plus side is that none of the games feature characters like Final Fantasy's Squall or Tidus, whose personalities tend to put off certain players. It also tends to stay away from silly melodrama, or overly long cutscenes, so gamers sick of these overwrought tendencies may find plenty of solace in Dragon Quest.
The battle system, too, is criticized as being too straightforward. All of the battles are turn-based, with nearly all of them featuring random encounters. Additionally, all fights take place in the first person, and in most of the games, your party members remain invisible, offscreen. There are some quick visual effects and some narration of your attacks, but it's far from exciting. The upshot to this is that battles move along very quickly, which helps given the high random encounter rates. It seems simple at first, when you don't have any skills beyond simply hitting "Fight" over and over. However, there are tons of different spells and techniques to learn, especially in the later games, which makes for a remarkable amount of depth. Certain installments include some character class and customization systems, although they're not as involved as other games like Final Fantasy V.
But again, the charm comes from familiarity -- since Dragon Quest is basically the equivalent of video game comfort food, it's reassuring to play a game that doesn't require vast memorization of enemy abilities a la Shin Megami Tensei, or inate study of the gameplay systems a la anything by tri-Ace (Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile). Gamers looking for something new and exciting definitely won't find it with Dragon Quest, but its straightforward nature does cut down on the clutter that so many other games have introduced. This is a huge part of Dragon Quest's appeal, especially with mainstream or lapsed gamers -- those who grew up with the old games should fit right into the new ones without having to pay attention to long tutorials, complex menus, or overly difficult combat.
There are other aspects that many have complained as feeling dated, although most of these exist for a reason. For example, save points are rare -- in most games, you only come across them by visiting churches or castles, and you can't save on the overworld map. They never recharge your health either -- you'll need to visit an inn for that. Got a dead party member? You'll still need to head back the church and pay a fee -- items that resurrect fallen players usually aren't found in later in the games, if they exist at all. But as aggravating as these are, they exist for a reason -- namely, they add an element of tension that's missing from most modern RPGs. Yuji Horii has been described as a big gambler; Dragon Quest is filled with casino mini-games, and it's no coincidence that winning a battle feels a lot like winning a jackpot, especially with the slot machine-esque victory noise. Without the crutches of save points, wandering into deep caverns feels more and more like a gamble, as you're slowly getting weaker with each step, becoming drained of health and magic and curative items. Do you call it a day and head back to town to gear up? Or do you hedge your bets and try to make it all the way to the end? In the end, exploring is a lot more involving when death is on the line.
As a concession, dying isn't nearly as harsh as other games. Other than a few odd dead end moments found throughout the series, there is no "Game Over" in Dragon Quest. Rather than forcing you to reload a previous save, you're simply transported back to the closest church, with all of the equipment and experience you've gained, but only half your cash. In most of them, you can even store your gold in a bank, protecting you from losing your money. So even after facing death, you don't necessarily come out of it empty-handed.
Like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest has a number of spin-off titles separate from the main series. Unlike Final Fantasy, most of these don't suck. Some of these include the dungeon crawling Mysterious Dungeon series (featuring Torneko from DQIV and Yangus from DQVIII), the Pokémon-esque Monsters series, the Zelda-esque action Rocket Slime games, and the Swords series, birthed from a toy sword that connected to the TV and expanded on the Wii. Additionally, almost all of the games in the main series have been remade to varying capacities, whether featuring improved graphics or being redesigned for portable systems.
Just beware that there are storyline spoilers for the series from here on -- tread lightly if you're sensitive to these kinds of things.
(aka Dragon Warrior)
Famicom / MSX (1986, Japan / 1989, North America)
Super Famicom (1993, Japan only)
Game Boy Color (1999)
By modern standards, the original Dragon Warrior is definitely archaic. At the beginning of the game, you're a simple hero who's charged with defeating the diabolical Dragonlord and reclaiming the treasured Ball of Light. Along the way, you'll need to slay a dragon to save the kidnapped princess. And that's pretty much it as far as the plot goes. You can only control a single character in battle, and can only fight a single enemy at a time. This is the only NES Dragon Warrior with battles that actually feature backgrounds -- the others are fought against a black backdrop.
There are only a handful of spells -- including two attack and two healing spells -- and the only real strategy involves grinding so you're strong enough to take down more powerful foes. About all you can do is grind until your character reaches level 30, at which point your hero's stats are maxed out.
The graphics are ugly, the movement is clumsy, and the interface is cluttered with far more menus than necessary. It's not enough to move over to a treasure chest to open it -- you need to step on top of it, open a menu, and then select the "Check" command. The same thing goes with talking to people, opening doors and using stairs. The few caves you explore are completely dark, requiring that you bring a torch along. And even then, it only lights a single block around your character, so you're still stumbling around blindly, at least until you get the spell later in the game that increase your sight. If you run out of either, you need to stumble around in the pitch black until you find an exit. You can only save the game at the king's castle at the beginning of the game, although you can still heal at inns found throughout the land.
Still, in spite of its age, there are a few cool touches. Once you rescue the princess, you carry her from her jail cell all the way back to the castle, which feels pretty triumphant. Amusingly enough, the Dragonlord's castle is visible from right across the river at the beginning of the game, but you need to travel the whole world in order to finally gain entrance. When you finally reach the Dragonlord, he gives you the option to switch sides and join him on his evil conquest. If you accept, he puts you to sleep, and the game freezes, requiring you to reset the console to start again.
When Nintendo published the game in America three years later in 1989, they made a number of upgrades to make it a little less irritating. The graphics were improved slightly, adding extra details like shoreline tiles, which make it look a little bit less awful. It always looked kind of silly -- all of the characters looked like they were walking even when they were standing still -- but the original Japanese version was even more ridiculous. In the original version, the hero always faces downward regardless of what direction you're moving in. It also caused other issues, like when you select "Talk" from the menu, you need to specify the direction of the person you want to talk to. In the English version, the hero has been redrawn and can now face in any of the four directions when walking -- so even though it's cumbersome as it is, it was much worse in the original Japanese version. The Japanese version also used passwords, which were replaced with a much simpler battery backup save system for the American release.
Nintendo put a lot of effort into its English translation, hoping that the massive success it found in Japan would be replicated overseas. All of the dialogue, including the battle narration, is written in old-style Elizabethan English (i.e. "Thou hast killed the slime!"), which might sound a little bit pompous and silly, but adds quite a bit of character. The translation is also significantly better than practically any other NES game out there, probably because there's a lot more text here than most video gamers were used to at the time. The spells were given completely different names -- "Hoimi" became "Heal" and "Gira" became "Hurt", with the more powerful spells becoming "Healmore" and "Hurtmore". Many of the other names have changed too -- the legendary hero "Loto" became known as "Erdrick", and almost all of the town names are completely different. "Radatome Castle" became "Tantegel Castle", "Radatome Town" became "Brecconary", "Garai" became "Garinhaim", "Maira" became "Kol", and many others. "Alefgard" is the same in both versions.
The entire series has featured "puff puff" massage girls (in Dragon Quest, "pafu pafu" is onomonopaea for a girl rubbing her breasts in someone's faces, although in more general terms, it's a girl juggling her own boobs), and this one featured a girl in the town of Maira/Kol offering a fun time for 50G. This was naturally removed from the NES game. The Toriyama-illustrated cover was ditched in favor of some generic fantasy artwork of some little knight fighting a huge dragon. Much like The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo was unsure that its audience would understand this relatively complicated game, so it was also packaged with a full strategy guide that outlined the entire quest and mapped all of the mazes.
Dragon Quest was originally released for the Famicom, and ported to the MSX shortly thereafter. It's pretty much the same as the Famicom version, except your character always remains in the center, and the screen shifts around him whenever you move. It's choppy and a bit distracting. The graphics and music are pretty similar, though there are some vague differences in quality. The MSX version has since become quite a collector's item.
Years later, Dragon Quest I was ported to the Super Famicom (released on the same cart with Dragon Quest II) using the engine from Dragon Quest V. This version, naturally only released in Japan, features all of the improvements made for the American version of the game, like the battery save, along with enhanced graphics and sound. A lot of the music has been extended so it's not quite as simplistic, which is definitely a plus. You also walk down stairs automatically and have a general "action" button to open treasure chests and talk to people. It still looks ancient, but at least it utilizes more colors. It makes grinding less annoying, since it increased the amount of experience and gold after each battle, and it also includes the stat enhancing seeds, which can be found by exploring in various spots. However, certain bosses have been made tougher, like the dragon guarding the princess. It also adds the vault found in the later games.
The Super Famicom port was also used as the basis for the Game Boy Color release, which was also bundled together with the second game. The graphics are similar, but obviously heavily downscaled for the portable platform. Still, it looks completely different than the original NES game, and arguably a bit better. Your characters also walk much faster. Fortunately, this version was translated into English, and reinstates many of the aspects that were censored in the NES release. "Erdrick" was also changed back to "Loto". There's also a brand new intro cinema.
(aka Dragon Warrior II)
Famicom / MSX (1987, Japan / 1990, North America)
Super Famicom (1993, Japan only)
Game Boy Color (1999)
Dragon Warrior II (the Japanese subtitle translates to Pantheon of Evil Gods) takes place 100 years after the original, although the general plot is pretty much the same -- an evil warlock by the name Hargon is wreaking havoc on the land, and has destroyed the neighboring Castle of Moonbrooke. As the Prince of Midenhall, it's up to you to gather a group of warriors and exterminate this evil from the land.
In Japan, Dragon Warrior II released nearly a year after the the first game, and improves practically every aspect. For starters, there are now three playable characters: The Prince of Midenhall (Lorasia in the original Japanese and later English versions), The Prince of Cannock (Samaltria), and the Princess of Moonbrooke. The Prince of Midenhall is a descendant of the great Erdrick. He's a physical fighter, without any magical abilities at all. The Prince of Cannock is also off adventuring, and you need to catch up with him. He's weak but is the first character you get that can use magic. The Princess of Moonbrooke has been cursed to take on the form of a dog, but when you cure her, she joins the party.
The battle system has been expanded so you now fight multiple enemies at once. To accommodate all of the monster graphics on the screen at the same time, the battle background are now completely black, as opposed to the landscapes of the original game. However, there are some strange quirks to this system -- you can only target monsters by group, as opposed to targeting them individually. So if you're facing three slimes and choose to attack them, your character will randomly pick one to attack. If the enemy survives and you attack again, you may end up fighting a different slime, making it impossible to focus all of your strikes on a single foe.
And like the original Final Fantasy games, the game doesn't autoselect a new target once a foe is killed, so it's very possible to waste turns if you don't spread out your attacks. The balance feels off too -- when you run across a new party member, they'll start on Level 1, leaving them easy prey in many battles. Even after you level them up, the Prince of Cannock and Princess of Moonbrooke have extremely weak defenses compared to the hero. Due to the expanded roster, item management is even more of a hassle. Each character can only hold eight items, including equipment and plot items. By the end of the game, you have precious little inventory space for herbs and other things.
The world map is significantly larger than Alefgard, with many more towns, castles and dungeons. In fact, the entire kingdom of Alefgard appears in Dragon Warrior II as an island. Although it's significantly smaller than the original game, the basic layout is the same, and you get to revisit a few old locations. This includes Dragonlord's castle, where you can find the descendent of the evil lord, who actually helps you out this time around. The first Dragon Warrior only had a single key -- this time, there are three different keys to find, and even more treasure troves to unlock.
Thankfully, there's now more than one location to save your game -- there are now several castles, each one with a king that can record your progress. Although you still need to do a lot of walking to get to places, there's now an item that quickly warps you back to your last save spot. At one point, you even get a ship to sail around the seas. Unlike Final Fantasy, where you could only dock your ship in certain ports, you can land anywhere with your ship in Dragon Quest II, allowing to you practically explore the entire game world. If a party member is killed in combat, they need to be taken to a church (or "House of Healing" in the NES version) to be resurrected. These places can also cure poison or curse status ailments, which are also new to Dragon Quest II.
The dungeons are now quite a bit more advanced and actually look distinct, compared to the bland red brick dungeons of its predecessor. The torches have been ditched, and you can now see your immediate surroundings when exploring caves. This was kept for all subsequent Dragon Quest games on the NES. There are several towers where you can fall down pits or jump off the edge, tossing you down to lower floors.. You can also find lottery tickets which will let you play games of chance in certain towns, and is the first of many implementations of gambling found in the Dragon Quest series.
The graphics are roughly on the level as the English version of Dragon Warrior -- that is to say, better than the Japanese DQ, but still pretty primitive. The music quality has improved a tiny bit, even if some of the compositions (especially the battle theme) are a bit strange. So even though Dragon Quest II adds a lot to the original, and even fixes a few of the more annoying issues, it has its own issues that will undoubtedly prove frustrating.
Like the first game, the Japanese version of Dragon Quest utilized passwords, which grew to obnoxiously long lengths due to the game's complexity. Thankfully, this was replaced with a battery save for the English version. Since the Japanese version already had the improved graphics and control that had been implemented in the English Dragon Warrior, not much of the actual game was altered, with the exception of the usual name changes. However, the English version does have a completely new title screen featuring the three warriors marching towards the screen, in addition to expanded prologue that shows the destruction of the Castle of Moonbrooke. The Japanese version simply begins with the Moonbrooke guard stumbling onto the throne room and begging the King of Midenhall for help. There's also a bit of censorship in the American versions -- in addition to altering the religious symbols in the church, the defeated party members follow you around as ghosts. In the Japanese version, they were represented by coffins with crosses on them.
Dragon Quest II was also ported to the MSX. The scrolling is choppy and all of the characters titles are surrounded by black. In general, the graphics are inferior to the Famicom version, and the menus and combat are sluggish. Despite these issues, it's also a bit of a collector's item.
Dragon Quest II was bundled with the original and remade for both the Super Famicom and Game Boy Color. Again, on SFC it's utilizing the Dragon Quest V engine and includes the same enhancements done to the first game, with better graphics, controls, and music. Additionally, your party members will automatically attack a different monster if their previous target was killed, so they don't waste a turn. It was later released on the Game Boy Color, which was released in English, and like its predecessor, features a retranslation that stays more faithful to the original names. There's also a new subquest where the Prince of Cannock will get sick and leave your party. You can choose to look for medicine for him, or just leave him be and venture on without him. There's also a brand new intro cinema.
(aka Dragon Warrior III)
Famicom (1988, Japan / 1992, North America)
Super Famicom (1996, Japan only)
Game Boy Color (2000)
Dragon Warrior III (subtitled Soshite Densetsu e... meaning Into the Legend... in Japan) begins with a scene that's become extremely cliched in Japanese RPGs -- you wake up to the sound of your mom calling for you. It's your birthday, apparently, and it's time to set off on a long journey. Your father, the powerful warrior Ortega, disappeared many years before and has been presumed dead, so you need to follow in his footsteps and complete the task he could not by defeating the archfiend Baramos. After talking to the King of Aliahan and getting some cash, you're instructed to head to the local inn to draft up a party of characters. Similar to the original Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest III allows you to create your own characters by picking from one of several different classes. You can now take up to four party members in battle at once, a step up from three in Dragon Quest II. At any time, you can ditch one of your party members and create another, although it's generally easier to just pick three and take them through the whole game.
The Hero is the most well-balanced character in the entire game. Technically your hero can be either male or female (you choose right at the beginning), but they look the same, and the NES version still refers to you as a guy anyway. Only the main character can be a Hero, and he/she isn't allowed to change to any other classes. Fighters are the physical powerhouses of the game, with a high probability of landing critical hits. Like the Black Belts/Monks from Final Fantasy, they prefer to fight bare-fisted. However, they don't have any magic abilities. The Soldier is a pretty well-rounded character, similar to the Hero, although without any magic abilities. Pilgrims are the typical White Mage-style characters -- great for healing and removing status ailments, but pretty weak all around. Wizards, the other type of magic user, are even more physically frail than the Healers, although they can do significant damage with their offensive spells.
Merchants are also pretty well-rounded characters (though not as much as the Soldier.) Their big bonus is that they can get extra gold from battles, so you don't need to grind as much to buy equipment. They can also appraise items to tell you what they do and how much they're worth. Goof-Offs basically just screw around in battles and ignore your commands. They have high luck ratings, so you get more items when defeating enemies. Otherwise, the only advantage is that you don't need a Book of Enlightenment to make them a Sage, so they're easier to promote, if you can tolerate using them for long enough. It does mark the first time you can play as a bunny girl in an RPG, at least. Sages are basically the best class in the game, who learns both powerful offensive and defensive spells. However, it's not initially available -- you need to find a Book of Enlightenment/Satori, obtained by venturing into a certain dungeon, or randomly dropped by a specific enemy. (Or just raise a Goof-Off as mentioned above.) Thieves are a class new to the Super Famicom and Game Boy Color version (not found at all in the NES game), they're quick and can wield boomerangs and whips, which are also new to the remakes.
Dragon Quest III puts a twist on the formula by letting any of the secondary characters change classes once they hit Level 20 (and reach a shrine at a certain point in the game.) When they change, they're degraded back down to Level 1, but they keep all of their skills and some of their stats learned in their previous class. For example, this allows you to build a Wizard with the defense capabilities of a Soldier, or a Swordsman with the healing skills of a Healer.
A number of annoyances from the previous games have been addressed. First off is the addition of the bank, which lets you store extra items and gold. The cash stored in the bank isn't affected when you're wiped out, so it's easier to conserve your money. There's now a day/night cycle that runs as you walk across the overworld. Different activities will occur in towns depending on what time of day it is, and you'll face different monsters when traveling, with the more powerful foes lurking around in the dark. The Return spell lets you travel to any town of your choice, rather than just returning you to your last save point. You're also encouraged to scavenge for various seeds, which can be given to any character to increase their strength, HP, or other statistics. One town has a monster arena, where you can bet on the outcome of fights, which replaces the lottery from DQII.
Most of the quest is pretty straightforward, with a couple of cool touches. At one early point in the game, you save a kingdom from peril, and the king offers to give up the throne to you. If you accept (and he's really persistent), you get to walk around the castle and hear your subjects grovel at your feet. Being a king is pretty boring though, so eventually you can leave and get on with your quest. Once you get your ship and sail around a bit, you see that the game world heavily resembles Earth. The pyramids of Isis are located approximately where Egypt would be. Romoly is in Italy, Portoga is in Portugal, and Edinbear is on an isle analogous to Great Britan. And in contrast to Final Fantasy's airships, Dragon Quest III allows you to control a gigantic bird named Ramia (or Lamia) to soar all over the map.
More interesting, though, are its links to the original Dragon Quest. Once you defeat Baramos, you enter a place called The World of Darkness, which turns out to be Alefgard from the first game. It's almost an exact replica, instead of the small island found in DQII. Once you beat the final boss, you're bestowed upon the heroic name of "Erdrick" (or "Loto" in the original translation), revealing that you are, in fact, the legendary hero so often revered in the first two games. A number of items from the first game are used here too -- the Ball of Light, which was your goal in the original game, is used to destroy a cave well. The Echoing Flute, which was used to put the golems asleep in the first game, is played to uncover the locations of several hidden orbs. It's really cool discovering that the whole game is a prequel, and the game even ends with a screen that says "To be continued to Dragon Warrior." Square-Enix pulled a similar device almost twenty years later with Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, a prequel to Final Fantasy VII.
Even though it still looks and feel primitive, Dragon Quest III's numerous improvements make this one of the best RPGs on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Although the previous games were popular in Japan, Dragon Quest III was the first real breakout hit, and was the game that started the urban legend regarding a law that Enix was only allowed to release Dragon Quest games on weekends due to too many people skipping school or work. (It was just a suggestion by the Japanese government, possibly in jest.) As a result, it's frequenting cited as the best in the series, especially by long-time Japanese fans.
Dragon Quest III was ported to the Super Famicom in 1996, using the gameplay engine from Dragon Quest VI. In addition to the enhanced music (and some additional songs, mostly used in battle), the graphics have substantially improved, and the enemies in battle are now animated. The controls have been improved, and you also walk much faster. It's now easier to find additional Books of Enlightenment, so it's simpler to promote characters to a Sage without having to rely on Goof-Offs. The bag from the later games has been implemented (so you can store multiple items when traveling without having to store them in a bank) and a whole new class, the Thief, has also been added, so you can use multi-hit weapons like whips and such. There's also a new intro where the townspeople discuss the birth of the hero, and you see Ortega fighting a dragon.
There's also a new "personality" stat, which determines which stats are increased when a party member levels up. For the most part, personality is determined by what books they've read during the adventure. However, the hero's personality is determined with an Ogre Battle-style quiz at the beginning of the game. During the Hero's dream, before the quest officially starts, you're asked several different questions, such as "Do you spend more money on weapons than protective equipment?" or "Do you often dream?" or "Do you think it is unforgivable to break a promise for any reason?" or "Do you think cats are cuter than dogs?" Then you're presented with a small scenario, and the game then judges you on how you react. In one of them, you're faced with an old man who requests that you move a boulder -- you can either do him a favor or walk away. In another, you're cast as a demon about to ransack a village -- you can either wreak havoc or flee. Once you begin the game, you're also given the ability to set the stats of your party members when you create them.
There's a Sugoroku mini-game, which is a Japanese board game similar to Monopoly. Similar to the lottery tickets from DQII, you need to obtain tickets during your adventure to play this. There's also an extra dungeon that opens up when you beat the game. This features an area labeled "Zenith Castle", a reference to the second trilogy of Dragon Quest games, although it's not officially related. Curiously, the "puff puff" massage parlor was completely removed from this remake.
Like its predecessors, Dragon Quest III was ported down to the Game Boy Color a few years later. It's based on the Super Famicom version and has all of the additions that that version brought to the table. Additionally, there are now added subquests to find regular medals, similar to Dragon Quest IV, as well as special "monster medals" dropped by certain enemies. As can be expected, the graphics are a significant downgrade (and different than the NES version), but the music is about the same quality as the initial release. This version was translated into English and released in America, and uses the original Japanese names for most the characters (so Erdrick is now Loto), but keeps the spell names from the previous games. "Sugoroku" is now known as "Pachisi" in English.
(aka Dragon Warrior IV)
Famicom (1990, Japan / 1992, North America)
PlayStation (2001, Japan only)
DS (2007, as of writing Japan only)
Like all of the others, Dragon Warrior IV (subtitled Michibikareshi Monotachi or The Chosen Ones) begins by asking the player for their name, but it quickly switches gears and introduces something completely different. The story is broken up into five different chapters, each taking place in the same world but starring different characters. Each of the first four chapters are fairly short, usually taking only a few hours to complete, but the final chapter sees all of the party members coming together in a quest longer than any of the previous games.
In Chapter 1, a knight named Ragnar sets off alone to investigate the mystery of some missing children, which is a pretty simple and straightforward quest. Along the way, he recruits Healie, a healslime that wishes it were human. This is the first instance of a monster joining your party, something which was drastically expanded upon in later games.
Chapter 2 stars Princess Alena, a tomboy princess who's sick of life in the castle and wants to explore the outside world. Alena and her guardians escape from the castle in search of adventure. Their light-hearted meanderings eventually turn serious when danger threatens the kingdom, and it's up to Princess Alena to save not only her father, but her entire kingdom. While Ragnar's chapter is pretty straightforward, this is one is a bit more involved, especially since you now control three characters who are primarily magic users, rather than a single physical powerhouse.
Chapter 3 is a huge departure from most RPGs. It stars Torneko (aka Taloon in the original U.S. translation), a simple merchant who's grown sick of working for The Man, and wants to start up his own shop. He begins his quest by leaving behind his family for the big city, but eventually gets caught up in a quest for some powerful weapons. At a certain point in your quest, your goal is simply to amass as much money as quickly as possible. You can do this any number of ways. You can kill enemies like in any other chapter, and since Taloon is a Merchant, enemies drop treasure chests more frequently. You can work in your boss's shop, deciding what prices to sell items for or what items to take into stock. Once you buy your own shop, you can take the profit or equipment and use them however you want. You can raid the local caves and sell their treasures, since Taloon can't equip most of it anyway. A lot of this has an Indiana Jones-style vibe, right down to a very particular puzzle -- like the intro Raiders of the Lost Ark, there's a precious statue on top of a switch. You need to push a boulder into the room, grab the statue, push the boulder on the switch, and then escape.
Chapter 4 stars two sisters -- Mara, a dancer, and Nara, a fortune teller, as they set off to avenge their father's murder.
In the fifth and final chapter, you finally assume the role of the Hero, who is being raised in a remote, unnamed village. Apparently, you have some kind of special powers, and with along with them, an important destiny. Not long after the chapter begins, your village is suddenly attacked by monsters looking for your blood. You're hidden away, and your best friend -- a shapeshifter -- assumes the your form to get killed in your place. Thinking their task is completed, the monsters leave, with the Hero in the ruins of his or her hometown to discover the reasons behind this tragedy. You must travel the world and regroup with all of the characters of the previous chapters and take down Necrosaro together. You learn that all of the previous stories were simply building up to this tragedy by highlighting a number of troubles in the world, but here you finally get to take down the bad guys.
Although the battle system is the same as its predecessor, Dragon Quest IV introduces AI-controlled characters. In many of the chapters, you only control the main character, and all other party members attack automatically. It's especially bizarre when you get to the final chapter, and you can only control the hero -- the rest of the characters, who were previously under your command, now act on their own accord. You can set "tactics" to modify their behavior a bit, and most of the time, the AI works pretty well, but some of the spellcasters can be a dimwitted, constantly using spells that are ineffective. While this speeds things up, it also makes battles less involving when you're only giving orders to a single character.
Also, there are a total of eight heroes in the final chapter, and you only control four at once in battle. In order for you to be able to control all of them, Dragon Quest IV introduces the Caravan. At any time in battle, you can swap characters in and out of your party. However, the Caravan can't be taken into certain areas like caves, so whenever you go dungeon crawling, you're limited to four people.
A number of other additions have been introduced to Dragon Warrior IV, including casinos, where you can gamble away your cash and earn exclusive items. Also new is the Medal King -- there are now tons of Medals hidden throughout the world, and they can be used to purchase even more exclusive items. The day/night cycle from Dragon Quest III has also been retained. You can also save your game at churches, which can be found in practically any town in the world.
Dragon Quest IV was eventually ported to the PSone in 2001, using the same engine as Dragon Quest VII. The graphics have been upgraded to use 3D landscapes and 2D sprites. Naturally, much like Dragon Quest VII, this is pretty ugly, but it's still a big step up from the NES version, especially seeing as how the character sprites actually have some level of detail. The enemies in battle are now animated, and there are visual effects with some of the spells. The music has also been enhanced, and actually sounds better than Dragon Warrior VII (though that may be just because Dragon Quest IV has a better soundtrack anyway.) The improvements are more than just skin deep, as there are plenty of enhancements that make this a more complete experience.
For starters, there's a new prologue where you play as the Hero and walk around town for a bit. In the FC/NES version, you'd name your character, and wouldn't be introduced to them until late in the game. The remake totally loses that, but it's cool to see your transforming friend, whom you get to play around with a bit. Then you see what happens to her by the time the fifth chapter rolls around, and it's all the more crushing, so it balances out. There's also a whole brand new sixth chapter which expands on the background behind Necrosaro and why he's so angry at mankind. You even get to resurrect him and join up with him, as your party takes on an even greater evil. The immigrant town from Dragon Quest VII also shows up here, as well as the Bag, the Monster Book, the Talk function, and other additions that were added in the later games.
More importantly, however, is that you can now turn off the AI and control all of your party members manually. As a result, some of the attacks and spells have been toned down, as to not make the game too easy (they could be pretty overpowered when the computer controlled your party) but it basically fixed the one major problem with Dragon Quest IV. This version was scheduled to come out in America -- it's actually advertised on the back of the Dragon Warrior VII manual -- but was cancelled when the Japanese studio closed down; the tools required for localization became unavailable.
Dragon Quest IV was also released for the DS in 2007, ported by Arte Piazza. It's mostly based on the PSone version, but displays the landscape on both screens. The battle interface has been redone, the menus now finally use the Toriyama artwork as character portraits, and all of the monsters have idle animations in addition to attack animations. Strangely there's no stylus controls at all. In general, the game moves a bit faster, and sounds a bit better too. The immigrant quest has been changed (and dumbed down) and the bonus dungeon is completely different from the PSone game. There's also some orchestral music played in the intro, and some throwaway wireless trading options.
As of right now, the game's only been been released in Japan with no announced plans for an English localization; hackers found a rough English script in the Japanese version. It's a complete retranslation of the original, with some interesting touches -- the characters in Chapter 1 all speak with Scottish accents, and everyone in Chapter 2 speaks like Eastern Europeans. There's also some attempts to explain the differences between the old Dragon Warrior IV character names -- Ragnar/Rian is now named "Ragnar McRyan", much as how Taloon/Torneko became "Torneko Taloon" in the English translation of Dragon Quest VIII.
Super Famicom (1992, Japan only)
PlayStation 2 (2004, Japan only)
DS (later in 2008, Japan)
Dragon Quest V: Tenkuu no Hanayome (The Bride of the Heavens) is the first 16-bit installment in the series, released for the Super Famicom. Much like Final Fantasy IV, it keeps much of the graphical style of the 8-bit games, but adds more color and detail to the graphics. It's definitely an improvement over the original, although it still looks a bit drab, and it lacks any fancy Mode 7 effects. The sound chip of the SNES also allows for high quality instrument samples that sound close to a real orchestra. Some of the music sounds flat compared to later SFC titles, but considering this was released early in the system's life cycle, it's actually pretty impressive. The movement is still clunky, but a bit smoother, and there's now a context sensitive "examine" button (either shoulder button) which will automatically talk to people, open doors, look at objects, and such. It's definitely an improvement, but overall it still feels pretty primitive. But Dragon Quest V's strengths go far beyond the presentation -- it's really about unique storytelling, as it follows on the different stages of the hero's life, from the moment he's born, up through his childhood, until when he raises a family of his own, all while having plenty of daring adventures.
At the beginning, you're just a precious little kid, adventuring with your dad. Right at the beginning, you wander off onto the world map and start getting your ass kicked by dumpy little slimes. Eventually you grow up and become a powerful beast tamer. You're accompanied by Papas, your loving father, who mourns the loss of his dear Martha. Just as you're getting pummeled by those slimes at the beginning, he steps in, heals you, wipes the floor with the attackers, and saves you from certain death. His motives are a bit mysterious, until he confesses the secret he's hiding.
There are also two women central to the plot. Bianca is the young daughter of one of the villagers. You first meet Bianca as a child, and the two of you rapscallions sneak outside at night to have some crazy adventurers. Later, she becomes one of the two girls you can marry. For some reason, the SFC manual refers to her as "The Mysterious Girl". Flora is the other girl you can marry, who's a bit more quiet and reserved than Bianca. She's also generally less interesting, considering you don't meet her until later in the game... at least, in the Super Famicom version. The game heavily tilts the favor towards Bianca, actually -- Flora isn't even mentioned in the manual. However, since she's the daughter of a rich guy, you get lots of bonuses from him, so it's almost easier to choose her. Unlike Bianca, whom you meet right at the beginning and is featured right on the cover.
Dragon Quest V begins as our hero is born to Papas and Martha, a proud young couple. As they decide on a name, Martha falls silent, with only the baby's cry breaking the silence. Fast forward a few years, as you, the hero -- just a kid at this point -- and his father are adventuring together. It's a pretty cool feeling when you first step into the world map and immediately get creamed by some slimes, only to have Papas jump in, give the monsters a good ass-kicking, and save your hide. Although you're just a few years old and can barely read, you still find some time for adventuring, and eventually adopt a little panther cub. During these adventures, you learn that your mother passed away giving birth, and your father still grieves to this day.
Your journey is cut short, however, when you and Papas are ambushed by some evil foes. As you're knocked to the ground, you watch helplessly as Papas tries valiantly to protect you -- and falls in combat. Before being burnt to death by your captors, Papas confesses to our hero that his mother is still alive, and begs for you to find her. You're imprisoned in a slave labor camp for ten long years, during which you mature from a small little boy into a young man. After much hardship, you band together with your one of your fellow slaves and escape to freedom, in hopes of finding your lost mother and carrying out your dying father's request. Along the way, you'll learn of Papas' true quest -- to find the Zenithian Hero, the one who can enter the Demon World and save the land from chaos. In a bit of a shocking twist, you're not the prophesized hero -- but you spend the rest of the game trying to find that hero, in addition to tracking down your mother.
Along the way, you'll learn stories of your parents' courtship, which is pretty cute. At one point, you'll get to choose a bride of your own to marry, and have kids. After further adventuring, you and your wife are actually captured and encased in stone -- only to be rescued several years later by your children, now fully-grown heroes in their own right. And you soon learn that your kids may have an important fate cut out for them as well.
Dragon Quest in general is often derided for its simplistic scenarios, but DQV has one of the most involving -- and emotional -- of almost any RPG out there. There really hasn't been any other game that follows this format -- Sega's Phantasy Star III is about as closest as you can get. Dragon Quest V doesn't offer as many options -- the girl you choose to marry only slightly affects the plot, and your children will have the same stats regardless of who your marry, as it only changes their hair color. But the focus on a single character works much better here, feeling like the equivalent of an epic poem.
Dragon Quest V also introduces monster taming. As soon as you reach adulthood, you can draft enemy monsters to fight in party. There's no trick to it -- just have an open spot in your party lineup, and certain monsters will offer to join, if you're strong enough. Each has their own unique name (you can meet another Healslime named Hoimin, like DQIV) and also level up and gain new abilities as they can experience, just like regular party members. There are a total of 40 monsters to collect in the Super Famicom version, which is pretty sizable, and this is in addition to all of the other human characters that you can play as (your wife, your kids, and various others.) This system would eventually serve as the basis from the Dragon Quest Monsters spinoff, which was primarily created due to the popularity of Nintendo's Pokémon series.
However, you can only take three characters into battle at once, which is a significant downgrade from the previous two games. At least the party AI is much better than DQIV, and you can control all of your party members manually, at least once you've built their intelligence stats up. Additionally, certain weapons, like boomerangs and sickles, can now attack groups of enemies, which makes battles go by much quicker.
At this point, in 1992, Enix has all but given up with RPGs in America, so despite the popularity of Final Fantasy II (in restored numbering, IV) on the SNES, it was never officially translated. Despite its age, it's often remembered as one of the best of the series, and is acknowledged as Yuji Horii's favorite.
Dragon Quest V was later remade for the PlayStation 2 in Japan in 2004, developed by Arte Piazza and Matrix Software. All of the graphics -- characters, monsters, landscapes -- are rendered in polygons, although it's hardly all that fancy looking. The game utilizes a similar overhead camera, so it never zooms too close to show how shoddy the character models are. Still, at least the monster animations in battle are pretty cool -- it's fun to watch the slimes fling themselves right into the TV screen as they attack. And despite feeling pretty low budget, it's not particularly ugly, just simplistic. The interface has been much improved -- doors open automatically, you have access to the Bag and the monster book, and the hero walks significantly faster. It also uses the music with similar arrangements to the Symphonic Suite soundtrack CD, but newly recorded to sound much better. It sounds fantastic and makes it the only Dragon Quest released in Japan to feature real orchestral music.
The battle roster has also been expanded allow four characters, and includes a handful of new playable monsters. As a result, the monster strengths and overall difficulty have been rebalanced to suit the extra party members. The scenario itself is almost exactly the same as the Super Famicom version, although this time you meet Flora as a child at the beginning of the game. This was an attempt to make you feel more attached to her when it comes time to choose a bride, but it's still weighted heavily in Bianca's favor. There's also some special new regional equipment that come across, which can be displayed at a special museum. Compared to Dragon Quest VIII -- which came out a few months after this -- this remake looks pretty pathetic, and it's probably why Square Enix skipped on localizing it for the rest of the world. However, it's preferable to the Super Famicom version and still definitely worth a shot.
Later in 2008, Dragon Quest V will be released for the Nintendo DS. Using the same engine as the DS version of DQIV, this version seems to utilize similar backgrounds as the PS2 version but replaces the 3D character models with sprites. Most of the monster animations and other graphics appear to have been lifted from the DS DQIV as well. There's going to be some extra scenarios, apparently, but nothing's been set in stone. As of this writing, this title has not been released in Japan.
Super Famicom (1995, Japan only)
Dragon Quest VI marks a huge change for the series -- it's the first game to have been developed by Heartbeat, as opposed to Chunsoft, who split off to concentrate its Mysterious Dungeon spinoff series. The graphics have improved significantly over its predecessor, featuring much larger characters, and more detailed terrain, putting it on the level with other SFC RPGs like Star Ocean and Final Fantasy VI. The battle backgrounds now take up the whole screen instead of being fought in a window, and all of the enemies have attack animations, which helps make the action feel less static. The music is also substantially better, featuring much stronger instrument samples, which is especially noticeable with the percussion. (It was actually arranged for the SFC by Hitoshi Sakimoto.) The movement is much smoother, the characters move faster, and the whole game feels like Dragon Quest finally crawled out of its archaic shell, while still keeping what makes the series unique.
The scenario is also more involving than the previous games. Dragon Quest VI features a "dual world" setup similar to Zelda: A Link to the Past. But instead of featuring a "Light World" and "Dark World", DQVI is broken up into the "Real World" and "Dream World" (which is the "Maboroshii no Daichi" or "Illusionary Land" mentioned in the title.) The story begins with a trio of young warriors mounting on assault on the evil warlord Mudo. However, you and your prove no match for his power, and all of them are banished into thin air. Then, you awaken back in your room, your confrontation apparently having been just a dream.
Upon resuming your daily routine, you finds a strange gaping hole in the earth. You jump in, only to discover another world almost exactly like your own. However, you appear only as a spectre, and most people can't see or interact with you (this leads to some amusing tricks you can play on villagers -- you can actually try to convince a hapless clergyman that you're God.) Eventually you come across the companions from your dream (who've lost their memories, of course), before eventually figuring out a way to jump between both worlds.
Then you learn the truth about the "dream world". The inhabitants of the real world have projected their minds into this dream world, leading to some interesting connections -- for example, one guard in the real world hates his name, and his identical version in the dream world has the name he wishes he had. Naturally, you'll do a lot of jumping back and forth between the two worlds, uncovering the hopes and dreams of the townspeople you run across.
Eventually you'll come across Mudo too, although he's hardly the final boss of the game. The true baddie is an even monstrous foe named Deathtamoor, who inhabits a dimension of darkness between the two worlds. It's a pretty cool plot, with plenty of cool twists, and seems to have directly influenced later RPGs -- needless to say, Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy X don't seem so innovative when you compare them to Dragon Quest VI. However, it would've been nice if there was some kind of visual distinction between the two worlds, other than the altered world map. This installment also finishes up the "Castle in the Sky" trilogy, although here it's simply referred to as "Zenith Castle". Apparently, the events in the game reveal that, chronologically, the game takes place before the other two games, as the DQVI protagonist is the Zenithian Hero referenced in DQIV.
At the beginning, the Hero is a simple inhabitant of a remote village, venturing only to sell his goods -- at least, until he discovers the alternate world. Here, people seem to recognize him as being a prince in one of the kingdoms. You also meet up with several other party members. Hassan is one of the buddies from your dreams. As his appearance would suggest, he's more about might and muscle than flexibility. Muriel is sour other friend from your dream (literally romanized as "Mireyu" and known as Milayou in the Dragon Quest Monsters localization) is your token magic user. She's the only person that can see Hero and Hassan when they first enter the alternate dimension. Barbara also appears as a spectre at first, but you eventually help her materialize, and she ends up joining your quest. She's basically just another mage, who also looks a lot like Marle from Chrono Trigger -- but that should be expected from Toriyama's artwork. Chamoro is a healer joins your party when you get your ship, and comes from a prestigious family. And Terry is an enemy for part of the game, who eventually joins your quest after you defeat him. He doesn't realize it at first, but he's actually Muriel's brother.
Dragon Quest VI brings back the class system from Dragon Quest III, with a number of improvements. Similar to Final Fantasy III or V, you can switch classes any time you want instead of waiting until you hit level 20 (although you need to head to the Dharma Shrine to do this.) Your class level is now separate from your main experience level, and there are eight class levels within a given job. You gain class experience by fighting a set number of battles against foes around your same level, so you won't gain any experience if you grind against enemies that are too weak. When you level up your class rank, you'll get a new skill.
The classes at the beginning of the game should be familiar -- the standard Fighter, Soldier, Healer, Wizard, Merchant, and Goof-Off -- as well as Thief, Dancer and Beastmaster. The Beastmaster class lets you tame certain monsters a la DQV, but there's not as many beasts to find, since it's not really the focus of the game. (There are also two hidden characters to hunt down.) Once you master multiple specific base classes, you can open up the advanced classes, which include Battlemaster (Soldier & Fighter), Magic Knight (Soldier & Wizard), Paladin (Fighter & Priest), Ranger (Thief, Merchant & Beastmaster), Sage (Priest & Wizard) and Superstar (Dancer & Goof-Off). If you really put a lot of effort into it, you can even enable the Hero class, although it's much easier for the main character to get to this rank. It's a cool way to customize your characters, but unless you plan out your characters' growth ahead of a time, you could potentially end up with an underpowered party. It also requires a lot more grinding to get the skills you want.
Other improvements include the addition of the Bag, which allows you to store additional items without your characters having to hold them. This greatly improves inventory management and has been utilized in all of successive games (as well as the remakes.) You also have an "Appearance" stat, which changes based on your equipment. Increase your Appearance will help you win a style contest later in the game, which allows for more prizes. There's also the Slime Battle Arena, where you can pit various members of the slime family against each other for prizes. The Medal system has also changed, in that you're given specific prizes for obtaining a certain number of Medals, rather than using them as currency to purchase the items you want. You can also bring up a world map (once you obtain it) by hitting the "R" button. The day/night cycle is also gone, and only changes as the plot dictates.
Like its immediate predecessor, Dragon Quest VI was passed over for localization, since Enix had closed up shop in America, and Square -- one of the only companies willing to translate any RPGs into English -- was too busy trying to figure out how to get their own games to sell. It may be a bit too combat intensive -- it takes way too long to build up the classes -- and the dual world system gets overwhelming at times, but it's still a fantastic game. Unlike the previous games, Dragon Quest VI hasn't seen any remakes until the DS. The release date of the DS edition is undecided as of this writing.
(aka Dragon Warrior VII)
PlayStation (2000, Japan / 2001, North America)
At the beginning of the game, the world of Dragon Warrior VII is a lonely, dismal place. Our heroes inhabit a lone island in the middle of a vast ocean, wondering if there's any other life on the planet. That is, until they stumble upon some ancient ruins that transport them back in time. By traveling to the past, you'll find different societies under all kinds of turmoil. After saving them, these rescued islands will appear in the present. One by one, you'll reassemble the pieces of a broken world, and battle the evil force responsible for it all. And "Eden no Senshitachi"? That's "Warriors of Eden".
The main character -- known as "Arus" in the official manga -- is the son of fisherman in the town of Fishbel. All of his artwork portrays him with a look of perpetual befuddlement, which doesn't exactly make him look like a proper hero. The developers seemed to have been going for a more "everyday" kind of person, rather than an actual warrior. Your companion Kiefer looks like someone who'd be better with a weapon. He's the prince of the only kingdom in the world. Being a teenager, he's not one to listen to his father, and rather takes off from his royal duties to hang out, womanize, and go on adventures with the heroes. He's your primary physical attacker in the early stages of the game. Then there's Maribel, a young lass from Fishbel. Like most video game heroines, she's has something of a love/hate relationship with the hero. Mostly, though, she's a bit of a brat though. Naturally, she's focused on magic.
Gabo used to be a wolf cub, until a curse turned him into a human child. Eventually through some crazy magic, he obtained the power of speech, although he's still not very good at it. Melvin is an old knight once fought beside God himself. Too bad he was encased in stone afterward. Once you awaken him, Melvin will once again join your party to fight for the greater good. Aira is a dancer in the Deja Tribe, who perform various rituals to awaken God. You encounter the Deja pretty early in the game, but you don't meet Aira until much, much later. She's also a pretty accomplished swordswoman.
Dragon Warrior VII was developed by a studio called Heartbeat and is the first title in the series to use 3D graphics in its original edition. All of the backgrounds consist of polygons, allowing you to rotate the camera in most instances, while all of the characters still consist of 2D sprites, similar to Xenogears. Given how long this game was in development, it looked pretty dated even when it came out in Japan in 2001. The characters actually look worse than Dragon Quest VI, and the landscapes -- especially in the battle scenes -- are pixellated and generally pretty ugly. The package comes with two discs, but the computer rendered cutscenes -- also extremely ugly -- are pretty rare, and it's a bit hard to tell exactly what's filling up on that space, because the music is sequenced, and there are no voices at all. The Dragon Quest games have never been about fancy graphics or sound, but it would've been nice if the developers took some advantage of the larger medium or more powerful hardware, especially considering it came out very late in the PSOne's lifespan.
The glacial pacing probably won't win over many gamers either. The first segment of Dragon Warrior VII is spent running fetch quests and exploring one long, very boring dungeon. You won't even get into a fight until at least two hours in. The plot doesn't even start properly even several hours further in, and you won't even get to mess around with the class system until roughly fifteen hours in. And even once the plot has kicked into gear, there's still lots of senseless backtracking, because Dragon Warrior VII probably has the highest proportion of fetch quests of any JRPG in the history of JRPGs. Every chapter works like this -- in order to warp through time, you'll need to hike through several screens to get into the lower chambers of the ruins. After teleporting and discovering the crumbled society you need to save, you'll need to figure out some kind of resolution. Many times, this involves transporting back to the present, hiking back to the overworld, finding some object or person to help you out, hike into the depths of the shrine, transport back to the past, and then proceed.
And that's only half of it. Once you've saved a land in the past, you need to revisit it in the present. In order to open up new lands, you need to search for broken elemental shards. In some instances, this involves scrounging through the same dungeons you've already conquered, or obsessively rummaging through every bookshelf, dresser and treasure chest. Even with the transportation spells and other shortcuts that the game gives you, there's really no reason for all of this running around, except to maybe pad out the game's length. Dragon Warrior VII is one of the longest of the series, and certainly the largest of any PSone era RPG.
However, one of the strengths of Dragon Warrior has always been the scenarios and the townspeople that you save, and this installment plays on this aspect heavily. Each chapter plays out like a mini-tragedy, a minor cataclysm that only you can prevent, and seeing how your actions affect the present day can be very rewarding, and sometimes kinda humorous.
For instance, one scenario in the past involves a village where the humans have turned into animals, and the animals turned into humans. As expected, you find the evil villain responsible for the curse, and seal him away in a tomb. Come back in the present, and you'll find that the villagers put on animal costumes during a festival in remembrance of their ancestor's tribulations. In other words, by saving a group of people, you've essentially turned their descendants into furries. (On the other hand, if you never saved them, then their descendants wouldn't exist at all, so it's better than nothing.) You can also revisit the tomb of the sealed monster, who's reverted into a powerless human during his imprisonment, and jokes with your heroes about how pathetic he's become.
In another one, you'll travel to the past and meet up with a secluded inventor, who's so distraught over the loss of his lover that he builds a robot and names it after her, in hopes that he would have a companion that would live forever. When you visit them in the present, you find this distraught robot trying to give nurse her master back to health, unaware that he's long dead and is little more than a pile of bones.
The plot eventually blossoms into an old story about God and the Demon Lord, who destroyed themselves in their conflict. It turns out God isn't dead, He's just resting. You can choose to fight God at the end of one of the bonus dungeons at the game, but it's not the whole silly "God is evil" thing that afflicted a number of other 32-bit RPGs like Xenogears of Final Fantasy Tactics. Rather, it's just a friendly challenge from the Almighty -- and he even looks like a pretty lovable chap.
Most of the stories are unrelated to one another, although a few are connected in small ways. It is pretty cool to see the overworld grow from a tiny piece of land, to a small cluster of islands, to a huge series of continents as large as any of the previous games. By and large, it's not as involving as Chrono Trigger for one main reason -- there's no real visual distinction across time periods. The past often looks just like the present, except the past is usually encased in perpetual night or something similar (like DQVI, there's no day/night cycle -- time just changes depending on the plot.)
Dragon Warrior VII utilizes a class system similar to Dragon Quest VI. Once you reach the Dharma shrine, you can assign jobs to any of the characters, and they level up in pretty much the same manner. However, there are more job classes than its predecessor, with skills spread pretty thinly across them, resulting in even more bloat. On the plus side, there are now "hybrid skills", unique abilities which are obtained by mastering two different classes. For instance, mastering the fighting class and the dancer class will grant you the powerful SwordDance ability.
There are also three third-tier classes, compared to the single Hero class of DQVI, and these require the mastery of multiple advanced classes. It takes a lot of effort, but the powers of the God Hand and Summoner can be pretty devastating. Additionally, certain monsters leave "hearts", allowing you to equip them as jobs and level them up. Like the standard classes, if you level up enough monster classes, you can eventually unlock more classes without having to find more hearts. When you master a monster, that character changes appearances into that creature. This replaces the monster collecting system of DQV and VI. There are only a total of six characters in the game, and they come and leave as the plot dictates, so the caravan has been removed.
There's also a brand-new subquest called the "Immigrant Town". Early in the game, you come across a deserted island. As you speak to various people throughout the game, you can convince them to move and join your village. It's somewhat similar to the castle building in the Suikoden games. However, the type of people you collect will drastically change the town itself. Also new in DWVII is the "Talk" option, which allows you to converse amongst your party members to discover your next goal. However, they aren't exactly a chatty bunch, and most of the time are just "lost in thought". The fashion contest is back too, although it takes other stats into account, rather than just your "style". Also new is the Monster Book, which basically just acts as a bestiary of all the bad guys you've fought.
Dragon Quest VII became the highest selling RPG on the PSone when it came out in Japan, but it didn't quite meet with the same success when it was released in America over a year later. Although RPGs had become more popular with the release of Final Fantasy VII five years earlier, Dragon Warrior VII's dated visuals and gameplay did little attract an audience, beyond those who were familiar with the game back in the NES days. The translation is relatively consistent with the spell names, including the likes of "Healmore" and "Hurtmore", although most of the writing is pretty bland, and the English font is incredibly ugly.
(aka Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King)
PlayStation 2 (2004)
The prologue of Dragon Quest VIII (whose Japanese subtitle translates literally as "The Sky, The Sea, The Earth and the Cursed Princess") begins in the small kingdom of Trodain. A malicious jester named Dhoulmagus has stolen a precious magical artifact and calls a plague upon the kingdom. The castle is overrun with vines, the king is turned into a little ghoul, the princess is turned into a horse, and nearly everyone in the castle has become cursed. The only survivor is a young soldier, a hero who is mysteriously unharmed. These three leave the land in order to pursue Dhoulmagus, not only to take revenge and stop him from doing even more damage, but to find a way to turn their kingdom -- and bodies -- back to normal.
The Hero is one of the only members of the Trodain Kingdom that wasn't affected by the curse. Naturally, the reasons for your survival play a huge role in plot, at least later in the game. Like most heroes, he's a pretty balanced character, who specializes in swords, spears and boomerangs, and has some decent magic. Yangus may look like a tough brute, but he's really a big teddy bear. When he first meets the team, he tries to extort some money out of them, only to be left dangling off the side of a cliff. The hero, ever compassionate, spares his life, and Yangus joins out of gratitude, calling him "guv" from there on in. He's a gruff fellow who speaks with a Cockney accent (in the English versions, anyway), and mostly concentrates on physical attacks.
Jessica is the daughter of a rich family, who seeks to take revenge on Dhoulmagus for killing her brother in cold blood. She's mostly skilled with whips and magical spells, although her biggest asset is obviously her sex appeal. Her looks can randomly charm foes if you build them up enough, and she can even execute a "puff puff" on enemies to make them swoon. There are also a number of fetish costumes that you can dress her up as -- she's the only character that changes appearance based on what armor you equip her with. Angelo is a member of the Knights Templar, who concentrates more on boozing and flirting than doing his duties. But after Dhoulmagus sets his abbey on fire and kills his master, he shapes up and joins your party, also motivated for revenge. He's another well-rounded character, with both powerful melee attacks and strong magic. His Japanese name, Kukule, is a bit dumb, so they changed it for the English version. And then there's poor King Trode. He's cursed with the form of a troll, and thus is abhorred by pretty much everyone. He never actually fights, but instead just tags along, keeping watch over his daughter (in horse form) and moving the plot along. However, he does help create the Alchemy Pot, and gives you his comments on your battle performance.
Despite being one of Japan's most popular game series, Dragon Quest's traditionally low production values have been pretty baffling. That changed with Dragon Quest VIII, courtesy of Level 5, the team behind the Dark Cloud games. The overhead view and squat pixellated characters have been replaced with a behind-the-back camera and full 3D graphics, far better than the nice-but-still-cheap-looking PS2 remake of Dragon Quest V. The whole game is like being in full control of the best looking anime ever created, with amazing cel-shaded character models that bring out the best in Toriyama artwork, and gorgeous castles that are stunning works of polygonal architecture.
The overworld is a huge, sprawling field of green, one of the most amazing seen in any Japanese RPG, and only challenged by the likes of western RPGs like Oblivion. It's structured well enough, so that you can follow the path and reach your destination, or spend hours exploring the back roads and hidden nooks for treasures and other cool stuff. Later in the game, you can even ride a Sabrecat/Killer Panther (the same kind you got as a pet at the start of Dragon Quest V) and completely tear through the landscape. Also, for the first time since Dragon Quest V, the day/night cycle has returned. On the negative side, the dungeons are often on the simple side. Although the inclusion of maps are definitely welcome (you just need to find them first), many feel simplified compared to previous games.
The battle system also benefits hugely from the graphical upgrade. For the first time, you actually see your enemies and characters attack each other. Although this makes battles slower, it makes each fight far more engaging than the simple text narration and sound effects, although those are there too. To counterbalance this, the enemy encounter rate has significantly dropped, so combat is rarely overwhelming. This is also the first game where you can finally target individual enemies instead of groups -- it took them long enough! All characters also have the ability to "Psyche Up", an expansion of a skill from the previous games. Psyching up will sacrifice a character's turn in order to strengthen themselves up, which is referred to as "tension". Their tension rises exponentially every turn you Psyche-Up, and dissipates whenever you take another action.
The idea is that you can do more damage if you psyche up for four turns then attack, as opposed to simply fighting every turn. It adds a lot more strategy to the battles, and it carefully balances the risk vs. reward mechanic without becoming overpowered, because many bosses have the ability to reduce a character's tension completely. At a certain level, you can also reach a state of Super High Tension where you freak out Dragon Ball Z-style and turn purple in the process.
Still, in as many steps forward that Dragon Quest VIII takes, it falls a few steps back on other issues. There's no real narrative hook here - DQIV had the chapter system, DQV had the "follow hero through his life" thing, DQVI had the dream world and DQVII had time travel. DQVIII is much more simplistic -- you're a small band of travelers out to defeat evil, and little more. The plot eventually kicks into gear about midway through the game -- as to be expected, Dhoulmagus is far from the final bad guy -- but if you're expecting anything revelatory, DQVIII doesn't really offer it.
Similarly, there are only four human characters to play as, which is disappointing considering the wider roles offered in other games. What it lacks in story is made up for in personality -- due to both the expressive character models and outstanding writing, this is easily the most memorable cast of characters seen in a Dragon Quest game. They converse amongst each other more often, and using the Talk option to learn about current events is much more constructive than it was in DQVII. Furthermore, the English version of the game features some absolutely outstanding voice acting. Most of the actors and actresses come from British drama troupes, and feature over-the-top British accents, goofy voices, and quirky speech mannerisms that turn even the minor NPCs into amusing caricatures. It's definitely a welcome addition, considering the Japanese version doesn't have any voice acting at all.
The class system has been ditched in favor of a more simplified skill building system. Each character can master one of three weapons, in addition to bare-handed fisticuffs, as well as a single character trait (the hero has Courage, Jessica has Sex Appeal, etc), for a total of five different fields. When you level up, you're granted skill points to distribute in each of these areas. At certain intervals, your character will level up that skill, and be granted either additional attack power or special skills. In one way, it removes a lot of the depth from character building found in DQVI and DQVII, but it's also much easier to manage and less confusing.
Capturing monsters works much differently too. While walking around, occasionally you'll find monsters that are visible on the field. These are called "infamous monsters", and are usually a bit more powerful than their normal counterparts. Once you certain part of the game (Morrie's Coliseum), these infamous monsters will join your "monster team" once they're defeated. You can then use these monsters to fight in automated tournament levels, which can eventually earn you new items and such. As you progress through the ranks, you can eventually get a skill to call your monster team into regular combat to take your party's place for a few turns.
Also new is the Alchemy Pot. Similar to the item creation systems in other RPGs, you can toss items into this magic pot and end up with a completely new item. Randomly chucking things in won't get good results, but you can find new recipes by checking out bookshelves spread throughout the world, or by cheating and reading a strategy guide.
In addition to the voice acting, the English version includes fully orchestrated music from the Symphonic Suite album, whereas the Japanese version uses rather dull synth. The double edged sword is that the music was originally recorded for an album, and the quality sounds somewhat off when used in game. The English version also features an improved menu system which uses pictures. The only downside is that these features increase the loading times a bit, but never to a point where it's too irritating. The Japanese version also uses classic sound effects from the 8-bit games when you attack, cast magic, or execute any other action in battle. Most of these were removed from the English version, except for the "dodge" noise, which is still present.
Since it reclaimed the Dragon Quest name for the American release (the original trademark held by the TSR board game had since expired), the translators decided to reboot the naming conventions and make them closer to the original Japanese names. The spell names are closer to pnomatopoeia -- "Heal" is still "Heal", but now the fire spells have been named "Sizz" and "Sizzle", the ice spells are now "Crack" and "Crackle", and such. Some monsters have reverted too -- wyverns are now known as chimaeras, for example. A bunch of other silly names include the Funghoul (an evil mushroom), Treevil (an evil tree), a Chainine (a chain-wielding dog), a Goreilla (a mad ape) and Spitnik (a floating sun that spits fire.)
Unlike many Square Enix games where improvements were made for a western version, DQVIII was never re-released in Japan, so all other territories definitely got the superior version. This is also the first time Dragon Quest has been released in Europe, although it ditches the numeral and is simply referred to as Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King.
Apparently, the merchant Torneko was the most popular character in Dragon Quest IV, so Enix decided to give him his own game series to star in. In 1993, Chunsoft created the first Dragon Quest spinoff: Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon (Torneko's Great Adventure: The Mysterious Dungeon.) By taking elements of old Rogue-style PC games and updating them for the console audience, Chunsoft popularized a whole brand new type of game, which has since become their cash cow. Fushigi no Dungeon 2 featured their own character, named Shiren, which later exploded into its own franchise (one of which was released by Sega for the DS in 2008.) Several other franchises had their own Mysterious Dungeon games too, such as Final Fantasy (with Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon) and Pokémon.
There were two more Mysterious Dungeon games featuring Torneko -- the second one was released for the PSone and was published in America under the name World of Dragion Warrior -- Torneko: The Last Hope, where it was lambasted by western critics and gamers alike. The third was released for the PlayStation 2. Both the second and third games were ported to the Game Boy Advance. In 2006, a fourth Dragon Quest-related Mysterious Dungeon game was released: Shounen Yangus Fushigi no Dungeon, featuring a younger version of everyone's favorite brute Yangus from DQVIII, along with a few other characters, like Red the female bounty hunter. While all of the Torneko games were done by Chunsoft, this one was actually developed by Cavia, known for Drakengard and Bullet Witch.
In order to ride the Pokémon wave, Enix created Dragon Quest Monsters, which are primarily centered around portable platforms. It's more than a cheap cash-in -- as the series allowed you to capture monsters and use them in your party back in DQV. Plus the series had built up an impressive array of amusing monsters, and building up an army of slimes and drakees will always be pretty fun.
It also allows you to fight and collect major boss monsters, like Baramos and Zoma from DQIII, Esterk and Pizzaro from DQIV, Mirudrass from DQV, and Deathmore from DQVI. The games also include renditions of the overworld themes from DQI -- VI. The first game was released on the Game Boy Color and puts you in control of Terry in his search for Milayou, who are still children here. It's meant to be a sidestory/prequel to Dragon Quest VI, and a lot of references like these were list since that hadn't been translated for the U.S.
The second game was divided into two releases -- Tara's Adventure (Iru no Bouken) and Cody's Journey (Ruka no Tabidachi.) All of these were released in English by Eidos. There was also a Japan-only remake for the PSone that compiles all three releases and features enhanced graphics (though they're still 2D) and better music.
A third installment was released only in Japan under the title Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Hearts for the Game Boy Advance in 2003. This one stars a child version of Kiefer from Dragon Warrior VII. The fourth entry, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker was released for the DS in America, Europe and Japan in 2007, and features cel-shaded 3D graphics, so it looks like a downscaled version of Dragon Quest VIII. It's also the first Dragon Quest game which ditches random battles, since you can see your enemies when running around. These were all created by infamous shadow development house TOSE, who's known for stealthily created or porting games for bigger publishers.
The Slime Mori Mori series consists of two action-adventure games for portable platforms. In each game, you take control of a little slime, whose village has been attacked by the Tails Brigade (called the Plob in the English version), a group of evil Platypunks out to cause mischief. It's basically a Zelda-style game, as you search mini-dungeons to save the inhabitants of your village, who give you various items to help you on your way. The original GBA title, Slime Mori Mori Dragon Quest: Shougeki no Shippudan" (Exciting Slime Dragon Quest: The Attack of the Tails Brigade) was only released in Japan.
The second, subtitled Daisensha to Shippodan (The Great Tank and the Tails Brigade) for the DS, features nearly identical graphics, music and gameplay, though it features brand-new levels and a new story. The big addition are the tank battles, where you use different items you've collected to load cannons and attack a rival tank. This one was released in America under the title Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, and features an outstanding localization with lots of amusing writing and some inventive names. How could you not love a nun slime named Mother Glooperior, or a gigantic tree tank named Chrono Twigger? They're both pretty simple, easy games, but it's fun peering into a world where the Dragon Quest monsters are the good guys. Like the Monsters series, these were both developed by TOSE as well.
Kenshin Dragon Quest: Yomigaerishi Densetsu no Ken (Sword God Dragon Quest: The Resurrected Sword of Legend) is a standalone plug-in toy game system released in Japan in 2003. It featured a shield, which would plug directly into your TV, and a sword, which you'd slash at the TV to kill monsters. The technology was later adapted by Hasbro for use in some its titles, like The Lord of the Rings: Warrior of Middle Earth and Star Wars Saga Edition Lightsaber Battle Game.
The idea was fully fleshed out and into turned into a full fledged console release for the Wii, called Dragon Quest Swords: Kamen no Jouou to Kagami no Tou (The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors, an accurate translation of the subtitle for once), developed by Eighting. As can be expected, you wield the Wii remote like a sword and slash at monsters on screen. It looks sort of like Dragon Quest VIII, though without the cel-shading. It's still more of a short, on-rails action game with a few RPG elements rather than a full RPG -- there's only one town, the story is brief and it only takes a few hours to finish. But it's the first Dragon Quest released in Japan that features full voice acting.
There are three Dragon Quest anime series. the first, Dragon Quest: Yuusha Abel Densetsu (The Legend of The Great Hero Abel), was a full TV series chronicling an original story in the series. This one was actually licensed for English release by Saban Entertainment, though most networks tended to bury it during early, early morning Saturday cartoon blocks. Since the American audience wasn't familiar with the Toriyama artwork from the games, the only real connection seemed to be the music, and the fact that the main character had a mini-slime that traveled with him. (There are several name references to the games, but these were mostly to Dragon Warrior III, which hadn't come out in America then. For example, the bad guy named is named Baramos.) Only 13 of the 43 episodes were translated. You can find most of the English episodes on YouTube.
A second series called Dai no Daibouken (Dai's Great Adventure) was based off of a manga, and is again an original story not based on any of the video games. There are a total of three movies and a TV series with a total of 46 episodes, all released in the early '90s. None of these officially came to America, though they were translated for released in certain European countries. The main character was renamed Fly for these releases. You can also find some of these on YouTube, and there are English fansubs floating out of the movies.
The third is named Roto no Monshou (Emblem of Loto), a single movie, which was based off a long running manga series. Again, it's an original story, though it ties in closely with the world and events from the original Dragon Quest trilogy.
[The author thanks to Aeana for the aid, as well as Red Scarlet, Error, and anyone else from NeoGAF, whose guides and threads provided fruitful research for this article. An adapted version of this feature was originally published on the HG101 website.]
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