Over the new year, I decided I’d go ahead and try Dragon Quest for the first time. I’d never actually played a game from the series until now, where I figured I should start with the first entry before making an attempt on the following entries.
Fortunately for you and me, I quite liked the game, it felt like an “origin story” for JRPGs. Introducing mechanics that later video game companies would use in their own games to improve the player’s experience.
The best way I can describe Dragon Quest is that it’s a barebones JRPG with a lot of character built in to keep you engaged. You will definitely be grinding. A LOT. I found that a large chunk of the game was spent grinding and not actually discovering new items to improve your hero.
The excessive grind was a bit disappointing, but I expected that considering the differences between then and now in terms of how JRPGs fundamentally function. So I won’t let that be a point toward the end score for this review. I understand this game was a stepping stone for later entries to learn and gain feedback.
Dragon Quest starts out in a kingdom called Tantegel where the Hero is ordered by the King to protect the land from darkness by defeating the dark lord and saving his daughter, princess Gwaelin.
Funny enough, you can optionally save the princess and go straight to defeat the Dark Lord if you choose, which is hysterical because by the end the king will praise you for a job well done. I wonder if he means that.
My Favorite Parts
I know I said the grinding was disappointing, but I eventually warmed up to it in Dragon Quest. Grinding at the beginning of the game is very dull, slow, and not that engaging. Towards the middle end as you improve your character’s abilities and equipment the quickness with which grinding happens is better. I had a lot of fun running time trials for how fast I can get to the next level.
I really enjoyed the exploration of the game, although short there are a few places we can visit in a non-linear fashion. This means that we can immediately fight strong enemies or even mini-bosses straight from the beginning. Would I recommend that? Not really. Can you do it? Yes you can.
Speaking of non-linear, what stands out in Dragon Quest is the fact that traversing throughout the map and which order does not matter in the end. As long as you get to the end. This means you don’t have to follow a linear path to your goal, NPCs are there to provide hints and information about potential items the Hero can discover, guiding the journey, but never forcing a specific path.
The battle is simple, not too overly complex. A big plus for me, since later gameplay systems in JRPGs, have been more complex. It’s nice to go back to the simple turn-based combat of selecting attack, skill, defend, and flee. I like a JRPG that can stand out by not over-complicating the gameplay.
Dragon Quest makes interacting with NPCs feel like a necessity, but that’s not a bad thing. You’ll come across some NPCs with pretty interesting lines and sometimes comical which I like when I get into one of these games. It’s just the right amount of dialogue to keep you going and not kill the experience.
Not So Favorite Parts
Let’s start off with grinding, I’m going to sound like a hypocrite. I like to grind in games, later JRPGs, especially the more recent ones made have found ways to improve the flow to reduce the time spent but also make it rewarding.
Grinding in Dragon Quest felt very dragged out, in that I spent more time grinding than exploring in the game. The game is already short, but the majority of that short game is spent gaining experience to level up your hero. I definitely would have liked to be able to explore the towns more.
The towns are small, with basic facilities, an inn, an armory, and sometimes a vault (to store your items and money). There is not very much to be done in them except sometimes finding a key item, but that experience is brief and in those moments, when you acquire something like an artifact it becomes an underwhelming experience.
The combat system is simple, which is good for many reasons, but also bad because for the parts that are introduced as part of the system, such as skills, are barely used against enemies. You could get by just using physical attacks, which is pretty much what I did, except for using healing spells, the skills system in this game becomes more and more useless the more you progress, unfortunately.
Dragon Quest 1 is the start of what would become an excellent series, and while it’s not the best for what JRPGs have to offer. I can say with certainty that I had a great time. You will get to explore, fight and learn about the game’s lore. If you want to have a simple yet engaging experience, I would say you should try the game out.