I have a lot of memories of Dragon Warrior. One of the first Role Playing Games (by today’s standards), it led a whole generation, including me, into the genre. Forming the basic template of Japanese RPGs for decades to come, it truly was innovative. Known as Dragon Quest in Japan, when it was ported over here, it received minor changes such as the character graphics, menu fixes, and battery back-up. Compared to the other text driven RPGs of the era, it simplified everything, allowing a greater amount of people to enjoy it. A commercial success in Japan, it didn’t perform nearly as admirably over in America… so much so that Nintendo became desperate to get rid of the copies. The plan? Give away a copy of Dragon Warrior (and strategy guide) with every new/renewed Nintendo Power subscription. It’s estimated that nearly 500,000 newcomers joined Nintendo Power, with many more resubscribing, possibly funding the magazine for years to come and certainly breathing life into the Dragon Warrior series.
RPGs are a different breed of game, very different from the normal action oriented lineup. In Dragon Warrior, you are dumped onto a map, with no idea what to do at all. The world is yours to explore, and you get out what you put into it. You spoke to everyone you came across, took down notes as to what they said, and jotted down maps of your surroundings. All battles are turn/command based, so there was never the pressure of time, there was only ever the pressure of strategy.
As it WAS 1989, the plot and premise were quite simple. I can sum up the game in a handful of sentences. You are a stranger to the castle of Tantegel, finding out from a guard that the Princess has been kidnapped by the evil Dragonlord. Upon wandering the planet, you come across a cave with a tablet written by the hero, Erdrick, detailing everything you need to do to assault Dragonlord’s castle, Charlock. Upon your travels, you will collect many relics, including the armaments of Erdrick himself. With the rescue of the princess, there is nothing left but to take down Dragonlord himself.
In what I remember to be the earliest instance of an alternate ending, Dragonlord offers the hero a chance to join him.
After returning light to the land, King Lorik offers you his kingdom as a reward. After careful thought, you hero turns down the offer and wishes to found his own kingdom. The lovely Princess Gwaelin joins you, heading off into the sunset, setting the stages for Dragon Warrior II many years in the future.
I have wonderful memories of exploring the wastelands, searching for Erdrick’s token in the swamp, slaying countless foes. I used to play the game for my brother while he was at school, grinding down Metal Slimes like they were nothing. I was never bored, and at every turn was something new.. a new cave to explore, a new enemy to face! I still have handwritten notes from when I was very young, explaining how to navigate the labyrinths without even using a torch. Getting enough gold for that new weapon was enough of a drive to carry on, while growing in strength from the battle’s experience was the icing on the cake. I had stories I told my brother when he got home from school, going on and on about amazing battles, close calls, and new finds. I was everything the game made me out to be. A hero.
Upon replaying it, however, I understand how shallow the experience was. As the game was practically a numbers game instead of a game of skill, there was no choice but to grind. Grinding is when you kill monsters, over and over and over and over again, gaining experience to strengthen your character and gold to purchase new equipment. If you tried to move ahead without becoming more powerful, you die. Simple as that. There is no way you can stand up to the new creatures you’ll encounter.
I used an emulator for this replay, so I was able to speed it up drastically. No, I don’t expect you to watch this.
It was pretty much as terrible as it looks/sounds. Imagine that for about 6 hours.. I would have went mad it if wasn’t for good friends. Now imagine playing it in normal speed, so pretend that you had to do that for 24 hours, give or take a few. Holy crap. Nowadays, games at least TRY to give you motivation for the monster genocide. This has nothing but you facing your T.V, wanting it all to end. It left me wondering how I enjoyed it so much as a child. I’m a man who enjoys a good grind, I actually like Disgaea after all.
I guess what it comes down to is this. I’m about to sound like a really old man, but go with it. People used to have a lot more patience, and it shows in everything we do. Everything needs to be fast, as close to instant as possible. Nothing but convenience now, from the video games and groceries being delivered to your house, to the movies you instantly have streaming. Back in 1989, when you’re a kid.. you have nothing else to do. No worries, no other games to play (your parents weren’t made out of money, asshole.), and nothing else to do besides decide which episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles you wanted to watch. Being spoiled by current generation games, it’s hard to imagine something so simple being so enjoyable.
But dammit, it really was.
So my final word on the matter is… I wouldn’t recommend it. Besides it being a history lesson of the prehistoric JRPG, it’s just not worth your time. There is very little to drive you forward beyond your imagination, and the drive is full of sudden stops every few seconds. The art is still very nice (Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame lent his hand to the project) and the music is still interesting to listen to.. there just weren’t any other “classical” soundtracks at the time. The Overture still gives me goosebumps and nostalgia bombs to this day. (The music was done by a famed television composer, Koichi Sugiyama.) The innovation is undeniable; many of the greatest JRPGs have used and still used the exact same formula to this day.
My past self gives the game a definite 10, my current self however has to drop the score down to a 4, leaving us with a nice 7.