Dragon Warrior (also known as Dragon Quest) has an odd history here in the states. RPG fans here who grew up in the 90’s all know about Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy is THE RPG series that every other game strives to be. Right? Nothing else can even compete, RIGHT?
Well, not so much. See, Dragon Quest has actually been going on longer than Final Fantasy by about a year and in Japan, it’s easily as popular as Final Fantasy, if not even more so.
I’d love to go through the history of these two franchises with you all but that is another post (series of posts…). This is specifically about my time with Dragon Warrior, the first entry in the series, as remade on the Game Boy Color. Just a quick tidbit though about the names, to avoid confusion. The series has always been called Dragon Quest outside of the US. However, due to a pen-and-paper RPG called DragonQuest, they had to rename the game Dragon Warrior for the states. The series held this title in the US until Dragon Quest VIII came out for the PS2 in 2005. After that, every game and re-release of the games have used the name Dragon Quest. Since the copy of the game I played was called Dragon Warrior, that’s the name I’ll use for this review. Forgive me, Dragon Quest Purists.
TL;DR Dragon Warrior = Dragon Quest. Got it? Good, let’s move on.
Let’s get something out of the way right at the start of this review. Don’t play the NES version of Dragon Warrior. I know some of you have fond memories of your first console JRPG, hunting down slimes and whatnot but for today’s gamers, that game does not hold up at all, I’m sorry. While the GBC port of the game does make some less-than-welcome changes to the game, it is a FAR superior way to play the first in this series.
So, what is Dragon Warrior? Well, if you played the original Final Fantasy, it’s a lot like that, since that game took a ton of inspiration from Dragon Warrior in the first place. You play as a wandering warrior who sets out to save a kidnapped princess and defeat the evil DracoLord.
The game consists of traveling the world, hunting down items and crawling through dungeons after receiving hints about where to go in the various towns across the world. Dragon Warrior does contain an open world but monster strengths will likely restrict you from travelling too far off the beaten path without some excessive grinding.
Honestly, I can’t figure out why this game didn’t bore the living hell out of me. It is traditional in every way possible and maybe it was exactly that which I found so inspiring. This was the first game to truly nail down these mechanics. There were a few earlier pioneers of the genre but nothing that defined what a JRPG was so much as Dragon Warrior.
Even with the hardware’s archaic restrictions, Dragon Warrior maintained a lot of heart. The game’s characters and monsters were designed by famed artist Akira Toriyama, known for creating a little series called Dragon Ball. It’s possible you’ve heard of it. Each monster contains so much character from the lowliest (now iconic) Slime all the way up to the White Dragon (my personal favorite). The game even had it’s own twists in its charming but simple storyline that took me by surprise.
That doesn’t mean it’s all good though, this is still a remake of an RPG from 1986. Some things have not aged well. The vast majority of the gameplay is grinding. While it’s not as bad on the GBC version as the original NES version, it’s still grinding. Also, one particular item is beyond tedious to get, forcing you to literally count spaces on the world map to find one particular square. Honestly, I’d just use a walkthrough for that particular part of the game.
Overall, Dragon Warrior took me about 8-9 hours to complete. While the story had some impressive beats for its time, it won’t provide much for modern gamers expecting something more. If you love gaming history like I do, it’s a pretty easy one to go through yourself and it’s definitely playable. For anyone else, I’d jump to the Dragon Quest 4 remake on the Nintendo DS for a great entry point into this classic JRPG franchise.