Earlier today (August 10), Square Enix released Dragon Quest and Dragon Quest II on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS. These digital releases in Japan were made to capitalize on the latest entry, Dragon Quest XI, which was released in Japan on July 29, 2017 (and is confirmed to receive a North American release at a future date TBD). This isn’t the first time Dragon Quest and its sequel have been re-released. In late 2000, a Game Boy Color version of the two games was made. But even before all of that, you had the Super Famicom version which came out on December 18, 1993. It featured both games on one cart and the graphics were improved. While the visuals didn’t take full advantage of the SNES capabilities, it was still a decent step up from the NES graphics. Unfortunately, Dragon Quest I & II never made its way to American soil. However, a fan translated English patch has long since been put out, allowing SNES gamers to fully enjoy Dragon Quest I & II on their Super Nintendo. With these two games being re-released (again) today in Japan, there’s no better time to take a look back than now.
Dragon Quest was released on the Famicom on May 27, 1986. It was later released to the North American market as Dragon Warrior in August of 1989. Wow. This month marks the 28th anniversary since Dragon Warrior left its mark on an entire generation of NES playing kids. Many people consider Dragon Quest to be the granddaddy of the RPG genre. It inspired other companies to try their own hand, giving birth to classic franchises like Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy. In terms of influence, one could even argue that Dragon Quest is to RPGs as Super Mario Bros. is to platformers.
Immediately you can see that the SNES version enjoyed a visual boost. I’m not a graphics whore but it’s hard to go back to the NES original after seeing and playing the SNES version.
Select your game of choice. If you’re brand new to the series, definitely start with the first one. It’s harder to appreciate the original if you play Dragon Quest II first.
“Demons all over the world were taken out by Roto and this powerful Ball of Light. But then, the evil King Dragon appeared. He stole the Ball of Light and sealed it in darkness. If he is not stopped soon, it will be the end of the world as we know it. It’s up to you to stop him and bring back the Ball of Light by any means necessary!”
Another massive improvement: now you can talk to someone or search something without having to go through the cumbersome “action” menu. Do this by pressing either X, L or R. Of course, you still have the option to use the action menu but you’d be crazy to. This definitely makes the game a smoother playing experience. It’s a big reason why many prefer this version over the original.
Princesses and demons…
Thanks to the more functional control scheme, searching for hidden items is no longer as tedious or annoying. Once you’re stocked, it’s time to venture out. I like how the final castle looms in the distance and you can see it right away. It’s an effective tease!
Outside, the random battles begin. There’s no animation from the enemies to speak of, but it’s Dragon Quest. You’re not here for mind-blowing graphics. For what it is, it works.
Health running low? Retreat back to town to rest at the Inn. You can also head to the vault and either deposit or withdraw items. Since your inventory has a limited number of slots, wise management is crucial.
Exploring towns and villages is a must. You never know what helpful items you may uncover. That wise old man is the one to see when cursed.
Entering certain buildings lead to such quirky transitions.
Beating random enemies and leveling up is all part of the grind [HA HA -Ed.]. You’ll even learn some magic spells as you level up.
Discovering a new town or village for the first time is always a welcomed sight, especially for weary warriors. Even if it means, and I say this with the utmost affection, dealing with some of the village yahoos…
You’re going to need the torch here to light the way. At the end you come to a tombstone with a special message directed to you from the legendary Roto himself.
Wounded in battle but far away from town? Toss the Wing of the Chimera up in the air to take you back to the nearest town. Then you can rest at the local inn. Be sure to always carry at least one Chimera Wing with you. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of nowhere with no medical herbs or magic points to heal yourself.
Having a tough time with the latest batch of enemies? Then be sure to upgrade your weapons and armor. I like how the game shows you the difference. Believe it or not, not every RPG following Dragon Quest did this. That’s my biggest pet peeve with certain RPGs other than excessive random battles. Show me the difference, damnit! Ahem. Oh, and don’t forget to sell obsolete items [Yessssss, DELETE! -Broken Matt Hardy]
Typically, it’s just a matter of leveling up a bit and/or upgrading your weapons and armor. That’s been the RPG way ever since.
Ooooh, ahhh. Check out the brand new tree shadows in the village of Kol! This is perhaps the coolest visual tweak as the NES original did not feature this. It’s a small detail but goes a long way to add that extra punch.
These sultry ladies sure are friendly. This dialogue was removed from the US version of Dragon Warrior for obvious reasons.
Whoever this wise old man is, he sure gets around! Obviously, they just recycle the sprite. Hey, you had to use your imagination a bit back in the day.
DRAGON QUEST II
Together, this young man and his bride left on a journey and built several new countries. These countries were ruled by the children of that young couple, and were handed down to the following generation.
“DAMN that Hargon! We cannot surrender. Summon the soldiers at once!”
Sadly, as the guard went to carry out the King’s order, a demon swooped in for the kill. Strickened with fear and panic, the King urged his daughter to take cover and not to worry about whatever may happen to him.
Courageous to the bitter end, the King gave the demons all he had. His daughter, Maria, stood by watching and praying for the best.
Unfortunately, the demons called for backup and swarmed the King. He stood no chance, and Princess Maria had no choice but to honor her father’s last request: HIDE. And so she did. What became of her is a mystery that will be solved later…
Luckily, one brave soldier was able to escape the ruckus. He immediately limped all the way to the nearest castle to inform the King there before passing out. It was his valiant effort that set forth a tremendous domino effect. History honors his name.
Unlike the first Dragon Quest, this time two fellow allies will accompany you and assist in the great war. They also share the blood of Roto.
Another new aspect: now you square off with multiple enemies at a time rather than just one. Once in a while you’ll even land a lucky strike that hits with more power than your regular attack. It’s signaled by the words “Terrific move!”
However, this system had a slight flaw. Say you have two Big Slugs and they’re grouped together. Well, you can’t select which specific slug you want to hit. You just pick the group and the rest is up to the game. You can see how this affects strategy once the other two members join the party. Thankfully though, the game is pretty good with allocating your attacks properly. It’s not always perfect, but it gets it right most of the time. Still, I would have preferred being given the choice since that would leave no room for error.
Speak with all the villagers. Some will pass along pertinent information to aid you in your quest. Others, however, are used for comic relief. But nothing wrong with that! Seeing what random kooky thing some Regular Joe NPC might say is all part of the charm.
Rummage around — you never know what you might find. Although it is a pretty low thing to be stealing lottery tickets. But only in video games, right? Some of the locals, by the way, aren’t so friendly. You can already tell that girl is going to be the one wearing the pants in the relationship
Speaking of the Prince, how about we go find him?
Where have I heard that name Kain before? No matter, the Spring of Bravery, you say? I’m so there! A nearby guard clues you in as to where this Spring is located.
Before taking off, a guard upstairs doesn’t hesitate to throw a little bit of shade at the Prince. Chuckling to yourself, you head off to find the Spring of Bravery.
Seeing a treasure chest lying in the open is always a great feeling. They just jump off the screen with their red and gold design. Once deep inside, you find a wise elder who soaks your body in the purifying water. Instant heals are the best in RPGs.
You’re joking, right? Oh you’re being serious. I see. Damnit. You know what, no biggie. It’s all good. After all, I got some exercise, fresh air and leveled up a bit. I’ll just go to Laurasia Castle now to find that little cheeky nomad.
*HALF A DAY’S JOURNEY LATER* WHAT?! Are you kidding me?! Alright, off to Sumaltria it is, then. Kain’s ass best be there.
Alright, THIS IS BULLSHIT. Where the hell are ya, Kain? You got me on some chicken egg hunt here. This ain’t scavenger hunt! *You even begin to wonder if this is some rib and that Kain is in another RPG…*
FINALLY. You’ve been searching for me? Oh boy, HAVE I BEEN SEARCHING FOR YOU.
Despite some, ahem, trouble meeting up, once you do you’re glad to have Kain along for the ride. He makes for some passable conversation and unlike you he can use magic on the bad guys. After coming to this strange strip of land tucked away in a far corner of the map, an old hermit tips you off to your next location.
Approaching the mouth of the enormous cave, a knot starts forming in the pit of your belly. You nervously joke with Kain about accepting his sister’s offer to help out. Kain reminds you she’s useless and you shake it of. Get a grip, you tell yourself quietly. You were born for this moment. “FREEEEEEDOM!!!” Hey, whatever it takes to psych yourself up.
Another feature added into the Super Famicom version was the inclusion of seeds (or acorns). This was not available in the NES original. When seeds are acquired, it’s best to use them right away. They randomly increase a certain skill level by 1-4 points. It sucks when you get a 1, but it’s a high when you land a 3 or a 4.
Prince Kain is definitely a welcomed addition to the team. While weak physically, his magic packs some potency.
Explore! Or else you may miss out on valuable treasure chests tucked away in obscure corners. Ah, the Silver Key! What was it again that the prisoner told you?
*FLASHBACK* Ohhhh yeah…
Travel back to all previous towns and start opening shit up! The Silver Key has unlimited usage so open without discretion.
Remember that lottery ticket you jacked earlier on? You felt bad at the time for doing so, but any feelings of remorse went straight out the window the second you scored the Prayer Ring…
Scattered throughout the land is the lottery man. He’s even nice enough to give you a free ticket sometimes if you match two out of three.
Hmmm, I wonder where this leads…
Sorry, but I don’t care to hear what your safe word is. Freak.
Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor. But be careful, an attempt to flee from battle ISN’T always successful. And if it isn’t, the computer gets first crack. It’s definitely a roll of the dice…
Management of your health and magic points is key. Don’t enter a battle ill-equipped and most likely you won’t have to worry about fleeing. Of course, some luck never hurts as well (i.e. “terrific” strikes, catching the opposition dozing, etc.)
Moonbrook appears to be in shambles. You and Kain brave the pain of the hazardous moat to see if anyone is still alive, including Princess Maria…
Careful, the enemies start to get tough here and can come in waves of five. Make it to the flame at the end and try speaking to it. It turns out to be the spirit of the deceased King, who informs you that his daughter has been cursed and turned into a dog. Hey, wait a second here, where have I seen a dog before…
Having obtained the Mirror of Ra (thanks to the guard for the tip — may he now rest peacefully), you recall to yourself where you had seen that mutt before. OK, here goes nothing, you think to yourself as you raise the Mirror of Ra high above your head. You can’t help but feel a little silly in doing so, but when the fate of the world hangs in the balance, you’re willing to do just about anything…
HOLY SMOKES — it actually worked! I mean, I knew it would all along. Of course you did…
Avengers assemble! Not quite, but your rag tag group of three is now complete and ready to kick some demon ass. By the way, remember the Metal Slime? Of course you do. The bastard often runs away but if you manage to kill him, a HEAP of experience points is your reward.
Princess Maria isn’t much of a physical attacker, but her spells come in handy. Especially the sleep spell, which can subdue an entire group and save you from being pummeled.
Where will this adventure take you and your friends next? Many unusual lands lie ahead. Enjoy the journey!
Caught in the act! I KNEW THERE WERE TWO KAINS! One from Dragon Quest II and one from Final Fantasy II! I’ll be damned…
ALL ABOUT THAT GRIND
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Dragon Quest has earned an outstanding reputation within the gaming community and rightfully so. It gave birth to so many other great RPGs. It paved the way for future classics. As such, it will always be highly regarded. The first game has definitely aged. It features a single party member and you always fight only one enemy at a time. It’s super basic but what did you expect for 1986? You can’t really compare it to other RPGs at the time when this Super Famicom version came out in late 1993. You have to look at it through the proper lens to truly appreciate it. The sequel obviously ups the ante by including team allies as well as the number of monsters you fight at a time. Even then, you have to keep in mind Dragon Quest II originally came out on January 27, 1987. That’s more than 30 years ago. RPGs have come a long way since 1987, so it’d be foolish to go into it expecting a ton of bells and whistles. For what these games are, they get the job done.
Dragon Quest is a quintessential video game. If you consider yourself an RPG fan or even just a video game historian of sorts, Dragon Quest belongs on that list of games you must play through at least once before you die. It’s a time capsule — a look back in time when RPGs didn’t saturate the market. If you enter this with the right mindset, you’re sure to enjoy the experience. ChunSoft could have mailed it in, but they made some significant improvements over the NES original. Visuals, of course. But little things such as adding in seeds, extra shops, reduced grinding and the like speak to the care that they put into this lovely two for one package.
Dragon Quest II ups the ante by being bigger and better. It took me 11 hours to beat the first game while the second quest took me approximately 30 hours. It’s not that long but I took my sweet time. It plays a lot more like the RPGs we came to know and love in the ’90s by having a party of playable characters and whatnot. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the brilliance of the music. Each tune fits the moment to a tee, ranging from whimsical to foreboding. Both games were classics for their time and if you take them for what they were when they originally came out, then you’ll most likely appreciate and enjoy it. If you’re looking for something on a grand and epic scale along the lines of a Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy III, however, you might end up being a little disappointed. Dragon Quest I & II is straight forward — what you see is what you get. It serves as an excellent history lesson as well. If you have been curious about these games but never got to try them, then this SNES remake is definitely the way to go. Playing Dragon Quest I & II lets you see more or less how JRPGs came to be. If nothing else, these games are worth going through at least once just for that reason alone.