The original Dragon Warrior (Called Dragon Quest in Japan–the naming history of the series in the US is a bit complicated, but suffice to say that in the last 10 years or so, the series is called Dragon Quest in the States too) is one of very few games whose influence cannot be overstated. Much like Metroid, the game literally invented a genre–in this case, the “J-RPG”. As such, it’s a rather simple game–you control a single hero, your enemies come at you one at a time, and there isn’t much plot besides “Save Princess, Defeat Bad Guy” to speak of.
The original version of the game is also an absolute chore to play if you try to do so for the first time today. Roughly 90% of the game is spent grinding, IE just walking back and forth pounding on enemies to get yourself stronger and hopefully not get destroyed at the next area you go into. Suffice to say that you will not enjoy it unless you have a nostalgic attachment to it, or are like me and derive a masochistic enjoyment from grinding.
Over the years, the game saw a re-release on the Super Famicom in Japan. Something very close to that version made it onto the Game Boy Color in the US, in a combo cart with Dragon Warrior II, and it’s this version we’ll be talking about today.
Released in 2000 by Enix, Dragon Warrior is half of the Dragon Warrior I & II compilation for the Game Boy Color. Prior to the game’s beginning, the legendary hero Loto brought peace to the land of Alefgard using a Ball of Light. Now, the DracoLord has stolen the Ball of Light, and kidnapped the lovely Lady Lora for good measure. It’s up to you, as Loto’s descendant, to rescue Lora and defeat the DracoLord. And plotwise, that’s…pretty much it. And amusingly, if you’ve played the game before, saving Lora is technically optional. Essentially, killing the DracoLord is the only 100% required objective. Of course, it isn’t quite that simple–you’ll need to first build a bridge to his castle, which involves getting a few items, and so on.
The core of the game, though, is still the grind. Thankfully, this version has been rebalanced so that the grinding goes much faster. Enemies give substantially more experience and gold in this version than in the NES original. Some items, notably keys and stays at the inn, cost less gold as well. If you’ve never played the NES version, you’ll at least find the grinding tolerable. If you have played the NES version, on the other hand, this is a much more pleasurable experience.
There are a few other modern comforts added to the game. Some spells cost less MP to cast in this version, and the game won’t let you use battle-only spells outside of battle (Contrast the NES version, which was more than happy to allow you to waste MP trying to put a villager to SLEEP), although it will let you cast Radiant–a spell designed to light up dark places–outside of a cave. To counteract this, the dungeons are larger–anything that was a 1X1 square in the NES version is now 2X2–and, most importantly, combat has been spiced up by a proper agility mechanic. In the NES version, you always attacked first in a round of combat, then the enemy retaliated. In this version, if an enemy is a high enough level, they can actually attack first in a round, which adds some strategy to the game’s few boss fights in particular.
Given as this is the original old-school JRPG, it’s simple, but it’s not easy. You’ll need to talk to everybody, and deduce clues about where some of the essential items are from what they say. And of course, there’s the grinding. It’s not as insufferable as the NES version, but there will be multiple times where you’ll have to stop and just walk back and forth, killing enemies to acquire money for better equipment, or just to attain the next shiny spell you’ll need to win a battle. In fact, you start the game frail enough that your first half hour or so will probably be spent just killing monsters until you can confidently wander away from the safe sanctuary of the plains close to your starting castle and village.
Once you know where more-or-less everything is, and when to grind for levels (And not stupidly throw yourself at a boss multiple times in hopes of hitting the figurative lottery), you can beat this version of Dragon Warrior in about 4 hours. It can probably be done even quicker if you know the game and are willing to gamble with the bosses. Once again, though, without an FAQ by your side, deducing some of the hints may prove tricky.
Though Dragon Warrior is primitive, it’s important in the development of gaming history–without this game, there would be no Final Fantasy, among many others. And if you haven’t played it before, this is the version to play if you care about legality and are in the US (The Super Famicom version, which is similarly re-balanced, has a fan translation if you don’t care about that kind of thing). Be aware, though, that it’s still pretty grindy.