Dragon Warrior - Retroview

Because You Have Nothing Better To Do

By: jaraph

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 4
   Music/Sound 3
   Originality 7
   Plot 3
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 2
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

10-15 hours



   To call the Dragon Warrior series an immense success that has stolen the hearts of many a gamer is a severe understatement. Although DW is magnitudes more popular in Japan, where it goes by the name Dragon Quest, American gamers have also come to know and love the series. Though humble, DW's beginning is a title worthy of inspection.

   Level-building is the name of the game in Dragon Warrior. It's the name of the game, it's the theme of the game; in fact, remove all time spent purely building levels, and you have an adventure roughly one hour in length. There are but two ways for a game with such a large amount of pure level-building to avoid becoming unplayable. The battle system must either be varied and interesting with good character evolution, or it must be so basic and simple that battling can be done quickly and without thought. DW succeeds at the second. Battle is quick and exceedingly simple in every way. All fights are one-on-one. The player is given the option to attack, run, use an item, or cast magic. The single enemy, then allowed his turn, can also attack, escape, or use spells. The most interesting aspect of battle is the use of status-effect spells. Unlike nearly every other RPG I've played, magic that changes the hero's or monster's status is actually useful from a non-academic standpoint. Random battles are hard in the latter parts of the game, and a well-timed sleep or mute spell may save MP or even your life in some fights. Conversely, attack magic and item use play only a limited role.

   Complementing the simple battle system is a small set of enemy and battle graphics. Unlike many RPGs, the screen does not change upon engagement; rather, a small subscreen, containing the static enemy sprite, appears on top of the exploration screen. Although this method of transition was distracting at first, it actually helps speed things up during long intervals of level-building. There are roughly 40 different enemies in the game (including palette-swapped monsters and bosses), none with animation of any kind. A mere three different battle backgrounds are present, and the hero himself is not visible at all during fights. This minimalistic approach aside, however, the enemy graphics are quite enjoyable. Akira Toriyama, most famous for creating Dragon Ball Z, is credited with designing the monsters, and, given the medium and date of release, he did an excellent job. Out-of-battle, the dungeon, town, and world map graphics are a standard offering. As with the battle scenes, animation is absent in the various exploration backgrounds, though the characters do perform basic bits of movement. One particular character sprite, which is actually two characters represented simultaneously with one sprite, struck me as quite interesting, both in its quality and originality. In general, the character, enemy, and background images blend well to produce a believable, if somewhat cartoonish, world.

A fine beginning...
A fine beginning... 

   Unfortunately, this world is not fully taken advantage of by DW's story. The basic plot is an incredibly uninspired "save the princess; slay the dragon" tale. There are minute branches, but plot twists, or an in-game plot at all for that matter, are not to be found. Dragon Warrior's localization, on the other hand, is of particular note. Written in "olde" English, DW's text is the infamous originator of the oft-quoted, "A ____ draws near! Command?" Though nothing awe-inspiring, the game's text is well-translated and worth paying attention to.

   On the other side of the ambiance coin is the music. Part of me wants to rate DW's music average; nothing exciting, but not terrible. And the music was just that in dungeons, towns, and on the world map. However, another part of me cannot bring itself to forget the absolutely grating battle music. It was annoying at best and...well, I won't say what I thought of it after listening to it during three straight hours of level-building. While the rest of the score is average, the annoyance factor of the battle theme, together with the fact that one is forced to listen to it during countless skirmishes gives me little choice but to grant the music a low score overall.

Infamous words
Infamous words 

   Somewhat bulky, DW's interface has also been the brunt of a few jokes. Most conspicously unweildy is the 'stairs' command. Yes, one must actually step on a block of stairs, then select the appropriate command to ascend/descend them. While this is the by far the most annoying aspect of the interface, the rest of the menu system is not much more spectacular. Thankfully, most menus need be used only seldomly. Also, as with battles, the interface is not presented under a separate screen, so accessing the menus becomes fairly swift and natural.

   Though some may be astonished at the fact, I give DW high marks for originality. Presented to Japanese audiences by Nintendo in 1986 and to their American counterparts in 1989, Dragon Warrior brought the idea of console role-playing to the market-dominating NES for the first time. While the battle and interface molds may not have become as imitated as those of the Final Fantasy series, Dragon Warrior played an undeniable role in shaping the minds of RPG developers and gamers.

Don't believe a word of it.
Don't believe a word of it. 

   As I mentioned earlier, the exploration and story aspects of Dragon Warrior are short. Indeed, save for random encounters, every nook and cranny of DW's world could be easily explored in under two hours. Completing the quest in 12 hours is relatively easy, but because around 80% of the game time is spent purely in level-building, the required time will not significantly decrease with repeat play. Reasons to replay are virtually non-existent. This may be for the best, however, since the steep number of required level-building hours, together with the battle system's extremely repetitive nature, will proclude retackling the adventure for most.

   One will invariably come away from the Dragon Warrior experience with a distinctly average taste in one's mouth. If you are interested in seeing where one of the RPG world's most popular and lucrative series took its beginnings, the 12 hour investment is not made in vain. If you are merely interested in playing a game that is "fun" however, you may want to look elsewhere.

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