Awaken, Dragon Warrior! A Dragon Quest Flashback Feature
2019 has been a big year for Dragon Quest. With five releases, there is so much Dragon Quest love on consoles right now. Having released in May of 1986, Dragon Quest has a legacy only rivaled by a small handful of RPG franchises. It’s a series that has always stayed a straight course, with a few unique derivations along the way. It’s a franchise that, whether they enjoy it or not, RPG fans respect for its place in history, and for many of us, Dragon Quest has been there with us through some of our happiest moments, as well as some of our lower points.
This feature is a love letter to Dragon Quest from the RPGamer staff, as many of us share a special relationship with this humble series that continues to inspire many of us to be the best versions of ourselves. Please enjoy these personal stories of how Dragon Quest has touched the lives of our staff.
I was not a fan of Dragon Quest in my early gaming years. I never played it on the NES, and my first encounter with it was a cheap copy of Dragon Quest VIII that I had purchased second-hand. At the time, I reviled the game — it felt basic and monotonous, and it was a game I clearly couldn’t connect with. I hated the lack of direction it offered me, and I found I just couldn’t concentrate on it, as though there was no hook for me to latch onto.
Flash forward to when Dragon Quest IV and V released on the Nintendo DS. Working at RPGamer, I admitted to Michael “Macstorm” Cunningham that I felt a gaping hole in my RPG knowledge because I had such a rough go with Dragon Quest VIII. I remember our conversation clearly, and Mac had explained to me how Dragon Quest is for a patient gamer, and I had argued that given my lack of patience the series wasn’t for me. He disagreed, and surprised me a few weeks later with a copy of Dragon Quest IV on DS with a small note that told me “This would be the one.” I laughed, but didn’t play it right away. I had reservations about the series as a whole, but Mac always knew which games were “Sam Games.”
When I finally did play it, I was completely in shock. A series I bad mouthed due to my lack of patience was hooking me! I couldn’t believe it. I loved the characters, the story, and I didn’t even hate grinding! I loved Dragon Quest IV so much that I ended up playing V and adored it too. Last year when I was in Japan, I was so excited to see advertising featuring characters from IV and V, and at the same time, it reminded me of Mac and his gentle prodding at me to give the series a second chance. I owe my love of Dragon Quest to our former Editor-in-Chief. If it hadn’t been for him, I think I wouldn’t have ever gotten on the Dragon Quest train. Thank you, Michael. Thank you.
Dragon Quest is the reason I’m an RPGamer. When I was young, my grandmother secretly ordered me a subscription to Nintendo Power and had it delivered to her for months. When I unwrapped a box one fateful Christmas, a few shiny magazines were inside, as well as one cardboard box containing the free copy of Dragon Warrior that Nintendo schlepped off to clear inventory. Their marketing plan worked on me as I followed news in Nintendo Power and within a few years had Dragon Warrior 1-4 on my NES. They were each played multiple times and I have many great memories of them from my early teen years. They sparked my love of RPGs, and when they didn’t move to the SNES in the US, I set RPGs aside for many years.
Spurred on by fan translations and the PS1 release of Dragon Warrior VII, after college I had a renewed interest in the series and gaming in general. Signing up for a forum on the Dragon’s Den website, I realized other people actually had heard of these games and played them too — because none of my friends had. I quickly made my way through DQV, DQVI, and Dragon Warrior VII and suddenly needed more similar games to play. Seeking out advice online, I found my gaming niche in turn-based RPGs and haven’t turned back since. I’ve played and rolled credits on every version of every game in the series to come to the US, every fan translation, and even a couple never translated at all. It’s my #1 series by a long shot. I talk about it often on RPGamer, post on Twitter and Facebook about it, and even restarted a dormant Slime Time podcast dedicated to the series.
Not only are the games instant-buys for me, my gaming history has been spent buying consoles for the sake of playing more Dragon Quest. I bought a PS1 for Dragon Warrior VII and a GBC for the ports of the first three games and the first two Dragon Warrior Monsters games. My PS2 was purchased for Dragon Quest VIII and I got my first DS to play some Japanese DQ GBA games. I got a Wii at launch knowing Dragon Quest Swords was coming and upgraded to a 3DS mistakenly believing we’d have a ton of DQ games for that soon — they came way later. I bought a PS Vita thanks to accidentally winning a digital copy of Dragon Quest Builders for the system. I bought a PS4 for Dragon Quest Heroes and my Switch for Builders 2 and Dragon Quest XI S. Other than my SNES and N64 that were bought during Dragon Quest droughts, where the series goes, I go.
Many games in the series spark such amazing memories that bring a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Every game reminds me of the gift given by my grandmother a short time before she passed away as well as times with my sons since we play nearly every board game with small slime mini-figures instead of whatever the game offers. Dragon Warrior IV taught me how to play poker. I defeated DQV for the first time as the space shuttle Columbia burned up upon reentry in 2003. Slime Mori Mori was conquered as I melted in a car with a dead battery, waiting for AAA to show up outside a Marshals department store. Dragon Warrior VII was there for the hundreds of lonely hours spent alone after my divorce. Dragon Quest VIII reminds me of the times competing in contests on the Square Enix marketing site, Slime Knights, and the fun prizes I won there. Dragon Quest IX & Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker remind me of meeting my second wife and the fun times spent on DS and traveling to NYC to play multiplayer with friends I’d met online. Dragon Quest XI and Builders 2 will always be special as they were the first games I named the hero after my sons and they identify as them and love them as much as I do for that.
My brother has always been into RPGs and he introduced me to the genre through Final Fantasy II on SNES even though I never got to see much of the game at the time as I only watched my brother play it. The scene near the beginning where Kain disappears after blowing up a village stuck in my mind for more than a decade before I figured out what game it was. I was hooked on narrative gaming experiences from that point on, but I was always just playing the games my brother liked, never finding my own thing. When I got a demo disc of Dragon Quest VIII, I played it with some friends and I was blown away by it. The graphics were so good and I liked the characters and it didn’t hurt that the hero basically goes Super Saiyan because we were deep into Dragon Ball Z at the time. My brother loved it, but I think for him it was a one-and-done thing.
I tried and failed to get him into the DS games, the Joker titles and DQ IX, but he doesn’t like monster collectors like I do and the small screen put him off even though IX was a true RPG. He missed out on IV, V, and VI for the same reason. I was really starting to think that he was not going to get into any of the games I got obsessively into at all anymore, like maybe it was a fluke or our tastes just really changed. Then Dragon Quest XI was announced, I showed him some trailers, and he was interested but it wasn’t high on his list to pre-order and again it felt like I just didn’t have his tastes.
Things changed when I played it, though, because it bolted right to the top of my JRPG list and into my all-time favourites. With me singing its praises he broke down and played it and he loved it at least as much as I did, maybe even more. We spent about as much time talking about it as we did playing it. We bonded even more over Dragon Quest XI and really opened up on our tastes of RPGs and how XI was basically the perfect game to him. He even got the platinum trophy for it, the only game he ever has. It was nice to know I helped him enjoy over 100 hours of obsessively playing something he loved. He works out at a camp a long ways from home, so gaming is all he really gets to wind down with and I try my best to help pass the time when I can. Dragon Quest has cemented itself into our hearts, though I wonder if he would get a Switch and play it in classic graphics just to tug at his nostalgia. I know I’m planning on it.
Erik van Asselt
Around five years ago I was in a bad position. I was just made redundant at my job and getting that new job was harder than I thought. The two months of extra salary helped, but you can’t help but feel a bit helpless. So there I was, at home, waiting for a call from one of the fifty vacancies I applied for. My son had just started to crawl a bit and kept me company most of the days. I felt like a failure. Of course, it was not my fault that I was made redundant, but my kid needed a roof over his head. To keep these feelings at bay, I grabbed a game that I hadn’t played yet. Mostly because people always warned me about how much grinding this game will make me do. This game was Dragon Quest.
That is when it happened. The core of the game grabbed me like no other RPG series had done before. The difference a few levels made for that one boss fight. The feeling that you really became stronger after every level up. I kept on playing, with my son watching me. And over the years I kept on playing the Dragon Quest games. And every time my son was there, sitting next to me. Asking me questions and getting really into the games. From the mainline games till the Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker games, we played them all. Together, as father and son.
Today I got home from work. I just celebrated my five year anniversary at my current job. When I entered the room my now almost-six-year-old son ran up to me and started his story. How he fought hundreds of King Slimes on an island, how he created a small garden with flowers he found, and how he had befriended a Golem. I smiled, patted his head, and stared at the Dragon Quest Builders 2 case on the coffee table. I have created a monster, but I couldn’t be prouder.
Dragon Warrior was always just another game to me when I was younger. I didn’t start my subscription to Nintendo Power until way after the free giveaway for the first game had occurred. In fact, the only reason I started playing the series was because I saw a dusty copy of the game lying in a pile of unused Nintendo cartridges at a friend’s house. I asked him what it was — the original Dragon Warrior had pretty spiffy cover art — and he reaffirmed that it was some clunky, aged video game that was too hard for him to get through. He obviously had no interest in it, so I asked to borrow it, and that is when my love for the series was ignited. Just kidding! I was a fool and kept walking too far out in the world and the monsters would obliterate my brave blue sword-bearer! This was a time in my life when RPGs had yet to take over, at the early stages of the SNES, and before Final Fantasy II and Lufia came into my life. This game was hard and dumb, and it became irrelevant for me too, as I quickly sent it back to my friend, unbeaten.
Thankfully, Nintendo Power was pretty faithful to the series. As my love for RPGs grew, so did my curiosity towards the series. I would see newer games in the series highlighted in the various RPG sections of the magazine, and boy did the art look great to me. It kinda looked like Chrono Trigger and Dragon Ball had a RPG love-child. Little did I know at the time that Akira Toriyama was the artist behind all three of these wonderful titles. I especially remember one article that depicted Dragon Warrior VI for the SNES, and boy did I really want that game to come stateside. Unfortunately it did not, but my interest in the series was renewed.
The internet was a glorious new addiction, and NES and SNES roms were my drug. I call this time the Rom Roulette era! I was finally able to replay and beat the original Dragon Warrior game that conquered me in my youth, and I started venturing out and playing some of the older games I missed. Unfortunately, this was also a time when translations were not perfected and some of the games did not have full working roms, and I did not have the patience to sit through a game that I could not understand. Still, when Dragon Warrior VII was announced for the PlayStation, I was hooked and ready to buy my first game in the series.
From that point moving forward, Dragon Warrior, or Quest as we now know it, has been a franchise I really enjoy. I purchased the DS remakes when they were announced, and enjoyed pretty much every game, other than IX, that I touched. Dragon Quest XI has shown me that, while the games have evolved, they still retain the old school charm that makes this series stand out in the vast sea of other games within the genre. I can appreciate the fact that I know what I’m getting when I play these games, but they each have their unique charm that makes them all stick out, while keeping that sense of familiarity, and that is something admirable.
Elmon Dean Todd
My foray into the world of Dragon Quest began almost thirty years ago with a subscription to Nintendo Power and a copy of Dragon Warrior. At first, I hated the game. I was a young boy who didn’t understand the concept of gaining experience to level up, or grinding for more gold to buy better equipment. I tossed the game aside for a few months until I picked it back up on a dull day when I had nothing better to do. I became drawn into its fantasy world and eventually cleared all four games on the NES, all of which I still own today.
I loved the game so much that I envisioned myself as the brave descendant of Erdrick as a child. I lived next to a forest, so I spent my youthful days slashing away at bushes and branches with a wooden sword, pretending that I was battling slimes and golems. I even enlisted a blond girl in my neighbourhood to play as Princess Gwaelin, the kidnapped damsel in distress. Unlike the chivalrous descendant of Erdrick in the original Dragon Quest, I did not carry my childhood playmate to safety after killing the dragon. I got on my bicycle, which we visualised as my horse, and I told her to “keep up” as I rode off as fast as I could whilst laughing, leaving her futilely running after me in the distance.
I was very disappointed when Dragon Quest V and VI did not get localised for PlayStation 2 in North America. I wanted to play them so badly that I studied Japanese in college. I eventually moved to Japan for two years to teach English, and I was delighted to discover that many others in Japan shared my love for Dragon Quest. I became fluent enough to play through the remake of Dragon Quest V on the PlayStation 2, and my coworkers helped me translate bits of dialogue that I didn’t understand.
After thirty years of playing Dragon Quest, I can say that the series has shaped a part of who I am as an adult. I can speak Japanese because of Dragon Quest. My love for the fantasy genre began because of it, and now I’m the author of a fantasy series of my own, the Godshard Chronicles. I owe my love of RPGs to Dragon Quest. And now I’ve passed on my love of Dragon Quest to my child, who uses a large slime plush as her bedtime pillow. Without Dragon Quest, life wouldn’t have been as exciting.
My first step into the world of Dragon Quest came via the fourth game in the series, given to me as a present. I had no idea what to expect from this title. In the past, I had only played games like Dungeons & Dragons on the Commodore, and I saw Final Fantasy at a friend’s house.
It ended up being a bittersweet experience. First, I really enjoyed that various characters were introduced in the opening chapters of the game. The game enthralled me with how it had me play through each of their stories, providing excellent motivation for them to join our eventual ‘save the world’ quest.
However, the fifth chapter turned me off completely. The game largely automated combat for party members. Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest IV already felt like a huge step down compared to more tactical and deeper systems I experienced with PC RPGs. Stripping me of the ability to command my party members, outside my main hero, felt like a huge downer. I put the game down for a few years.
Later, during a lazy summer, I picked it back up again, this time determined to see it through. This second run ended in success. While the combat still felt too simplistic and automated, I really enjoyed the parts where I could swap party members in the middle of a fight. It added a needed layer of strategy. The casino made for grand fun rarely found in computer RPG counterparts of the time. I did feel a bit sad that the game all but forgot the individual stories of the support characters in the last chapter. Yet, it replaced those with an ever escalating plot to save the world. Without a walkthrough or guide, I ran into a few bumps in the road, and the difficult, final battle had me on the ropes. I triumphed and, in the end, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment at making it through the entire game.
It would be decades until I played another Dragon Quest game. A few years ago, I started my own quest to play through the entire series. After playing the original trilogy, I experienced the remastered Dragon Quest IV on my DS (now with fully controllable party members in battle!). I still enjoy and recommend it, despite its remaining oversight with the supporting characters. I discovered the delight that is Dragon Quest V, and I am currently loving Dragon Quest VIII on my 3DS.