The Dragon Quest Series: Where to Start?
First published in 1986, the Dragon Quest series was originally known in the west as Dragon Warrior. Since its inception, the longstanding series has gone on to spawn over 40 titles — wow! With just eleven numbered titles, plus dozens of spinoffs, where does a newcomer even begin in the series? Where should a returning player attempt to jump back in? We got together a number of RPGamer staff, each with their own Dragon Quest stories to tell, to create an overview of the series and suggest starting points for potential first-time players. For simplicity’s sake, we will not be discussing all the titles only available in Japan — though some of them are excellent and if you fall in love with the series, it may be worth checking these titles out too!
By Matt Masem, Michael Apps, Alex Fuller,
Anna Marie Privitere, and Kelley Ryan
The Erdrick Saga
I, II, III available on: NES, Game Boy Color, and PlayStation 4; upgraded versions available on mobile and Nintendo Switch
XI available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One
The Erdrick Saga takes players on a journey back to the roots of the JRPG genre. Dragon Quest kicks things off with a single hero, a descendant of the great Erdrick (known as Loto in Japan), who defeats the Dragonlord and saves the world. Further descendants — three cousins — become the heroes when evil raises its head again in the second game of the series. The third title acts as a prequel to the original two, and gives players extraordinary freedom of character and class choice, a first for the series which otherwise had static party members. Despite being the most recent game, Dragon Quest XI’s placement in the arc is a little fuzzy, but for those who wish to tackle these titles in chronological order as opposed to release order, play XI, III, I, then II.
Players who want to experience the series from the very beginning can easily begin right at the start, with modern ports of the first three titles on Nintendo Switch as well as iOS and Android. Classic collectors will need to look towards the NES and GBC for physical copies of each game. Even for those completely new to Dragon Quest, XI remains an excellent entry into the series, and is extremely approachable.
The Builders Duology
Available on: PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Even though these are technically side stories, we’re listing them after the Erdrick Saga because they tie directly into those titles. Both are heavily inspired by Minecraft and see players controlling a Builder that’s tasked with creating or recreating the worlds in which the games take place.
At the end of the original Dragon Quest, the Dragonlord famously gives players a choice. While the right answer is obvious, Dragon Quest Builders begins with the premise that the wrong choice was picked. It’s an interesting what-if take on the original title in the series. Along the same lines, Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes place in the world of Dragon Quest 2 many years after the conclusion of that game. One character with a striking similarity to a former boss joins the Builder as a BFF while another enemy is revived and threatens the world again.
Whether you played the original Erdrick trilogy growing up, or are a new fan to the early Dragon Quest titles, both games allow you to revisit these worlds while giving the JRPG formula an action-adventure twist.
The Zenithian Trilogy
Available on: NES, SNES, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, and mobile
While Dragon Quest IV came west on the NES in the 90s, it wasn’t until the DS remakes that English-speaking fans officially got V and VI. Not as closely tied together as the first three games in the series, the floating castle of Zenithia and its legendary equipment are prevalent throughout the trilogy. Dragon Quest IV, as the title implies, is split up into various chapters, where main characters are introduced in their own short chapters before the main narrative of the final chapter brings them together with the chosen Hero to save the world. Dragon Quest V is a generational adventure that series creator Yuji Hori has repeatedly called his favorite, and recently was adapted into a feature-length film. Players span three generations of characters, making friends with monsters, and choosing a bride midway through the game. Dragon Quest VI is huge adventure played out over a pair of worlds by a large cast of characters. Subtitled Realms of Revelation in North America and Realms of Reverie in Europe, job classes make a return and begin to expand into the tiered class structure most mainline games would use going forward.
Players can easily play these three titles in any order, although there are hints at the end of VI that it comes chronologically first. For fans of monster-collecting in their RPGs, both V and VI allow players to add certain defeated monsters to their parties. For fans of the various Dragon Quest spin-off games, these three titles easily provide the majority of memorable party members that show up in those titles. The price of the DS titles has increased dramatically since the introduction of the Hero to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in 2019, but perfectly playable ports of all three can be purchased for mobile devices.
The 3D Era
Available on: PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Nintendo 3DS and mobile
After being exclusively a Nintendo console series for over a decade, Dragon Quest VII and VIII debuted on PlayStation consoles before eventually receiving ports to the 3DS a decade later. VII was the final mainline series title released under the Dragon Warrior name, while VIII was basically a relaunch for the series in the west, debuting the Dragon Quest name as well as a new standard in localization. Reoccurring monsters, characters, and locations all received new names, many of which are based off of puns and all using British English. VII is the series lengthiest tale, starting with a few friends who live on their world’s only landmass, a small island. Players unlock islands, continents, devils and deities as they travel through time to save the world. VIII revolves around a stolen scepter from the kingdom of Trodain, one imbued with the evil spirit of Rhapthorne that corrupts all that possess it. It was the series first foray into full 3D and the first title to include voice acting in its western release.
Original copies of both games for PlayStation and PlayStation 2 can still be purchased, but players might find the remake of VII on 3DS much more accessible and modern. VIII’s 3DS version is more of a port with minor additions, though has slightly downgraded graphics.
The Multiplayer Era
IX available on: Nintendo DS
X available in Japan on: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 4, PC, Nintendo Switch
Testing the waters of what a Dragon Quest MMO could look like, Dragon Quest IX spent the first year of its development planned as an ARPG. It did eventually release with the traditional turn-based system earlier titles used, but was the first one to allow local players to play co-op and purchase items in an online store with a weekly rotating stock. It also introduced the ability for players to tag others while their DS was in sleep mode, a feature that directly led Nintendo to the creation of the StreetPass functionality that is standard on the 3DS console. As long as, if not longer than most of its predecessors, IX was a large scale adventure on a handheld, complete with a deep class system and extensive post-game. Dragon Quest X launched in 2012 in Japan as a full MMO on the Wii, and there it has stayed and keeps getting new content and new console versions. It plays much like IX with a small tweak to the combat to make it more like an active time battle system.
Dragon Quest IX is still available on the DS, although all online functionality has ended. An IP ban kept most of the world from access to Dragon Quest X, but in 2019, it was finally lifted in North America. Along with the first set of storylines being free to try on the Switch, it’s easier than ever for players to give it a go, although the language barrier is quite an impediment.
The Monsters Trilogy
Available on: Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance; Upgraded versions available on Nintendo 3DS in Japan
Dragon Quest has hundreds of reoccurring monsters throughout the series, so it makes sense that it would jump headlong into the monster collecting genre that Dragon Quest V helped spawn. The first and third titles pulled younger versions of Dragon Quest VI’s Terry and Dragon Quest VII’s Keifer into worlds where they could catch monsters and use teams of them to battle evil, while the second entry introduced new siblings Tara and Cobi who did the same. Instead of monsters evolving as they gained levels, they could be bred together to form ever more powerful ones that inherited their parents’ skills and spells. New monsters were developed for each game, but primarily series regulars, including final bosses were the draw. Only the first two GBC titles got English localizations, while Caravan Heart as well as later PlayStation and 3DS remakes of those titles have stayed Japanese exclusives.
If you’re a fan of Pokémon, but would like a party-based approach with monster breeding similar to Shin Megami Tensei’s demon fusion, the Dragon Quest Monsters games might be for you.
The Joker Trilogy
Available on: Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS
The Joker Trilogy of Dragon Quest Monsters eschews former mainline heroes, and each instead star their own spikey-haired protagonist. These games all take place in more modern settings than most Dragon Quest titles, with jet skies and space travel aplenty. While the core gameplay mechanics remain rooted in earlier Dragon Quest Monster titles, the plots to these games are a bit more robust. For example, monsters can have equipment, and physically larger monsters take up additional party slots, making more strategic party planning a necessity. Online battles and functionality blossomed with this trilogy as well, leading to Professional versions of the second and third titles released in Japan that added more upper-echelon monsters and ways to get lower tiered monsters ready for competitive online play.
Players looking for more monster collecting games can’t go wrong with these titles, although only the first two were released outside of Japan and their online functionality is no longer supported.
The Slime Trilogy
Available on: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS
This trilogy of Zelda-like action-adventure games star Rocket, one of the famous Dragon Quest blue slimes. In each title he squares off against a group of evil Platypunk monsters led by the Plobfather, Don Clawleon. The first title released on the GBA in Japan and consisted of Rocket slingshotting around the screen, smashing into things and picking up items to throw at enemies. The second title, Rocket Slime, was released on the DS and received a western localization. In addition to the gameplay elements of the first title, large tank battles took place at regular intervals, with Rocket recruiting other monsters to help him keep the tank’s cannons firing. The third title was very similar to the second and had sailing ships replacing tanks, but the core gameplay remained the same; unfortunately it’s never seen a release outside of Japan.
Players who want to experience the series from a more action-adventure angle can’t go wrong with these games. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime can easily be found used for the DS. The Japanese titles offer simple enough gameplay that the language barrier is much smaller than many other games in the Dragon Quest series.
Available on: SNES, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation, PlayStation 2
For fans of the Mystery Dungeon RPGs, Chunsoft launched the series in 90s starting with Dragon Quest IV’s lovable merchant, Torneko Taloon, before expanding into Shiren, Pokémon, Final Fantasy, and other IPs. They would go on to release three Torneko entries — the second of which which would come out in English on the PlayStation — before selecting DQVIII’s Yangus as the protagonist for the fourth Dragon Quest entry.
While the majority of these never came out in English, the simplistic gameplay will be familiar to players that have enjoyed any of a number of other Mystery Dungeon games, making these quite import-friendly.
Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo Switch
With subtitles as long as these, you know the games must be packing a lot. A lot of what? A lot of heroes from previous titles, a lot of monsters on the screen at a time, a lot of button mashing, and a lot of crazy combos. While the first game was more mission-based and the second a bit more open-world, both titles play out similarly. A few new protagonists are introduced and for numerous reasons, heroes from mainline titles are drawn in as allies to help defeat the evil forces threatening the formerly peaceful worlds. These games have decent JRPG-style stories with plenty of side quests and other challenges to keep players busy for a hundred hours or more.
If you’re a fan of musou titles such as Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors, or perhaps enjoyed Koei Tecmo’s other licensed titles including Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem Warriors, then Dragon Quest Heroes titles might be for you. Both games are available in English on PlayStation 4, while a compilation of both on Switch is available only in Japan.
Available on: PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4
The Itadaki Street titles were started by Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii due the popularity of a similar mini-game in Dragon Quest 3. While at first the titles involved unbranded characters, the series eventually returned to its roots, spawning numerous titles that starred heroes from Dragon Quest pitted against those from other franchises. Itadaki Street Special and Portable were released on the PS2 and PSP respectively and pitted Dragon Quest characters against Final Fantasy ones, a mixture they circled back to for the 30th Anniversary game. Itadaki Street DS saw Mario and friends take on the Dragon Quest gang, a mixture popular enough to repeat for Fortune Street (Boom Street in Europe) that received western localization on the Wii. The games play very similarly to the board game Monopoly on the easier difficulty setting, with the ability to purchase and sell stock of properties added for the more challenging setting.
While the majority of these never came out in English, those that spent any amount of time with Fortune Street or Boom Street should find the language barrier surmountable enough for other titles to be playable. If you’re a Monopoly aficionado that wishes there were a bit more depth to that game, these titles might be right for you.
Other Localized Titles
Games: Dragon Quest Wars, Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors, Dragon Quest of the Stars, Dragon Quest Tact
Available on: Nintendo DSi, Nintendo Wii, mobile
Dragon Quest Wars is a DSiWare SRPG. Teams of Dragon Quest monsters compete against other teams on small grids. With only a half-dozen total monsters to choose from and matches lasting only five or ten turns, it both plays quickly and wears out its welcome quickly, but does what it does well. Dragon Quest Swords took ideas from an older TV game, Kenshin Dragon Quest, that came with a physical sword players could swing at the TV to defeat slimes and such, blended that with Wiimotes and created a sword-swinging RPG on rails. While players could walk around the main castle town talking to NPCs and purchasing upgrades from merchants, the main gameplay loop involved going down predetermined paths and using your Wiimote as a sword to slash enemies. Dragon Quest of the Stars is the first worldwide mobile title the series has spawned. It draws a lot of character customization techniques from Dragon Quest IX and has both a unique storyline involving a Stars-specific cast, as well as slimmed down re-telling of numerous mainline Dragon Quest titles. While the first six mainline games were originally rotating, limited time events, each trilogy has now been encapsulated as permanent dungeons, making Stars an approachable mobile title with tons of content for free. Similar in style and gameplay loop to Dragon Quest of the Stars, Dragon Quest Tact involves players building up teams of monsters to battle through a multitude of tactical RPG battles.
For players interested in Dragon Quest SRPGs, unfortunately DSiWare games are no longer available for purchase, though with Dragon Quest Tact coming to English-speaking fans, there’s hopes for strategy aficionados. Dragon Quest Swords is still available on the secondhand market, usually quite inexpensively for the Wii, and Dragon Quest of the Stars is available now for mobile platforms.
Other Japan-only Titles
Games: Kenshin Dragon Quest, Theatrhythm Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest Rivals Ace, Dragon Quest Walk, DQ Battle Road series
Available on: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3DS, mobile
Kenshin Dragon Quest: Yomigaerishi Densetsu no Ken
Before Dragon Quest Swords, a game periphal came out in 2003 that retold the first Dragon Quest story from a first-person view, complete with a toy sword with a built-in motion sensor. Kenshin Dragon Quest puts players in the role of the descendant of Erdrick/Roto in his quest to defeat the Dragonlord, following the original story to the beat, including rescuing the princess from the dragon. The game plays similar to Swords on the Wii, but the cheap sensor has accuracy issues. However, the graphics have a 16-bit feel and the music spans tracks from the first trilogy. Just like in Swords, players can revisit stages again, and the variety of monsters encompass several Dragon Quest entries. Kenshin Dragon Quest even has post-game content and secrets. Overall, it surpasses its Wii successor in some ways, mainly because the simple story of the very first game was most suitable for the first-person on-rails adventure, and the pacing flowed at a brisk, smooth pace throughout the entire adventure.
Theatrhythm Dragon Quest
Theatrhythm Dragon Quest was released in 2015 on the 3DS and contained 65 Dragon Quest songs in the base game, with more available via DLC. The game sees players embark on a quest with chibi versions of characters from Dragon Quest I-X, but all the battles and all the action takes place via rhythm games. Additional music can be unlocked in challenge mode while characters are unlocked via multiple means, such as hitting certain milestones, being found on TnT boards, or collecting colored orbs. Like many other DQ titles, characters can be assigned classes and level them up to help make battle stages easier.
Dragon Quest Rivals Ace
Dragon Quest Rivals Ace is a mobile, PC, and Switch free-to-play deckbuilding title released in 2020. The game pits heroes such as Jessica, Terry, Angelo, and others across the Dragon Quest universe against each other in quick-paced card battles. The matches involve the chosen hero standing behind a two by three grid where monster cards can be strategically placed to block incoming attacks. Heroes have limited HP and an MP gauge that begins at one and climbs only a single point each round of the game. Each turn of the battle allows players to draw a card, place monster cards, play item cards, and attack. With a small field, and finite HP & MP pools, matches move quickly. A great deal of strategy is needed in the deckbuilding, which is where the gacha mechanics are focused around: getting better cards. Initially just a PvP title with a plethora of tutorials, a single-player story mode was also added.
Dragon Quest Walk
Similar in concept to Pokémon Go, Dragon Quest Walk takes the full Dragon Quest RPG experience and turns it into an augmented reality mobile title. Players are tasked with completing a main story quest while being offered multiple sidequests such as battling specific monsters or obtaining items for NPCs. Players can choose their desired class from Dragon Quest staples such as Mage, Warrior, Cleric and eventually combine the experience from multiple ones to open up higher tier ones like Gladiator, Sage, and Ranger. Players can team up with others to form parties and set out into the real world battling monsters in familiar DQ turn-based battles.
Dragon Quest Monsters Super Light
The pioneer of modern mobile Dragon Quest titles, Super Light began in 2014 and with the exception of a brief English Southeast Asian version in 2015, has stayed exclusive to Japan ever since. Players build teams of monsters and take them into an endless variety of dungeons searching for alchemy materials, new party members, and gold. The team-based monster battles operate via traditional DQ turn-based mechanics and use a UI that would become the staple for future mobile titles such as Dragon Quest of the Stars and Walk. Belying the Super Light title a bit, there are a wide variety of mechanics involved including ranking both monsters and their skills, evolving them, PvP matches, daily quests, and more.
Dragon Quest Battle Road (series)
The Dragon Quest Monsters Battle Road series has been an arcade staple in Japan for more than a decade. Earlier versions dispensed and read physical cards players could collect and use to summon Dragon Quest heroes in particularly flashy scenes more reminiscent of anime like Dragon Ball Z, monsters, or equipment to help in coliseum-style matches. Battles could be one vs one or two vs two and included mainly familiar monsters and heroes while introducing a few new ones. One version was released for the Wii, and players could scan their physical cards into the system using a cell phone or DSiWare to upload the images to an online gallery for use in that game. Cards were available from the arcade machine itself and through special events in Japan.
We hope our look into over 40 Dragon Quest titles will help you decide where to dive in! What was your favorite Dragon Quest game? Would you recommend a specific starting point? Join the conversation by dropping a comment below!