Dragon Warrior GBC Review
The Ultimate Warrior
The original Dragon Warrior is one of the earliest, and arguably one of the most influential, Japanese RPGs alongside the first Final Fantasy. The Dragon Quest series really took off in Japan while North America fell in line with Final Fantasy. With each new release, the series has grown ever more popular in Japan. While it is true that the series holds strong to many of its roots, these traditions have held up as marks of how solid the gameplay of the series is despite claims to the contrary. While it took a while for North America to obtain access to all of the main series games, the original Dragon Warrior was around in the early days of the NES and was even remade for this compilation, though for this review, the focus is solely the first game.
When looking back on years of RPG history, Dragon Warrior should not be ignored or dismissed. The Game Boy Color remake of Dragon Warrior brings all the fundamentals of the original NES game to the table while making it more accessible for newer gamers. Some notable changes from the original are a quick-save feature, much needed on a portable system, a reduction in the amount of experience needed to level up, and an increase in the amount of gold dropped. These changes scale the challenge down, but make it a much friendlier experience for all. Despite making it more playable, it does little else new, for better or worse.
The story of Dragon Warrior is simple. There is an ancient evil trying to destroy the world and only the descendant of the great hero of legend can stop him. Its simple premise of saving the world serves as the springboard for the heroic exploration of the world which eventually leads to saving a princess and confronting the evil DracoLord. As with many other games of the time, the story is not that impressive, featuring only one main character and offering little in the way of dialogue, but it still retains a certain nostalgic charm about it.
Gameplay is where, despite its seemingly simple design, Dragon Warrior has stood out as innovative. Where some other RPGs featured a hardcore experience, this game took that approach and made it more forgiving. Gamers are never met with a game over screen, as dying will just result in waking up back in the starting castle with a reduction of gold. Death will be a constant visitor in Dragon Warrior, but it is not the harsh guest it is in other games, as items gained and level progress is maintained. Combat is fairly basic, with the hero going solo to exchange blows with enemies. As the hero levels up, he will gain spells at certain points, but that’s about it. There are few options in terms of equipment upgrades either. Other simple design decisions help this to still be playable well over twenty years after its initial release, but it feels dated nonetheless.
This title is the beginning of many series traditions, such as only being able to save at certain locations, in this case at the castle. Thankfully, the quick-save option mitigates this somewhat. The graphics and sound have also been tweaked from the original NES title, but are still fairly simple and fundamentally unchanged. It’s still pure Dragon Warrior, just a little easier to play. Despite being easy to play, it is still occasionally frustrating to determine where to go or what to do next. The haphazard game progression feels thrown together, like many other RPGs of the time.
For those who never played the original Dragon Warrior or just want to play a friendlier version, this Game Boy Color version is the way to go. The combat and story are not impressive, but thanks to the forgiving gameplay, this classic RPG is still a very playable experience. Dragon Warrior built the foundation for a popular, yet often misunderstood series and is still worth playing for anyone who can tolerate a very retro adventure. It offers little new all these years later, but it is tough to mess with nostalgic experiences. This is one case where, despite the game being even more accessible than the original, it is still hard to recommend as a great game. The original was a classic, but this one can feel lazy at times.