Dragon Warrior

The wicked DracoLord has stolen the Light Orb from Tantagel Castle and kidnapped Princess Lora. A descendant of the legendary hero Loto arrives and receives the task of defeating DracoLord, rescuing the Princess, and bringing peace to the world. Thus begins the original Dragon Warrior, a creation of scenario writer Yuji Horii, character and monster designer Akira Toriyama, and composer Koichi Sugiyama. The first and second installments of the series would receive remakes on the Super Famicom and the Gameboy Color, the latter of which would cross to American shores. While fairly short and simple by today’s standards, Dragon Warrior proves to be an enjoyable quest.

Randomly-encountered battles in Dragon Warrior are fairly simple, with the sole playable protagonist squaring off one-on-one against individual foes in turn-based combat. Players receive the commands of attacking, using magic, using an item, or escaping. The small scale of combat naturally makes for fast battles, with only a few minor flaws such as the unpredictability of whether the player or the enemy will get the first strike after the player’s inputted a command for the hero.

If the hero happens to die (which will happen quite a bit), he revives at Tantagel Castle and loses half his money, which may seem like a burden to pay given that equipment can be fairly expensive; however, banks can allow players to store money in one-thousand-gold increments, which can in effect counteract the loss of gold upon death. Level-grinding isn’t terribly necessary towards victory (gold and experience won after battle, I believe, were increased in the Gameboy Color remake), and Dragon Warrior, in the end, is a balanced game. Again, the battle system is simple, although it still works.

The interface is fairly easy to get a handle of, with clean menus and easy shopping, as well as storage facilities to dump excess items if the hero’s inventory fills up. Some may protest that there’s only one save point in the entire game, although the Gameboy Color remake does have a quicksave feature that deletes itself upon loading; moreover, that the game is nice to players when they die eliminates any fear of lost playing time. One major flaw with interaction, though, is the lack of direction on how to advance the game, which will certainly lead novice gamers to use a guide to play through. In the end, interaction is certainly better than it was in the NES version, though the need to talk to everyone and scour every corner of the world to find out how to advance will scare players away.

It’s always difficult to judge originality in remakes, although the original Dragon Warrior was one of the very first console RPGs, and would influence plenty of future RPGs (and spawn many clones in Japan). It was also one of the first RPGs with a storyline revolving around rescuing a kidnapped princess, and today remains one of the sole RPGs with one-on-one turn-based battles. Overall, even today, Dragon Warrior remains one of the definitive games of the RPG genre.

The story, unfortunately, still suffers from the same simplicity that plagued the NES version, comprising mostly of backstory and the conversations with NPCs. The translation of the Gameboy Color version, while more loyal to the Japanese script this time around, isn’t anything particularly special, and irritatingly hybrids names from the Japanese version and the original NES version’s localization. The limited text space also results in some compressed names, such as the aforementioned DracoLord. In the end, the plot and by extent the localization certainly aren’t reason enough to play the game.

Koichi Sugiyama’s soundtrack is another high point of the game, featuring many nice tracks such as the Tantagel Castle and overworld themes. Many tracks in the Gameboy Color remake, moreover, have been lengthened, and in the case of the main dungeon theme, diversified. The sound effects, though, are still a bit on the primitive side. The graphics make decent use of the Gameboy Color’s hues, but aren’t a major draw to the game, with some shortcomings such as inanimate enemies and simplistic character sprites. Overall, the music is nice, and the graphics, while not perfect, don’t detract too heavily from the game.

Dragon Warrior, finally, is a fairly short game, taking somewhere from five to ten hours to complete depending upon how long players take to advance the game, level up if desired or needed, and so forth. Ultimately, Dragon Warrior, despite its simplicity, is a fairly enjoyable title for old-school gamers, featuring a simple but effective battle system and decent music, among other things. Love or hate it, odds are RPGs wouldn’t have advanced very far had it never seen the light of day.

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