Dragon Warrior ReviewJoe Shaffer
In a generic fantasy land, a generic villain born with the generic name of Dragonlord has kidnapped a generic princess. He has sealed her away in a generic cave, where a generic dragon performs the generic duty of guarding her. King Generic has called upon you, a generic warrior, to take part in a generic quest: save the princess, reclaim your birthright, and defeat the generic forces of darkness.
The shoves you off with a small grip of cash and no clue as to where to go next. The meager amount of money won't cover all of the best equipment, so you have to ration out what you're given and buy your first supplies wisely. You'll likely wind up with a bamboo pole to poke your opponents to death and either a pathetic shield or soft armor.
You can gather clues by talking to the natives, but most of what they tell you is garbage. There are, however, a select few who tell you something useful. It's usually around this point that you discover one of the game's annoyances: the pop-up menu. You can't just walk up to NPCs and hit 'A' any time you want to gab. You have to bring up a menu and select 'Talk.' It doesn't stop with speaking, either. Any time you want to open a door or use a staircase, you have to select it from a menu. Why you wouldn't automatically use the stairs when walking on them is beyond me.
Supplies in tote, you rush into the forbidding overworld. Without a rail to guide you, you wander aimlessly until you happen either a new dungeon or a new town. Therein you'll either gather new information or discover new equipment and/or quest items. Most dungeons will require a torch or two to explore, and a fair sense of direction and memory.
Venturing further outward is a quest in itself. As you enter new caves or wander into new territories, more powerful monsters will greet you. Should you venture into a new area unprepared, you'll be ripped apart by some of the cutest RPG enemies from the 80s. The trick isn't defeating the grinning slimes and raspberry-blowing ghosts, but surviving the onslaught of battles. Each battle wears you down, requiring you to either gobble up herbs or spend MP on healing. Generic RPG enemies will pick away at you until you're out of resources. Should you fall, you'll lose half of your much needed gold and respawn in front of the king. The trick is to beef up: buy new equipment and level up often.
Yes, I've described pretty much every console RPG since 1986. Dragon Warrior was the game that started many now-popular trends and established a few tropes. No, it's not the first console RPG as popularly believed--Dragonstomper on Atari 2600 predates it by about four years--but Dragon Warrior was a huge trendsetter.
Under normal circumstances, I'd slate this now-generic RPG. Dragon Warrior is an exception to the rule. This is the J-RPG genre in its rawest form. There are places you need to go, items you need to collect, and monsters you need to bump off. It's up to you to figure out how you're going accomplish these tasks and what order to do them in.
The beauty behind Dragon Warrior is that it doesn't hold your hand or usher you along with a shaky narrative and stilted dialogue. You decide where you want to go next. There aren't storyline characters who mention new dungeons in passing. You aren't abated by plot devices or forced into a direction, and it's very refreshing. Most of the game is free and open to you, and it's up to you to find out where everything is and sort it all out. The only resource you have is the information you gather around town. In that sense, Dragon Warrior is like one big puzzle.
Unlike other games from the NES era, this one isn't riddled with obtuse puzzles. If all you do is wander about, you'll accidentally find your way to the finish. You don't need to do anything peculiar like crouch in front of a random lake while holding an arbitrary item, or dip a note that came with the game in water to access a password necessary to advance. Everything is cut and dry.
Dragon Warrior doesn't compare to J-RPGs of today, or of the last couple decades. You don't have a whiny protagonist, you aren't bogged down by cutscenes of teenage melodrama, you don't have to sit through an anime intro montage with a catchy J-pop tune, you don't have an annoying sister with an equally annoying animal sidekick, and you don't spend hours sitting through tutorials on new in-game functions, systems or gimmicks. All you do is explore, fight, beef up, and win or die.
The game is all about daring. You always want to explore new areas, but trepidation stops you. You constantly meet new monsters without any warning that the enemy arrangement has changed. Some players will stick to the shallow end where the monsters are easy to kill, leveling up slowly. Gutsy players will test their mettle and try to reduce their grind time by taking on the beefier baddies as soon as they can. Some may even search areas with advanced enemies and continually run away. That way they can get to the chest containing the best equipment early on and slay moderately challenging enemies much more easily. Heck, it's possible to get the best weapon by the time you're level 15, possibly even sooner.
Not all aspects of Dragon Warrior are ageless. For instance, you'll spend most of your game time grinding. Not a little bit, not every now and then, but roughly 80% of your time. Mostly, you'll spend time trying to net enough cash for the latest equipment. Sometimes it's so you can attain a high enough level. No matter what the reason, the grinding does become tiresome. Thankfully, you can win battles quickly, and grinding doesn't become a huge hassle.
It's a pretty laid back game where you don't have to strain to figure things out. Succeeding in even the hairiest of battles is a matter of upgrading. It's all very basic, and sometimes that's all a game needs to be. We all have days where we overwork our gray matter. Sometimes you come home wanting a role playing experience without further straining your brain. Dragon Warrior is the ticket, a game where you can shut your brain off and still engage in a a role playing quest. It's a cool trip on the RPG lazy river. Boot it up, begin a new game, stretch out, and enjoy the ride.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.