Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star… and Dragon Quest?
My first role-playing games (RPGs) were Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI (otherwise known as Final Fantasy III in North America). I knew about Enix’s Dragon Quest (Warrior) and Sega’s Phantasy Star, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t exposed to them as a kid. As a child, no matter how much you try to influence and educate your parents on the games that you want, at the end of the day, they’re the ones footing the bill, so what you get is what you play. Fortunately, my parents chose wisely and I was gifted some of the best games/RPGs to grace the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). As an adult, I’ve sort of regretted not growing up with Dragon Quest and Phantasy Star, but it’s something I’ve been looking to rectify for many years.
My History with the Franchise
Although I’ve dipped my toes into various Dragon Quest games over the years, I didn’t truly understand the appeal of the franchise until I sat down with Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen and Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime for the Nintendo DS. I typically prefer to play a franchise in chronological order, but much like Final Fantasy, each Dragon Quest tells a story from a different perspective set in a unique world with new characters. Familiar terms, themes and monsters appear throughout each entry, however (like the iconic slime enemy and some of the music, for example), which creates a comforting through-line for series devotees.
As a collector and a preserver of save data, I booted up my files for both Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen and Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime for the DS to see where, when and why I stopped playing. As I mentioned earlier, these are the only two DQ games I’ve finished. Although I’m still a completionist at heart, I had way more time to complete games to their full completion 10 years ago than I do today. Looking back, it looks like I took 46 hours to see the “Happy Ending” in DQIV. Having never fled a battle nor being wiped-out is rather impressive as well (although I’m pretty sure I died plenty of times and reloaded my data to maintain my clean slate)! I also believe I completed most, if not all of the side-quests and optional bosses. I’m eager to move onto DQV as I’ve heard it’s a series favorite among veterans.
I recall thoroughly enjoying my time with Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. There have been quite a few Dragon Quest side-spin titles since, but this was the first one I experienced. Rocket Slime was a big departure from the traditional DQ formula and instead offered a Zelda-like experience with giant tank battles. I remember being pleasantly surprised by this game and was bummed when its sequels never made it to the west. Based on my old save file, it looks like I completed the game with max heart containers and all 100 slimes saved. I recall an in-game museum that required a huge grind in order to complete, however, which I never finished. One day, I’d like to go back to Rocket Slime and mop-up the remaining content, but for now, it’ll be a distant memory I was extremely fond of.
Dragon Quest the 1st
While there are numerous ways to play the original Dragon Quest, for convenience purposes, I bought and downloaded the mobile version for my Android device. The first Dragon Quest released back in 1986 and it’s still a very simple, yet extremely enjoyable game, even by today’s standards. The mobile version comes equipped with slightly advanced visuals, a touch-screen interface and even a quick-save feature (which I try not to use). It’s not my preferred method to experience the game, but the extra quality-of-life (QOL) features are appreciated. I’ve mainly been playing game during my work commute and on lunch breaks.
The story is as cliché as it gets, but for a game from the 80s, it does its job well enough; an evil overlord has kidnapped a princess and it’s your job as the hero to rescue her. Castles, towns and dungeons comprise the majority of the journey and random encounters are front & center. Like many old-school RPGs, townsfolk guide the player with vague clues and secrets in order to progress, too. For instance, in one town, a hidden villager hints at a treasure “2 paces south” from some bathhouse in another location. The majority of the map can be explored right from the start of the game as well. Bridges act as warning signs as stronger, more deadly foes await the player on the other side, yet nothing is stopping you from stepping foot into new areas (and subsequently getting slaughtered).
The most interesting thing about the original Dragon Quest’s combat system is its one-on-one encounters. There are no party members or additional allies and each battle pits the player against a single foe. While options are limited and most battles play similarly, it’s ironically manageable and somewhat relaxing. Considering the fact that I’m playing a mobile version (usually single-handed), I welcome the low-key party management. So far, the dungeons have been a letdown, as they’ve all been maze-like caverns which require consumable torch items or a “Glow” spell (learned at Level 9) in order to navigate. I’ve been playing for a few hours and I just gained access to purchasable keys (which should allow me to make some significant progress in the story as certain areas are gated), so look forward to my next update soon!