If you’re looking at this review, chances are you know what Dragon Warrior is and you’ve beaten it several times. If you don’t know what it is, this is an overhead role playing where a princess has been kidnapped and a world is in danger from the Dragon Lord. Only you, the descendant of Erdrick can stop it! That was the plot, simple and cliche as it could be! I’m fine with that too!
You travel town to town, collecting items, buying weapons, armor, gaining information by talking with townspeople. Between towns, you’ll find dark dungeons that require you to light up torches to find your way. Its an interesting method that wasn’t brought back for future games in the series. Each dungeon is a labyrinth and with the small torch radius, that only makes it worse. That’s part of the challenge to what is one of the first role playing games in Nintendo’s history.
Dragon Warrior came out before parties of many characters had become the norm. Lucky for you, there are only one-on-one monster fights. Combat is turn based, you have a turn, then your foe goes. Its a game of chess. You’ve got a few tactics at your disposal: fight, run, spell and items to use. Fighting is your basic attack with whatever weapon you have equipped. Your attack statistic against the enemy’s defense statistic. Running from a foe gives you a chance to leave the battle. Items are pretty limited for the first Dragon Warrior game. Health items, a teleporting wyvern wing that will bring you back to the castle.
Spells are more interesting. They do interesting things like replenish your health, damage enemies and put them to sleep. Then there are spells that you can use outside of combat such as radiant that lights up dungeons. Radiant lights up a greater area than a simple torch. At some point, you gain outside that teleports you outside of a dungeon and return that transports you back to the castle.
For killing enemies you get experience and gold. Gold buys you weapons, armor and items. The experience will earn you new levels in time. New levels mean a raise of experience. I hate to describe something as basic as leveling up, but at the time it was pretty revolutionary unless you had played Zelda 2 or Dungeons and Dragons. It was crazy thinking that playing longer makes you better. It wasn’t about skill, it was about the time you invested. Oh and trust me, the original NES version made you invest a lot of time. Future versions of the game for Game Boy Color turned leveling up into a less time consuming chore. Everything was streamlined. In fact, I recommend you play that version instead of this version.
Each dungeon, shrine and locale has a specific item that will let you gain access to a new area. Crossing over bridges and tunnels always means that the enemies will be more difficult. You need to grind before you are strong enough to withstand the enemies. I remember as a kid having to stick close to towns to grind enemy after enemy, staying at the inn after each battle to replenish my health.
There was a lot of exploration and discovery in the game. Talking to villagers gave you hints to finding the cryptic secrets in the game. Now I’ve memorized everything. There’s not as much to memorize as there is in Zelda, and the discovery isn’t as fun, so much as it is frustrating. One of your menu commands is to search the floor, so people crazy enough can literally search every tile on every floor.
Dragon Warrior has charm and whimsy. The monsters look like cartoons and most have smiles on their faces to make it look more appealing and accessible. I think its the enemy designs that really propelled the game to fame. The colors are bright and beautiful like a typical Nintendo game. The map is setup in a tile grid.
When it came out, it was something completely different back in the day. There were random monster battles. You couldn’t see the monsters on the screen, they just happened. This was so different that the game was far from a top seller, so Nintendo had to give it away with a year subscription to Nintendo Power magazine.
Even though Dragon Warrior was something different, it became the standard and launched not just a franchise, but clones!