Dragon Quest is one of the original role playing games for the NES and has appeared on a few platforms over the past thirty years. For the west it was known as Dragon Warrior, but for this release it’s simply Dragon Quest. I’ve now completed the game on three of those platforms and the Android version feels like the best.
As a port, this is excellent. The art has been remade and reorganized to fit a portrait mode for your device. Some of the new colors are brightest they can be and blend with one another in a way that can sometimes make it look like a jumble of colors. The art feels on part with the SNES version or even slightly worse depending on your taste.
The touch screen controls feel good and you can adjust the position of the directional pad to fit your preference. If your thumb goes beyond the directional pad, the game still knows your movement. There is a button to open the on screen menu that has a lot of new information within. You’ll find a brief manual and a quick save. The game auto saves when you enter an area, but there are still three save slots like the original.
Even with a SNES feel to the game, the Android version has a big blaring soundtrack of orchestral music. Enthusiastic trumpets, regal sounding themes, a calming overworld tune and a heart thumping fight song. The grand soundtrack seems almost out of place for a game that still relies on artwork from an era 20 years ago. In the era of Android devices, I would have preferred to see some 3D characters and dungeons, but what’s here is nice too.
There are improvements to your ease of life as well. If you’re on the over world, you have a map that highlights important locations. Two towns have a bank where you can store gold in the thousands along with items. With your inventory being so limited this is a great help. It’s still possible to complete the game with the limited inventory, but I don’t recommend it. Beyond that, the battles feel quicker, there are less of them and less experience is required for going up a level. This makes the game feel a lot smoother and less of a grind. Although, make no mistake, even in a shorter game, you’ll still be grinding in the middle and toward the end of the game on your way to purchase the highest tier equipment.
The game is seen from an overhead view. You can walk around, interact with objects, loot treasures, find items in pots and talk to people. The Android version lets you interact with things even if you’re not facing them. There is no longer a search in the menu, instead an icon will pop up to draw your attention either when you’re on the tile or its within view.
With this being a role playing game, combat feels like a game of chess. You can attack, flee, use an item or a spell. Using spells reduces your magic. There are no animations and everything is just a flat image like the original game. You do get a screen shake to show a crunch of an enemy’s attack. Dragon Quest has you as a single character against single enemies so it can feel far more shallow than other games where you have a party and there are several enemies. Using a heal spell can be meaningless when an enemy will hit you again. If you fall prey to a sleep spell, an enemy can easily beat you to death without a chance of waking. You can always use the fizzle spell to stop their spells. Assuming it works.
In terms of scale, with Dragon Quest being one of the first role playing games, its story starts out simple, the princess has been kidnapped and you are a descendant of the legendary Erdrick so if anyone can save her, it’s you. Unlike later entries in the series, you are alone. You talk with people one-on-one to find her, there are no cut scenes, no real characters, it’s your story, and you drive it forward. From there, it unfolds to something bigger, but still in a small scope.
Small since you’re in a single kingdom with a mere five towns, six if you include the one that’s been ravaged by monsters. You literally walk everywhere. There are no airships, teleports, kayaks or anything else that later games provide for the player.
The original Dragon Quest has always had basic design elements that are staples even today. Once you’re given the story, you set out on your merry way. The first thing you see is where you need to be. A giant beacon, summoning you to its location, but it will be a game long journey to get there. The game is an open world, you can go anywhere from the start, but the enemies will kill you if you go into areas meant for higher level players. This is usually indicated by bridges. There are a few caves in the open and others hidden beneath towns and other areas.
Along the way you’ll discover items that help you, such as torches to see in dark caves, phials to keep lesser enemies away from you, and chimera wings that teleport you back to the starting castle and start of the game. As you level up, you’ll unlock spells that expedite everything. Holy protect will keep lesser enemies at bay and protect you from damaging swamps. Glow will make a much larger torch light. Evac will get you out of any cave or dungeon. Zoom replaces the chimera wing. Heal will let you stay out longer, before you need to buy a room at an inn to replenish your health and magic. In later areas, you’ll purchase or find equipment that will replenish health and magic for each step you take. This all goes to making you feel more powerful and ensuring the game is streamlined more and more as time goes on.
Dragon Quest has always relied on its charm. Enemies are smiling, things are bight and colorful, and puff puff girls are there to help enhance the experience. Even if its a bit of a grind, it’s a relaxing experience. Combat doesn’t take much thought and most are relegated to pressing the attack button. In new areas, you’ll need to put some thought into your survival, but in time, you’ll level up to a point that you can stand on your own. All you need to do until then is stay close to a town that you can heal. Money and experience will follow if you keep at it.
With this game being such a small scope, I managed to complete it in around 8 hours. There’s still plenty to explore, but the grind of having to level up to survive and purchase higher tier equipment will keep you in the game most of the hours. The final battle had me trekking through the last dungeon five or so times until I was victorious.
The weapons are few and far between. There’s a huge gap between the broad sword at 1,500 gold and the flame sword at 9,800 gold. With a single character to control, there’s not much need for diversity. Some of the equipment is cursed and will hurt you for using it and you need to seek out someone special to rid your body of the cursed equipment. I don’t feel the game made it too clear who I should see, but the descriptions did warn me about the equipment without blatantly saying it’s cursed.
If you perish in Dragon Quest, you lose half your gold and you are transported to the castle you began. On the plus side, you keep your experience. So it wasn’t all a waste. It’s a good punishment rather than being forced to reload a save. It keeps the game flowing where a loss isn’t a loss, it’s a setback. When you’re revived by the king, he will ask you to save and if you want to continue. He will also slip in some information about how much experience you’ll need to reach your next level. It keeps your drive up to keep playing.
The Android version Dragon Quest was an enjoyable, but shallow and nostalgic experience. The first game still has its charm and its appeal as a short role playing game, but it pales in comparison to other entries in the series. It’s well priced and still stands out as one of the best experiences with an Android game that I’ve had.