Recently, I bought a console that would let me play classic NES/SNES etc. games on my modern TV. I never owned either of these consoles when I was growing up – my first foray into gaming was with GameBoy Colour and Nintendo 64. RetroSurfing is my record as I journey through some classics that I missed the first time around.
The Dragon Quest series is currently going through somewhat of a renaissance in the West after the critically-acclaimed release of Dragon Quest XI on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch. It’s a game that I also really enjoyed. I had a similar experience when I played Dragon Quest VII on the 3DS. I always feel that the games were fun to play and mechanically right up my alley. The highlight of my history with Dragon Quest, however, was the DS release, Dragon Quest IX, with its customisable characters and relatively open world. Between these three games, my interest was piqued and I decided to explore the series’ origins. Playing the original Dragon Quest was actually one of my key reasons for purchasing a retro console (even though there are versions of it playable on Nintendo Switch and mobile). Experiencing it with its pixelated art and text felt like a necessary part of the game for me. Thinking the NES version might be a little too classic however, I opted for the Japan-only SNES remake, which originally came out in 1993, making the cartridge older than me!
Booting the game up, I was pleasantly surprised by how the graphics looked – it’s obviously not a blockbuster by modern standards, the tilesets for the world map generally looked very appealing. The sprite art for the monsters was a particular highlight. Seeing my beloved slime in its original game was a particularly joyful moment. The towns are also nicely designed – Kol in particular, with the light shining through the trees was a treat. Overall, I thought the visuals had aged very nicely.
The gameplay has also aged well. It’s clear how much this game inspired the RPG genre that would follow with its combat – although simple by today’s standards, the battle mechanics can’t really be flawed. It’s like seeing the foundation that every other game in the genre has built upon in later years. Nowadays, most RPGs, and especially JRPGs follow a party of people as they adventure around the world, but in these humble beginnings, you are alone in your fight against evil. The one area that I thought showed its age a little, was the inventory management system. Equipment takes up space in your inventory, and the only places to deposit items are a few ‘safes’ – I think two in total? – found in some towns. It might have just been my poor inventory management however that led to me crashing up against the limit more than few times.
Small grievances aside however, I really enjoyed my time with the game. You feel very much like you are exploring this world on your terms, uncovering its secrets for yourself. It really does benefit you to talk to everyone in the villages, maybe get some useful hints about your next destination and stock up at the shops. Here, towns feel vital to your journey in a way that they don’t always in modern JRPGs. The story is a bit wrote, but it still holds up pretty well as you try to fight the dragon lord. There’s some nice enemy variation, even if there are a few recolours and reskins, but even then, spotting a new design of a familiar type of enemy felt exciting, like I’d levelled up and was progressing through the world. Dragon Quest is a short game – I’d say it took me around 8 or 9 hours to beat – especially so compared to modern RPGs which tend to push the 40 hour mark, but I never felt like I was in a rut. I constantly felt like I was making progress, and this really motivated me to keep going. After playing this, I’m excited to see how the series evolved in Dragon Quest II. I’ll report back once I’ve played it.