There’s a D&D clone called Dragon Quest, so when Nintendo wanted to bring Dragon Quest to the US, they renamed it to Dragon Warrior. It came out in 1986 from Enix, and there were a couple of versions. The first one had no turning sprites, resulting in a static figure being moved around. The MSX version, recorded by neshagui on YouTube, shows the lack of turning sprites, and the need to select which direction to talk.
If it’s not obvious, Dragon Quest looks crude to modern eyes. It has basically two story arcs, and three bosses. Most of the game is spent grinding to get strong enough to get to the next area. Towns tend to have areas that you can’t access until late in the game, and sometimes those areas provide very little reward for examining them. Much like Wizardry, there’s a few tricks to save money. In the starting castle, you can talk to an old man to have your MP refilled. This allows you to refill your health via magic for free, eliminating the need to ever use an inn as long as you’re willing to trek back to the castle.
The US version of Dragon Quest has turning sprites so it talks in the direction you’re facing. It still keeps the need to chose to use stairs or doors though. Dungeons are not the focus of the game, and the ones that are in the game are simply done. The one shown below shows the graph paper like layout and the tiny radius of light from the starting torch.
Why is this game fondly remembered? I think a large part of it falls into the charm of the design. The enemy sprites were done by the famous Dragon Ball artist Akira Toriyama. Even ignoring the fame of the artist, the monster sprites are simple but filled with character.
The music and sound effects in Dragon Quest were reused over the years on other games in the series. A fan of the series, therefore, has a strong memory of various melodies. Ignoring the nostalgia, there is a clever way that the world map music slides into the battle music and back into the world music. This makes it feel more smooth as you slide into yet another battle.
In Japan, Dragon Quest became a phenomenom. There were tv shows and manga with monsters and characters. Kids would yell the healing spell name (hoimi) if someone fell in the playground. The “winning” console of a generation tended to be the one that got the new game in the series. Yuji Horii said that he designed the game to be read aloud. The battle text had a sort of pattern to it, making it almost meditative to play the game. Even the US version has some of that pattern with the sequence of, “A slime draws near! Command? Thou hast defeated a slime.”
Unfortunately, I think there’s two Dragon Quests for US fans. The NES translations used psuedo Old English and a fairly serious feel to it. The DS remakes, however, are filled with puns, jokes and accents. The DS version may be closer to the Japanese original, but old school fans have been critical about them being too jokey.
I’m talking a lot about history, and very little about the game. As a game goes, Dragon Quest is a simple RPG. You rescue the princess. You fight the evil. You fight a golem in a tense fight, struggling to keep it unconscious. You have a sort of journey to the game as you push out farther and farther from the starting area. The charm of the game is in the production values and the feeling of growth as the game goes on. Yes, there’s nothing but grind and the game is awkward by modern standards. Still, I think some people might find a nostalgic charm.