Dragon Quest III came out for the NES in 1988 in Japan (1992 US), and for the Gameboy in 2000 (2001 US.) There’s also a SNES remake in 1996. When people discuss Dragon Quest games, Dragon Quest III or IV are the ones most similar to later games in the series. Dragon Quest III has a class change system at the Temple of Dharma, and Dragon Quest VI and VII both have a class change system at the Temple of Dharma. Dragon Quest III has gambling elements versus the more simplistic lottery system in Dragon Quest II. Gambling appears in Dragon Quest IV, V, VI, VII, VII, and presumably IX. The idea of the classic casino, however, does not appear until Dragon Quest IV.
That’s not to say the game is modern. It’s very grindy and you will have to level to progress. If a monster dies in combat, anyone else set to attack it will miss. There’s also some curious blank areas in the game. For example, there’s an ambitious day / night system, and you can search towns after dark. There’s no advantage in sneaking in a house at night, and very little of interest in the dialogue changes. Remakes have provided extra treasures hidden around towns to change this.
On the subject of remakes, the Gameboy one changes the tone of the game a little. Instead of being woken up to go to the king, you have a disturbing dream. In the case of the game I tried, my character dreamed of a king sent to a fruitless and rash battle by his queen who wants him dead. A man stopped my hero asking if I would be loyal and die, or if I would rebel and try to live. Because of my choices, my character was declared to be kindly. This is kind of non-immersive to have the character randomly getting cautioned to clean up their room or to not be too nice to people. However, it does add some indivuality to the gameplay.
The party system is pretty impressive for the age of the game. You can select the job, and gender of your new party member and female party members tend to have higher stats. Due to the class change system, you can create your ideal fighter who’s also a mage, for example, or other combos. Since your starting party has randomized names, your initial fighter, cleric, and mage vary from game to game.
As for the plot, your hero or heroine’s father died in a fight with a dragon. Now, your hero or heroine is exploring the country following their father’s footsteps and looking for adventure. There’s ominous rumors of evil on the rise. As you explore, you can get tasks like finding a stolen crown or helping a trapped couple. Since the second game had a long extended quest to gain your pre-made party members (and only two of them,) it is notable that you can customize your party instantly in the first town.
All in all, I constantly feel like Dragon Quest III is surprising. Yes, it’s not amazing compared to a more modern game, but there’s clear innovation compared to Dragon Quest II. Graphically, the NES version isn’t that different from most other NES games, but there’s four different colorways for most of the game (morning, day, afternoon, night.) The translation’s surprisingly good in the NES version, though people seem constantly a little uncertain if your female heroine is really female. Still – there’s not a lot of “A woman shouldn’t be fighting.” Which, sadly enough, is unusual in early JRPGs.