Being the first console RPG developed in Japan, we really can't ask for much here. 'Basic' is definitely a theme throughout; many of the staples of turn-based combat are here: Attack, Magic, Run, and Items. This is one of the few games where using magic throughout normal combat isn't a hindrance. Many of the helpful spells are low cost and effective the majority of the time; especially in the case of Stopspell, where harmful spells would cost more in healing magic than preventative.
There's never a time when combat becomes too easy, unless you count visiting old romping grounds. Without liberal use of the run command, it'll take many attempts to finally get to the Dragonlord and take him down. However, running isn't recommended early on because fighting is vital for survival. Grinding is a necessity to gain enough levels to challenge the next area (and grind more). The developers seemed to have thought better of this, as the remakes of this game have the grinding reduced a considerable amount.
Many iconic monsters were created in this game; from the ubiquitous Slime to the cutesy Drakee. While not quite on as grand a scale as Phantasy Star, it's easy to tell what the monsters are supposed to represent. I used to think palette swapping was a lazy technique, but it can help ground the player's judgment in past experience.
|I only found one Metal Slime, it got away|
Here's an area that we lose out on. Even with the goal that we're supposed to identify with the hero, it's just an ideal. Sure we get to tack a name of our choosing to the character, but he still looks the same (not to mention he's still a he) no matter what name we choose. He always gains the same spells at the same levels, and there are no options to choose as we advance. Controlling him is a bit awkward at times when the status screen appears--good luck moving only one space in this case. One interesting bit is that the character's name is used to choose which of four stat progression paths to use. I suppose not much emphasis was put on customizing a character to keep things simple, but simple just doesn't cut it here.
|The only idea I have of my character|
No puzzles to speak of, but we do have a number of riddles and hints to figure out. They fit well if we consider prophecy as part of general information gathering possible by most NPCs. I never lost sight of the main quest, and was never lost for somewhere to explore--although there were times I couldn't quite survive in those areas. There are two side quests, one for the Fighter Ring (I'm still not sure what it does), and saving the Princess. That's right; saving the Princess is optional. Although, finding Erdrick's Token is much harder without Gwealin's Love, it's not impossible to keep track of the hero's location manually. In the end, there's not much to do aside from saving the Princess and defeating the Dragonlord, and there's only one way to do it.
|You hid it there didn't you?|
The game really shines by balancing hints and general world lore. There's nothing distracting from the world or story; however, there's little information on the items and equipment aside from Erdrick's Sword. Even his armor is never described as magical or protective. The player's involvement in the story is at an absolute low. Granted there are times when the he is asked a question, but the answer doesn't matter (in fact talk to the NPC twice to get all the information) or it's forced on the player; why even ask in that case?
|No means no|
There are some cool possibilities with the items in this game, but most only have a single use. The Silver Harp is one of the more interesting ones, but it's necessary to trade away shortly after finding it. Having the Stones of Sunlight act as a Radiance spell or the Staff of Rain as a Repel would have been very cool for very little work.
The number of inventory spaces are limited; only two or three items beyond the quest related ones, magic keys, and herbs have filled things up already. Equipment is limited to only one sword, armor, and shield at a time. Judging strength is easy, as the Erdrick items are the only ones found outside a shop, and in shops the highest gold cost is the best. For completionists, you'll have some idea of getting everything, but there's no way to know for sure at a glance.
|One page inventory, already mostly full|
The music is very memorable. Graphics other than enemies need a bit of imagination, and sound effects are the same for all hits, crits, and misses. Traveling the continent of Alefgard is fun, but I wish there was more to discover. It definitely would have eased the grind to have another cave or two to explore. Hauksness (the demolished town) and Cantlin (the fortified town) are the most interesting places to visit with an interconnected history that adds to the feeling of a world in pain; other locations seem to lack this one world feel, and mostly act as hubs. Exploration is extremely open, but I'm still waiting for the time when it's possible to walk right up to the final boss no matter how futile it is. Even though it's possible to go almost anywhere, the likelihood of doing so is limited to survivability in combat.
|All caves look the same|
Final Rating: 21 (35%)
I hope I don't garner too much hate from this rating, but while Dragon Warrior offers a lot as the first Japanese console RPG, it suffers for the same reasons. Phantasy Star and Zelda II had time to learn from Dragon Quest (not to mention DQ II) and improve upon it. As a trailblazing venture, this score years later stands as a testament to just how much the game did right. It's enjoyable, but requires a lot of grinding. Even with fixing that, the hero himself is still just a cardboard cutout with just as much personality.
In an era where players have already experienced Phantasy Star, this game feels like a step down in many ways. We're still waiting for things to improve from those early days. For those who started gaming with Nintendo, Dragon Warrior offered a quick glimpse into CRPGs.
I wonder if any game will challenge the top spot before we get to Phantasy Star II. Next up is Dungeon Exlporer, our first TurboGrafx game. Reading the description, I'm excited to see how this one shapes up.