Sunday, March 25, 2012

Game 5: Dragon Warrior (NES) - Rating

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.
Rating: 5
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.
Rating: 2
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.
Rating: 3
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?
Rating: 3
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.
Rating: 3
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.
Rating: 5
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.


  1. It's definitely a harsh rating, but I understand it, considering how basic the game is. I still think it's better than the sum of its parts though, and this game always had a special place in my heart, especially thanks to its simplicity. It's a quick retro fix I like to play through again once in a while.

    There is no debate on the fact that RPGs only got bigger and more complex starting from there though, but Dragon Quest laid the basics in style.

    Nice review though and congrats on breezing through this one!

    I'm looking forward to read your posts on Dungeon Explorer. It always intrigued me and I never played it.

  2. Do you plan on playing the remakes for SNES and GBC when they come out? It would be interesting to see how they compare, but I can't see you having a ton of fun replaying it.

    1. Currently I have no plans to play remakes. The SNES version was a Japan only release, so I hadn't really considered it at all. I have an aversion to playing on handhelds when I can play the game on a home console due to the resolution.

      My thoughts right now are that I'll play the version that makes the most sense. I'll try for the original, but a remake could be more cost effective, have more features, or be easier to find.

      I'll make a poll about playing remakes to get some other opinions.

    2. For Game Boy games: There was the Super Game Boy, which lets you play Game Boy games on a Super Nintendo. Downside(?) is that some gameboy games had upgraded sound, improved graphics or colour information for use with the super gameboy, so you wouldn't get the same experience as on the handheld version.

      There was also the Game Boy Player for Gamecube, which allows you to play Game Boy, Game Boy Colour and Game Boy Advance games on the Gamecube. This won't let you access the special Super Game Boy features, but some Game Boy Advance games have added things for it.

      However, I don't know how hard these are to find, but it would let you stream game boy games to the internet easily.

  3. Enhanced graphics, sound, and music really aren't that big a deal since those are only a small portion of the overall rating. New features or improved interface do a add a bit more, again it's small compared to the entire game.

    I have the Game Boy Player, so that's no problem. By resolution I mean the display area. Here's an example:

    Crystalis NES:
    Crystalis GBC:

    I'd much rather play with the larger resolution allowing me time to react to incoming monsters, or to actually see where I'm going.

    If others think it'd be interesting to hear my opinion on each remake, then I'll make an effort to play through them when their release date comes up. My interest is in getting to play different games though, not the same ones with enhancements.

    Here are the poll options I'm thinking of:

    Remakes and Enhanced Ports:
    Play them all
    Vote on each one
    Only major additions
    Don't play them

    I'm open to the opinions of the audience; this blog is for your enjoyment as much as my own, so if popular opinion is I should play a game then I'll definitely give it a chance.

    1. That works for me, though I'd change 'additions' to 'changes' myself; If that rewrite the combat system a lot that might not be an 'addition' but a 'change'

      Also, depending on the system you might get better distance from the GBA version then a NES version, but yeah, I can see wanting the draw distance.

    2. I see what you mean. Yeah, short draw distance is a pet-peeve of mine, and one of the reasons I never got into Sonic the Hedgehog.

      I'm sure I already have some remakes + originals on here. I know at least of Wild Arms and Wild Arms: Alter Code F.

    3. It'd have to depend on the magnitude of the changes, I think. Dragon Warrior's remake for example isn't very extensive; basically the only difference is that you level up faster. Dragon Warrior II is in the same boat.

      Dragon Warrior III, on the other hand, has substantial additional content and mechanics that fundamentally change aspects of the game in its GBC remake.

    4. I say vote on each. That way, we can crowdsource the appropriateness of each remake. Just set some rules on how we -should- vote. i.e. - establish things we should look for in remakes.

    5. It sounds reasonable to vote on each one, but polls are fun and a decision on remakes isn't necessary anytime soon.

      Maybe I should have had a poll about character choice in the upcoming Dungeon Explorer. Oh well, maybe next time. Feel free to shout it out in the comments until tomorrow. :D

  4. That's a bummer, not being able to change the sex of your character and all. I'm glad that with today's games, that's been elimin - oops, forgot The Witcher.

    "One interesting bit is that the character's name is used to choose which of four stat progression paths to use." -- Could you explain this to me, please? I'm kind of lost here, sorry.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. (Deleted and reposted to fix a REALLY bad typo >_>)

      As simply as possible: the game assigns a numeric value to each possible letter in the name. The values of the first 4 letters are added together then divided by 16; the remainder resulting from this division determines which of 16 possible setups of starting stats you get, as well as which of 4 possible stat growth tracks.

      It uses only the first 4 letters because the Japanese version of the game only supported four-character names to begin with.

      GameFAQs' FAQ on the topic doesn't seem to be 100% accurate, as while it gets Zenic's starting stats right it appears to predict the wrong growth tracks for him.

      In Zenic's case, naming his character Zenic: Z=13, e=14, n=7, i=2. 13+14+7+2=36. 36/16=2, remainder 4.

      Remainder 4 gives Zenic starting stats of 4 strength, 4 agility, 15 max HP, and (when he hits level 3) 5 max MP. The FAQ indicates it should put him on growth track A (good Str/HP growth, poor Agi/MP growth). However, from Zenic's level 17 screenshot above, I can deduce that he is in fact on growth track C (good HP/MP growth, poor Str/Agi growth).

    3. Additional comment: the guide by ryan8bit that also covers other game mechanics does get the growth tracks correct, now that I look.

    4. Yes, ryan8bit has the correct information. Thank you for writing up that explanation Reiska.

    5. Wow! I wonder how long it took for someone to figure out that's where the "random" stats were coming from!

  5. Thanks for sharing the info on the Ryan8bit faq, interesting stuff.