Dragon Quest (Available exclusively on the Super Famicom)
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1
Release Date: December 18th, 1993
Dragon Warrior hit the NES in ’89 and pretty much introduced the RPG genre to a new generation of gamers. I played Dragon Warrior growing up, but was never able to finish it thanks to my game cartridge always erasing itself. With Jarrod gifting me a fan-translated reproduction copy of Dragon Quest I.II for the Super NES, I was finally able to complete the original classic. While the remake itself was sadly never released in North America, it is the definitive version of Dragon Quest, and should be experienced by fans of Japanese role-playing games. Those who understand the language can import it for fairly cheap, and even play it on their SNES with a simple modification. For the majority of us, the only way to experience this gem is by emulation, or via a reproduction cart.
While Dragon Quest seems primitive today, it’s responsible for the birth of console role-playing games. Experiencing it again today with improved visuals and gameplay mechanics is simply a joy. It can be completed in about six to eight hours so it’s not too demanding either. Those that never played the original should start here. The game’s charm hasn’t aged a day.
+ While the overworld doesn’t look very different from the NES original, the castles and towns are ten times more detailed. Sure, for a Super Nintendo game, it’s not exactly a visual masterpiece, but it’s definitely an improvement over the original.
+ Level up faster thanks to a more generous amount of experience points given out after every battle. This is by far the biggest improvement. Grinding was painful before because of extremely low amounts of experience rewarded for defeating an enemy. That’s not to say all the grinding has been removed, just that it’s far less demanding.
+ A classic is a classic for a reason. While the story is clichéd and borderline non-existent, it didn’t feel that way in the 80’s. Rescuing a princess from a dragon has been used so many times now that it’s hard to care. As a child growing up, you didn’t need any other reason to play a videogame.
+ Exploration has always been my favorite aspect of the series. Every time I explore a new patch of land I always feel excitement mixed with fear as I have no clue what type of monsters I’m about to face. This is a game that opens up the world map right from the get-go, and lets you explore almost all of it. Because of that, you’re always one battle away from death. Finding the nearest town is always a race, and you’re never sure if you’ll make it in time. I love it.
+ A simple button press can now execute tasks such as opening doors, treasure chests, talking to people, or simply searching an area for items. In the original DQ, you had to open a menu and then select a different option depending on the task.
– Take out the grinding and this game could be completed in about 20 minutes.
Conquering Dragon Quest for the first time is one of my early 2014 moments. If you haven’t done so yourself, I really recommend checking out this game as it’s simply a classic in every way.
Jarrod takes a quick look at the Bravely Default demo on the Nintendo eShop for the 3DS. After playing for upwards of four hours now, he goes over the battle system, and more or less what players can expect from the retail version. This demo is an incredible thing though, as it features tons of awesome features, a killer combat system, and what could be over a dozen hours of gameplay. Be sure to give this free download a try!
Ever wonder what it would be like to step into one of the inns from a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy game? You know, as in actually walk up to the place and lay down some cash and rest for the evening. Well three years ago this very idea was pitched and a collaboration between Square-Enix and Karaoke Pasela formed Luida’s Bar, a real-life establishment in Roppongi, one of Tokyo’s major nightlife spots. For those unfamiliar, Luida (also known as Patty in North America), is a character in several of the Dragon Quest games that helps players form a party. She’s been featured in DQ III, V, VI, and most recently in Dragon Quest IX.
Earlier this year Luida’s Bar celebrated its third year in business, and I thought it would be neat to introduce our North American and European readers to what this place is all about. Think of it like a small resto-bar (seats around 25 people) that serves dishes inspired by the videogame series its named after. You can order Slime meat-cakes, there are Drakee alcoholic beverages and so much more. The staff cosplays, which is excellent, and the menu has all its prices in gold (1G = 1 Yen). Here’s a brief look at some of the goods, and the restaurant itself.
Pretty incredible, wouldn’t you say? I know more than a few COE members would be up for checking out Luida’s Bar if one existed on our side of the ocean. I know I would be all over this place if I was ever in the area. It just goes to show how popular Dragon Quest is in Japan. Over here we’d have to have Cid’s Bar or something because unfortunately Dragon Quest just wouldn’t cut it. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this, and whether or not you’d be interested in seeing other establishments that were based on games come to life.
Dragon Quest fans have had it rough over the years. First we were never properly introduced to the Dragon Quest series because the trademark belonged to the makers of Dungeons and Dragons so the series had to be named Dragon Warrior. Next, it took far too long for the translations to hit North America and as such the games started to look extremely dated next to games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and the like. Finally we missed out on Dragon Quest V for the Super NES, even after the translation work was all but finished (or extremely close to being finished), when Enix left North America back in November 1995 due to poor sales of the Dragon Warrior series. That’s what I call rough!
Thankfully things turned around when Enix returned in 1999. Their first game was Dragon Warrior Monsters for the Game Boy Color. That was a great time for fans of the series because the company quickly announced that Dragon Warrior VII (PS1) would be making its way to North America shortly after the debut in Japan. In reality it took a year to arrive, but at least it was released. From 1999 to DW VII’s North American release in late 2001, fans were treated to Torneko: The Last Hope (PS1), Dragon Warrior I&II (GBC), Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 (GBC), and Dragon Warrior III (GBC).
While it was awesome to have the Erdrick trilogy on the GBC, it was far from ideal. Sure these remakes had tons of improvements over the originals, from expanded and fleshed out storylines, to additional classes in DW III, the biggest improvements made were to the core gameplay. Now players could talk to people, open doors, and do other super simple actions with the press of a button instead of always going into the menu system. Another major improvement was made to the core combat system. In the original games if players had two people attack the same Slime, for example, and the first team-member killed the Slime, the second member lost his turn. These remakes adjusted that so the second member would automatically attack the next enemy on-screen. We take small improvements like this for-granted, but go back and play the original games and you’ll see how cumbersome and archaic they feel.
The biggest problem with the Game Boy Color remakes is that they look extremely dated today. Thanks to the small screen real-estate, Enix had to make everything super tiny in order to fit what they needed to. Enemies don’t look anywhere near as detailed and smooth as they should. Also playing Game Boy games isn’t as easy as it once was. You have to go and pickup a Game Boy Advance SP (best GB ever created!), or a Game Boy Player for the GameCube. Most people would likely just emulate the games and be done with it. Even the original NES games are extremely hard to find, and ultra expensive. They have yet to appear on the Virtual Console for either the Wii or the Wii U, making them true collector’s items.
So what’s the big deal you might say, only that Dragon Quest/Warrior III is widely regarded as the best game in the entire series. While I don’t agree with that statement myself, the game has sold over six million units in Japan since it was released. That number includes the two remakes. Two remakes you say?! That’s right, the purpose of this article is basically to enlighten those that may not know, but there is indeed another, far superior remake to the Game Boy Color version, the ones released on the Super Famicom. See, there’s a reason why I mentioned Enix leaving North America in 1995 ;)
Dragon Quest I.II was released in 1993 for the Super Famicom, with Dragon Quest III hitting in 1996. These are the ultimate remakes, and have never been released outside Japan. While there are fan-translations available for any DS emulator for PC, it would be absolutely awesome to have Square-Enix finally release them in an official capacity. Today, DQ fans can easily purchase DQ IV, V, VI, and IX on the DS, and with any luck we’ll be able to purchase the DQ VII remake on the 3DS sometime next year. DQ VIII is also readily available for the PlayStation 2, and odds are looking good that DQ X will be released at some point on the PC. So with all these games available for fans to play, it seems a little odd to be missing the original trilogy, wouldn’t you say?
Over in Japan the situation isn’t anything like it is in the rest of the world. Dragon Quest is their series. There’s really no equivalent in North America except maybe Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, but even then it’s not exactly the same. The Dragon Quest series is part of their pop culture like you couldn’t even begin to imagine. As such they get remakes every single console generation. I won’t bother listing all the remakes they’ve had that we missed out on, but they’re numerous. The original trilogy remakes were just released as part of an ultra cool 25th anniversary collection for the Wii back in 2011, that the rest of the world completely missed out on. I never bothered importing it because it required an import Wii to play, or one that cracked the region blocking. Here’s a teaser of this incredible collection.
While I knew this collection would never make its way outside Japan, I’m now wondering if Square-Enix has plans to remake the original trilogy using the DQ IV, V, and VI engine, or the newly crafted DQ VII engine for the 3DS. I know each game would be a huge success in Japan, and would increase the odds of a worldwide release. The first two parts would likely be included together if only because of how very short the original Dragon Quest is in relation to all the others. I think it’s about time the rest of the world gets to experience these excellent games in a newly minted restoration, or at the very least via the incredible Super Famicom remakes. What do you think?
I think that most of us are probably able to name a few landmark games that have made a tremendous impact on our gaming habits, genre preferences, or even inspired us in other ways. I have a few of my own. Just take a look at my past Reflection articles and you’ll get an idea of how important the Zelda series has been as a vehicle for my gaming passions. Games like Link’s Awakening and The Wind Waker have enchanted me like few other pieces of entertainment have. Today, I’m going to turn back the clock to my early childhood and show you one special game which has influenced me for over a decade and a half.
Now, let’s keep in mind that I’m a bit younger than some of the others here on the site like Jarrod, Steven, and Ahmed. It wasn’t until 1989 (the year the original GameBoy was released, go figure) that I screeched into this world, and so it wouldn’t be until four or five years later that I would actually begin to get involved with video games. The very first system I owned was a GameBoy Pocket that my parents purchased for me on a family outing when I was six years old. However, during the couple years leading up to this grand moment in my life, I’d already been getting my video game dose every Sunday when my family went to my father’s best friend’s house for weekly dinner get-togethers. My honorary cousin owned a Super Nintendo back then, and we’d play Super Mario Kart, Donkey Kong Country, and various other games for hours on end. I had run-ins with the original Nintendo as well, but the SNES was the first home console I was heavily exposed to. It was during this era that I grew up, primarily playing Super Nintendo and GameBoy, with a little bit of Genesis and NES on the side.
Gaming was a little different for me than for people who were born in the early 80s, as I was introduced to both the NES and SNES in the same time frame instead of in chronological order. Despite being technologically inferior, the 8-bit Nintendo appealed to me just as much as the Super Nintendo. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the midst of both consoles and the SNES was never the clear-cut successor to me that it was to older gamers. Yes, the Super Nintendo housed the newest, biggest, and boldest games, but the NES had a slew of exceptional content to its name that never felt dated in part because it was simply stellar, and in part because it was all fresh to me anyways. It’s worth noting that I mostly played platforming, racing, and action games back then and had very little exposure to certain genres. However, things changed after I played one particular game in a genre completely unfamiliar to me. It wasn’t a SNES game, but an NES game that came out years earlier in 1986. It’s obvious to say that it wasn’t on the bleeding edge of its genre at the time I played it, but as you now know, I was a few years late to the gaming party to begin with. Regardless of what else was available on the market at the time, the experiences I had with this gem of a game bent my gaming preferences forever after and it stands tall as one of my all-time favourites. So, what game could have this kind of influence over a young boy? Well, it was developed by a Japanese game developer, Enix, and featured slimes, swords, and sorcery…
Yes, Dragon Warrior. To the best of my memory, this was the very first RPG I played when I was a kid. To be honest, it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly when I first played this game were it not for the fact that it was on a family vacation and therefore the dates are quite easy to verify. I had just returned to Canada after living in England for five years at the time, and was on the other side of the country visiting my family in Prince Edward Island in 1995 (just a year before the N64 was released, crazily enough, and showing how I was totally not with the times back then), when my cousin introduced me to the game. I can remember the sweltering humidity that day — the day when my cousin and I hid in a dark and cool corner of my uncle’s basement with the Nintendo hooked up, and I got my first glimpse at a side of gaming far detached from the Marios and Mega Mans of the day.
The first thing I remember about Dragon Warrior was how cool the castle was. I’d never played a game from the overhead perspective wherein you could explore such a detailed and populated castle. Of course, it was really just a small set of corridors, moats, and brick rooms, with grey blocks representing castle walls, and there were only a handful of characters with whom you could make meaningful interactions, but back then it felt so convincing, and my imagination filled in the castle and each subsequent area with all the flourishes one could cognitively paint onto a pixelated 8-bit tapestry. And that’s part of what’s so appealing about the Dragon Quest franchise. To quote series creator Yuji Horii, it’s “a world you can feel”.
It wasn’t until Dragon Quest VIII that a game in the series boasted truly impressive visuals. Before that PS2 marvel, the atmosphere of the games was hinged entirely upon the things that went on “behind-the-scenes” in the dialogue, in the immersive story, and in your imagination. In short, this series has not been known for setting visual benchmarks. However, a lot of developers out there push for graphical fidelity but fail to establish a rich, lively setting even with the extra frills. Fortunately, failing to bring the world to life has never been one of Dragon Quest’s shortcomings, even if the games aren’t the prettiest ponies in the stable. The sweeping, pixelated landscapes, the memorable monsters, and the final, epic battle — I can’t forget these landmark moments that turned me into an RPG addict for years to come, and Dragon Warrior was responsible for all of this despite being nine years old at the time and graphically outclassed by almost everything else I was playing back then.
The game mechanics utilized in role-playing games clicked with me instantly and I soon sought out more RPG worlds to explore. Leveling, exploration, looting, and epic stories punctuated the majority of games that I played throughout the rest of the 90s and 2000s, and it was all because of the first Dragon Warrior with its Healmore spells, Silver Shields, and Metal Slimes. It’s funny to think that there I was in the hot summer of 1995, tucked away in my uncle’s basement playing Dragon Warrior, and here I am on a warm Sunday afternoon in Japan seventeen years later about to sit down and delve into Skyrim. Evidently, I’m still just as in love with the same basic RPG game mechanics that Yuji Horii and his team introduced me to all those years ago.
It’s strange, but aside from its legacy as one of the great RPG forerunners, Dragon Warrior left a mark on my life in a bit of an unusual way as well. As I mentioned above, my first experiences with the game took place in my uncle’s basement in Prince Edward Island. My uncle’s basement was unfinished back then (and still is), so it had that wonderful, earthy, damp “unfinished basement smell”. You most likely know exactly what I’m talking about. I spent so many hours down there immersed in Enix’s fantasy world that the pleasant odour became congruous with Dragon Warrior to me. Even today when I set foot in an unfinished basement, the musky scent brings the memory of the first time I wandered the halls of Tantegel castle to the forefront of my thoughts. Walking into an unfinished basement is a unique pleasure to me because the experience is firmly bound to that wonderful childhood memory. It will always bring a smile to my face just as booting up my cousin’s Nintendo and playing Dragon Warrior brought a smile to my face all those years ago. Perhaps you have similar connections between games and external experiences? Either way, I think we can all agree that the Dragon Quest series will continue to bring smiles to faces everywhere for years to come, even if it isn’t played in an unfinished, countryside basement.
Note: This is an idea I may continue based on reader response. As a diehard retro gamer, I love to revisit classic games every now and then, all for the sake of replaying beloved childhood favorites and old gems I’ve missed out on. These features will steer away from your typical review format and lean towards recollection. This is also a chance to take a break from modern gaming and rediscover what made us get in touch with gaming in the first place. This first journal will focus on the underrated SNES gem: Soul Blazer!
Back in the Super NES days, no one seemed to appreciate Enix. They pumped out more original games than most developers could dream of. It’s a shame that modern gamers don’t have a sense of how much both Square and Enix accomplished on the Super NES era, also known as the golden age of Japanese RPGs. Among many of the classics Enix released for the system, the most commonly forgotten one in my opinion is the clever action-RPG Soul Blazer. It was developed by Quintet, which were known for making numerous unorthodox SNES games like Act Raiser and Illusion of Gaia. If you want to get technical, Soul Blazer is considered as the first part of the “Gaia” trilogy for the Super NES.
Soul Blazer follows a format similar to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, offering an overhead view of a 2D world which contains a mixture of nonlinear exploration and linear objective-based gameplay design. Players also handle an assortment of basic blades and magic, with some clever twists here and there that keep things interesting. One of the most unique aspects of SB is the player’s influence on its world. By defeating monsters and destroying their lairs, imprisoned characters, buildings, items, and animals are then ‘released’ back into the world, allowing the player to manipulate them in godlike fashion. Remember, this was about a decade before level-5’s own Dark Cloud for the PS2, hence why Quintet’s gem was truly ahead of its time.
Players would continue to go through the cycle of conquering dungeons and subsequently freeing people and objects back into the world, which constantly changes by interacting with all of these released NPCs and objects. Alterations range from subtle to radical, the latter of which encourages backtracking to old areas after triggering new events. Remember how cool it was in Zelda to upgrade your sword and/or tunic? Soul Blazer took it a step further by offering twice as much swords, armor, spells and items compared to A Link to the Past. One of the coolest items is the Dream Rod, which allows you to enter the actual dreams of NPCs.
Graphics are largely reminiscent of ALttP, but not as colorful. If anything, the color palette and character design are more akin to Act Raiser. In fact, even some of its sound seems borrowed from Act Raiser. I’m not complaining though, since Act Raiser’s soundtrack is arguably one of the best on the SNES (my personal favorite) and it’s always beneficial to borrow from the best. Even though Soul Blazer’s music doesn’t crack the top 10 in my list (which is populated by the likes of Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, etc), it’s still superb. Modern gamers without the tinge of nostalgia may not appreciate the old-school soundcard as much, but even so one can’t deny Soul Blazer’s eclectic and enjoyable collection of tunes.
Plot took a backseat to gameplay in old-school RPGs. In some ways, modern RPGs get too caught up in the presentation, plot, and writing and therefore lose focus on what it means to actually be a game. Going retro is always a nice reminder of simpler times when the strength of gameplay mattered the most. Soul Blazer is obviously included in this creed. Its storyline is about as basic as it gets; a tale of good versus evil. The main character is an avatar of “The Master,” an all-knowing benevolent entity who is concerned about the rise of the malevolent “Death Toll”. There are other colorful and interesting characters as well, like Dr. Leo. Moreover, nearly everything in the game has dialogue, including animals and trees. Sadly, however, the translation could have been better as and the script contains a few typos here and there.
So how can you play this game? Well, unfortunately, it has yet to see a modern digital re-release. That means you’ll have to try and hunt down an original cartridge for the Super NES if you want to enjoy it. It’s highly recommended for any Zelda fan, SNES collector, and casual retro gamer. It would be awesome to see it appear on the Virtual Console, for there may be a chance given the recent re-release of Act Raiser. Online shopping is probably your best bet, costing you 25$ for a bare-boned used cart and significantly more if the box and manual are included.
Have you played Soul Blazer? Interested in playing it? Want to see more Retro Journals? Sound off in the comments!