Dragon Warrior review
Very dated and almost unplayable, but significant


One aspect of reviewing that I've always thought about is how I should judge each individual game. Should I judge it by modern standards (within reason, obviously – can't expect an NES game to match Crysis anytime soon), or should I judge it by classic standards? How was it judged back then? Did I unearth a gem that was previously considered shit back in its day? Did I unearth dog shit that impressed everybody back in the day? Does its history and/or influence hold more weight than the product itself (if it has any, that is)? If you're looking for a game that makes me think about this more than others, you've found it – Dragon Warrior on the NES. On the surface, it's hard to really want to keep playing this, as there's no real story to progress, nor are there any twists to look forward to and to make your hours of grinding worth anything... in fact, I really have no idea on why people kept on playing this.

Perhaps it's because back when this was released, it was considered a breath of fresh air for console gamers, especially in Japan where PC gaming was very far from popular. Sure, it was practically a clone of American games like Wizardry and Ultima, but I doubt anybody in Japan had actually played them until some American tourist told them... whatever I just told you. That, and a lot of folks wouldn't have played them anyway unless they were super nerds that could outnerd the *bleep* out of the nerdiest of modern gamers and internet users. Who really knows? But one thing is for sure – it was refreshing in its own right, and that's what kept the interest of many gamers back then, despite the lack of mid-game storytelling and overindulgence of grinding.

That's seriously all Dragon Warrior is – grinding. Oh sure, it peppers itself with a story where you must save the princess from the evil Dragonlord and bangs into your head that you're the descendant of the great hero that had slain the Dragonlord some eons ago, but just because it constantly reminds you doesn't mean it has a story that progresses – it simply means that it has a basic story that it repeats so that you know that it has a story. You travel all throughout the land, talking with the townsfolk to get clues on where to go next or what to do next, and eventually, you conquer the dungeons, find the necessary items, kill the handful of bosses, satisfy the necessary requirements to proceed, and finally, slay the Dragonlord.

But Elder Scrolls, this is not. Exploration is hindered by constant random encounters, forcing you to pretty much mash the A button so that you can attack and defeat the enemy. Sometimes, especially against tougher enemies, you may be required to heal – that is, if you're at a high enough level to use it... and then use it more than once if need be. The battling is horribly simple and is only made difficult if you're not at a high enough level...

Unfortunately, you'll hardly ever be at a high enough level if you simply press forward, because between the different areas, enemies will grow much stronger. Just because you can beat an enemy in the previous area fairly easily, doesn't necessarily mean you'll beat an enemy in the next area. It then dawns onto you – you'll need to grind. But grinding is like weight loss – you won't see the results quickly... in fact, it feels like it's coming at a turtle's pace. It takes a very long time before you can level up, especially as you level up higher and higher because even though stronger enemies offer more EXP, you'll need to gain even more EXP to level up, and it always feels like you don't earn enough. Because of that, the game gets really, really boring to play. After a while, it's like “why am I even doing this... I could be doing something better with my time, like learn a new language or help cure cancer, not numb my brain with mindless, repetitive grinding”.

It never helps that the music is extremely repetitious. The overworld and dungeon songs consist of a five second loop, which admittedly doesn't sound bad... until you hear it for an hour. Same for the battle theme – it doesn't sound bad. It does inspire you to battle.. I think. I wouldn't be too sure, because it starts to feel like a drag after hearing it for the 100th time. Come on, this is like pouring salt into an open wound. At least future games (not necessarily in the Dragon Quest series) have soundtracks with longer songs... and tend to contain less grinding...

So all in all, what gives Dragon Warrior any weight in today's gaming world is that it was significant to the development of JRPGs. That's it. There is absolutely no reason to play it now because it lacks the necessary funfactor and draw that it once had, simply because the JRPG formula has advanced over the years (up until 1997, anyway) to make battles faster, to make grinding less necessary, and above all else, to tell a *bleep*ing story. If you feel like you absolutely have to play this, I strongly suggest that you buy it on the Game Boy Color (and hey, it comes with Dragon Warrior 2, so you're getting quite a bargain there). But seriously, you know you can buy vastly superior games in this genre, right?

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