Embark on a quest through the annals of RPG history with Dragon Quest II, a classic that not only stands as a sequel to the game that pioneered the JRPG genre but also as a significant stride forward in its own right. In this comprehensive review, I, Brighton Nelson, will dissect the game's elements, scrutinizing its battle system, story, characters, music, customization system, locations, sidequests, art & graphics, and quality of life. Now, without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... a Dragon Quest II Review: A worthy opponent to the original Final Fantasy.
Battle System - 8
A huge step up from its predecessor in every way, Dragon Quest II still does very little to set itself apart from turn-based RPGs of the modern day. It's your standard swords and sorcery fare, with three playable party members: an attacker, a magician, and a hybrid between the two. Yet there's one thing that makes this simple turn-based system stand out—the impeccable enemy design. This game seldom reskins its enemies without meaningful changes, making every battle more fun than they deserve any right to be. From absolutely buff gorillas to insane enemies like the Wrecktors, every battle felt so different—this is something even many modern RPGs often struggle with to this day. I look back on this game thinking that, while its battles were incredibly simplistic, they were truly a blast. As an experienced RPG fanboy, the difficulty was a welcome breath of fresh air in an era where half the RPGs that are released are mind-numbingly easy.
Story - 6
The story itself is as barebones as an RPG story can get, and at first glance, it deserves a much lower score. However, there are three things this story nails: its atmosphere, storytelling, and opening. While the plot turns into a fetch quest (albeit an enjoyable, open-world fetch quest), it starts and ends very strongly. I also loved the non-linear way of going about the story—it didn't play to the story's benefit, but it sure made the game a fun, large-scale adventure. Last of all is the atmosphere. Like in Final Fantasy II, this game made sure the threat was always looming over the player due to the powerful intro sequence and the quick pacing of the game, making the game feel like a constant race to the finish. Akin to what I said in my Paper Mario review, this may be a simple, boring, and barebones story, but it is still told powerfully.
Characters - 3
The main three, the royalty, and the antagonist all possess a good bit of charm, but they are hardly enough to center an emotional story around. Like in the original, the dialogue here is good, but nothing too outstanding, and charming dialogue can't carry a game on its own. There are very few memorable, named characters here, and, in the end, this game can't score higher in this category.
Music - 7.5
This game has some fantastic music! While it doesn't have many tracks, it sure makes full use of the ones it does. I look forward to hearing the battle and dungeon themes whenever I play this game! While this game's soundtrack can't hold a candle to modern, behemoth RPG soundtracks, Dragon Quest II displays what it is like to have a near-perfect NES soundtrack, and if nothing else, that is certainly commendable.
Customization System - 7.5
This game only has three party members and only two of them learn actual abilities... so why do I give this game a decent score? This game has tons of excellent spells and unique equipment, so while there's a lack of depth, I could excuse it because, well, it was fun! Dragon Quest II displays the standard, barebones RPG customization system at its best, with learning new spells and getting stronger, feeling more satisfying than it deserves any right to be. The Prince of Cannock and the Princess of Moonbrooke had fully realized skillsets that were entertaining to play combat around, even if they don't hold a candle to the customization of later entries in the series. If the main character had a bit more customization, that'd be great, but as it is, this old game still has a lot of fun abilities to offer to this day.
Locations - 9
I was shocked by how many fantastic towns and dungeons there were in this game. This aspect of this game is truly what made it such an exceptional experience for me. With a notebook and pencil in hand and a determination to uncover the mysteries of such an open-world RPG, I was casting Zoom nonstop to piece all the puzzles together—it felt like a classic Zelda game in all the best ways! And after you get the three keys and the Echo Flute, these locations become even more fun to explore! In my opinion, the town design in this game surpasses all of the first five Final Fantasy games—these towns were just so fun to explore! While the cryptic nature of it all got annoying at times, it wasn't irritating enough to lower this score much. And all that is without mentioning the dungeons, which, while few and far between, were all very memorable, with the final two dungeons and the Tower of the Moon being the highlights for me. The constant buildup of exploring all of these locations, like a detective trying to climax toward an end goal, made this game far surpass its predecessor and, daresay, rival classic RPGs like Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy III, even if its combat and customization system weren't as unique. I genuinely wish I could replay this game again with all my memories forgotten—a new notepad and all—and delve right back into the mysteries of the world of Dragon Quest II all over again.
Sidequests - 6
It was fun to explore Dragon Quest II's world and find all its secrets—crafting the overpowered dress and tracking down Erdrick's gear were both particularly fun. While there weren't many sidequests, the ones present added to the game and didn't add unnecessary fluff to the briskly paced experience that is Dragon Quest II. In the end, while these sidequests won't be winning any awards, they aren't exactly offensive, and they offer all I need from sidequests in an RPG, so I'm not complaining. A bit more would've been fantastic, but alas, that is not the reality we live in.
Art & Graphics - 8
Some say this remake's graphics are atrocious, but I couldn't disagree more. I love the graphics here, as the developers translated the original artwork into something modern yet equally stylistic and charming—with incredible UI as a cherry on top. While I don't think it looks as good as remasters of the Final Fantasy games or other modern pixel art in Sea of Stars, Chained Echoes, or any of the recent HD-2D games, it still deserves an 8 for its beautiful retainment of the style and charm of Dragon Quest.
Quality of Life - 7
This game is incredibly cryptic, has difficulty spikes, and is very challenging at times. While this made for an unforgettable and difficult open-world, classic RPG experience, it was a tad overbearing at times. Some parts were utterly baffling to understand without a guide, like some of the areas in the final dungeon and the part where you have to revive the Prince of Cannock with a Yggdrasil Leaf that was added in this remake for no reason whatsoever. The number of Key Items you had to store became annoying, and the character inventories were overly limited. However, in the end, this game wasn't nearly as unplayable as some say, but it certainly wasn't flawless.
Fun Factor: 9
Overall Score: 71%
Letter Rating: A
While many hate this game, I believe it to be a complete upgrade to the original, and I hold it to the same regard as Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy III. This game may have been cryptic, but that cryptic nature gave me more time to appreciate the world, puzzles, and charming locales. This game had heaps of flaws, yet I still found it to blend all the things I love about classic RPGs and open-world RPGs into one perfectly flawed experience. While I understand the fan backlash, I certainly can't get behind it, and I will always recommend this game to fans of classic RPGs and Dragon Quest newcomers alike—its excellent enemy design and open world aspects have yet to be beaten by later entries in the series.
Want to check out this sequel to the game that singlehandedly created the JRPG genre? Check it out in one of its various forms below (and support our website in the process)! I played on mobile to take it for the go, but the Switch version has better controls. If you want a more classic experience to see where RPGs began to pick up steam? Go for the NES version. You can't go wrong either way.
Primary Version: Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line (iOS)