Embark on a journey to the roots of the legendary JRPG genre with Dragon Quest, the game that laid the foundation for a gaming revolution. In this retrospective analysis, I will delve into the classic that birthed a genre, exploring its battle system, story, sidequests, characters, locations, art & graphics, music, customization system, and quality of life. As we traverse through the realms of Alefgard, we'll scrutinize the game's strengths and weaknesses, assessing its enduring charm and the impact it left on the RPG landscape—uncover the nuances of its gameplay, the simplicity of its customization system, and the timeless melodies that shaped its soundtrack. Now, without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... a Dragon Quest Review: The game that defined the JRPG genre.
Battle System - 5
This battle system isn't fundamentally flawed, but it's as basic as a game could ever get. While there's a certain charm to the enemies and the single-player, turn-based combat, with only six combat spells (most useless), seven swords, three shields, and seven pieces of armor, it is mediocre and hasn't aged well. This battle system is charming and feels unique these days, but that doesn't mean it is good. It wasn't downright bad, but it sure wasn't something I looked forward to partaking in when I entered an encounter.
Story - 3
This game has the most basic fantasy story I've ever seen. There's a princess to save, a dragon to kill, and a kingdom to rule. However, while this warrants a 0 or 1 for a complete lack of substance, it is decent enough because of its incredibly charming, olden English dialogue. This dialogue made the game ooze the flair synonymous with the series. It isn't anything to write home about, but for the first true JRPG, at least it had charm and style—not the drab fare seen in games like Phantasy Star III.
Sidequests - 4
What I find so funny about this game is that saving the oh-so-important princess is not mandatory—that gave me a good chuckle. From the first RPG ever made, Dragon Quest instantly formed the idea of multiple endings, a staple in modern RPGs. Besides that, finding the two pieces of Erdrick's equipment and the optional cave to the northwest was pretty awesome. These added just enough to add an hour or so to the game without bogging down a game known for its snappy and streamlined experience. While nothing here is outstanding, it was adequate and serviceable—something I couldn't say about the awful side content in games like Final Fantasy X-2 and Tales of Symphonia.
Characters - 2
Like I said about the story, the characters in this game have great dialogue! The King, Princess, Dragonlord, and the one dude who left his wife to find Magic Keys were all standouts. However, as charming as the dialogue can be, the characters have no depth, growth, motivations, or meaningful aspirations, making the characters some of the weakest of any RPG I've played.
Locations - 4
This game has some very memorable locations—two, to be frank. However, the rest of them were very mediocre, to say the least. However, Tangatel and the Dragonlord's Castle are some of the most unforgettable and iconic locations in the series, and their presence in Dragon Quest II significantly bolsters these locations' epicness. However, as memorable as these locations may be, the rest are your standard throwaway RPG towns and caves. Yet again, this is the first game with this type of gameplay, so I'm not mad at it. But I can't review a game solely based on its legacy, and for that, this deserves a very low score in this category.
Art & Graphics - 8
Many people claim this remake has awful graphics, but I believe the contrary. I love the graphics here, as they translate the artwork of decades previous into something more modern yet equally stylistic and charming as older versions—with awesome UI to boot. While I don't think it looks as great as remasters of the Final Fantasy games or as good as more recent pixel art found in Sea of Stars or Chained Echoes, it still absolutely retains the style and charm of Dragon Quest. This game definitely deserves a score of 8.
Music - 6
As much as this game has tons of iconic Dragon Quest tracks, this soundtrack needs more variety to stand out against other games in the series and its contemporaries at the time, such as Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda. With only eight tracks, it was great at the time and established Sugiyama's career and the idea that video game soundtracks can be fantastic, but it has aged poorly. As a whole, this is a good soundtrack, but not a great one.
Customization System - 4
You have one character who leaves spells as they level up—that's it! It isn't broken, fundamentally flawed, or boring; it is just the simplest customization system ever made. For that, this game doesn't deserve any higher of a score than a 4. That wouldn't make sense.
Quality of Life - 4
This game, even in its remakes, has some glaring issues. First of all, there's the egregious limited inventory space. Actually, I don't dislike this; it makes the game more balanced, so I can't hate that. Secondly, this game is a little grindy—not as awful as some say, but not great. The most significant issues I have? The Mark of Erdrick and the singular Save Point and the lack of a Zoom quality of life upgrade... something present in Mobile and Nintendo Switch remasters of Dragon Quest II, but oddly not in this title? That's just offputting. There's a ton of backtracking here, and, in essence, there's just the fat of an NES RPG trying to lengthen its brief runtime, and it simply didn't work in its favor. I can forgive a game for being annoying or cryptic, but the colossal compounding of the two ends up making this a frustrating game to experience.
Fun Factor: 7
Overall Score: 45%
Letter Rating: D
This game has the same energy as a distinguished silent film from the 1920s: I respect it, but it hasn't aged the best, and I don't particularly enjoy watching it. It defined my favorite genre of all time—a game genre that has shaped my interests and helped me get through the darkest times in my life. Nonetheless, this game doesn't compare to almost every RPG I've played. It doesn't have any downright awful bits, but outside of the charm, this game just felt so mediocre. This game means a ton to me because of the legacy it left behind, but it simply doesn't hold up in the modern day.
Now, Dragon Quest II? That game is super hot fire... change my mind. Check out my review of that game here.
Want to check out 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 started? Go for the NES version. You can't go wrong either way.
Primary Version: Dragon Quest (iOS)