Dragon Warrior : Do you have the balls to retrieve the Balls of Light?"
Every gamer has or will have several personal firsts as part of their gaming experience. We all remember the first time we saved Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Bros, or the first video game we ever completed. Some of us remember the first time we played a game that was unlike anything else we had ever seen before. For many gamers, that game was Dragon Warrior.
You are the descendant of Erdrick. Your coming was foretold by the great seer Mahetta. King Lorick XVI summons you as soon as you arrive at Tantegel Castle. He recognizes your lineage and charges you to retrieve the Balls of Light from the Dragonlord who has stolen them away. The King’s daughter Princess Gwaelin has also been kidnapped. You are hereby sent forth to save the land of Alefgard from the evil Dragonlord and his many minions.
You begin the game not even with clothes to wear. The king allows you to take a torch, a magic key (that will be used immediately), and 120 gold for equipment. You have nothing more to go on than what the people of Alefgard know and are willing to tell. Only through trial and many battles will you gain the strength and wealth needed to explore ever corner of the land and destroy the creatures that would bring about its ruin.
Dragon Warrior is the very definition of a console role-playing game. You begin play quite weak. You must defeat monsters to gain experience which increases your strength and abilities. These monsters also drop money which is spent on items and better weapons and armor. It is not solely the items you obtain that help to overcome challenges, nor is it the reflexes and reaction time of the player. Instead it is the growth of the player character and the wits of the player that will see you through to the end. I will go so far as to say that without these key elements, a game cannot truly be called an RPG.
To speak about firsts, this was the first RPG many had ever played. Never before had we seen a game where the character improved over time. Most games only grant temporary improvements, such as power-ups or new items and weapons. The heroes in the other games we were playing at the time were almost useless without their fire-flowers and sack full of boomerangs, bombs, and other magical items. Besides that for a first, how many other games of the era (spoilers) had you save the princess in the middle of the game? How many other princesses told the hero, “I love thee.”
Once you depart the castle you will find that as you walk about the land of Alefgard you will encounter enemies at random. The encounter rate depends on what terrain you are passing through. Plains have the fewest, forests increase the rate a bit, and mountains have the highest rate of encounter. Craggy mountains and water cannot be traversed, and bridges mean enemies will be more powerful on the other side. The farther away from Tantegel Castle you go, the more powerful the enemies encountered. There will be many battles fought to increase the player character’s strength so that you can go a little further with each trip out.
You will eventually learn that three items are needed to reach the dreaded lair of the Dragonlord, Charlock Castle. Once these are retrieved, the way into darkness will be opened, and you can delve into the dungeons and finally face the most terrible of foes.
To say that you will have to spend quite a bit of time grinding levels is almost not worth mentioning of a game of this era. Level-grinding would become a staple of the genre. To a gamer who has only played modern role-playing games, or even some of those on the SNES, it may seem excessive and tedious. It is for this reason that I recommend this title for two types of gamers: those new to the genre and hard-core RPG fans.
You cannot find a better game to introduce a young gamer to the RPG genre. It has all of the key elements and a simplicity that makes the game very easy to grasp for someone unfamiliar with all these experience points and statistics. All you really have is strength, agility, hit points, magic points, attack, and defense. Arguably these are the bare minimum required for an RPG, and not at all difficult to handle. The spells are equally easy to understand having names like HEAL, HURT and OUTSIDE allowing for little confusion as to what they do.
The challenge of this game comes from a lack of information. That is not to say that the information cannot be obtained within the game. You begin knowing very little, but after exploring throughout the land and talking to everyone you can you will eventually learn all you need to know to complete the game. This is made possible by perhaps the greatest achievement made by the people at Enix: the English Translation.
Not only is the translation useful and easy to understand, but it does so much to add to the atmosphere. Every bit of dialogue uses archaic language that one might come to expect from Arthurian legends. People speak the way you might expect them to speak in a western fantasy world. They even sometimes have harsh or annoying personalities in their one or two lines of dialogue. One girl says, “I hate people! GO! LEAVE ME!” and you will find a man and a woman waiting for each other on opposite ends of a town wondering why the other is so late. This is a translation that not only helps you solve the game’s riddles, but sets the stage in a way I have not yet seen in any other game or series. Toshiko Watson for translating and Scott Pelland for revising truly deserve much recognition for making what could have been a fatal and all too common flaw of the era into something that makes the game shine to this day.
It is expected for the music to create a game’s atmosphere, especially when graphics may not be able to. Dragon Warrior does not disappoint. Though there are few different bits of music in the game, each one works perfectly. I find myself humming the overland theme when I am walking alone outside. It is just the perfect tune for getting out and exploring. The castle theme is perhaps the best. It sounds regal and important. It really helps picture it as a scene in a big-budget movie.
The graphics are solid and serve their purpose well. Everything represented on the screen is clearly what it is meant to be, although I can’t shake the idea that the characters look like they came from a medieval Lego set. The battle screen graphics are colorful and detailed. It depicts the enemies large and bold, and the landscape is beautiful and has a strangely effective bit of depth to it, even if it is the same one you see anywhere regardless of the terrain.
If you have never played an RPG and are interested in getting into the genre, you can’t find a better place to start than Dragon Warrior on the NES. If you consider yourself a hard-core RPG player and you haven’t completed this game you need to quit being a n00b and play Dragon Warrior! “Your mystical quest begins. Search out the dragon’s lair.”
By Duston Justice