Ups and Downs of the 8-Bit RPG: Dragon Warrior

Dragon Warrior

Nothing I witnessed or read attracted me to Dragon Warrior. The game itself provides little visual appeal, and when I think back to the articles written for it in Nintendo Power, nothing about Dragon Warrior really captured my imagination or got me excited in the way that Ultima: Exodus had. I think my initial seven-year old reaction was that this game looks like a half-assed Zelda with boring text and less action. In the end I think I only played this game because it received so much exposure, whether it was a top ten list, featured articles, or just available in every store that sold games. This game was all over the place and whether I liked it or not, Dragon Warrior was going to be shoved down my throat and slammed into my Nintendo Entertainment System for my viewing pleasure.

Although Dragon Warrior initially did not whet my appetite, my curiosity was piqued enough so that I gave in to advertising pressure and rented the game. Even when I rented the game, nothing about it really wowed me. If anything, after getting a taste of how weak the “club” and “bamboo pole” were I was certainly was left to wonder what it was like when you could actually kill something in one hit. So, despite the lackluster impression Dragon Warrior left, somehow it ended up on my Christmas list and with a little help from Santa, the mediocre Dragon Warrior was all mine.

Most video games at that time not only came with an instruction manual but they usually had some sort of poster either promoting the game or the company that made the game. Dragon Warrior took this one step further. Inside, along with the typical advertisement poster, there was a much larger map of the entire overworld. The map was color coded, highlighting what enemies you could find in certain areas and unveiling the location of all the towns and caves. I believe I spent many moments scanning the map, planning out where I would venture next and imagining what the coolest monsters (like the gold golem and blue dragons) would be like when I actually faced them. Unfortunately none of the cooler monsters were much different from the slimes and ghosts of Dragon Warrior.

Dragon Warrior

With or without the map, the world of Dragon Warrior was not terribly impressive. The landscape was bland and the world was somewhat small which lead to exploration that was not exciting. In fact, there was very little to explore and once you were able to handle the class of enemies in a particular area, it took little time to discover the boundaries of where to go and where not to go.

Unfortunately, the majority of the time invested in this game takes place in the fight menu. This is mainly the case for two reasons. Almost every fight in the game occurs randomly as you travel overland or inside of caves. Although the fights are randomly occurring and you may have long stretches of not fighting anything, more so than not, you end up frequently encountering monsters. I have had several stretches where in three consecutive steps I encountered three fights. During the instances where I actually wanted to get from point A to point B, the random fights became extremely annoying and tiresome.

The second problem with the game is that leveling is vital to survival. As you move from one area to another, you often see huge jumps in the strength of the monsters you face. Since the jumps in difficulty are so drastic, moving on to another area of the overland map usually requires a significant amount of time getting your character on par with the potential opponents. The problem lies in the SLOWNESS of the leveling. The monsters you can handle quickly usually do not give you enough experience. The monsters that are a little stronger you usually can’t kill without significant effort or luck, and even when you do succeed, the reward in extra experience isn’t that great. During my recent attempt to revisit this game, I thought I would be able to level rather quickly with the help of my emulator’s speed boost, but even with the settings at maximum speed, the leveling task was extremely slow and tiresome. Thinking back, I find it astounding that I actually got enough levels to beat the game when I was younger. Talk about a waste of life! On regular speed, the amount of time it takes to get to a decent level (about level 21) must feel like a lifetime.

The Magic?

Dragon Warrior spells

It’s really sad that they made a game that forced you to do so much fighting, yet made the fighting as bland as possible. On top of the fighting being repetitive, the magic is equally boring. I found the majority of the spells close to useless other than the heal spells and sleep spell (which only worked on weaker foes, thus making it also useless later in the game). I take that back, cause I did use “Outside” and “Radiant” whenever I was in dungeons, but I seriously wasn’t shitting my pants with joy when I finally attained either spell. I mean can you imagine? “Oh boy, good thing I got that outside spell; now I am going to go into every dungeon just to cast the spell and leave!” Yeah it’s a practical spell, but the kind of spells that wet my whistle transform you into dragons or destroy entire hordes of enemies with a hailstorm of ice meteors. For most of the game the only real attack spell you even have is horribly labeled “Hurt”, which renders itself useless once you have anything stronger than the copper sword (which can be bought in the FIRST town). They may as well have named it “Slap,” “Gently Injure,” or “Lightly Paw,” because “Hurt” is just as weak-sounding as it gets.

So again… what was so good about this game?

As I began editing and reading through this article I realized there wasn’t much I said that I liked about Dragon Warrior. This started making me dig deeper in to the psyche. What possessed me to actually see this game through to the end? I do remember some extremely boring days in my youth during the summer when school was out. This was before I went to day camp between the ages of 6 and 10. Most often, my mom dropped me and my brother off at our cousins’ house where my two older cousins of high school age were in charge. Both of them liked playing Nintendo and I always brought over games that they didn’t have, like the gem I just talked about. So in answering my original question I think seeing this game through to its end wasn’t done entirely by me. I am pretty sure that my cousins shared some of the burden of getting levels and they may have completed some of the quests. I honestly cannot remember, but even if it was just their presence, I think beating this one definitely required some help.

Dragon Warrior

Arbitrary Rating Time!

Story: D+ (There are bits and pieces, but it’s very basic.)

Fighting system: D+ (It’s too basic; one-on-one fighting gets boring quick, but at least it has menus.)

Magic: D (3 attack spells… enough said!)

Attribute system: C+ (It’s okay but since you only have one character there is little to compare yourself to.)

Potential impact: A (Although I don’t really like much of what Dragon Warrior brings, it is the beginning of an entire RPG franchise.)

Marketing: A (Someone got this part right as we all bought “a bag of goods.”)

Boringness rating: A+++ (Read all about it.)


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Author: George Brandes View all posts by

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