Dragon Quest Review: Doth Thou Wish To Grind?


In the world of RPGs, or role-playing games, there’s a term to describe long sessions of fighting random monsters to get to a high level. I personally enjoy grinding, as I find it a rewarding experience to get strong enough to fight bosses. This mechanic is at the heart of Square Enix’s 1986 JRPG, Dragon Quest. I played it for the first time around three months ago, and I fell in love with the easy-to-learn mechanics, interesting story, and beginner-friendly combat.

But, like any game, it’s not without its flaws.

Introduction: A History of Dragon Quest

Dragon Quest is a confounding piece of video game history. While it’s not as popular in the U.S. as it is in Japan, Dragon Quest launched on the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Famicom (The NES in Japan) in 1986. The game was an instant success, with children and adults the world over playing it.

Dragon Quest as a series grew to be so popular in Japan that a law had to be enacted that banned Square Enix from selling new releases of Dragon Quest games on weekdays, as children were skipping school to buy the games. During the launch of Dragon Quest III in 1989, 300 children were arrested for truancy. And Dragon Quest still has frequent releases to this day, with the latest entry in the series, Dragon Quest XI, being released in 2018.

But what made Dragon Quest so famous and world-renowned? Well, it all began with a man named Yuji Horii and his little pet project, and it soon became the most iconic RPG franchise in history.

Part One: Welcome to the World of Alefgard

When the story begins, you’re sent in the chambers of the King of Alefgard, the ruler of a fictional kingdom. He tells you that you’re the sole descendant of the legendary hero Erdrick, and you have to get the Orb of Light that keeps the forces of darkness in check. How do you do that? Well, you really aren’t given many clues on how to do that, but you acquire clues throughout the game to make things easier to figure out.

Early in the game, you’re meant to do a lot of grinding. At lower levels, some of the scarier monsters like the Dracolyte and Chimaeras can be scary, but once you reach beyond level 10, they’re a complete joke. As you walk around the world map, you visit towns where you can buy better armor, weapons, and sleep in inns to regenerate health. It’s all simple mechanics that translate into an enjoyable and consistent experience.

By far one of the features that I enjoyed the most over the course of my adventure was the Quick Save feature. A Quick Save basically saved your place while you went to do something else, and I really appreciated that. I played Dragon Quest during breaks while doing homework, and having the ability to simply save your progress and turn off the console was super helpful. It’s a simple feature now, but having the ability to save your progress on a 35-year-old game is incredible.

Part Two: Monsters, Monsters, Monsters

In an RPG, one of the most defining features are the monsters you encounter in random battles. The first Dragon Quest has plenty of those. Whether it be the Slimes in the plains outside of the first town, or the Stone Golems in the depths of Charlock Castle, the wide and expansive bestiary provides enough for even the most seasoned RPG fan.

The strongest enemies in the game are located in the depths of Charlock Castle’s final dungeon, only a few steps away from the Dragonlord’s throne. The Stone Golems, which have 155 HP (25 more than the Dragonlord himself), yield high XP and gold, but are difficult to take down, even with the best sword and armor. Slimes, the mascot of the series, die in one hit, and drop a measly gold coin. There’s something for everyone, and it’s perfectly tuned for every area of the map.

Dragon Quest creates plenty of interesting fights, although story boss fights are somewhat lacking. Dragon Quest has only one main story battle: the Dragonlord. Everything else feels somewhat empty, with no real story development being provided. At least in the later sequels, combat was improved and more story was given to the combat.

Part Three: Closing Remarks

So, would I recommend the first Dragon Quest? Well, it depends.

Dragon Quest is not a perfect game. There’s little story, the combat feels a bit dull at times, and the whole game is driven around grinding. If you like a simple turn-based RPG that lets you explore a relatively small map and provides a reasonable challenge, then sure, it’s worth a play.

If you’re someone who plays a lot of JRPGs, along the lines of Final Fantasy or Fire Emblem, then this game isn’t your cup of tea. In terms of overall depth, it’s about as deep as a kiddy pool in story aspects.

But all of my criticisms doesn’t make this a bad game. Dragon Quest is a good way to spend a weekend, combined with the decent exploration and combat. If you’re someone who hasn’t played a JRPG before, and you’re looking to dip your toes into the genre, it’s worth a play.

I first played Dragon Quest on a road trip to North Carolina, and I believe that it’s the game perfect for those situations. Since it’s available on iOS, Android, and Nintendo Switch, it lets you take your adventure with you, which is a plus.

In conclusion, Dragon Quest is a game that is a good way to spend a weekend. With its simple story, easy exploration, and beginner-friendly combat, it lets pretty much anyone pick up an RPG. And to people who are fans of in-depth stories and having an entire in-game continent to explore, this game doesn’t fit the bill.

My personal score of Square Enix’s Dragon Quest on the Eli Moore Scale of Approval is an 8.5 out of 10. While it may not be in depth as something like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it is still a darn-good time.