25 Years of NES Part 6: Dragon Warrior
As successful, as the NES undoubtedly was there were also a few failures for Nintendo. Dragon Warrior is probably one of the bigger ones of the era for them. Not that Dragon Warrior is a bad game or that is was overall an unsuccessful one. Known as Dragon Quest in Japan, and everywhere else now, the game started a phenomenon there. Well maybe the sequels were the start of the phenomenon, but the point is that the Dragon Quest series is and has been the most popular game series in Japan for a long time. However, all the Japanese success of was reaped by Enix, its creators. Enix did not have an American arm at the time, so Nintendo handled the American release. And the American release was a failure.
There are some very good reasons why the game failed in America. First, it was three years old by the time Nintendo brought it over. Three years is difference between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2. While many people rightly prefer SMB to its sequel, graphically there is no comparison. Also, Dragon Warrior was an RPG, a genre not familiar to the NES audience. Sure Nintendo had success with the more exploration driven Legend of Zelda, but most of the NES’s library was action heavy. Introducing new gaming concepts in an ugly and outdated game does not sound like a recipe for success to me. Nintendo, with all their past success blinding them, put a lot of effort into publishing a game that had passed its sell be date. They made some graphical and mechanical tweaks to make the game more playable and look less old. They clearly put a lot of effort into the top-notch translation, probably due to the high amount of text in the game. It also got a full on Nintendo Power, that much celebrated monthly NES commercial, promotion. But it landed with a thud anyway. Before long free copies of the game came with a Nintendo Power subscription. That is how I got my copy.
I do not know that I can actually recommend that anyone go back and play Dragon Warrior today. It is archaic and simple. There is little there other than a history lesson. However, there is enough charm in the translation and the game is short enough that I do not recommend you avoid it either. The game’s hero, Erdrick, must rescue the Princess Gwaelin from the DragonLord. Like the much-loved Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior gives a quest and leaves you to your own devices as to how to accomplish them. You can see the DragonLord’s castle from the starting point, but it is quite the ordeal to make it there. The game is as simple as RPGs come. Each fight is the hero one on one with whatever monster you are fighting. While you have some spells, you only useful option most the time it to attack. You can buy new armor and weapons, but it is actually easier to just use the stuff you find in the dungeons.
While the story is that generic save the Princess, defeat the bad guy shtick, there are some things that make it interesting. Like the fact that you rescue the Princess about halfw
ay through. You can talk to her at Tantegel Castle. She just needily demands your affection, but constantly rebuffing her is kind of fun. (Dost thou love me Erdrick? No. But thou must) When you finally reach the DragonLord, he gives you the option to join him. Accepting his offer does not end well for the hero, but it is a nice option. Dragon Warrior is simple and not exactly fun, but it is definitely interesting.