Readers were polled asking which game I should review next, and this came out on top.
Title: Dragon Quest
Developer: Enix the first time, Matrix and Square Enix for this mobile edition
System: Mobile (iOS and Android) currently priced at $2.99 US
Release Date: May 27, 1986 in Japan as Dragon Quuest for the Famicom, August 1989 for North America as Dragon Warrior on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and September 11, 2014 as Dragon Quest for mobile devices, which is the version used for this review.
Game Type: RPG
The plotline is pretty straightforward. You play the descendant of a legendary hero. (We know that’s who you are, because you find something that used to belong to him late in the game after a villager tells you exactly where to find it, and that’s proof enough for all.) You need to fulfil a prophecy, saving the princess and defeating the evil Dragonlord to make Alefgard great again.
This began an entire genre of games that I love.
While the success of this title sparked off a fad I love, this particular game does not age as well as I had hoped.
There is little originality in the script for this game. It’s a pretty by-the-numbers fantasy story. I’d call it an epic, but it’s too short for that. It’s a collection of tropes with little to set it apart from the pack. The medium for this Dungeons and Dragons style story was original in its day, since adventures on this scale were the domain of the personal computer where you have a keyboard for input, and not of the home video game console with its limited controller. I give it 3 out of 6.
The story is interesting, if cliche and predictable. It fails because we want to be the hero of legend. There are no side quests to be found. People tell you what Erdrick did in the original legend, and then what prophecy predicts his ancestor will do. Only after they have told you such things do we know we need to do them, so if you play from the perspective that your character is an impostor using the prophecy as a template, nothing will happen that contradicts your premise. You have some control over the order in which you complete some of the tasks, but the only “optional” elements are in upgrading your weapons. Given that the Ultima franchise was five games deep (counting Akalabeth) and had already moved past that point, it’s hard to dismiss that issue by saying it was just early for the genre. The story is interesting, and I did want to see it play out, but there are really no surprises here. I give it 4 out of 6.
The graphics were good at the time, and the mobile app reproduces the original feel and design in higher resolution. Your hero (whatever you name him) appears in higher resolution for mobile than his original counterpart, but they captured the feel of the NES edition quite nicely. It’s hard to count that against a nostalgia title. Your options are to give it a complete overhaul (a la the mobile versions of Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV, which replace the 8 and 16 bit sprites and text with polygons and voice acting) or to try to mimic the original. They went for slight upgrades that give the impression of mimicry without looking painfully low resolution on modern screens, which is what I consider to be the “right” choice. I give it 5 out of 6.
The sound, like the graphics, accurately reproduces the feel of the original. By the same logic, I give it 5 out of 6.
The playability of this game was its greatest issue in 1986. In its first incarnation, if you wanted to speak to someone, you had to face them, open the menu, navigate to “speak”, and then the conversation would begin. Similar steps were needed to climb stairs, open doors, search your vicinity, etc. All of those actions have been replaced with a single context appropriate tap. The replacement of the physical control pad with a virtual control pad on screen is a little cumbersome, but that’s hard to avoid coming from the NES era to iOS touch screens. I found it a bit frustrating for the first hour of gameplay, but it was effortless by the time I reached the end. I give it 3 out of 6.
The immersion is hard to achieve. It’s a top down scroller that represents battles with an image of the creature you face appearing in the middle of the screen. Those images are not animated, although the backgrounds do reflect the environment you are in. Add to this the almost painfully predictable story, and the game I loved as a child just feels somewhat bland today. I give it 3 out of 6.
Overall, this is a historically important game, but it’s much shorter than I remember, and it simply doesn’t age very well. If you are nostalgic for the original, it’s cheap enough to warrant checking out, but if you don’t have that nostalgia, I’d be surprised if this engages you. I give it 4 out of 6.
In total, Dragon Quest receives 27 out of 42.
Based on reader votes, the next game to be reviewed will be the iOS version of Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. That will have a much greater turnaround time, based on the fact that it’s a larger game, and one I’ve found far more challenging when I’ve tried playing it in the past.