I’m a teacher on summer break and recovering from surgery. Therefore, more video game reviews!
Title: Dragon Quest II
Developer: Enix (originally), Square Enix (remaster)
System: iOS, although this same version is now out for Android, Switch, Steam…
Release Date: January 26, 1987
Game Type: JRPG
It’s 100 years since the events of the first game, and now a new evil has surfaced. The descendants of Erdrick join forces to bring peace to the land once more.
This was the first console JRPG with a party system. It was nice to go back to the original feel of the games I grew up with, where you had to explore the world map and talk to everyone in order to figure out where to go next. I found this era helped engage with the story, because if you weren’t keeping track of the story, then you were dead in the water.
Nostalgia aside, this was the first JRPG sequel, and it defined a lot of the Dragon Quest games to come with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. I’ve played a bit of DQXI, and you can easily trace it back to these origins. The same cannot be said for other franchises, which try to redefine everything with each game and end up with mixed results.
When you enter a region that is a bit tough for your party, the game throws a disproportionate number of tough monsters at you. In one region, the “Badboons” were coming at me three at a time for my first 100 or so encounters, and I would initially have to go back to the Inn after every fight to replenish HP and MP. A couple of hours of grinding later, and 95% of my encounters were easier groups of monsters. I could see that getting discouraging for a lot of players who are new to the genre.
The originality is hard for me to judge. On the one hand, the only console-based JRPG before this was Dragon Quest (known as Dragon Warrior in this part of the world at the time), and this is the sequel to it. On the other hand, the PC platform already had Akalabeth, four Ultima games, some Wizardry and Heroes of Might and Magic, only some of which I’m familiar with. I’m much more familiar with the games that came later, and it’s hard to judge effectively when so many of the tropes I’m used to may well have been established here. I’ll try to judge it as a sequel. Compared to the first game, this is a substantial step up. The original world map becomes one continent condensed into part of the world map, with a lot of the same spells and locations, but expanded. We also end up with a three character party and encounters with more than one monster at a time, which change the strategies considerably compared to the first game. The plot is still pretty standard “swords and sandals” stuff, though. Gather your party, collect the five Sigils needed to enter the final dungeon, and kill the bad guy. I give it 4 out of 6.
The story is well told, but not particularly innovative. A lot of “swords and sandals” stories that came before this are pretty comparable, and the series hadn’t yet grown into the engaging side quests we’d see in Dragon Quest IV. (I don’t know when they show up, as I have still never played Dragon Quest III, so I don’t know if they start in 3 or 4.) I give it 3 out of 6.
The graphics are the NES graphics reproduced in higher resolution, for the most part. They hardly push today’s technology, but then again, this is a remaster of a 34 year old game, so that wasn’t really a goal, particularly since it was released in the App store for $4.99US. There’s never doubt about what you are looking at, but the enemies are not animated, your heroes aren’t even visible during battle, etc. The NES game made very good use of its limited cartridge space, but one of the ways it did that was by keeping the cartridge lean with your usual “one piece of art with 18 different colour palettes makes 18 different enemies” approach. I give it 4 out of 6.
The sound is as dated as the graphics, for all of the same reasons. I give it 4 out of 6.
The playability is decent. The NES controller does not adapt well to a touch screen interface, although I suspect it’s better for the menu driven games like this than it was for that Mega Man 2 port that I saw a few years ago. I give it 4 out of 6.
The immersion was there for me, but a lot of that was driven by nostalgia for the era. If you don’t share that feeling, you probably need to love the game genre and/or “swords and sandals” stories to get really engaged. I give it 4 out of 6.
Overall, Dragon Quest II is a nice dose of nostalgia for those of use who played our 8-bit JRPGs, but I doubt it would convert the youth of today if they tried it out. Still, for those of us who have that nostalgia, it’s cheap enough to push all the right buttons for us. I give it 5 out of 6.
In total, Dragon Quest II receives 28 out of 42.