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Dragon Warrior III (NES) artwork

Dragon Warrior III (NES) review

"Let’s face it — Enix’s Dragon Warrior III doesn’t get off to the most riveting start. Proving that plot devices aren’t necessary to kick off a quest, your gallant (and anonymous) hero is called into service to save the world from demonic powerhouse Baramos because......well, your father was this brave hero who’s come up missing in his attempt to save the world and you’re apparently everyone’s choice to finish the job he started. "

Let’s face it — Enix’s Dragon Warrior III doesn’t get off to the most riveting start. Proving that plot devices aren’t necessary to kick off a quest, your gallant (and anonymous) hero is called into service to save the world from demonic powerhouse Baramos because......well, your father was this brave hero who’s come up missing in his attempt to save the world and you’re apparently everyone’s choice to finish the job he started.

Never mind that your hero apparently has never stepped foot beyond the safe walls of the castle-town of Aliahan with any sort of weapon and seemingly never has even held a summer job (you need to be given your initial supply of gold) — there’s a job to be done and you’re the person to do it! To make matters worse, you don’t even get a “real” group of assistants on your quest — the game requires that you create a trio of generic guys and gals at one of the Aliahan establishments. While there are a goodly number of classes, ranging from muscular soldiers to wise wizards, none of these folks are going to have any sort of plot importance, so you’re pretty much stuck with one real character and three who are essentially only in the game to offer help in combat.

The initial stages of your quest, as is the par with most of the NES Dragon Warrior games, move slowly. It likely will take you a couple of experience-building expeditions before you venture far enough beyond the walls of Aliahan to find the nearby village of Reeve. Play a while longer and buy some superior weaponry and you’ll be ready for your first dungeon. Eventually, you’ll earn the right to leave your home continent and start exploring the vast world. This process is not a quick one, nor is it an exciting one — making the initial few hours of this game a fairly tedious experience.

And then Dragon Warrior III shifts into gear. In a genius move, Enix based the game’s world on Earth (for the most part — your home continent doesn’t correspond to any real-life land mass, unless it’s a inhabited and non-polar Antarctica). For my young and imaginative brain, this was pure heaven, as nearly every location on your hero’s planet has some connection to our planet (even if it’s merely that the name of a location gives the impression that it was derived from its real-life region). As you leave your home continent, you find yourself near the Italian city of Rome....I mean the Dragon Warrior city of Romaly. A wee bit later, you’re fighting bandits in the Tower of Shanpane, a take on the word “champagne”, which makes sense as it’s located in the vicinity of our France.

Later, you’ll journey through a mummy-infested pyramid in the game’s version of the Sahara desert, save the inhabitants of a Japanese village (“cleverly” named Jipang) from a horrible shape-changing beast and chat with the indigenous peoples of a Native American village. All previous NES RPGs had taken place in entirely fictitious worlds — the similarity between this game’s world and ours gives a certain illusion of reality which I found fascinating.

I also found it intriguing how the game did seem to pick up its pace after I finally got away from Aliahan Castle and my hero’s homeland. As soon as you step foot in Romaly, you’re quested by that land’s king to find his stolen crown. From there, you are off on a whirlwind journey that takes you through DW3’s version of the Old World. Find the king’s crown and you gain access to Asia and Northern Africa. Eventually obtain the exotic pepper for the King of Portoga (Spain) and you gain a ship which gives you access to a LOT of places. Some of these locales will play host to a new quest of some sort — others are mere waystations, offering little more than clues, weapons to purchase or items secretly hidden in a flower bed.

Continue to journey and you’ll find a great shrine where you may change the classes of any of your party members. If your wizard has learned all of his available spells, make him one of the more physical classes. He’ll still have all his spells (although with fewer points to cast them with), but now will be able to grow as a powerhouse with access to great armor and weapons. If you’re able to find a certain mystical book, you’ll get access to the awesome sage class, which learns virtually all magic spells and makes a few of the game’s initial classes obsolete.

And that’s not all..... At some point, you’ll be inspired to create a merchant (one of those classes that just isn’t all that appealing to utilize as a party member) in order to create your own city. Come back to this new town repeatedly and you’ll watch it grow and prosper as your former vassal becomes a greedy, power-hungry lout. Find a staff which allows you to change your shape — just the thing to let you blend in with the human-hating elves of one village. Use ingenuity to find out the secret of the hostile king of one nation and to get past the front gates of a different castle populated by snobbish British-types that have no intention of letting members of the unwashed masses (like yourself) through the gates. Watch day turn to night and back again. Many towns because completely different after dark, as merchants head indoors (or open up shop in a couple of cities) and those residents still awake may have new information for curious adventurers.

Eventually, you’ll run out of places to explore, meaning it is finally time to destroy the evil Baramos. While the journey to reach the foul beast is an epic one, with you traveling through a brutally tough cave before enduring the confusing maze-like abode of the demon, you’ll soon find out it is not your final trip. With victory in your grasp, a new threat announces its presence, forcing you to find a portal to.....Alefgard, the world of the original Dragon Warrior (You could call this a spoiler....but when the thick instruction book/strategy guide that comes packaged with the game spills the beans, why should I keep my mouth shut?)

And that’s when you realize just how vast the world of Dragon Warrior III is. You not only have an initial area that is much larger than that of Dragon Warrior II, but then, the massive continent of the series’ first game is thrown into the mix. While Alefgard seems to be drawn on a slightly smaller scale than in the initial game (but much, much larger than it was in DW II), you’ll find there still are plenty of places to go and things to do. Whether you’re seeing what the village of Haukness was like before incurring the Dragonlord’s wrath or delving into some of this dark world’s massive dungeons, you’ll find your mightiest challenges here. This new world also offers the resolution to several storylines — both tying up loose plot ends in the “Erdrick trilogy” of games as a whole (DW 1-3) and allowing your hero to find out just what his father’s fate was.

While Dragon Warrior III wasn’t the first RPG game released in America, to me, it was the first truly epic game. With two separate worlds, both loaded with places to visit, it seems at times like you have an unlimited amount of exploring in front of you. While the graphics and sound are of the same primitive style noticeable in all the NES Dragon Warrior games for the most part, the monster designs are quite creative. Multiple types of dragons confront you, as do drooling trolls, masked thugs, gigantic statues, four-armed skeletons and many more.

With nearly no plot development or meaningful dialogue (but PLENTY of combat), Dragon Warrior III won’t be for everyone. A game such as this holds its greatest appeal for those who gain pleasure simply by journeying across vast continents and sailing across deep blue oceans in search of new towns, dungeons and monsters. For those who look at constant random battles as a blessing, rather than a curse — as the more you fight, the more powerful you become — Dragon Warrior III is a classic. If you fit that description and can endure a painfully slow start, this game will be well worth the effort it takes to beat.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (October 06, 2004)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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