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Dragon Quest I & II (SNES) artwork

Dragon Quest I & II (SNES) review

"Back in the day, Enix hit on a great idea. For the most part, role-playing games (at least the ones I was playing) were non-linear dungeon crawls like Wizardry and Ultima — where your goal was to collect a certain number of key items and then accomplish whatever it took to beat the game. Sure, these games were fun, but they also could be quite tedious — especially considered that the player would be forced to hover over a pad of graph paper to painstakingly chart every move they made. This facto..."

Back in the day, Enix hit on a great idea. For the most part, role-playing games (at least the ones I was playing) were non-linear dungeon crawls like Wizardry and Ultima — where your goal was to collect a certain number of key items and then accomplish whatever it took to beat the game. Sure, these games were fun, but they also could be quite tedious — especially considered that the player would be forced to hover over a pad of graph paper to painstakingly chart every move they made. This factor also could make such games somewhat confusing and perhaps even inaccessible to many players who were more at home blowing up spaceships or engaging in other more action-oriented pastimes.

So, Enix created Dragon Quest for the NES. Known as Dragon Warrior in the United States, this was a different sort of RPG. The dungeons weren’t three-dimensional mazes, as Enix went for an overhead view to allow for exploring ease. While there still was some degree of non-linearity, you were expected to do a certain number of things in a certain order. Stray from that path and you’d likely find your solo hero in direct confrontation with monsters way too powerful for him to handle.

But don’t get the impression that Dragon Quest/Warrior was nothing more than a novice’s role-playing game for those who struggled with the “real” thing. Maybe you didn’t need a mind for detail to process the information and treasures hidden within the scant handful of towns, castles and dungeons in the Dragonlord-infested land of Alefgard, but you did need a lot of patience. You needed to be able to resign yourself to spending hours fighting the same slimes, drakees and scorpions to gain the necessary money to buy good equipment. Then, you had to spend a few more hours fighting those same monsters to gain a few more levels to become powerful enough to challenge the wyverns, dragons and knights that tended to sprout up as you neared the journey’s end. All in all, this game was one tough quest that required no small amount of patience and persistence — and I loved it.

A bit later, Enix released a sequel. Taking place in a larger world, you controlled three descendants of your initial hero as they quested to prevent the evil Hargon from summoning a destructive demon. Dragon Quest/Warrior II boasted a larger world with many strange lands awaiting you. The trio of heroes under your control had to journey across seas, through towers and caves and to isolated islands in order to find all the items necessary to defeat Hargon and pals — and I loved it.

Alert readers may have noticed that I used the past tense of “love” in talking about these two games. Simply put — I don’t love them today. Both games are quite primitive, even in comparison to the third game in the series. With smallish worlds and a very limited number of places to go, you are stuck spending mass amounts of time mindlessly killing the same monsters over and over and over again until you’re powerful enough to move to the next region. This was a major problem in the first Dragon Quest and was still very noticeable in the second game — especially as you near the end of the game, as the monsters in Hargon’s land of Rhone are far more brutal than anything seen previously. I loved these games (and the original Final Fantasy) when they were released because THERE WAS NOTHING BETTER. After superior games were released, they became relics. They were fun to talk about in a nostalgic manner, but not so fun to play.

But during the age of the SNES, Enix re-released the first two Dragon Quest games in Japan. Boasting enhanced graphics and improved mechanics, this remake made those old games playable again — but did it go so far as to remove the “outdated” label from them?

Once you’ve picked which game to play, you’ll immediately notice that (ala Super Mario All-Stars) the graphics have received a major upgrade. No, you don’t have the fantastic looking monsters with animated attacks featured in Dragon Quest VI, but it is a definite step in the right direction. You especially notice this in Dragon Quest II, as the blank black screen used for encounters has been replaced with actual backgrounds. Overall, this game reminds me of Dragon Quest V on a visual level — it’s superior to the original games, but probably below-average for the SNES.

But that is merely the most noticeable difference — there are many more changes that are far more subtle. Many “regular” enemies used as mini-bosses (such as the princess-hoarding Green Dragon of the first game and the imprisoned Evil Clown of the second) are more difficult to defeat, but worth far more experience and money upon your victory. It also doesn’t seem to be quite as tedious to build up a strong character(s). Sure, you have to stand around and fight at times, but in the SNES version, things do seem to move a wee bit quicker. You can also search drawers and pots to find items, including the attribute-boosting seeds that made their NES debut a bit later in the series. Those invisible pits that made DQ II’s Cave to Rhone so painful for adventurers now become visible after you’ve triggered them, so you don’t have to worry about hitting the same one twice.

On a more negative note, unlike the SNES remake of Dragon Quest III or the Playstation remake of Dragon Quest IV (like the DQ 1 & 2 cart, neither were released in America) these games have no new content. These other Dragon Quest remakes, as well as every new game in the series beginning with the fifth, had bonus dungeons that could only be accessed upon beating the final boss. There’s nothing like that in these two games. They simply are enhanced versions of the NES originals. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, what value does this cartridge have? It all depends in your mindset — after all, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Regardless of any improved graphics or tweaked gameplay elements, the simple truth is that these are two outdated games that likely will be seen as too slow-paced and boring to hold the interest of today’s gamer. With no new dungeons or quests, vets of the series are not going to see anything new and exciting and for anyone who didn’t love the originals, this compilation likely will have no value.

However, as Square and Nintendo have been proving with regularity, there is a market for these classic RPGs. Over the past few years, Square has revamped various old-school Final Fantasy games on multiple platforms, while Nintendo has used its GameBoy Advance to re-release older games such as Breath of Fire and to create newer games with that retro look and feel such as Lufia: The Ruins of Lore.

That in itself gives me a reason to recommend Dragon Quest I & II. It would be a perfect compilation for one who loved these two games and is looking for a trip down memory lane. With updated graphics and a few slight alterations to the gameplay, this cartridge does nothing but improve on two of the patriarchs of the RPG genre. But, as I said, it “improves” on the originals — it doesn’t completely rework them. So, if the thought of stopping to build levels for a couple of hours in a game that’s light on plot and development and heavy on simplistic, repetitive combat doesn’t appeal to you, don’t bother looking at this title. But, if you’re a retro gamer who is a touch masochistic (such as myself), having enhanced versions of these two games in one cartridge is a wonderful thing.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (November 11, 2004)

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

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