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Dragon Warrior (NES) artwork

Dragon Warrior (NES) review

"While Dragon Warrior can at times be a slow grind fest, the game exudes an atmosphere that is charming, yet filled with hidden dangers and secrets at every turn. It may take several sleepless nights and plenty of pots of Eight O' Clock Coffee to make significant progress, but the rewards are well worth the effort. "

While Dragon Warrior can at times be a slow grind fest, the game exudes an atmosphere that is charming, yet filled with hidden dangers and secrets at every turn. It may take several sleepless nights and plenty of pots of Eight O' Clock Coffee to make significant progress, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

You’ll start your quest fighting slimes, drakees, and ghosts, who barely qualify as monsters with the doe-eyes and smiling faces. They could almost double as pets if they weren’t trying to kill you. While fighting on the over world, you’ll enjoy a peaceful melody titled “Unknown World”, undoubtedly one of the catchiest tunes on the NES. As you bulk up, you’ll eventually encounter more dangerous foes such as magicians, skeletons, bi-pedal wolves, knights armored like tanks, and even fire spewing dragons. Some of the later enemies look so menacing that I was daunted the first time I ran into a bi-pedal wolf with long, sharp claws reaching toward me ready to rip out my throat . Coupling colorful and detailed enemy designs with a first person perspective while engaged in combat suspends disbelief, drawing you further into the game world. You’ll really feel good when you slay your first dragon, especially considering you started out struggling with ghosts waggling their tongues at you. The real icing on the cake is defeating a rare metal slime, a creature worth a mountain of experience points.

Raising levels is quite the tedious affair. However, unlike most RPGs, you can actually tell the difference when you go up just one level. It’s not uncommon for just one level to be the difference between getting owned by a new foe and being able to safely stand toe-to-toe with said adversary. What’s particularly refreshing is how the numbers are kept low. Your character does not have several thousand hit points, nor do enemies dish out several hundred hit points worth of damage. When you can suddenly hit enemies for around 11-15 damage as opposed to 5-7, it really makes a difference. Keeping numbers small and simple makes it easier to see how you are doing as you scale levels.

Most people who critique RPGs lambast the amount of hand holding and strict linearity. While you do have to be mindful of levels and equipment in Dragon Warrior, the game does offer some freedom in terms of how you wish to tackle your objectives. Sure, there is an order in which you are supposed to accomplish tasks, but the game doesn’t force that order on you. For example, if you want to trek all the way to Cantlin Castle, the final haven you will encounter in the game, before you rescue Princess Gwaelin, nothing is stopping you from doing so. One cave is completely optional and contains a fighter’s ring that helps, but isn’t required to finish the game. Garin’s tomb can be completed anytime after finding a key, assuming your levels and equipment are up to snuff. On the flipside, you can’t simply make a beeline toward Charlock Castle (the final area, which ironically can be seen from the start of the game) from the get go, but the game does grant at least some freedom.

The towns themselves are full of lighthearted dialogue and even a little bit of humor, an atmosphere enhanced by the playful melody titled “People.” One particularly nice nugget is Nester from Nintendo Power’s own “Howard and Nester” comic strips makes a debut begging for help. The town of Rimuldar includes a young man and woman yearning for each other, but both are standing around clueless at opposite ends of town. Some towns also contain a few secret passages ready to award trepid explorers. Once you locate a shop that sells keys, you’ll see there is much more to Tantagel Castle than meets the eye. Garinham may look like a small, peaceful village at first glance, but that hamlet houses a dark and dangerous dungeon guarding an important item. Every town has its secrets if you are patient enough to explore every nook and cranny. Doing so is well worth the effort.

Those of you who are turned off by Dragon Warrior’s monotony are really missing out. Yes, it takes a lot of hard work to level up properly and hoard enough gold to buy the best equipment. Those who persevere will be treated to an experience enhanced by excellent monster designs, catchy music, charming villager dialogue, and secrets galore. Dragon Warrior may not be the most fun and exciting RPG, but it sure did a good job of laying a solid foundation for RPGs to come.

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Community review by randxian (August 04, 2009)

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zippdementia posted August 11, 2009:

Did you remove a bunch of reviews or something, Rand? I know you had more than four reviews on the site. I liked some of those, too!

This isn't a badly written review, but it doesn't grab the reader in the way it should. The problem, I feel, is the approach. You keep comparing it to other RPGs when really, Dragon Warrior has already established itself as classic adventure. What we need to know in a modern review is not how the game handles so much as how it holds up. Your review sounds like it's trying to sell the game, but you're a good twenty years late for that. We want to know why we should revisit it and such a review requires that you treat this less like a traditional review and more like either an over-excited send up, an angry bash, or a humourous look at how the game has aged.

The truth is, this is an old game. Most of us remember playing it as children. We know it can't be held up to the same standards as modern RPGs. If it truly can be held up to the same standards, then you need to make that argument and make it stronger and more energetic. Right now it's just taking itself a little too stoically for what it is.
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psychopenguin posted August 12, 2009:

Did he rewrite this review or something? I just read it and I feel he did a fine job of describing it and why it's still fun to play today.
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randxian posted August 15, 2009:

Zipp - Your comments make sense given the audience around Honest Gamers. However, this will be used on a NES website. Believe it or not, some of the newer people who join the NES community have not played a lot of games we consider canon, like Dragon Warrior.

That's why I made it more like a traditional review. However, your comments are still helpful and I will still modify this review at least a bit.

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