Dragon Warrior II (NES) review
"Without those rose-colored memories, what we're left with is a decent older RPG that was a marked improvement on the first Dragon Warrior, but more than merely a step behind the third and fourth NES installments. I've played through those two games multiple times. When I picked up Dragon Warrior II a year or two after initially beating it, I think I got about halfway through before losing interest."
There's probably a moment of epiphany in everyone's gaming life when they experience something in a particular genre that causes a light bulb to go off above their head as they exclaim, "Whoa! This is pretty damn awesome! I'm going to have to find more games like this!" Over the past 15 or so years, I've probably put more hours into various RPGs than any other genre and Dragon Warrior II deserves much of the credit (or blame, depending on my mood) for this for that very reason.
This was about the third console RPG I'd ever played. The initial Dragon Warrior was different than anything I'd played before, but in reality, was more a battle of attrition than anything else. I did a lot of level-grinding and a little bit of exploration. Nowadays, I remember little about any of the game's dungeons, but I can vividly recall running in circles around towns to fight monster after monster after monster. Next up was Ultima: Exodus, which provided me with many hours of running around aimlessly, occasionally achieving something by pure dumb luck. While both games did have their moments, neither of them could be accused of sowing the seeds for nearly 20 years of love for RPGs.
That task was accomplished by Dragon Warrior II for one specific moment in time. The first few hours of the game came off as a kinder, gentler version of the first game. I had to grind, but not for as long. Gradually upgrading from a solo hero to a three-person party gave me additional diversity and power in battle, making it easier to get through fights with the main challenge involving becoming durable enough to endure multi-floor dungeons. Things were pretty linear, as I explored my home continent and then traveled to another via a cave in order to gradually work my way around it. At the end of the road, so to speak, was a town where I saved a maiden from a few monsters. That was the turning point.
As a reward for my good deed, I was given a ship and the game's linearity essentially dissipated into thin air. I had no set destination other than "somewhere I haven't been yet" and I don't even remember if my copy came with a map to direct me to these new places. I do know that the game's instruction book didn't include a walkthrough for much of the game like Dragon Warrior III's did. Therefore, I was essentially sailing blindly, much like a more heroic version of Christopher Columbus, and I loved it. I found a smaller replica of the land I'd explored in Dragon Warrior, as well as many places where I pretty much had to pray I could survive/escape the first enemies I encountered after one round of battle decisively showed me I wasn't strong enough for that challenge. Making my way through the rest of the game involved a lot of trial and error and careful exploration to find well-hidden locations. It was a pretty fun run that culminated in some of the series' toughest challenges.
Such as the cave that took me to Rhone, the final region of the game. This place completely justified my subscription to Nintendo Power, as one issue of that magazine had a map that showed the path I'd have to take to get through a particular room littered with invisible pits. Following this was a maze which was simplicity itself if you knew which way to go. If not...enjoy spending a good amount of time wandering down a bunch of corridors that all look the same. When I finally reached Rhone, I found myself locked in combat with a number of monsters far tougher than just about anything I'd faced until I reached the main villain's castle and its boss rush, which includes a very nasty surprise for the unexpecting player. It's not often that words like "exhilarating" and "thrilling" can legitimately be used in describing a slow-paced turn-based RPG, but to me, the final stages of Dragon Warrior II earned those accolades, as I found myself pulling out all the stops to defeat boss after boss while hoping that I'd have enough magic left for one more fight.
Sadly, complementing a game for the joy of searching a vast world can be best described as me complementing a game for something because it was the first of many in which I got a ship and the freedom to explore. Just a couple weeks ago, I was handed a ship in Tales of Vesperia. I simply shrugged my shoulders and took off for my next destination to keep things moving along. When I was younger, this freedom amazed me. Now, I expect it and feel a certain amount of disappointment when a game DOESN'T give it to me. My favorite thing about Dragon Warrior II is a personal memory of something being cool -- not something tangible that I can wholeheartedly recommend to others.
Without those rose-colored memories, what we're left with is a decent older RPG that was a marked improvement on the first Dragon Warrior, but more than merely a step behind the third and fourth NES installments. I've played through those two games multiple times. When I picked up Dragon Warrior II a year or two after initially beating it, I think I got about halfway through before losing interest. It just lacks that certain hook a game needs to prevent me from getting stuck in a rut just running around mindlessly while tapping the attack button like a robot during fights. Dragon Warrior III had a class system and a world which interestingly paralleled our Earth. Dragon Warrior IV followed multiple characters over a five-chapter plot. They both had larger worlds and more places to go, but didn't feel longer, as things moved at a faster pace.
As for Dragon Warrior II, well...it's hard to look at it as more than a bridge between the first and third games. There were a lot of good steps forward. Dungeon corridors were larger and I didn't have to repeatedly cast a stupid light spell in order to see where I was going. There were many more places to go than in the first game and they had a more varied appearance. The bestiary contained more monsters, there were more weapons and spells and just about everything was bigger and better. The only notable cut was the appearance of battles, as the background graphics of the first game were replaced by empty darkness. Pretty much all of these things continued to be improved on for the third and fourth games, making this one somewhat obsolete.
Back in the day, I'd have called this a required purchase as it's a decent game and RPGs weren't exactly released on a regular basis during the lifespan of the NES. But now? It's not much more than a gift for someone who wants to complete their collection of Dragon Warrior/Quest games. At least it came along at the right time to give me one of my most enduring gaming memories, though!
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 19, 2011)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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