Dragon Quest is supposedly a very influential game. I say supposedly cause it was released a little before my time. The first RPG I actually owned and completed was Pokemon Blue Version, so it’s hard for me to trace the genre back into the eighties. Dragon Quest combined elements from Wizardry and Ultima and simplified the formula to create the first ever JRPG or Japanese Role-Playing Game. It’s a short and rudimentary adventure, but you can see how it inspired future games, from grinding in the field (deliberate monster battling in an effort to level up your character) to staying at an inn to heal up. Kudos to Dragon Quest for creating a formula that has survived for decades. This first game is a very short and sweet romp.
The story is your standard good versus evil. The “Dragonlord” has plagued the land of Alefgard with monsters and wants to rule with an iron fist. Only you, the hero, descendant of the warrior Erdrick, are powerful enough to stop the Dragonlord. The setting is medieval, and the characters all speak quasi-Elizabethan English. The castle of Tantegel is right next to the game’s first town, and after grinding a bit and earning gold, you can upgrade your weapon and armor. There are only a handful of towns in the whole game, and really, only a handful of locations of interest too. Again, this is a pretty basic RPG. I recommend playing with a strategy guide, because some puzzles are not intuitive.
The game opts for a top-down perspective, which allows you to explore a rather large map, which you will have memorized before the game is over. Monster battles are one-on-one, just you versus the monster. You have magic and learn spells, but I found a basic whack of the sword to be the best way to take down pretty much every monster. At no point do you pick up additional party members. That wouldn’t be part of the series until Dragon Quest II. The amount of grinding isn’t so bad. The game sort of forces you to progress across the map in a specific way, and once you get to the right region, the monsters are going to be appropriately leveled.
Graphics are good all things considered. Mind you, this started life as a Famicom/NES game, back when graphics were rudimentary. But the game has gone through several iterations, and the Android version is a port of the mobile version, which has upgraded the eight-bit graphics quite a bit. Perhaps my favorite thing about the visuals is that you play the game in portrait mode, and you can really see a lot of the map at once that way. Music is delightful, but there isn’t very much of it. Controls can be a little frustrating. Because you’re playing on a touchscreen, it’s not always clear if you’re pressing, for example, left or up. Often I’d try to walk into a building and walk right past the entrance, only to try entering through the wall. It’s a minor complaint, but it is a downside to the Android version.
Really, I can’t emphasize enough that Dragon Quest I is simple. It took series like Final Fantasy, Pokemon, and countless others to really innovate the JRPG genre from this first step, but the blueprint of a JRPG is here. You probably can’t beat the game without a guide, but the good news is a guide for the NES version or Game Boy Color version is just as valid as one you might stumble upon for the Android (which I never did). Credit where credit is due: the fake Elizabethan English is really well done, which is surprising considering that Japanese translations can be flawed to this day. I recommend that you play Dragon Quest, if only to see the roots of the genre it defined.