Dragon Quest is a classic JRPG from the nascent stages of video game development. It introduced elements of combat and progression that can still be seen today, let alone its catchy tunes and classic quest to save the world (and princess) from the bad guy. The sequels, Dragon Quest II and III followed this trend with evolutions to its systems and storylines. How does the classic hold up on the Switch? Does it deserve our adulation and celebration? Find out below – this is our Dragon Quest I, II, and III review!
I started by playing Dragon Quest I with the Switch connected to my big-screen television. The first thing I noticed is that the sprites look positively absurd on the large screen. Massive, creepy eyes stared at me from the depths of their dead, accursed souls, with nearly amorphous, pixelated blobs meandering around towns and castles. Monsters looked fantastic on the big screen, as did the 16-bit environments, but I had to go to handheld mode for the sake of my fragile sanity (the eyes… THE EYES!).
Anyway, the sounds and music were slightly updated from the NES classic. Much joy was had in the first few minutes, reminiscing over the countless hours I poured into this series until my wife informed me that the music and sounds were annoying her and I had to turn them off. Some things don’t age well, I’m afraid, and the tinny tunes we grew up on are among them. Nevertheless, I set forth on my adventure with the optimism of a hero and all of the enthusiasm I could muster.
The basic premise for all three games is fairly straight forward. The hero and his or her friends must save the world from a villain of some stripe or another. This entails traveling around the game world, through towns, castles, dungeons, mountains, swamps, and plains, all in search of gold, items, and experience that will empower the characters to defeat increasingly more powerful enemies until the final villain falls to their courageous might. Combat yields said gold, experience, and items, with enemies varying in power and degree of rewards based on region. The open-world concept for the Dragon Quest games was quite bold for the time and holds up compared to other games in the present day.
In going on my adventure, several things became obvious – first, the remastering came with a quick-save function for each of the games, which is a life-saver. It is nice not having to go back to town every time I need to take a break, but the system is designed to simply give you a place to set down the game. Reloading means quitting your adventure, going through the intro screen, before then getting to the quick-load menu (so save-scumming is difficult, even if you had the motivation to do it). Second, some minor changes have been made to some names, chest placement, etc. Nothing too egregious, but enough to notice the difference. Some of the differences make sense, whereas others left me puzzled.
Nevertheless, the mechanics across games remain largely consistent with the original iterations. Action menus in combat look similar to what we’re familiar with, as do spell selections. The difference, however, between where the original Dragon Quests originated in the history of gaming and where we’ve come is stark. Grinding on random battles or hoping to not spawn a random battle because I just want to explore this one forsaken place in peace gets old fast. Complex storytelling, moral dilemmas, and other staples of the contemporary RPG are simply not present in the current game to any meaningful degree.
Overall, the games play well on the switch. The handheld format feels great, and as mentioned above, the graphics are way better on the tablet than the larger television. Movement and menu selection feel natural on the joy-cons, although the games feature no special bonus for using the joy-cons as other games do. The games are lightweight, which might be expected given their low-end graphical nature.
It is a surreal experience melding the new system with old games. Perhaps it’s a comment on what we value as gamers, but having all of the horsepower that the Nintendo Switch offers dedicated to such early games is surprisingly nice – at times. I suppose that’s the theme of this review – Dragon Quest I, II, and III on the Switch are exercises in contradictions. Although great for their time, the stories are lackluster and hackneyed, with flat, stereotypical characters. Similarly, the systems are simple and clean, a breath of fresh air in a world of complex gaming systems, yet those complexities likely arose to increase immersion.
For JRPGs, Dragon Quest I, II, and III are fun with solid, if primitive, RPG mechanics. Albeit with some graphical and other adjustments, the games hearken to a simpler time, while making the experience more palatable for the contemporary gamer. The nostalgia factor and new quick save feature ease the experience, but frequent random encounters and plenty of grinding remind us of why the industry has largely moved away from early RPG designs. This is a great game for those who want to see from where the Dragon Quest series originated, as well as long-time fans of the series. It’s a great game for kids who prefer fantasy without action or parents who want to create a connection between their children and the parents’ own childhood.
A game key was provided for this review.
COMPARE TO: Might and Magic, Wizardry