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Dragon Quest Original Trilogy

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2019


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Switch Review - 'Dragon Quest Original Trilogy'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 9, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

The Dragon Quest Original Trilogy includes three games in one bundle: Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line, and Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation.

Even if you've never played Dragon Quest, you likely know a little about it. When asked what you picture about JRPGs, you'll probably imagine a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy title. Between the dragons, knights, slimes and wizards, the Dragon Quest franchise defined JRPGs. The Dragon Quest 1-3 Collection contains the three NES games: Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line, and Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation. Each game in the collection can be purchased separately, for $5, $6.50, and $12.49, respectively. Being the origin of the genre doesn't necessarily mean that the games have aged well enough to enjoy today, but fortunately, Dragon Quest is timeless.

Early on, Dragon Quest follows a tried-and-true formula: A bad guy is threatening the world, and you have to stand against it. Along the way, you'll meet wacky characters, evil villains, and discover the mysterious secret of 'ze puff-puff. All three games in the Dragon Quest collection are somewhat predictable, but that is tempered by the fact that they're the basis for many games that followed. It's hard to be surprised when you've seen a dozen copies of it.

One thing that makes Dragon Quest different from Final Fantasy is that it's very silly and charming. There's still a plot, but there are many bits of humor and silliness. It also helps that Akira Toriyama's art style lends itself to comedy as well as it does to action. The early games are also far less focused on the characters, relying instead on the various towns and villages to carry the plot with their own stories. It feels simplistic but also comforting and nostalgic.

The first game in the Dragon Quest series quite literally began the modern JRPG, and many things that are now synonymous with JRPGs were born here. As such, you can expect pretty basic games. You have one (or more) characters, and you and the enemy take turns hitting each other and casting spells until one falls. You go into dungeons, get better gear, advance the plot, and eventually emerge victorious from boss battles. These are now quintessential JRPG elements, and you know what to expect.

The positive is that all three games are extremely accessible. The first game is about as bare-bones of an RPG as you can get, while the second introduces party members, and the third offers customizable classes for your characters. If none of this sounds confusing, it's because these are modern standards for games, and you probably don't even need a tutorial for them. If you've ever played an RPG, you can probably pick up Dragon Quest 1-3 without needing to glance at a manual.

The downside is that the games are simple. Even with modern updates, the titles feel dated. The menus are a touch awkward, the exploration is unclear, difficulty spikes come from nowhere, and there's little flexibility to the characters or builds when compared to later Dragon Quest games. No amount of polish or updated visuals can change the fact that these games are from the earliest days of the JRPG genre. If you have a tolerance for these things, then it shouldn't be an issue, but if you lack the patience for such nostalgia, it may be far easier to get into a modern Dragon Quest than an old one.

Simplicity isn't necessarily the same as easy, though. Dragon Quest isn't a punishing series, but the early games have a lot of the NES difficulty. A few levels can be the difference between victory and defeat, and grinding is expected, especially early in the game. Finding out where to go is also a genuine challenge because the games don't have clear instructions. You have to talk to NPCs, puzzle out some obtuse clues, and occasionally wander around. They're more non-linear than the later Dragon Quest games; it's neat but can have you running for an online FAQ to figure out where to go.

Thankfully, the versions of Dragon Quest 1-3 used for the collection are some of the more modern versions. They have a lot of small quality of life features, like improved item storage and sorting, simple button-press checking rather than using a menu, various difficulty tweaks, and general design improvements to make them feel more modern. They're still dated but not nearly as dated as the NES originals, and it makes them far easier to play in modern times.

The early Dragon Quest titles are still worth playing to this day because they were genuinely well designed. The first game has aged, but there's something comfortably engaging about it. It's no longer an epic that will dominate your life, but it's a fantastic game to pick up and play for short periods of time. The second game is the weakest link of the trilogy, introducing more mechanics that it sometimes stumbles over. Dragon Quest III is an easy contender for best RPG on the NES, and it remains an incredibly engaging, if simple, JRPG to this day. If you only picked one title from the trilogy, then Dragon Quest III is easily the best of the lot.

Dragon Quest 1-3 have all been given a visual makeover, updating the NES sprites to something more akin to a mix of modern mobile games and SNES-era sprites. It's not quite the same as the Super Famicom release, but it's close. I'm torn about the visual update. Some of the new artwork is nice and looks better in motion than it does in screenshots, but it's unavoidable to compare it to the much more engaging 2D Mode in Dragon Quest 11, which does a significantly better job of capturing the old-school Dragon Quest feeling than the actual old-school Dragon Quest titles. It does an acceptable job and makes the games fairly clean and accessible, but the visual update isn't particularly great.

The Dragon Quest 1-3 Collection is a solid, if bare-bones, port of the JRPGs that started it all. The games are nostalgic trips down memory lane mixed with some frustrating relics of video games of yore. If you've ever wanted to experience where it all began, this is the best way to do it. Since this collection was released at the same time as Dragon Quest XI S, it's tough to recommend it over the new hotness. Sometimes, though, you just want to sit down and slip into a comfortable classic, and Dragon Quest is made for that.

Score: 7.0/10

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