Game Description: Back in 1989, Dragon Warrior was one of the first titles to introduce the concept of role-playing games to the world of video game consoles, which was then almost exclusively populated by arcade spin-offs and action games. Now, more than 10 years after its initial release,Dragon Warrior and its first sequel have been spiffed up with enhanced graphics and are now united together on one cartridge for the Game Boy Color.
R-P-G. In the world of video games, not only do these three letters stand for role-playing game, but its mere mention also evokes more loyalty, passion and debate than perhaps any other genre. Though I write that last sentence as if it were common knowledge, I ponder what made RPGs so endearing to me and millions of gamers around the world to begin with. Today's gaming climate—clouded with countless reiterations and hybrids—makes it difficult to recall why the earliest console RPGs were able to capture our hearts and imagination.
Thankfully, after playing through Dragon Warrior I & II on the Game Boy Color, I'm no longer confused. Like a beacon of light, the ground-breaking title that first debuted on the 8-bit NES/Famicom console and now resurrected on the ageless portable system, has shown me the answer: The foundation that RPGs built their success on was realism.
Back in the '80s, when the 8-bit NES was at the height of its popularity, practically all video games were two-dimensional in orientation. Stages were all segmented, linear in design, and players were typically given three lives to play through a game. When Nintendo released Dragon Warrior and introduced the RPG genre to a console system, that all changed. Players could freely explore a vast world at his or her own control and choose which quests to undertake. This was a game in which fighting wasn't solely decided on reflex and agility. Wit, strategy and growth also became factors. For the first time on console system, players could retreat from battles, equipment could be purchased from stores, and players could slowly develop into great warriors. Most importantly, this was a game in which death wasn't sugar coated as some sort of a metaphorical do over. If a player perished in Dragon Warrior, he or she had to suffer the dire consequences of losing progress and precious gold. That element of death enovked a sense of instinctive fear and tension for survival (something largely missing from today's console RPGs), and that's what got me hooked. Dragon Warrior allowed me to see a part of myself in the game.
Of course, creating a sense of realism and engaging a player on that level during those pioneering days was no easy feat. The graphic capabilities of the NES system was not up to the task of producing photo-realistic imagery. The system could only muster up dozens of colors on a limited resolution with little or no detail. In order to compensate visually, developers conceptualized text-based menus to simulate conversations with people, character attributes and carried inventory. Turn-based battle systems were designed to represent the most realistic combat possible. Dragon Warrior shows us that RPGs were fashioned the way they were in order to make up for the inadequacies of the system hardware in the process of trying to create the most realistic gaming experience possible.
So there's bit of irony when you consider today's modern RPGs don't suffer from the same graphical limitations as the developers of Dragon Warrior did, yet they still use the same age-old conventions that were utilized to make-up for old hardware limitations. So are RPGs defined by those old conventions or are RPGs about creating the most realistic experience possible? What is the true essence of role-playing? And what does all of this have to do with my review of Dragon Warrior I & II on the Game Boy Color?
Well if you're an "old-school playa" like me, you don't need me to tell you this title is money. Save the graphical facelift and modern day transitional gameplay tweaks like on-the-spot temporary saves and attribute boosting items aside, this is still the same game you know and love. Enjoying the nostalgic flashback is a given (love the tunes!), but whether you find the experience as refreshing as I did in comparison to today's player-detached, story-driven CG-cluttered RPGs is entirely up to you.
If you're too young to have played Dragon Warrior on the NES or missed the experience during the '80s, and you do decide to give the game a try, I'm hoping youll dwell on these questions as I have. For me to try to convince anyone that Dragon Warrior I & II is worthy of praise based purely on the aesthetics of the gameplay, graphics and sound would be foolish. To appreciate Dragon Warrior for what it is requires the player to go beyond the surface, look a little deeper and buy into the riches of history.
Dragon Warrior is history that can't and shouldn't be ignored. To not acknowledge that would be an injustice to the collective art of video games, and it would also make for a bad review.
To reiterate what Chi said, Dragon Warrior was the first console RPG, a game that sparked an entire genre—in Japan mostly—and led to such industry mainstays as Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star. But I must confess that I missed out on this and future Dragon Warrior releases choosing instead to focus my energies and money on the more familiar action genres. A few years ago, I did try my hands at the original on my NES, but its dated look and clunky user interface sent me running back to my Super NES and Nintendo 64. Ironically, it would take a string of mediocre PlayStation RPGs and a handheld that encapsulated the graphical capabilities of the NES to get me back into the game.
I can see how someone would stay away from this game. It is an ancient game released on a handheld with anything but cutting-edge technology. Also, thanks to its absence from these shores, the Dragon Warrior name does not hold the same mystique as that of Square's Final Fantasy. That said, the fact that it is an NES port is actually in its favor. The graphics and sounds in Dragon Warrior I & II hold up quite nicely next to today's releases like The Legend Of Zelda: Links Awakening and Pokémon, which fare no better on the Game Boy Color's hardware. The soundtrack was particularly well done, but that may reflect my bias since the Dragon Warrior soundtrack is my favorite of any I've ever heard.
The release of Dragon Warrior I & II serves many purposes aside from making more money for Enix. Obviously, it is a wonderful trip down memory lane for older gamers, but it also serves as a history lesson of sorts for newbies and a stark reminder that things haven't really changed that much in the last couple of decades. As a newcomer to the game, I was surprised at how non-linear the game really is. This lead to an adjustment period as I had to get used to being responsible for finding my way. Unlike certain "epic" Square RPGs that shall remain nameless, Dragon Warrior doesn't lead you around by the nose. Make no mistake about it though, I loved every minute of it. I was able to proceed at my own pace, and given that many areas were open for exploration—though increasingly difficult—I was never limited to any one course. When I did happen to come across something of interest (whether it was finding a key to unlock previously locked doors or perhaps a hidden suit of armor), it was far more rewarding. Especially since it was usually the result of my own exploration and "conversations" with the townsfolk and not some single-objective mission forced on players.
This port also comes with changes that may be good or bad depending upon which camp you stand in. Enix has decided to scrap the original translation Nintendo imposed when it published the game, in favor of its own translation—one that stays close to the original Japanese text. The Elizabethan English that many remember has been replaced by good ol' twentieth century American English; also, the original names like Erdrick and Gwaelin have been scrapped in favor of the Enix's original choices, Loto and Lora. One reason given was that the limited memory of the Game Boy Color warranted the shorter names, but Enix has made it known that it was never fond of Nintendo's changes. Perhaps Dragon Warrior I & II should be viewed as Enix's Director's Cut to appreciate these moves.
I also loved having both games packed onto this game pak. Dragon Warrior I was too short to hold one's attention for very long and releasing it alone to today's more sophisticated public would have earned it a fair share of contempt. Part II on the other hand is a far more meaty release. The graphics are improved, the story is more encompassing and the battles require more strategy. It also serves to showcase the changes that Enix brought to the series and to the genre on consoles. Enemies now dropped treasure, torches were no longer needed to explore caves and navigation around towns and caves seemed a lot more natural—not to mention that there were now three members to a party to make battles all the more interesting.
It's no secret that the Game Boy Color has seen its share of NES ports, perhaps to the detriment of the handheld itself. But there have been certain games released to the public that deserve a revival—if only to get a conversation going between gaming veterans and brash newcomers. I think every fan of The Legend Of Dragoon and the Final Fantasy PlayStation releases should pick this title up for nothing more than some perspective. If they did, they'd understand why I am not as taken aback by the high production values and retread storylines of today's RPGs that somehow propel them to the status of "Greatest RPG Ever" by today's gaming public. Unlike with movies and music, there are no mechanisms in place by which old games can be showcased to new generations to help them appreciate how far the industry has come—or has failed to come—since its inception. For now we'll have to make due with ports and rehashes, but as ports go, Dragon Warrior I & II is a significant one.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Mild Animated Violence
Parents, not running out and picking this title up for themselves, have nothing to worry about if its for the toddlers. There are no red flags in the way of sex, gore and profanity. Though I suspect that most kids who got their first taste of an RPGs with Final Fantasy VII, will probably not be too thrilled with what Dragon Warrior I & II offers.
Old-school RPG fans will love Dragon Warrior I & II. Not only is this a blast-from-the-past, but the developers have also gone back and redid the graphics as well as include adjustments in the gameplay to make the game far more playable in today's times.
Contemporary RPG fans should probably stay aware from this one. Despite the updates, many are still not going to be impressed at how this game looks or plays. Dragon Warrior I & II is short on story and long on exploration, character development and battles. Without having a firm understanding and appreciation of where this game is coming from (as I have tried to entail in my review), most gamers will probably be appalled by it.