Dragon Warrior I & II – Second Opinion

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. Rating: 9.0 out of 10