Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Role-playing games have gone through a remarkable progression of quality, popularity, and cultural relevance. With the advent of the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game), titles like World of Warcraft are now household names, and the often-derided “geek” title is carried with a bit more pride and respectability.
This was not always the case, however, as the RPG genre underwent growing pains in its early days, especially on console gaming systems. While the original digital role-players were on personal computers, once video games made the successful jump from arcade to homes in the 1980’s, people now had the opportunity to spend more time with a single game.
On the Nintendo Entertainment System, most other genres were preferred, but all were trying new things and the RPG scene was no exception. Some cartridges immediately fell into subpar obscurity, while others like Final Fantasy became classics that spawned many sequels on successive systems afterward.
Another franchise that was born on the NES was Dragon Warrior, a classic in Japan that hopped overseas and made a big splash with its classic medieval fantasy setting and “ye olde English” flavor.
All of the necessary ingredients for a role-play was there, with an item inventory, equipment that include weapons and armor, dungeons, a variety of monsters, expansive town environments, a compelling storyline, and more.
However, it may have had just a little too much influence from its earlier text-based counterparts. For instance, to travel up or down a set of stairs, most games just require you to move the character onto the stairs. Not so for Dragon Warrior: You have to stand on the stairs, bring up the menu, move the cursor to “Stairs” and select the option. These instances of over-menu are seldom, but still annoying enough to keep it from being a pristine, perfect experience.
Evaluating the graphics of a game like Dragon Warrior is an intriguing, challenging proposition. The situation is that, although the actual looks are fairly basic and neither outstanding nor terrible, they are actually excellent for the intended experience and can be considered pitch-perfect for its setting. Overall, this is how it must be judged, as a game that does not look spectacular but does look perfectly appropriate for its intentions.
The soundtrack is definitively rpg-like, with brooding or joyous melodies providing atmosphere for the various areas traveled in, and the effects limited to battle noises and cursor clicks. In the end, it is the same story as the graphics, with sounds that will never be considered among the greats of all time, but that serve their purpose well and do not negatively detract from the immersion.
Creativity and Innovation
Much of the elements of the game seem very cliche: The medieval fantasy world for an rpg, the main knight character, the damsel-in-distress princess, the dragons, dungeons, etc. A few noteworthy inclusions, though, would be the magic armor that heals the character as he walks in it, some puzzles that revolve around specific coordinates to find in the overworld, and a great twist near the very end of the game that should strike surprise into any first-time Dragon Warrior venturers.
Dragon Warrior is a classic NES rpg, and its success is proven not only by games still being released (Dragon Quest line) that were inspired by it, but also by the amazing feat of releasing three entire other sequels for the NES. It is far from perfect, with average appearances and perhaps too steep of a difficulty level without using a guide, but for providing an engrossing role-experience and being an outright classic on its own merits, Dragon Warrior gets four stars out of five.
Other classic 8-bit role-playing video games for the NES are available to browse their reviews at NintendoLegend.com.