Posted on September 24, 2018
Dragon Quest I & II (Dragon Quest 1)/ドラゴンクエストI・II (ドラゴンクエスト1)
Dragon Quest is the game that essentially birthed the entire JRPG genre. Originally meant to be Japan’s answer to Ultima, Dragon Quest became a cultural phenomenon in Japan. Looking back, Dragon Quest is a very simplistic game – You control one character, you have a level cap of 30, there is very little equipment, monster variation is scarce, and the entire point of the quest boils down to “Save the Princess and defeat the evil Dragon Lord”. While that might not sound like such a grand adventure nowadays, this type of game was unseen at the time of its release in 1986.
The version of Dragon Quest 1 that is included in the SFC Dragon Quest 1 & 2 remaster is a vastly upgraded version of the original Famicom/Nintendo version. New graphics, higher EXP and Gold rates, clearer sound, and better animations make the Dragon Quest 1 & 2 version of Dragon Quest 1 the definitive version of the game, in my opinion. Let’s find out why!
Score – 28/40
Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 7/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 6/10
Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Turn-based)
Platform: Super Famicom
Release Date: JP: December 18th, 1993
Length: 10～15 Hours
Table of Contents
Dragon Quest 1 SFC/SNES Review
The influence that Dragon Quest has had on the JRPG genre is unmistakable. While many people will probably argue that Final Fantasy is the reason that JRPGs are the way they are today, Dragon Quest is the reason why JRPGs on the original FC/NES and SFC/SNES became what they did.
Dragon Quest is a very basic game when you look at the big picture. You walk around the world fighting monsters 1 on 1, leveling up to get stronger to explore further in the world. You go around the world in search for 3 artifact items that are needed in order to be able to reach the castle of the evil Dragon Lord, who is responsible for all of the monsters roaming around the world.
Looking at it today, one might mistake it for a few hours of work by some indie dev, but this game was a massive adventure for anyone playing it back when it was released. Let’s dissect the game section by section and see how it holds up!
Check out my review for Dragon Quest 2 here while you’re at it!
This section is going to be short by default due to the fact that pretty much, Dragon Quest has only a few story elements to it. The premise of Dragon Quest is as simple as things can possibly get in an RPG – Save the princess and defeat the Big Bad. Along the way there is some brief backstory, but it’s really brief.
You begin as the descendant of the great hero Loto (Erdrick in the English versions of the game) who had previously saved the world from evil. The King of Ladutorm Castle pleads to the player to bring back his kidnapped daughter, Princess Lola, and to defeat the evil Dragon Lord in the nearby, but currently unreachable castle. As Loto’s descendant, you need to retrace Loto’s footsteps and gather artifacts that will prove your lineage and allow you to make your way to the castle of the evil Dragon Lord to restore peace to the world once again, while saving Princess Lola along the way.
That is honestly pretty much the entire story. You can’t expect too much from a genre-creating game, especially one from the mid 80’s! One interesting thing is, even though the King requests that you bring back Princess Lola, it seems as if you can actually complete the game without saving her! If you just head straight to the Dragon Lord’s Castle without fighting the optional Dragon monster in one of the caves, you can completely skip out on saving the princess.
Anyone looking at this story nowadays would probably get pissed off and demand a refund if they bought the game, but looking at this story within the time-frame that the game was released, this was actually a pretty exciting adventure for most players! Therefore, my “Story” score is going to be based on the the fact that this kind of story didn’t really exists on consoles during the time of the game’s release.
The graphics in the SFC remake have been vastly improved from the original. The game seems to be running on the Dragon Quest V engine, or at least something very similar. That being said, the graphics are still quite simple for a December 1993 release. Nothing groundbreaking here, but definitely a step up from the original FC version.
Environments are bright and colorful. The tilesets used in towns aren’t too varied, and dungeons look mostly the same, except for a little variation in color. The overworld consists of 8 different tile types – grass, forests, hills, mountains, deserts, swamps (poison damage on contact), barriers (damage on contact), and water. This might seem like a low number, but thinking back to when the game was originally released, i’d say this was a decent enough variation.
Dungeons are pitch black upon entering. If you use a torch or cast a light spell, you’ll be able to see only the immediate vicinity of your character. This means that for the most part your screen will stay black, but I guess it does sort of add to the atmosphere of old RPGs.
A new addition in the SFC version of the game is environmental backgrounds while fighting. The original Dragon Quest had a plain black background during battles, but the SFC remake has different backgrounds depending on what tile type you were standing on before the battle. Battles that take place on a forest tile will show a woodland background, while battles that take place on a desert tile will have a desert background. These look nice enough, and they bring a bit more immersion to the game.
Enemy sprites also look nice. They aren’t super detailed, and most monsters have 2-3 recolored sprites, which means the actual variation in monster types is quite low compared to other games of its time (in regards to the SFC version, but since its a FC remake there’s not much they could do about it).
Magic effects are very basic in Dragon Quest 1. Your typical fire spell just lights a very small flame under enemies. Spells that are cast outside of battle don’t have any type of animations, except for your teleport spell. I believe the original FC versions didn’t have spell animations, so I guess its still technically a step up from the original.
This will also be another short section, as Dragon Quest 1’s gameplay is very bare-bones. You’ll basically be killing monsters to level up and get money to buy better gear, which lets you move a bit further away from town until you reach the next town, where you’ll have to fight more monsters to get more levels and gold. This process repeats until you’re strong enough to eventually defeat the final boss of the game.
Now, while one could argue that every single RPG plays like this at its core, Dragon Quest especially focuses on this type of content flow. There’s no optional quests, no mini-games or anything else to spend additional time on. Your only purpose is to level up, get the best gear you can get, move to the next town and rinse and repeat until you make it to the last town.
All character progression is pre-determined, but seems to be based on your character name. There’s no customization to be had, no way to really cheese the game (except for using the Sleep spell against everything), as well as no way to really get “overpowered” besides just over-leveling. I was able to beat the game at level 21, out of a level cap of 30. Most people seem to be able to beat the game anywhere from level 18 to 22.
The final stretch of the game forces you to simply grind until you level up high enough to beat the Dragon Lord. I didn’t run from any monsters, and actually killed 2 or 3 metal slimes throughout the main storyline, but I still go stuck grinding for an extra 2 or 3 hours before I was able to finally defeat him. This is just an example of “Nintendo Hard” and was most likely added to pad out the game a bit so that it didn’t end up being only 5 hours long.
Overall, Dragon Quest 1 is truly as basic of a JRPG as you’ll probably be able to find. Level up and buy the best equipment you can, all while completing your assigned fetch quests until you’re able to make your way to the last boss, which will either annihilate you or die before you know it depending on if you fight him at level 17 or wait until level 18.
Understanding that the game is already 30+ years old should allow for a bit of lee-way when judging the ultra-simple gameplay, but there are still many JRPG fans today that would love for the genre to return to its simple turn-based roots. The “Gameplay” score will be based off of how this game would have been appreciated at the time of the original Famicom release in 1986, not when compared to other 1993 SFC JRPGs.
The music in Dragon Quest 1 is a big step up from the original FC version. While lacking a wide variety of tracks, the quality of the instrumentation in the game saves the OST, in my opinion. Considering the game is very small and has only a few different locations, you’re bound to hear the same songs played over and over again which can eventually eat away at you, but overall the soundtrack is okay.
First, we’ll start with the song that every Dragon Quest player will have already heard.
Next is the song you’ll hear in basically every single town.
Lastly, the song you’ll hear way too many times while you have to grind out those last few levels in order to stand a chance against the last boss…
That’s really all there is to it. I know that original FC carts had super limited space, but an 8 track OST with 2 of those tracks being battle tracks leaves very little room to work with in a ~10 hour game, especially with each track averaging 2 minutes.
The OST is definitely not the strongest part of the game. While each track on its own is decent, the fact that they just get repeated over and over again starts to make you get a bit sick of them after a while. Specifically listening to all 8 songs at once on the OST is a good idea, but sitting through the OST in-game is a different story…
East vs. West
The SFC version of Dragon Quest 1 & 2 never came to the west, but we did get the eventual Gameboy Color version. While the Gameboy Color version is different than the old Dragon Warrior 1 and 2 that we did get in the west, i’ll go over some basic differences between the old Dragon Quest and Dragon Warrior versions.
- The main hero’s name is Loto (ロト) in the Japanese versions, but Erdrick in the Western versions.
- Overall, the graphics differ in the Japanese and English versions, both character sprites and environments.
- Enemies in the Japanese versions have a much more child-friendly and cute look to them. The enemies in the original Western versions of the game had a bit more of a serious look to them, resembling stuff you’d have seen in WRPGs/CRPGs of the time.
- The SFC version of the game includes graphical environmental backgrounds during battles.
- The original versions of the game showed swamps as green tiles, but these have been changed to purple in the SFC version
- EXP and Gold rates have been increased in the SFC version, which eases the late-game grind
Should you play it?
Anyone looking to replay a different version of Dragon Quest or even get into the series for the first time should give the Dragon Quest 1 & 2 remake version of Dragon Quest a shot. As I stated at the beginning of the review, I believe the SFC remake is the definitive version of Dragon Quest 1. While the difficulty has been nerfed a bit, I think the late-game grind originally just padded out the length of the game by a few unnecessary hours, so I personally think it’s a welcome change. The added battle backgrounds also add more immersion and feel to the game, which makes fighting all that more enjoyable, for me.
Which version should you play?
There’s only one version of the Dragon Quest 1 & 2 SFC remake, which is the Japanese version. The closest we got in the West was a similar version for Gameboy Color, but even that is slightly different again. So, the easiest way to experience the remake would probably be to get the GBC version, but if you want the absolute best version of the game possible, try to snag a copy of the SFC remake instead!
Anyone looking for a bit rougher version of the game should go back and play the true original version, but I think anyone looking for the perfect place to jump into the series should look no further than the Dragon Quest 1 & 2 SFC bundle!
If you’re looking to grab a copy for yourself, you can find them from Amazon below! (i’ll earn a small commission if purchased through these links)
Dragon Quest I・II (Requires a Super Famicom or modded Super Nintendo!) – Get Dragon Quest I・II here! (affiliate link!)
Final Score – 28/40
Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 7/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 6/10
If you have time and still haven’t yet, check out my review for Dragon Quest 2 here!