If you’ve been a reader of 2nd Playthrough for a while (you haven’t) you might notice how, as usual, there’s been a huge amount of time from the last entry, but a lot has happened. Dave and I moved on from just reviews, to starting a let’s play channel. We both graduated college, and are actually trying to be real adults. But, I couldn’t leave this hanging in the wind. So I’m bringing it back and improving it, as I hope to continue to do.
If you haven’t been a reader of 2nd Playthrough (this is more like you), you might not know what’s up. I have a lot of games, and while I’ve played almost all of them (aside from some steam games), I haven’t beaten a lot of them (just over half). So I figured I would start a little quest to beat all these games. This would also give me a chance to see not only where games have come from, but maybe teach me something to take games further as a medium. You can check out all the old reviews at Dave and my old site.
So normally I would beat the game, and give a little review of it. I give a TL; DR at the end to summarize, or if you really didn’t feel like reading it (though, why would you click on a review) but this time…this time I’m going to do something a little different than the normal 2nd Playthrough review. Think of it like something special I’ve been working on for quite a while as a way to end the NES games and a way to move into the new Insert Coin Media site. Seeing as these are two of the largest names in the RPG world. There’s a good chance that you’ve played at least one game from either of these series.
Brace yourselves, because this is going to be a long one…I might have gone a little overboard, but hopefully you’ll find this epic as interesting to read as I did to write.
Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, two names that regardless of where you are in the modern world, you have at least heard of one (probably). To really put into words and explain how culturally important and popular these games are is not an easy feat. From my perspective it seems the age of RPG domination has come to a close, instead giving way to the modern FPS in a constant battle of which acronym is a better seller. These titans of the industry have always seemed at odds with each other. But I’m going to be focusing on the former, and what better place to start than the beginning.
Dragon Warrior (or in Japan, Dragon Quest) was a series that I had never played or really heard of, until ironically a couple years ago I was given the first of the series. How this game came to fruition, however, dates back years before the games release. The story goes that back around 1981 Yuji Horii, who eventually would be a designer at Enix, read about how popular adventure games were in America, and how little there were in Japan. In 1983, after he had won a competition to be a designer at Enix, He decided to make his own adventure game called Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken, or The Portopia Serial Murder Incident. The game was a Detective story told through a first person perspective, where the player had to find clues and solve a crime (Quite an American genre). The game sold rather well and would later inspire him to create another game that focused on narrative, but this time for a larger audience.
Enamored with western RPGs like Wizardry and Ultima, Horii knew that while lots of fun, RPGs were for the hardcore computer users. He needed a way to simplify the standard Western RPG gameplay, and make it playable on home consoles, specifically the new Famicom. In terms of game design, a game like Dragon Warrior shows the absolute genius that can come from simplicity. RPGs are hard to get into, they’re complicated story wise, and mechanically they tend to have a lot of information that you need to put together yourself. Dragon warrior gives players a goal right from the get go, “There’s the bad guy’s castle, go get him”, simple. Getting there is the challenge, the only thing stopping you are the monsters you encounter. Though if you die along the way it can be frustrating. Dragon Warrior was made so a player can continue from a save point, as opposed to the title screen, to get you back into the action more quickly. These mechanics were specifically designed around the idea of making the game more fun to play for those on consoles. But as most people will tell you, gameplay isn’t the only part of a game. For how important the Dragon Warrior series has been, the gameplay wasn’t the only reason the game was good.
While the design from Horii was fantastic, he had what was most surprising to me, an all-star cast behind him. The co-designer and lead programmer was Kōichi Nakamura, was a computer wunderkind, and had also won the same game competition Enix held that Horri did. The two needed someone to do promotional artwork, and luckily for Enix, Horii was previously an editor at a small publication called Shonen Jump. Horii knew a popular artist by the name of Akira Toriyama who you may know from a series called Dragonball. The author and artist for one of the most popular manga at the time, did (and still does) the art for this game. The music for Dragon Warrior was done by Koichi Sugiyama, who before the game series, was a famous commercial and TV composer in Japan, and now is essentially Enix’s Nobuo Uematsu (more on him later). While these guys might just seem like some random Japanese men, they’re all big names in their respected industries, and all of them brought not just something good to the table, but something that was at the peak of its field at the time.
All of this lead to a game that to this day is synonymous with RPGs in Japan. It changed the way we look at the nature of story in video games. This game was a tipping point from score garnering to actual narrative and real writing. The Dragon Warrior series isn’t just popular, it’s a phenomenon. Dragon Warrior is one of the best-selling series in Japan, and worldwide it has sold over 64 million units. But we’re talking about the original game, and Japan isn’t the only country in the world. If the Enix team wanted to put out a game that would reach a broad audience, they would also need to think about the audience that had dominated the genre. The results were….less impressive.
When coming to America, there were a number of improvements, including graphical upgrades, the usual weird American tradition of making all the art seem more menacing (see Kirby).
The language changed to faux-Elizabethan English, and a battery pack that enabled saving instead of passwords (Which no one likes…no one likes passwords). The name was also changed from Dragon Quest to Dragon Warrior due to copyright issues (damn copyright always ruining everyone’s good ideas). Seeing as by the time Dragon Warrior was going to be released in America, Dragon Quest had already garnered three (3) sequels (what is this Assassin’s Creed?), so they used their knowledge and fine-tuned the game even further. All of this should have led to a massive selling game in America, so why didn’t it sell as much? Well…it’s hard to say. Perhaps the western market was used to such thick RPGs like Wizardry already, so maybe a game as streamlined as Dragon Warrior was seen as too easy. Or it could be as simple as tastes were different, it’s the same reason why Call of Duty doesn’t sell as well in Japan today. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t selling as well…it wasn’t a failure, but that was thanks impart to the magazine Nintendo Power.
While being released in Japan, sales were initially sluggish, but Horii, being an editor at Shonen Jump (which was and still is kind of a big publication) published a couple articles about Dragon Quest, this drummed up support, and thus the game because a crazy huge success. In America, Nintendo had this extremely aggressive advertising campaign and this was helped by Nintendo Power which had published a number of stories in 1989 leading up to the release, in anticipation of it being a huge hit. Nintendo Power also gave away the game (!) as a subscription incentive in 1990, which was (and still is) an insane idea. The game cost $50, and subscriptions to the magazine cost something like $20, but surprisingly, Nintendo still made money. In fact, it made so much money, it’s probably the main reason why the other games were ported to America.
Dragon Warrior has this interesting position of being such landscape changing, ginormous force of a game, but honestly it’s not that great. Not when you compare it to other games, and especially not when you look at it today. But for the time, it was something special, it was the starting point for something new, and that something new was very exciting to players.
Wow. So that’s a lot of information, there’s a lot more to go into, but now is not the place nor is here the time.
I want to talk about Final Fantasy and its development before I go in and review Dragon Warrior, mainly because I personally kept comparing the two while playing, and they both have these awesome stories about how they were made. I was originally going to review the two of them side by side because, as a series, I’ve always seen them as rivals. Although the more I looked into it, I decided that wouldn’t be very fair. Seeing as not only did Final Fantasy come out A year (almost two) after the first Dragon Warrior, it came out after the Second Dragon Warrior (by almost a year) as well. Perhaps if I pick up Dragon Warrior II I’ll take a second-second playthrough and maybe compare and contrast them.
Ok break over, let’s get back into the history.
In a simpler time of the world, before smart phones and the internet, a man named Hironobu Sakaguchi wanted to make a video game. Much like Horri, he was interested in American games like D&D, and Wizardry and Ultima. He also wanted to make an RPG, but for a number of years when he would bring his ideas to the higher ups, a resounding neigh would return and deflate the young game designer. However news came from around the country that a new game was becoming a sensation. A game about Dragons and Quests came in on the winds, and softened the hearts of the higher ups of the Square Company. They let Sakaguchi go ahead with a small, 7 person “A-Team” of workers, to develop his “Fighting Fantasy”. Sakaguchi was inspired, and changed the name of the game to Final Fantasy, due to the company’s looming financial bankruptcy and his own convictions that were the game not a success, it would be his last game in the industry.
Much like Dragon Quest, this project was helmed by talent that in the future would go on to become giants of their fields. The now iconic art for the series was created by Yoshitaka Amano who has created and worked on a number of iconic Japanese shows and games. The music was composed by a Square employee who hadn’t had much success. Nobuo Uematsu not only succeeded in composing short memorable music for the game, he created some of the most recognizable music to grace video games. Music that would go on to be performed by some of the top orchestras in the world.
Talking about these guys is a little odd, because their work is so synonymous with the Final Fantasy series, it seems like they’ve always held this mammoth status, but this is where they got started. Uematsu had his job at square as a second job to make some extra cash while he worked part time at a music store. Amano was already a well-established artist who had made a name for himself, but you can’t deny that his work with the Final Fantasy series has seriously bolstered his popularity.
The game ended up having a lot more influence from western RPGs than Dragon Warrior, like being able to pick what classes you wanted to play as, and especially the “weakness” concept (Water>Fire, Lightning>Water…etc.) which until that point hadn’t been introduced in Japanese games (imagine Pokémon without it). Some pleading for units to be made and again some intense North American marketing by Nintendo ended up making the game a success and the rest history.
It’s not hard to see where these franchises have gone since their inception. Both series have spawned more sequels than you can count on your hands. Spinoffs, manga, movies, you name it, Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior probably have done it. That’s a cool thing. These series have not only been influential to designers throughout the last 30 years by themselves, but have been the inspiration to other series that have been also monumental. They’re like the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Well not quite, but you get what I’m saying right? They’re popular…people like playing them…shut up.
So after all this let’s get to the games.
If you haven’t played one or both of these games, I would strongly urge you to go grab a copy somehow (they’re on just about anything that uses electricity). As I’ve said throughout this article, these games are instrumental in how we see the RPG landscape, and probably the Gaming industry as a whole. That’s not to say they’re without their problems. As before, I’ll start with Dragon Warrior
Right off the bat, your quest is clear. A couple text boxes and some “Thou art thine chosen one”-ing later, you’re off to save the princess. You go out and you fight monsters, you travel to the town, everything seems fresh and exciting!
Now, I’m coming from a time where walking around a map, fighting monsters in turn based combat, getting gold and xp, etc. is the type of gameplay I literally grew up on. I’ve been playing RPGs for over 20 years, so for me this game seems really simple. Though imagine coming from an era where all you did was move right, maybe you played Zelda, and maybe that shit was MIND BLOWING. Well along comes this game which is just as large, but with more focus on story, and people to talk to. How nuts would that have been? You get to go all around this world, doing your little grind, and then you come across a bridge.
Now, one of the only things that can stop you from exploring this wide open world are monsters that you can’t beat. How annoying is it, to be walking along, exploring a part of a world in an RPG, taking one step into a new area, and get obliterated by the next set of enemies that were way too strong for you. Dying and lose like 2 hours of progress in an instant.
It’s annoying as fuck.
I already know the answer to that question. It was a rhetorical question. I don’t need you to write in and be like “Nick, it’s soo frustrating to…” yeah I get it, I know. I had it happen. Thank you. (But if you wanted to write to me anyway and say you liked the newest episode of Insert Coin (www.youtube.com/insertcoinmedia). I’d be totally cool with that.)
Dragon Warrior understands that it could be a bit of a problem, so they separate the different areas with bridges. The bridge is both a physical and metaphorical tool to show progression. You physically have to cross the bridge to advance, but you also have to be mentally ready to go on and face the next set of challenges.
And boy do you have to be mentally ready. And by mentally ready I mean you have to grind a lot. A lot. A LOT. A FUCKING LOT.
They should have called this “GRIND QUEST” and changed it to “GRIND WARRIOR” due to copyrights. This is the single worst flaw that this game has, and it’s not just a big one, it makes the game almost unplayable. It takes So. Damn. Long. To level up to the appropriate level to get to the next area. But even that’s ok, a little grinding never hurt nobody, but once you grind the xp or gold for that weapon that will help you in the next area, you have to grind those enemies before you even THINK about going on. And you might be thinking like “Nick come on one or two levels isn’t that hard to grind, there’s only 30 Levels” and you’d be right, there are only 30 levels.
Wait…There’s only 30? What an arbitrary number. Whatever, that’s not important.
What is important is that you have to grind before you can even fight the next set of enemies. You have to grind lower enemies to the point where you can take on the tougher enemies easily enough, or else you won’t make it to the next town. That’s like in Pokémon, you had to grind on Route 3 before you beat Brock, until your Pokémon were able to beat Erika, just so you could get to Misty.
This game is just hard. It’s hard and takes patience and perseverance, which I guess if you were walking across a continent fighting monsters you would need. But still, it just takes so long. Maybe I was missing an area, or doing something wrong, but it took me hours to get anywhere, only to have to grind further and not make any progress…I like the idea of not being able to blow through the game, but make it so you’re challenging my decision making in battle, not challenging my patience to see how many slimes I could kill.
The rest of the game, is actually pretty fun, there’s some well-designed enemies, and some not so much. There’s optional things to do, like save the princess. Yeah, you don’t actually have to save the princess in this game, how crazy is that? I would totally recommend it though because it’s actually one of the few times I felt accomplished when I managed to beat the boss guarding her. And you actually have to carry her back to the castle, like physical carry her back. You get a different sprite and everything.
After that it’s back to exploring, you search high and low, go to new villages and new places. You can fight monsters, buy weapons, search for lost treasures of past heroes (which you should totally do), or you can spend your walking around this huge world, just taking it all in.
Then you finally end up at the castle that you could see so long ago in your journey. In fact that’s one of the cool design choices in the game, the end castle is visible from the starting castle. So every time you die (and you will most likely die) you start back at the castle and when you come out, your goal is right there to encourage you to keep going. But then you get there, and this is the greatest point in Dragon Warrior’s favour, is that getting to the end felt good. No. It felt amazing, like all this time was finally worth it. You get to this castle and it finally provided a chance for planning and strategy to the game.
Do I take a chance and just dodge monsters to get to the boss? Should I explore the castle and maybe find some item that could help me? Should I play through the castle a few times to maybe get one more level? And then you get to the final boss, and it’s everything you want from a final boss, he’s menacing, and challenging and you fight him, and more likely than not he will kill you. Most likely because you’ve had to fight a gauntlet of the toughest monsters you’ve fought yet, draining you of heath and magic.
But once you beat him….oh man, does it feel nice. I died probably 5 or 6 times, and by then it rekindled my desire to beat the game, so I got back down to grinding a few more levels, every time I died. Finally after a couple tries, getting knocked down, and getting back up, I bested him. And when I made it back to the castle, after the world had been cleansed of evil, I really felt like a hero, a warrior…a Dragon Hero. Wait shit.
Aside from the final boss, the rest of the world seems full, or at least alive, a number of different little areas that symbolized different “lands” (desert, plains, mountains, forest, etc.). The combat was fun, though pretty basic, push A until you need to heal or use a magic, there isn’t a whole lot of strategy. The music was clean and crisp and singable but a little short. The simple themes have been remixed and remastered throughout the years, and it’s easy to see why they’re so iconic, but…they only last a few measures, and then they’re repeated. In the Japanese version, the graphics leave a lot to be desired on the over world, but for the American version they were re-worked and improved, if still a little simple. The monster design for the battles is cool, you can tell what you’re fighting and the big sprites in first person, do make you seem like there’s a threat, or at least gravity of the fight, but a lot of the monsters are just pallet swaps, and that seems kind of like a shortcut, or a placeholder.
That’s the thing about Dragon Warrior, it’s so basic and streamlined that it almost seems like a prototype of another game. Everything works, and works well, it’s just…basic. Simple. And that’s OK, it’s not the most fun, but it’s like playing a beta of a game, and it spawned a legacy that has continued to be tinkered and played with to make it better. Well…to a point. Final Fantasy is also guilty of this, so I’ll leave that until later.
Overall, Dragon Warrior just didn’t age as well as it could have…Aside from the last dungeon, there’s not a whole lot that really stood out or was super memorable. I absolutely say play it, and if you can slog through it, go for it, beating this is one to be proud of. Dragon Warrior II might have survived the last few decades a little better, but this game still was a great idea, and a game that changed the game. Dragon Warrior transcends conventional review at this point, but hopefully this will give you reason to go seek it out.
TL; DR – Dragon Warrior
+ The game that started console RPGs
+ Genius through Simplicity
+ That final boss
– Doesn’t really hold up that well.
– Slow Pace
– GRINDING OH MY GOD
Ah the original. When I started this 2nd Playthrough thing, this was one of the games I was really excited to get to. If you can see on the list, I actually own Final Fantasy I-XII (except for the online ones, but I don’t think those count). I’m kind of a big fan of the series. So seeing as I like to go back and check out the roots of where games come from (See: this entire project) It was easy for me to jump right into Final Fantasy. How did it hold up? Surprisingly well.
I actually have the GBA version of this game (Final Fantasy I & II Dawn of Souls), and I had played the CRAP out of that game so I jumped in thinking I knew what was up. Turns out they changed a few things when they brought it to the hand held. One thing they changed, the difficulty. Holy shit. I didn’t realize how tricky this game could be. I was not careful about how I managed my gold or levels or health, and a number of times I was 3 levels deep into a dungeon and sweating bullets about how I was going to get out to heal and save. It was kind of exhilarating, because unlike a lot of RPGs today which have a very gradual difficulty curve, the NES version had it so that, sure you had to grind, but it made the game a challenge instead of padded gameplay.
This was helped in part by what’s called the Peninsula of Power, an area of land at the tip of the first continent, which has higher level monsters that make grinding easier for the first part of the game. This area isn’t accessible right from the start, so you can’t abuse it, and it’s close enough to a town to make it worth it, but far enough away so it’s not a cakewalk.
One of the cool things this game does story wise, is similar to what Dragon Warrior did. It sets up the save the princess quest, but then that’s not the end of the game. In this instance it’s just the prologue. You get to learn the combat system, learn about boss fights, and rescue a princess, not bad for the first hour of gameplay (look at that an intro that’s not boring…crazy). Then you then get back to the castle, and the King fixes the bridge and you can go explore the world. (Bridge? Dragon Warrior? Metaphor for starting your journey?!) You cross the bridge and you get greeted with a title screen and some exposition, and man does it feel epic.
And then you’re off.
Have you played a Final Fantasy? It’s that, but in all its NES glory with all the NES charm. The combat is fun, and while there’s never been a whole lot of strategy in Final Fantasy, it was the first to introduce the weakness concept I mentioned so that’s pretty rad. The graphics are still pretty sharp, the characters still look fun and cheery, though the battle screens have a lot of black. The monsters, are diverse and colourful, with only a few recolours.
And the music. The music is fun, it varies, and it’s all so catchy. No matter how many battles I got into, I would sing along with the music. I love it, I listened to it while writing this. Something about that chip sound makes it so much more endearing
The game overall is pretty intense. For the time, this was an epic game, and while it might be a little harder to appreciate today after over 13 main series titles, it’s still a deep story. After the princess intro, you have to go collect the four orbs of light that are scattered throughout the world, and stop Chaos (who is evil incarnate).
The world it sets you in is massive and it feels massive, and the more you traverse it and the more familiar it becomes, the more it feels like a complete world. It can be a little confusing sometimes on where to go, or what to do, but eventually you’ll figure it out…especially if you have the Official Nintendo Power Strategy Guide
So, if you haven’t yet, I again strongly urge you to play this game. If I had to make a list of final fantasy(ie?)s to play, I would say I, VI, VII, X. FF I and FF VII if only for the historic importance (even though I think they’re pretty damn good) and FF VI and FF X because they’re damn good games. While this might not be the craziest of the 2D Final Fantasy(ie?)s, it still holds up really well and has an insane amount of charm. If you can get the NES version, but it’s on just about anything you can imagine. Tons of fun, still after all these years, and I’d say one of the best games for the NES.
+ Fun! Like truly fun to play and complete
+The Origin of Final Fantasy
+ The music is still fantastic (dat 8-bit nostalgia)
+immersive, colourful world and inhabitants
-can be a little grindy and unforgiving
-can be maybe too cryptic sometimes?
I think it is fun to speculate what could have happened had we not had the final fantasy series. It almost certainly would have become a cult hit, much like Earthbound, and everyone LOVES earthbound, but would RPGs still have been so popular? Would we have had the games we do?
It’s fun to imagine, but obviously Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior have been successful and have continued and have become some of the largest franchises in the gaming world…though that helps when you have over TEN instalments…NOT counting spin offs. There has been game after game pumped out from these series, and while they haven’t been bad…or at least terrible (save for XIII), how much is too much?
That’s not to say that there aren’t people who love all of the Dragon Warriors or Final Fantasy(s), but…how much is too much? Final Fantasy XIII I guess was really the first Bad FF game (IMO but maybe that will change with a…2nd Playthrough?)…but haven’t the games been on a downward trend? We’ve seen SquareEnix take more and more control from the gamers, sap the exploration, and skip the feel of a world in favour of overly long cut scenes and characters with bad fashion and flat personalities.
How much is too much? Do we as gamers still see bright futures in these games? I mean most gamers I’ve spoken too were borderline insulted with FF XIII. Perhaps the time of RPGs is really at an end, and SquareEnix should move on to something else. That is unless they’re going to turn a new leaf with Final Fantasy XV. Maybe it will be something magical again. Personally, I’m really hoping it’s good, and from the brief things I’ve seen it looks like they’re going in a totally new direction. So who knows what the future can hold, maybe something bright that can change the industry again. Or maybe we’ll be hoping it’s the Final Fantasy.
Well regardless, thank you so much for reading all this if you have, or at least scrolling down here to see what I’ve been babbling about. I’m excited to get back into this, and hopefully you guys will have fun reading it. If you haven’t you can check out the old posts over at www.2p-erspective.blogspot.com I’ll be keeping them there, though I might move them over at some point…maybe.
It’s good to be back, hopefully it won’t take forever to write the next one, and don’t worry, it won’t be another essay. As always,
On to the next one
-Reviews for the games are up a little further
-Thanks for reading, you’re literally the best and make me super happy
-<3 all of you