February 12, 2015

Minor Distraction: Dragon Quest

warning: may contain spoilers

When I saw Dragon Quest for a mere $1.99 ($3.49 regular) in the app store, I couldn't really resist the idea of having this outstanding title in my pocket at all times, and when I finished up my last Minor Distraction game, I decided to switch things up and for the first time in ATSG history, review a mobile game.
Of course Dragon Quest wasn't developed for mobile, the game was originally released in 1986 for the NES. In North America, it was retitled Dragon Warrior. It is among the first RPGs I ever played, so my reintroduction to the world of Alefgard is quite the nostalgic one. DQ broke a lot of ground in its day for having a great open world to explore, littered with towns and dungeon with a smattering of most interesting enemies. I fell in love with this game decades ago, and was particularly curious to see how it survived the mobile treatment.

At first look, the game certainly felt familiar, but seems to have received a bit of a facelift. The overworld and dungeons all appear to be crisper, brighter and more colorful than I remember the NES title to be. The text bubbles also got an update. That said, it looks fantastic! The sprite graphics approach is still present and they suit the small screen of mobile devices perfectly.
The sound department also hit a home run in the "familiar" vein. While the music is as expected; the battle theme is very similar to others in the series (or rather, they are similar to this one) but this theme is a little less "kitchen competition" than, say, Dragon Quest 8… The sound effects, meanwhile, are all of the same timbre and set the bar for some of the recurring effects used in later titles. They definitely add to the atmosphere of the game. The settings for sound can be mildly edited (mostly just volume) in the settings, but even on its lowest setting the music and effects are very loud. This can be a bit of a bother if you're playing in public or trying to multitask. It may be best to just shut the tunes off altogether as I often had to.

The cast of the game is more-or-less introduced to you right from the get-go. As always, you play as the (mostly) silent protagonist, who requires naming upon booting up a new game, As always, I turned to twitter to name my silent hero, and settled on Rathan. You meet King Lorik who implores you to rescue Princess Gwaelin before setting out on your ultimate journey of eliminating the Dragonlord, who's reeking terror on the land. Only you can be trusted with this quest because you are the blood of the legendary hero Erdrick. It's up to you to trace in his steps and once again bring peace to the kingdom. Classic fantasy, and remember that this is the one that started it all!

But it's never as simple as just going after the guy, is it? No, most of the gameplay in DQ is made up of hunting down items. Well, truthfully, it's made up of waiting for people to move…
MOVE, BITCH! Get out my way!
But other than that, you traverse the wide land encountering the towns and dungeons (usually in the form of a cave) looking for legendary items and new weapons and armor to help you survive. Your goal is to trade the artifacts to guardians within the handful of temples to acquire the necessary item to call upon the Rainbow Bridge, and storm the enemy's castle. In addition to the many baddies, you'll also face challenges like navigating in the dark, which you may combat by using a torch or the glow spell to see beyond your nose, but you'll still be mostly shrouded in darkness. Some may also find the game's language a bit… historic. An extensive English education may be required to play this one.

You have at your disposal a tiny bag, in which you can store a maximum of ten items. Luckily, some items like medicinal herbs or magic keys will pile atop each other for a max of 6 units in one slot. Regardless, management of this inventory is important, and you'll have to sell off old items as you purchase new ones. In the case of important items, you can make use of the vaults in Brecconary* or Cantlin.

And just where are these towns? Don't ask me. I really struggled to remember what's beyond Tantegal Castle for the better part of my playthrough, regardless of the map.
This MS paint-worthy bad boy is all you have to help you get around, and this is after unlocking all the beacons. It is absolutely not to any scale. You can traipse across this entire map is a few seconds in this version, so the map seems unnecessarily large.

Possibly the most notable aspect of this game is how exceedingly quick combat is. DQ has developed a habit of dragging combat out quite a bit (See DQ8) but in this version, it's random attack, touch the screen and the battle is well underway, if not over. This really aids in getting your quests done quicker, because you're not wasting any time (or forgetting what you're doing). It also scrolls rapidly through the victory text, and relies on sound to let you know when something has changed (i.e. the "you've leveled up" fanfare).

DQ employs the "random encounter" battle system. You can run into a variety of different enemies all throughout the land, although you may see some different-colored repeats as you play on.
HP indicates your life points, and MP your magic. LV is your character's level. The game also identifies your enemy by name.
Once you've been caught, you can fight with your sword, a spell, use an item or attempt to flee. You have 10 spells at your disposal, and each costs at least 2MP to use. They are:
Heal - pretty self-explanatory. Usually about 30 HP
Sizz - an offensive fireball spell
Snooze - puts the enemy to sleep… sometimes…
Fizzle - negates enemy spells
Sizzle - a more powerful fire attack
Midheal - 85-100 HP
Glow - which is your magical substitute to a torch
Evac - allows you to escape from a dungeon
Zoom - takes you back to the castle
Holy protection - wards off random encounters for a bit.
The latter of these are "field"spells, which are neither useful nor available in combat.
Any spells inflicted upon you during battle are lifted once it's over, or in the case of sleep, sometimes when you're hit.

Boss battles follow the exact same suit, with the minor exception that the battle sometimes switches things up and lets a boss attack twice in a row, or allows you multiple turns. It's extremely important to learns your opponents attacks and watch your HP because of this.

Of course, the game comes with no case or manual, but one is not necessary for this title. Navigation is extremely straight forward. You have a touch screen D-pad and several buttons to navigate menus. I've never been a fan of touch screen controls, and this game is no exception, but it is manageable.
With a tap of your menu button, you'll see your bank account, a brief summary of your character and:
Items> Lists each of your items, showing and "E" if it's equipped. There is also a brief description at the top and lets you know how many uses you get out of the item.
Spells> Lists each of your spells, a brief description and shows how many MP are required to use it.
Status> Depicts your current stats including attack, defense and experience, current equipment, and sorts your battle spells from your field spells.
Misc.> Equip, Settings, Travelers' Tips (yes, that's the grammar they use) and Quick Save. Equip allows you to edit your equipment without scrolling through your overwhelming ten items… Settings offers control layout, message speed and sound, as I said before. Tips hosts a handful of short tutorials, such as "the basics of battle" and "mastering movement". See my tips section for more on Quick Save.
Otherwise, there is merely a map button which requires a simple tap to open. There is also an orientation button which, when tapped, will move the other buttons around the screen to optimize your view.

DQ does not adhere to the notorious difficulty of past (slash later) DQ games. In fact, it is much, much easier than I remember. This is not the kind of game you'll need to achieve a high level to beat. I finished the game at level 20, and that number was only scored due to excessive grinding since I spent a lot of time wandering around trying to remember where to go next, and sometimes I'd just play because I was bored and wasn't prepared to move on in the story. Keep up with your armor and weapons and you won't have any trouble at all. Items seem to cost less, and enemies have far fewer HP than the game's NES counterpart.

DQ on mobile also feels much shorter.  This is, no doubt, largely due to the quickened combat system, but I still feel like I managed to complete the game in less than 6 hours (over many, many months, mind you. And with no in-game clock, I can't be certain) including the "boredom grinding".

It's been a criminal while since I've played Dragon Warrior, but I couldn't help but notice a lot of names have been changed in this version. Towns, spells and even some items are different than before, but this doesn't really affect gameplay. Apart from the touch screen debacle and the wonky map, I enjoyed playing DQ on mobile. It loads quickly, plays simple, but still delivers classic Dragon Quest in a way that's beautiful and recognizable. The game offers three save slots, and I intend to make use of them as I replay this on my phone time and time again.
For the record, Square has since remastered many DQ titles for mobile devices, and a quick search in your app store should turn up at least DQ 1, 2, 4 and 8 at varying prices. Considering how difficult it can be to get your paws on an original cartridge, I do recommend giving these apps a shot if you're keen on playing the games. Still not quite the NES experience, but you get the bulk of the action.

*I think Brecconary is one such example of the renaming issue. If I recall correctly, a man at the town's entrance welcomes you to the Town of Tantegal, but I've always remembered this town starting with a 'B'.

  • Visit King Lorik to save your progress and see how much more experience is needed to level up.
  • Once you receive Gwaelin's gift, you'll no longer need to see the King for an EXP. estimate.
  • Not all pathways are clear. Sneaking around the borders of town can be fruitful.
  • You'll require magic keys to open locked doors.
  • The game offers you a 'quick save' option. Unlike some other games, you're not forced to quit after quick saving. This means you can use quick save like 'restore points' in a pinch. You can also load up a game from either a quick save or a "king save". Remember which one you used last. Also, if you look at my load screen photo at the top of the blog, you'll see it mentions "autosave" points. The game did this when I closed the app without saving. I haven't experimented with it, but it seems the game tries to help you out in the event that the app is closed or crashes.


  1. Glad you liked and I'm actually glad you kept the name I gave you on Twitter!