Sorry this is a spoiler fest so please be warned if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.
i have spent years (literally decades) trying to explain to friends why they should play the series and generally without trying to spoil.
However I finally managed to get a friend to play (he loves it now!) but only AFTER I spoiled the hell out of everything. He seems the kind to be interested in the lore and spoilers for something and then living it. Each to their own I suppose!
This is my spoiler-ridden overview I wrote for him which finally convinced him to play DQXI so just thought I’d share - I have put in spoiler tags but have never posted properly with spoilers before so really sorry if something flies wrong with tags - let me know and I’ll delete/amend immediately.
So here goes a general introduction to the Dragon Quest series. Sorry it will be comprehensive and long and I’ll be saying spoilers - ideally I want you to experience the many twists and delightful turns when playing and not being spoiled so if you really don’t want to be spoiled, go and play the games!
But if you really want to get a game by game break down (no real structure or consistency I’m afraid) read on. And then play them anyway!
note: I am interchangeably referring to all the main villains as ‘Dark Lord’ or evil something etc - I know they may not be referred to as such explicitly in each game but I have written this for non-initiates just for the sake of the general gist. Also I am sure I have probably made some errors so please don’t kill me lol
Think of your favourite and familiar Disney movie, you know what happens but you’ll love the story anyway if you watch it.
Dragon Quest I
You start the game in the kingdom of Alefgard, terrorised by the Demon Lord who has kidnapped the king’s daughter.
As with all the dragon quest protagonists, the Hero is voiceless - like Link in Zelda, so ‘you’ adopt the character in a transliteral role-play.
The hero is noted for being the Descendent of Erdrick (called Roto in the Japanese version) - an ancient hero who defeated the ultimate evil and whose legacy lives on throughout the ages.
Over the course of your adventure, you locate the legendary armour, sword and shield of Erdrick and eventually defeat the dragon lord and rescue the princess.
This game was made in 1986 so is incredibly simple and even the best ports of it to somewhat modernise it will probably be hard to play without feeling the aged mechanics but it can be completed in around 8 hours. In all respects, this was THE pioneer and founder of console RPGs and its influence spawned the genre as we know it. Games ranging from Mario, Zelda and countless others have been influenced by or make reference to the game and series and it’s tropes in some form, or by homage.
Dragon Quest II
A few centuries after the events of the first game, a new Dark Lord has arisen and attacked the lands. This time you have an expanded map of the entire world, of which it turns out the kingdom from the first game was just a small territory.
You again take the role of a Hero, a descendant of the first game’s hero and by extension, a hero in the lineage of THE legendary hero, Erdrick.
This time, you are accompanied by two of your cousins, all three being of legendary lineage through Erdrick and this culminates in the game introducing a basic party system - a standard Hero (balance of all abilities), Mage and Healer.
You once again locate the equipment of Erdrick and some other items to bring down the dark lord and restore peace to the lands.
As with the first game, the mechanics and the age of the game can make it a little hard to get into but this game introduces concepts like party, combination tactics, gender and class specific equipment, a ship to navigate the overworld and allows for somewhat non-linear paths (though still linear) it’ll take around 20 hours to complete.
Dragon Quest III
This game completes what is known as the Erdrick trilogy. So the first three games are indelibly connected in a way that none of the other games after it are (more on that later).
This game is surprising at first because despite being linked to the first two, the overworld and map and everything is totally different. In fact, the overworld map of DQIII is analogous to our real world map (so you have a place called Romalia which equates to Italy; Edinbear represents the UK, Zipangu to Japan and a ‘new world’ which you see develop and conceptualises America from its Native American to colonial history) etc.
The story starts with a prologue scene showing a great hero, Ortega, being sent out to destroy a formidable, dark evil known as Baramos. It shows him traversing the world map and entering several countries and areas on a solo quest. Unfortunately, it shows him falling into a volcano during a fierce battle with an enemy narrowly before reaching the dark lord’s lair.
With his apparent demise, despair looms large for the world but as Ortega’s child, who had recently been born prior to Ortega’s quest, it would seem the quest is your destiny.
The actual game starts on the morning of your 16th birthday (following a unique dream sequence where you are questioned and put on a simulated test that determines your in game personality) where your mother sends you to see the king having now come of age.
The king sends you on the quest your father had fallen in, as the world’s last possible hope and saviour.
You are able to recruit a cast of characters to join your party of now maximum 4. You can recruit more but only 4 in your party at a time and can decide what class you want to accompany you. You can even - if you want to, leave party members out and battle on a solo quest (not recommended unless a veteran who wants to replay and are willing to sacrifice dozens of hours severely grinding and levelling up to compensate!)
Every land you visit on your adventures, there seem to be footprints and legends of your dad - Ortega, the great hero whose feats and chivalry is remembered everywhere and whose legacy has not dimmed at all since the over 16 years of his sighting.
The game world is huge and after several different events, culminating in you acquiring 6 orbs allowing you to call upon a mythical flying creature with whom you can now reach the lands of Baramos to finally take revenge.
Which you do.
Only it’s not. After defeating Baramos and midway through a ceremonial celebration at the castle, a mysterious and evil voice booms and a great fissure in the ground appears. JuIt turns out that Baramos was only an underling to the real and far greater evil that is: The Dark Lord Zoma.
You are sent to take on this new Evil and investigate this fissure - falling into it. You appear in a new map - a totally different and ‘new’ overworld. New, yet old. As this new map is in fact the map ..from Dragon Quest I & II.
The map and lands will feel familiar if you’ve played the first two instalments yet different enough to notice the geographical changes. Kind of like a Pokemon Gen I player visiting Kanto in the latter part of the story in the Gen II game.
Other things also seem strange.
Long story short, you create some items and equipment needed to reach Zoma and finally beat him.
Somehow, the fissure has closed meaning you are now trapped in this new world forever.
The people of the land and the world all celebrate and a massive joyous occasion ensues.
The king of the land bestows upon you a title to honour your feat - you are given the title.. Erdrick
Yes, YOU the hero of Dragon Quest III are in fact the legendary hero Erdrick referenced in the first two games and this is in fact a prequel.
So what can I say? This is THE game of the series in many people’s eyes. Not only was it an improvement on the previous games, but such a vast improvement as to make it WAY beyond its time in every way. The story is simple but gripping, the game world frankly ridiculously huge for its time and to complete the main game will take you around 45 hours (no, Zoma the main boss is not even being considered as part of the post game!)
With the post game and extra bonus dungeons and quests, it is upwards of 70 hours. For a game made in 1988 and restricted to the hardware of NES, SNES and Gameboy, this was nothing short of miraculous. And the gameplay STILL stands as good today providing you play a more modern port such as on the switch version or even mobile. It’s also easy to emulate older systems nowadays so with things like save state and speed up features on emulators, I’d even recommend the SNES or Gameboy versions as the best ones to play on.
There are rumours that the Japanese government banned future dragon quest games from being released on weekdays due to the spike in truancy and sickies from school and work in Japan. Although not quite true, the reality isn’t far off - people DID take sickies and play truant to get the game and so Enix asked Nintendo to break industry convention of games being released on Thursdays to Weekends for dragon quest releases in what has become known as ‘Dragon Quest Day’ in Japan.
This title is the very personification of the series itself and it left an indelible mark on the rest of the series throughout. Every protagonist in every Dragon Quest game is generally nameless (apart from the odd spinoff manga based off them where they are given official names but the vast majority of people don’t know these apart from through Wikipedia searches or dedicated fan forums etc).
However, the hero of dragon quest 3 is almost ubiquitously regraded as ‘Roto/Loto’ or ‘Erdrick’ in the West. Although this is a title and (spoilers, much more later) it transpires he won’t be the only one in the series to get the title. But he, by every account IS the hero of legend and as such, is revered as the iconic hero amongst all the heroes throughout.
The third game in the series is a truly delightful entry and to this day holds as fan favourite for many. Although the series has many fantastic games and people have personal favourites, the tropes and conventions laid out in this game pretty much flows like a single tapestry throughout the rest of the series.
Dragon Quest I was a pioneer and untrodden territory. It excited a generation who had never really experienced anything like it.
Dragon Quest II built on the first game and created a lore and expanded on the concepts of the first game.
Dragon Quest III refined and perfected all the good parts of the earlier games and slotted everything else in perfectly. Every other game after it, barring obvious graphical and technological advances, pretty much uses the template of this game.
Imagine if the first Pokemon game could only let you travel around with one Pokemon on a much smaller scale world map. It would still probably have been popular at its time but if a sequel then expanded concepts and improved it, this would be the analogy for DQI and II. DQIII was like the experience you got from the first full Pokemon game on the Gameboy, complete with post game (after beating the Pokemon league) and facing Mew etc. DQIII was like that - a full fledged and complete experience. Every other Pokemon game afterwards, whether during the Gameboy, Advance, DS eras etc, have improved graphically and technologically with many new features but essentially the bread and butter concept and experience has remained the same from the first Gen games. That is what Dragon Quest III is to it’s series.
Dragon Quest IV
This game (as with all others to this day) has retained the structure of a maximum 4 party line up from DQIII meaning that players would generally be able to replicate similar combination or strategies to battles.
However, DQIV is set in an apparently totally different world and setting to the Erdrick trilogy and is the first instalment of what is known as the Zenithian trilogy that comprises of DQ V and DQ VI. Unlike the Erdrick trilogy however, there is not nearly enough intertextuality or reference between these games so it is at best, a loosely woven trilogy and the link is not shared through the characters and lore so much as certain recurring themes and a particular location - namely the Zenith castle. So it would appear that time passed between these games is significantly longer to the point that the geography is unrecognisable. At the very least, the heroes from these series do not immediately connect themselves in the way the Erdrick trilogy was intrinsically about a specific bloodline of heroes. It is not a well-established fact and not emphasised within the game, but according to official lore, the hero of DQIV is an ancestor of the hero of Dragon Quest V. And the link to the Hero of DQVI is even more obscure and has no immediate or significant bearing for the individual story of any of the games in the Zenithian trilogy apart from the strong indication that it precedes IV and V in the way DQIII is set before II and III.
There is however one link between the first trilogy and the second: in the post game of III, there is a sky castle known as Zenith that you can ascend to and face the ‘Master/God Dragon’ who is ridiculously powerful. Defeating this character in a certain number of turns allows you to choose a wish, amongst which is the option to resurrect Ortega!(have I mentioned how much I love DQIII??)
DQIV is an absolute narrative masterpiece. It tells the story in episodic chapters; where each chapter allows you to take control of different characters, seemingly lacking connections and having their own ‘local’ issues whilst passively acknowledging the growing and increasingly prominent threat of a major evil force in the world.
Each chapter has its own semi-conclusion and growth for the character on their ‘individual’ quest (which ultimately has them seeking out the real Hero) You grow affinity with these characters - to the point that you just want to continue playing as them but you know you’ll get them as your companions during the run up to the end-game story.
As you’d expect, these intrepid characters (7 of them) eventually join your main character’s chapter and arc and you can choose between them to complete the lineup of 4 in battle at a time. Each character generally portrays a particular class trope from the series - so a Warrior type, Healer, Mage, Martial Artist, Dealer/Trader type and so on. But this time, unlike DQIII where you created your party, they join your group as fully fledged and fleshed out characters both with names, personality and (through your plays in each chapter with them) history. You can even chat amongst your party for the first time and depending on the context of the situation, their responses change. So it’s a very personal and satisfying experience.
The characters and music in DQIV are some of the most memorable in the series and like III, some of the archetypes here sets templates for some of the latter series’ games.
Dragon Quest V
Ah... Dragon. Quest. V.
This is one of the most hotly debated games in the series alongside III to take the throne as ‘best in the series’ (which is REALLY saying something considering it came after IV which was utterly enthralling in its own way!) the reality is that we are talking such small margins as to what makes the ‘best in series’ beyond subjective opinion of course.
However it rightfully justifies its place as a contender. In terms of general gameplay, V has not evolved too drastically from the mechanics of IV but does introduce a few new things such as monster recruitment (this was a precursor to the concept that Pokemon later made its own) and this concept itself could have dominated the game.. if it wasn’t for the fact that the story is sooooo good that nothing else could detract from how much it absorbed you.
After the episodic nature of IV, DQV forcefully tugs you back into the world of a main character narrative - but you act out this character’s life from birth to adulthood and even make choices that affect the game such as marriage and even having kids.
Though the above words may create a whimsical impression - the reality is that it is all executed so naturally and perfectly that your attachment to the main character is probably more personal than any of the main heroes of the series up until and - debatably, afterwards - right up to the most recent game.
The twists and surprises are truly monumental in this instalment. You start the game with your protagonist’s birth in a castle and a scene which after your naming, ends up with a fade to black and resuming in your now young childhood. It would appear your mother has likely passed away and your family, despite its obvious royalty from the opening scene, fallen on hard times. It leads to your character contemplating whether the royal past was actually a dream? Something your father seems to propagate.
Raised by your Father, you are taken through a series of events at this stage in your character’s life. It quickly becomes apparent that your father is an astoundingly strong and respected fighter. Your father seems to be undertaking a particular quest and he takes you from location to location, keeping you at safe spots whilst he goes off on errands and quests to further his research and knowledge whilst becoming stronger and stronger.
All the while, during these sojourns, your character has his own mini adventures and solving smaller scale problems and quests; making friends and seeing things that you can’t yet access (it will say stuff like “you try to read the sign/book - but you can’t read yet!”) because of your age and size. So you already know that at some stage, you’ll revisit these areas and expand it.
In these mini quests, you also come across some characters who, much later in the game, you’ll be able to marry. Now, even if you are someone with zero affinity for (real or simulated) romance, you’ll find it very tough to make the choices when the time comes because of the different types of attachment and sense of obligations you feel - and it’s meant to make you feel that way! More on this later.
Anyway, through little tidbits of information, you surmise that your father is seeking the legendary hero - a great warrior who is destined to overthrow an evil power who is in the throes of ascendancy to dominate and subjugate the world. This evil shadow is slowly but surely gaining strength and resources and has almost all its pieces in place - so it is vital to try and stop him before he achieves his goals. But you’re just a kid and even with your father as powerful as he is, seems to know he is no match and must find the legendary hero.
However, due to a tragic event - whilst saving you and your friend from the henchmen of the evil power, your father dies (he is put in a predicament where he must let himself be killed or you and your friend get killed instead). In the last vestiges before death, he discloses to you that you are in fact of royal heritage - of a land called Gotha/Granvania and your mother was kidnapped by the evil lord due to her Zenithian lineage and magical abilities which he wants to use to resurrect an even greater evil entity. He has been on a secret quest ever since to locate the hero of destiny. He passes this knowledge and the baton of his quest onto you.
So by now you’re probably thinking:
Wait. A. Minute. Pops was looking for the legendary hero?! Well, that’s obviously my character because er, you know.. our mum is of Zenithian lineage and we’re the protagonist of this game duh!
And this, in conventional tropes is a good line of thinking..
So you enter the next act, it transpires that you and your friend have spent a decade or so in slavery and forced service to the now much stronger forces of evil. You have grown into adulthood whilst in the slave labour encampment. Your friend, who himself was a spoilt brat of a prince, has now become a world-weary and broken man but his will to live is strong due to his guilt at the sacrifice your father made to protect his and your life so he wants to repay that debt by not giving up on life.
You eventually hatch an escape plan and now in a young adult phase, you explore and gain knowledge and experience. You go through several key stages including marriage. You of course at this stage feel compelled to take revenge. You are after all, the hero of legend and to solidify this, you need the legendary Zenithian equipment and sword.
After much toiling, you finally come across the legendary Zenithian weapons and equipment. A pretty prominent moment considering all that has happened and they are MUCH stronger than anything you possess at this stage of the game.
However, in a quite astoundingly frustrating and confusing development, your character cannot equip the Zenithian sword! Nothing would prepare you for such a shocking thing - how can you not equip it?! Surely you’re strong enough! Do we have to trigger something else before we can equip it?? Is there another step to complete before we’re ready or something? That must be it.. oh well, we’ll keep I t in the bag until the right time.
Lots of stuff happens, and you journey with your chosen wife in your party who you can talk to any time; eventually locating your old kingdom of Gotha where you meet your uncle who is acting as King in the absence of your father. You are given the kingdom as the rightful heir by your uncle and you spend a bit of time here, eventually seeing your wife give birth to twins - a girl and a boy! You get to name the kids.
An event happens that sees your wife Kidnapped and you locate the tower where she is being held.
There, you come across non other than the evil lord himself who claims that your wife is actually a descendant of Zenithian lineage. In your attempts to battle him, he utterly overpowers you both and uses an ability to turn you both to stone..
You regain consciousness looking into the face of a pair of young children.. they look familiar somehow.. because these kids, are your twins!
Many years have passed (almost a decade) and it seems your kids have gained extraordinary power in attack and magic. Your still-a-child son, singlehandedly locating a rare and mythical magic staff to restore you and your wife.
So I mentioned earlier that your father was looking for the legendary hero. You’re the protagonist. And this, by general tropes is a good line of thinking.
And it is also wrong.
Through a massive twist, it is revealed that your kid son - still a young child is wielding and equipping... the legendary Zenithian equipment that you, the protagonist couldn’t!
The legendary hero is none other than your son! A hero your father searched years for and died trying to find. A hero who you believed was actually you - despite spending a decade in enslavement and going through so much trouble to locate the legendary weapons only to not be able to equip them.
The legendary hero is your son after all. The legendary Zenithian lineage from your wife’s side and yours combined has imbued the power and birthright into your child.
So a lot of adventuring and finally you locate the secret destination where the evil lord resides. Here, you come across your barely alive mother!
It transpires that your mother has for many years, been using every bit of her energy to cocoon an unpenetrable and protective shield around herself. This, to stop herself being forced to resurrect the great evil in the dimension beyond, but is growing weak by the time you see her. Seeing you and rejoicing, she finally embraces you and let’s you know how proud she is of you.
Moments later, in front of your eyes, she is killed by the evil power but not before she speaks before her death and rejoins your father in spirit.
You of course take revenge and then find that the true boss behind the void comes for you. The final fight occurs and your little Son wins the day together with you and eradicating evil from the land.
Dragon Quest VI
It is sadly among the more obscure entries in the season as it never saw any form of release in the West until the DS remakes. Coming after the HUGE success and acclaim of V, it had a lot to live up to and if you compare it to III, IV and V, it perhaps doesn’t offer anywhere near as much to the player.
But that would be a massive injustice to an otherwise fantastic game. It has all the conventions and elements you will no doubt have come to love by the time you play this and narratively, I personally feel it has a story that is different enough to let it stand out as a bonafide and successful game in the franchise.
Dragon Quest VI plays in a very unconventional and non-linear (to a degree) format of storytelling.
The game actually starts with you and a party right before the battle with the Dark Lord! You of course get defeated easily (you can’t win no matter what you do) and then your character wakes up with amnesia in a peaceful and sleepy village.
A central theme in this entry is the ability to traverse between the world you’re in and an alternate ‘Dream world’ version that has many of the same characters who initially can’t see you and even when they eventually do, don’t recognise you though you obviously know their real-world equivalents.
Many events trigger and unfold while you piece together the threads of mystery with a common origin of trouble: the dark lord of this game.
Your character goes through several tribulations and trials and some great story plots (these are much more complex to discuss compare to the previous ones so I won’t go into them for the risk of making it sound more convoluted than it actually is when playing the game)
But once again, you’re character roams the world and completes several quests to find the legendary weapons and armor - though this time, they don’t have the name ‘Zenithian sword’ etc giving the first hint that this game perhaps sees the origin story for the Zenithian armor and weapons that you collect. In essence, your character will reforge weapons and items that ultimately come to be known as the Zenithian equipment in IV and V.
The story is interesting and each character is likeable too and overall, the game is a thoroughly enjoyable experience but because it came after III, IV and V and not quite reaching the emotional highs of those titles, coupled with the fact that it came out very late in the SNES lifecycle and coincided with the next gen consoles like
PlayStation, if fell victim to its circumstances a little.
However when you play this as concurrent run through of the Zenithian trilogy, it is a more than worthy addition to the series and gives pretty much everything you want from in terms of charm and playability.
DQVI post game ‘super bosses‘ (horrendously difficult bosses that you’ll really need to max-level your party to defeat or risk almost one hit wipeouts) and optional extras are some of the most fun in the entire series! You can even see a super boss utterly Destroy the main game ‘main boss’ - these battles are some of the most enjoyable in the series.
Dragon Quest VII
This game was the first in the series to be a PlayStation exclusive and transition from 2D to a form of 3D.
There has always been a common problem for the series gaining popularity in the West and although there are many reasons for this, none highlight this quite as much as the comical and simply pitiful efforts by Enix to promote the game. Development times, localisations, marketing (lack thereof) and a fundamental misunderstanding of the criticality of when to release a game and how to adapt to the western market had long been the bane of the DQ series. Enix never had to promote the game in Japan where it’s institutional cult status and a fabric of Japanese culture made such things redundant.
It was inconceivable how a game series that spawned clone series like final fantasy and Pokemon could fare so bad in the West. Enix, Nintendo, Sony combined with genuine bad timing and luck had all contributed to the series not hitting off in the West.
Enix had been developing the game with so many delays and initially for the GameCube, then drastically opted to shift to the PlayStation. Further delays in localising meant that what came out looked immediately dated and especially so when compared to rival series Final Fantasy VII and VIII who made use of cut scenes and graphical models on a scale much more befitting the powerful system.
Needless to say, it did not sell well and looked and felt outdated.
The biggest crime of all this was the lost opportunity to get across the fantastic game that Dragon Quest VII actually is!
For the small number of western PlayStation owners who DID play it, they quickly realised that beyond the tired looking graphics and stubbornly traditional feel of the game, was a masterpiece!
If you’ve never played a Chrono Trigger, god help you. Go and play it! If you have, you’ll see many, many elements similar in this game. Fun fact: Chrono Trigger (considered one of the best ever RPGs) was a combination effort of the writer of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series, the music composer and director from Final Fantasy and the art direction of Akira Toriyama from Dragon Quest (and dragon ball game). Whereas I personally think Chrono trigger is a little overhyped I still appreciate it for a fantastic and well executed story with deep underlying elements.
Dragon Quest VII has the feel of Chrono Trigger in the sense that it’s fundamental story is wrapped around time travel concepts. It is set in an apparently totally different world to the first two trilogies and the game itself is IMMENSELY huge. It will take you easily around 100 hours to complete and it feels quite different to the rest of the series in a way. This makes it even more difficult to explain the story without making it sound convoluted but essentially you are a protagonist in an island - the only island in the world.
It becomes obvious that there were more islands in the past and you and the mischievous prince as well as childhood friend venture out to uncover the historical wrongs. Along the way, certain events mean you can time travel and save different islands and countries - doing which alters your present day world and sets you on the path to a showdown of a supreme dark lord who has been pulling strings.
After a huge story is unpacked, you defeat the evil lord and save the world From tyranny to go down in lore as a legendary hero.
I would highly recommend playing the 3DS remake version of this entry due to the many quality of life improvements and tweaks made that significantly revitalise the game.
DQVII drastically expands on the class system and growth mechanics in the series and has great music and charming characters making it a solid entry in the series.
Dragon Quest VIII
This game is the first in the series after the merger of Enix and Squaresoft into SquareEnix, meaning the two rival companies and their contrasting series: Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy became one institution. Final Fantasy had veered off into a hyper-realistic, steam-punk themed action RPG whilst Dragon Quest remained rooted in its medieval setting, turn-based and Toriyama visualised worlds.
Dragon Quest VIII saw the release on PS2 and a wonderful cell-shaded animation allowing for true 3D visuals but retaining the Toriyama style designs of characters and worlds.
This game has been, up until recently, the most well-received game in the series in the West despite SquareEnix once again providing little more than pitiful marketing for it. In fact, many people bought the game just to gain an early-access bonus disc for FFIX but on playing DQVIII, realised they were playing something truly special! It created a new wave of niche cult DQ fans and with good reason!
On top of fantastic visuals, the western release has full voice acting and truly memorable characters.
The story follows the protagonist in the aftermath of the horrible destruction of your kingdom - of which you were a guard. After scrambling around, you come across a green frog-like humanoid creature who has a wagon and a horse. It turns out that this is the former king and the horse is the princess but transformed by the antagonist of the game.
You travel the world and gain party members, with each character joining after an arc and quest which leads to building a bond with them in the same way that the One Piece anime does.
You go through the story gaining knowledge and power, ultimately facing off against the evil antagonist and finally defeating him.
As with convention though, there is a true and higher evil who is leagues more powerful and so you proceed to strengthen and gain and create legendary equipment which you use to ultimately take down the demon lord and set the world into an era of peace once again.
This entry introduces concepts such as item crafting and forging which allows you to use the many items found in the world to concoct special armor and weapons. Some of which you find recipes for and some, you can create through experimenting. This becomes a standard staple in following games after it.
There is also an extensive and hugely challenging post-game with up to 4 potential alternative endings and a horrifically difficult set of optional ‘Super-bosses’ - defeating these gives you prizes and weapons otherwise inaccessible.
Probably for the new generation of gamers and millennials, this may be one of the easiest entry points into the series due to the graphical and gameplay consistency with modern games.
Dragon Quest IX
This game saw a very big departure from the success of DQVIII by becoming a Nintendo DS exclusive. This has had pros and cons of course. On the one hand, it took advantage of the wave of popularity that has made the DS one of the best selling consoles of all time; and owing to the Pokemon series releasing several titles on the platform and solidifying RPGs for a new generation of younger gamers, SE wanted to capitalise on this. For once, they did market it quite extensively (by their low standards) in the West, and I would swear to this day that DQIX is one of the best games on that platform.
The handheld and portable nature also meant that the game could be played on the fly and the DS streetpass system could be used to travel between multiplayer worlds and open up bonus content and dungeons.
The problem is that you really have to adjust from the amazing visual and audio treat in VIII to the significantly lower capabilities that a limited handheld system like the DS could ever offer.
The DS, as popular as it was, would perhaps be remembered for being a ‘child’s platform’ and so it did detract the series’ attention from conventional mainstream gamers on PS and Xbox for example.
However, as jarring as the perceived ‘downgrade’ from DQVIII was, the game itself is absolutely fantastic! Many people are clamouring for this game to be remade to current day consoles because it’s visuals do not do it enough justice.
There is HUGE customisation in this game and it retains everything good from DQVIII (other than audio and visuals quality) and expands and even improves gameplay. For the first time, there are no random battles and (almost) every enemy can be seen and avoided on the world map itself.
The story follows a fantastic opening intro video showing how the protagonist is a winged, angelic figure in a sky realm. An event occurs leading to your realm being attacked and your character falling from the sky and descending to the normal world below.
The story is somewhat lighter than previous games and there is very much more focus being places on side-quests and bonus dungeons in post-game.
But the main game does see your character’s journey and experience highlight the classic Dragon Quest charm and defeat the evil character in the story. The bonus dungeons and extra super bosses is very extensive and are you able to battle some of the hardest bosses from the previous games in the series - these are truly epic and satisfying battles!
Dragon Quest X
This is a game that is Japan-exclusive and very sadly, in an MMO format. This means that not only do western gamers need a machine that can play the game, but must also be able to read Japanese AND use VPNs to spoof their location to access Japanese servers. On top of that, a subscription to SquareEnix needs to be paid.
Having said that, the game itself is a return to the gorgeous visual style of DQVIII and even better. There have been (as of May 2020) four expansion passes and there is an offline mode but not without online access first.
I have played through the first 3 expansion passes and the game itself is once again sublime. It is truly heartbreaking that this, not only isn’t in the West, but due to its MMO base, means any kind of localisation is almost impossible. I am still hoping and praying that some form of offline-only adaption is created.
That brings us to DQXI. This game is too recent to disclose the spoilers so go and play it RIGHT NOW!
It’s good, very good. In fact, it’s as close to perfect in its overall packaging of all the traditional notes of the series but modernising the mechanics. The visuals and voice acting is sublime.
Go and play right now!
On a final note, with DQ games, it’s the small details that leave you charmed and not just the concepts. A Wikipedia or standard ‘review’ read through simply will not do them justice. Many western reviews Of the latest games often down score the games due to being ‘too traditional’ and ‘not taking risks’ but this is truly disingenuous and most such reviewers have quite obviously not played the games beyond a few hours and because it’s fashionable to critique games for being supposedly unoriginal.
The reality is that the games are meant to stay steeped in tradition but doesn’t mean they don’t offer originality.
It’s like a Mario game always saving peach and defeating bowser whilst getting power ups. It’s like Link always saving Zelda and defeating Ganon. It’s Ryu and Ken firing projectiles. It’s Pokemon erm, catching Pokemon. It’s some dude killing other dudes and jacking their vehicles in GTA.
These are the basis of the conventions of these titles whilst each latest title offering slightly new elements and experiments in some cases. Dragon Quest does do this but it retains the concept of a fundamental force of good overcoming a fundamental force of evil.
If that is enough to label the whole thing unoriginal then the same should be said about Mario and Zelda.
Ultimately it’s the way something is done and how it makes us feel that matters.
And Dragon Quest does what it does better than any other.