Dragon Quest 1, 2, and 3 on Switch are Worthwhile Forays into Classic JRPGs
The Erdrick Trilogy of Dragon Quest has finally released for Nintendo Switch, but are the first three games truly timeless JRPG classics?
Square Enix recently re-released the first three installments of the classic and crazy popular Dragon Quest series for Nintendo Switch. Japan received a physical collection while the West received a digital-only release. These first three titles are known as the Erdrick Trilogy, as they share a similar setting and timeline and feature a recurring theme of a bloodline hero chosen by divinity to defeat the forces of darkness that would conquer the kingdom of Alefgard. The trilogy name is from Erdrick, the original savior of the land.
All three titles are ports of the Android and iOS versions, which are mostly based off the SNES ports of the original NES versions. This means each game features updated assets such as new sprite art, upscaled music, re-done localization, and a cleaned up UI. The natural switch from touch-based controls to a more traditional control scheme comes together to create an old school gaming experience that’s far easier to navigate than previous iterations.
Looking at all the quality of life changes made to the trilogy, a basic, but important, question bears asking: is each game worth picking up?
For an exceptionally old JRPG, the original Dragon Quest has aged decently well. While the plot is extremely simple fare (go forth brave hero, fight the armies of evil, and defeat the Dragonlord who plagues this kingdom), there’s still plenty of charm and enjoyment to be had.
For instance, when Princess Gwaelin is captured by the Dragonlord in the beginning of the game, speaking to each of the castle dwellers paints a vivid picture of how beloved she is. She isn’t some window dressing plot device, she is treasured by her subjects and they are devastated by her kidnapping. One soldier is lying on the ground sobbing in grief, another subject is barely clinging to hope that she’s still alive.
That human touch sprinkled throughout the narrative, which is only enhanced by the improved localization, works as a strong start to power through the otherwise straightforward and simplistic game.
Especially considering that unlike any other Dragon Quest game, the protagonist works alone. There’s no party members waiting to be recruited or to tag along as you journey around the world. It’s balanced surprisingly well, as the hero learns all the spells he needs on his own and is quite resilient to damage.
The world itself is the open kind that was popular in the olden days of JRPGs, with little direction in terms of where to go other than some vague advice from NPCs. But once players adjust to the slightly archaic style of storytelling and direction, it’s easy to figure out your itinerary.
Monster encounters are manageable and through diligent grinding, it’s lightwork to stay ahead of them in level. Of course, maintaining equipment and having a healthy stock of healing items always helps, but that’s more than doable.
Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line
Dragon Quest II is an interesting title, as it takes the relatively tame opening of the original Dragon Quest and completely turns it on its head. The game opens as the players witnesses a bloodbath firsthand.
A king successfully hides away his daughter and fights against the forces of darkness until he falls prey to the evil wizard Hargon. Said wizard continues to sic his minions on the rest of the castle dwellers and eventually burns down Moonbrooke Castle in a sea of fire. One lone soldier survives long enough to drag himself to Midenhall and tell of what happened before he too succumbs to his grave wounds.
It’s an extremely somber and brutal opening that reminds players of the high cost of life that war inflicts on the people. An important lesson that old school fantasy plotlines tended to use as mere throwaway backstories.
Unlike the first Dragon Quest, the sequel requires you to recruit two party members: the prince of Cannock and the princess of Moonbrooke. Players are thrown back into more familiar territory of having a classically balanced party.
And you will need this party, as Dragon Quest II is known as one of the most difficult entries in the entire franchise. This is due in part to the monsters themselves, as well as the very large world which is easy to get lost in without a guide.
Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation
Dragon Quest III is the definitive Dragon Quest experience. It’s one of the most popular titles in the series (definitely the most popular of the NES trilogy) and sets the tone for future installments. DQIII is the first game that lets players choose their gender, which is already a huge plus. And unlike the first two titles, you don’t get dropped off in some castle after scrolling text flashes at you for a few seconds.
Instead, you begin the game in a vision sequence as a mysterious voice beckons you further in. From there you’re asked your gender, your true name, and your birthday to determine your astrology sign. After an extensive set of questions that further analyzes your personality, you’re dropped into a chosen scenario as a final test. This scenario is picked based on your answers to the questions asked beforehand. And based on your actions, it is the final determinate for your protagonist’s personality.
Not only is this a unique (especially for its time) way to determine stat distribution upon level up, but it’s an incredible method of getting the player immersed in the story, character, and the world of the title.
Another feature that makes Dragon Quest III the standout title of the NES trilogy is the vast customization options available to the player when it comes to party makeup. Not only can you control the class and gender of each ally, their unique personality also influences their stat growth much like your own does.
The battles and exploration often prove a nice challenge for the player, without the daunting size of DQII’s world map. Of course it can still be tough at times to parse which way to go, how to balance the use of MP, and general item management. Conversely, the world also feels more fleshed out and detailed so there’s far more motivation to find all those little details and power through the tougher sections.
In all three games, combat is straightforward. You can choose to Attack an enemy, cast Magic, use an Item, or Flee the battle. If you’ve played any sort of traditional fantasy JRPG, then these basic tenets should be more than familiar.
In terms of graphics, they are absolutely upgraded from the SNES versions. And those upgrades, like with most other Square Enix mobile ports, are rather divisive.
This is because while the graphics are technically superior, they often visually do not mesh, resulting in a very inconsistent style that can throw players off. An example of this issue can be found with the mobile version of Final Fantasy VI which was released several years ago and had fans clamoring for the original SNES graphics.
That being said, once I adjusted to this style I actually appreciated it more. It’s much cleaner and clearer, allowing me to see the PC and NPCs much more easily, in addition to environments that are more distinct. In combat, the refined graphics shine as players can see each monster as they were meant to be seen, with Akira Toriyama’s designs directly translating onscreen without the need to downscale. Being able to clearly see what you’re fighting at a glance is more than convenience — it’s downright a tactical advantage.
The most noticeable improvement to graphics, however, is to text box layout and the text itself. In the old versions, the boxes were poorly laid out and text was difficult to parse. Said text now is much easier to read through because of these changes, a bonus for those like myself who have poor vision.
Music is by far the biggest improvement. Hearing the updated soundtracks is pleasuring and immerses the player even further into the game. It reminds me of the excellent job Square Enix did with updating the soundtrack for the Nintendo DS port of Chrono Trigger.
Going back to my initial question: are all three games worth picking up? My answer would be that for both longtime fans of Dragon Quest as well as fans of the JRPG genre, in general: yes.
Each title has its benefits and drawbacks of course. And while these early entries in the franchise are a bit dated as a whole, they’re still enjoyable and surprisingly functional with Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation being the standout of the bunch.
So if you’re a huge fan of the genre, pick these titles up as they’re a nice look into the origins of JRPGs. For those just starting on the franchise, however, you might want to cut your teeth on Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King instead.