Dragon Quest, alongside Final Fantasy, has to rank as one of the most famous JRPG franchises ever. Like Square's epic series, it began life on the 8-bit Famicom (NES to you and me) and sold millions of copies in its native Japan. However, unlike Final Fantasy – which exploded in the west following the release of Final Fantasy VII – Dragon Quest has taken much longer to become established outside of its homeland. Taking that into account, it's highly likely that many Switch owners won't have experienced the earliest entries in the canon, which is what makes this triple-pack so appealing. Available now in Asia, this collection is fully playable in English, and pulls together the first three titles in the lineage. All three are also available as individual eShop purchases globally.
Originally released in the west as Dragon Warrior on the NES in 1986, the original Dragon Quest is a throwback to retro JRPG design, and features a few new tricks up its sleeve that makes it a bit more palatable for modern audiences. There are brand-new bells and whistles including a quick-save system, a rearranged MIDI soundtrack and new sprites to boot. However, it’s not all good news for this beloved classic.
The basic setup for Dragon Quest has you taking control of the player character, a descendant of a legendary hero who has to save the world and vanquish the evil big-bad. The core story is nothing to write home about, but Dragon Quest keeps you entertained with small flourishes of life in its rudimentary world, propped up by its modern localisation, which gives all of the NPCs frequently funny dialogue. Most of your time in Dragon Quest is spent out in its overworld, fighting monsters in random, turn-based battles.
Since Dragon Quest is one of the first video games to have ever used a turn-based battle system, don’t expect too much complexity out of it. This can lead to some frustrating moments when you’ll just want to get to the other side of the map but are tasked with going through these often slow, random encounters. A turbo or auto-battle feature seen in other JRPG remasters would have been incredibly welcome here.
Being a 30-year old game, Dragon Quest doesn't really give you too much direction in the sense of telling you where to go. While this is great to naturally explore its world, it can become a little frustrating to skim over a piece of text that ends up being pretty crucial. This often ends up with you needing to find the specific NPC that dispenses those details again, which can be a hefty task in itself. Seasoned JRPG experts might have this instinct already instilled into them, but for people new to the genre or series, it would probably be better to look at one of the more modern releases of the series first, where you won't have to contend with now-archaic design.
Something to note about Dragon Quest’s visuals in this release is the somewhat odd look it has. Backgrounds are all sprite-work, whereas the characters, NPCs and monsters have all been redrawn at a slightly higher resolution. This gives the game a very odd feeling, as the two styles are often at odds with one another. It doesn’t look good, and often feels like you’re playing an off-brand, free JRPG you could download on your phone’s app store. Of course, this problem is exacerbated further when you realise that this remake also suffers from a stutter when your screen scrolls in the overworld or in villages.
Unfortunately, the technical issues and art do take away enjoyment from playing this otherwise fantastic retro throwback. While diehard fans of the series may enjoy it, a more casual player might be a little bit lost when faced with its 30-year old design.
Its sequel Dragon Quest II has something of a reputation. Not only is it the sophomore entry into the juggernaut JRPG franchise, the second of Dragon Quest’s Erdrick Trilogy, but it’s also known as one of the most difficult, unbalanced JRPGs to this day.
Set 100 years after the events of the original game, you pick up Dragon Quest II as a descendant of the legendary hero Erdrick once again, and also as a descendant of the original game’s protagonist. This time, you'll see more hallmarks of the series start to appear. One of the biggest differences between the original Dragon Quest and this sequel is the fact that you now have an entire party of characters at your disposal.
This is both a blessing and a curse. The game decides to drip-feed you these party members as you continue on in your adventure, yet its hallmark random encounters can suddenly drop a horde of monsters on you which your growing team is likely to struggle against, leading to some incredibly frustrating encounters – even early on in the game. Needless to say, you will definitely need to make sure you’re properly-equipped before leaving even the starting area of the game in order to stand a chance at making it to your next destination.
Like its predecessor, you’re left to your own devices to explore the world as you see fit, and the game expects you to go and hit every landmark on the map in order to get a full understanding of the world, your place in it and the secrets hidden within the game. Luckily, Dragon Quest II also features a map system, so if you are in dire straits while out exploring its expansive overworld, you’re able to make a quick stop to restock and replenish your party’s HP.
When it comes to length, Dragon Quest II is a bit long in the tooth, and more often than not this feels like a bit of bloat to pad out the runtime; however, some of the new elements – such as the ship – are great time-saving measures. Like the original Dragon Quest for Switch, we would have liked to have seen more done to streamline the experience when it comes to random battles and slow traversal of the game’s overworld, but that would require a pretty extensive re-tooling of the game's mechanics, and would drastically alter the way it plays – which is perhaps not what is expected with these 'faithful' ports.
The gooey details of the port are in line with the original Dragon Quest’s release for Switch, which is to say that there are redrawn assets in the form of enemies, NPCs and player characters that are of a slightly higher resolution than the rest of the game. Enemy designs, in particular, are more evocative of someone trying to upscale sprites than be more faithful to Akira Toriyama’s brilliant original artwork for the monster designs. Additionally, while exploring the map, there is consistent stuttering, which is in-line with the original game’s release on Switch.
There’s a lot to be desired for Dragon Quest II, both as a game and as a port. Considering the final stretch of the game, it’s a difficult one to recommend and spend your time on when Dragon Quest III and Dragon Quest XI are on the same system. This one is a reminder that even the best franchises experience growing pains, and is only suitable for diehard Dragon Quest fans only.
Thankfully, things improve massively for the third entry. Dragon Quest III is clearly a notable step up from its predecessors and is one of the best JRPGs you can buy on Switch today. It does come with some notable caveats, however.
Dragon Quest III is a prequel to the original Dragon Quest and tells the story of Ortega, who is tasked with the quest of defeating the fiend Baramos. While we saw some flourishes of a story in Dragon Quest II, it's this amazing third entry which allows the franchise to really hits its stride in terms of plot. The winding storyline keeps you engaged, and the expansive world lets you keep discovering new nooks and crannies to explore. Dragon Quest III’s world is a genuine joy to poke around in and will keep surprising you as you progress. NPC interactions are one of the biggest highlights in the game, and the way that they are written makes this an incredibly fun romp through a lighthearted fantasy world.
Armed with one of the strongest soundtracks a Dragon Quest title can have, the rearranged MIDI tracks composed by Koichi Sugiyama shine, and let Dragon Quest III’s lighthearted fantasy romp really bring out its personality. It's a treat to go through the game and keep being delighted by the music in new areas.
There have been a few improvements made in Dragon Quest III, most notably a full heal option, where you’re able to swiftly get your entire party’s health back up with a single button press (as long as you have the required items, of course). Additionally, you have one extra party member, and you can compose your party however you’d like. Further pushing the boat out is the addition of a day/night cycle, where you’re able to face off against different baddies if you’re lurking around in the evening hours.
The battle system has been slightly reworked to factor in more engaging gameplay, with more skills that add a new dimension to the tried-and-true “whack it with a sword and maybe cast a spell” strategy that the previous two games in the series employ. As ever, the random battles persist in this release, and can still be frustrating; without the addition of a turbo button to ease up on those enemy turns, things can get frustrating as you wait for enemies to slowly attack your party.
In comparison to Dragon Quest I and II on Switch, III does not seem to suffer from the same issue of character art not being in line with the backgrounds, and they manage to blend in pretty seamlessly. This also lets you really see the Akira Toriyama sprite-work shine. Unfortunately, there is still a slight stuttering issue while exploring maps, but it’s not enough to distract you from the game completely.
Dragon Quest III might be slightly more expensive than its two younger brothers, but it stands tall as a great way to explore the world of Dragon Quest for the first time. Even when compared to modern JRPGs, Dragon Quest III still stands tall as one of the best in the genre.
It's fantastic that fans finally have a way of revisiting these three classic JRPGs on Switch, but it's painfully clear that time has not been kind to the first two instalments; the second game, in particular, suffers from balancing issues that make it a real slog for anyone who isn't a diehard follower of the franchise. However, if you're super-keen to explore the history of one of the most beloved role-playing franchises of all time, then this triple-pack is one of the best ways of doing that. Those on the fence may be better off simply buying the third game on the eShop, however.
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