Originally released in the west as Dragon Warrior on the NES in 1986, Dragon Quest’s latest rerelease on the Switch eShop 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.