Game Changers: Volume 1 – Dragon Warrior

Welcome to the first edition of Game Changers. In this series, we’ll be discussing games that have had a major impact on RPGs in some fashion. To kick things off, we thought we’d look at Dragon Quest 1, known in North America as Dragon Warrior. For a lot of us, this was the first RPG we played.

This brings back some memories...
This brings back some memories…

Though Dragon Quest 1 was not the first true console RPG to be released in Japan, it was the first one to be released in North America. In fact, it is very possible that many westerners would never have even considered this game if it weren’t for the fact that it was offered as a free promotion for new subscribers of the recently renamed Nintendo Power Magazine.

By today’s standards, Dragon Warrior is very rudimentary. Nearly every action had to be selected from the menu, including opening a chest or going up stairs, but it laid the groundworks for future games, including eight more numbered games in the series so far and lots of spin offs.

Dragon Warrior also set the standard for battle engines for the next several years. Long before the days of action-based systems, or even ATB, battles in Dragon Warrior were turn based, but even that was extremely simple. Unlike nearly every other game to follow it, battles were always one-on-one. There is only one playable character in the game, and all fights, from the lowliest slime to the final showdown with the Dragonlord were solitary battles in first-person perspective. Though many games would use the turn-based engine, nearly every game released after Dragon Warrior improved on it dramatically by adding more playable characters and monsters to the mix.

Raise your hand if you got your copy this way.
Raise your hand if you got your copy this way.

Dragon Warrior also pioneered the dungeon-crawling aspects found in many current games. Simply put, if you didn’t have a pre-drawn map of some of the dungeons, you probably weren’t going to get very far. At a bare minimum, you’d have to draw your own, but considering the extremely limited view given in dungeons, it was a herculean task at best. This, no doubt, helped create the strategy guide section of bookstores that would become a favorite hangout for gamers, myself included. Before the days of the internet and gamefaqs to bail you out, your only hope was to find the information in one of the dozens of game hint manuals or the rare book dedicated to a particular game. There was also the aforementioned Nintendo Power which had some, but not all the answers, despite the somewhat symbiotic relationship the two shared.

In this way, Dragon Warrior became the simplest template for a traditional RPG, and a lot of its elements survive today in current-generation games. Every turn-based game owes at least some tribute to the originator of the format.

Check back on next Tuesday for the next issue of this continuing series, and we’ll pick another game that changed the very way we think about RPGs today.

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