Play, that is.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Dragon Quest franchise, known better in the States as Dragon Warrior, but fuck that shit, we’re calling it “Quest” today (be thankful I don’t call it Dorakue). To mark this quarter century of uninterrupted awesomeness, the good people at Square-Enix decided to release a collection of the first three games in the series on a single disc, playable on the Nintendo Wii. The games would be presented as they were in both their Famicom and Super Famicom forms. And yes, we’re going the Famicom route for one important reason – the NES versions are markedly different from their original Japanese counterparts. Enough, I think, to warrant the system distinction. It’s not like I love saying “Famicom” or anything.
This was actually my first time playing Dragon Quest I in Japanese, and my first time playing II and III at all. I might have tried out II back in the days, but I wasn’t a fan of managing more than one character or fighting more than one enemy at a time, and I wouldn’t play another Dragon Quest game until VIII, nearly 20 years later. Loved that first one, though. I wasted no time in getting down with that one again, in original Famicom format, of course.
Check out the difference in how the sprites of DQI look – weird, right? Everyone in the Famicom version faces forward all the time, even YOU, heir of Roto. Yeah, that’s right – I said “Roto” because the heir of Erdrick was able to look to the left, the right, and show his ass to the camera instead of moonwalking all over the damn place. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t remember if your character could face different directions in the NES version, but after checking out some of the differences, I learned that this was just the tip of the iceberg. There are rounded, sandy coast lines in the NES version, whereas in the Famicom’s rendering of Alefgard, the ocean begins at the forest. It is truly an enchanted land.
One thing that struck me immediately about the Famicom version was that there is no save file system. The Famicom carts didn’t have batteries in them, and the only way to save your progress was to get a big, long password from the king, write it down, and then punch it back in without fucking it up the next time you play. And believe me, they are easy to fuck up. Thankfully, in this Wii release, you can pause at ANY time to make a single save state that can be loaded up even if you turn the power off or die. It may not be the traditional way to play, but I’m a busy dude with two jobs and a family. Screw that password system – it makes the idea of playing for just 20 minutes seem absolutely pointless because you’ll be spending half of that time inputting your last password and copying down the new one. It totally changes the way I imagine Japanese kids playing this game back in the day. I can picture notebooks full of hiragana nonsense with notes like “Lvl. 14, no keys, Roto armor” and parents wondering what the fuck kind of devil language this game was teaching their youngsters. But then again, it’s Japan and the more likely scenario is that the adults were playing the game alongside their kids, the way I am today.
My son is a funny, incredible creature. He’s very quick at picking up on the names of monsters and every time an encounter would start, he would gasp with alarm, and then scream the name of whatever enemy suddenly appeared. Whether it was “*gasp!* a slime!” or “*gasp!* a red dragon!” it didn’t even matter if we were level 20 – he’d call each of them out, and then laugh hysterically (if not derisively) when they ran away. I was even able to let him play a good portion of this game just by keeping him in an area where the monsters were not so tough, so he could roam around and bang on the A button to win encounters with hardly a scratch. One time I even dozed off while he was playing, and I woke up to the familiar chime of a level up that he was able to achieve on his own. There are some moments that as a father, I cannot begin to describe the joy or pride that I feel, but it is fucking awesome. We defeated the Dragonlord together and restored that ball of light to Alefgard on our sixth day into it, and he still tells the tale whenever we watch the sick animated intro, which is basically every time we fire up the game. Here is that intro now in YouTubular goodness: