This month marks 30 years since the first Dragon Quest game was released in Japan. There’s a chance, however, that you’ve never played a single game in the series, despite considering yourself a lover of JRPGs.
I was in a similar position for a while, and a lot of that is down to some confusion within the series. In the West, various release delays and other issues mean it’s never quite had the chances that other JRPGs have. Frequently, titles have come out a while later than they did in Japan, a missed opportunity usually swiped by Final Fantasy. The series is split between different consoles too, meaning it’s not as straightforward to play as it could be.
Don’t let this put you off, though. With older consoles relatively easy to pick up these days, 2016 is the ideal time to learn more about the franchise and why it’s garnered nine main games in the US and many spin-offs. Best of all? Almost all of the games are independent from each other (with a few loose ties in there) meaning you don’t have to worry about following a chronological order.
But where do you start? Here’s a quick run down of the highlights.
Dragon Quest VIII
Dragon Quest VIII came out at the wrong time for many. Arriving on the PS2 just in time for the launch of the Xbox 360, and a year after its Japanese release, it looked pretty old fashioned. The cel-shaded textures and visual stylings of Akira Toriyama (best known for his work on Dragon Ball) helped it maintain some charm, but it was still a hard sell. That’s a shame as Dragon Quest VIII is rather special. As an example of how accessible it remains, it’s the only JRPG my casual games-playing mother has played, and she’s completed it numerous times. Turn-based combat is there, along with a fairly straight forward levelling up system. It’s the storyline that’ll draw you in though, with some delightfully humorous moments backed up by some quirky voice acting.
Two options are available for getting hold of a copy. You can buy a PS2 copy fairly cheaply second hand, or you can buy it for your smartphone or tablet. There’s a catch with the latter however, as you’ll miss out on the excellent voice acting. Wait till later in the year though, and you can have the best of both worlds with a 3DS version soon on its way.
Dragon Quest IV
Dragon Quest IV does things a little differently from the others in the franchise. It starts a series of events that spread across V and VI meaning, ideally, you want to play all three. Dragon Quest IV offers a few features that might seem quite familiar if you’ve played other JRPGs. There’s a day and night cycle, you can travel via a ship as well as a hot air balloon, and a form of fast-travel is also available.
Split up into five different chapters, there game has a lot going on. Battle-wise, a Tactics system means you can assign duties to your team, giving you more control than earlier games in the series. Fortunately, it’s not too complex, ensuring you’ll be able to learn easily enough.
Besides a DS version, you can get a copy of this for your smartphone and tablet. As the smartphone versions offer quick saves and autosave functionality, you’re probably going to want to get this. Don’t forget to dive into the later two installments, with V following 30 years of its main character’s life, as well as offering monster catching options. VI? Well, VI is a bit intimidating and poorly paced, but you’ll want to see how things pan out.
Dragon Quest IX
Is Dragon Quest IX one of the best Dragon Quest game out there? Probably not. It is, however, very accessible to newbies. It removes random encounters, switching to a spawn-based system so you know exactly what’s ahead of you. It offers a moderately complex class system with each character having a vocation that determines what they can do, but it’s quite well introduced. It’s also the first to offer local multiplayer functionality, meaning you can tag along with a friend which is always more fun. Because of that, it’s a more difficult experience than other games, but it’s worth it. A plethora of open-ended side quests means this is a meaty affair too.
Its biggest selling point? It’s really easy to get hold of a copy, given it was released for the Nintendo DS. As Nintendo 3DS owners can also play DS games, it’s likely that you’ve got a few options when it comes to what device to play it on.
Something entirely different
Still want to enjoy some of the Dragon Quest lore, but want to play something very different? Dragon Quest Heroes is a good bet, offering a Dynasty Warriors style experience with the characters and monsters of Dragon Quest. That means it’s a little mindless, but it’s a ton of fun and a welcome break from grinding for experience. PS3 and PS4 owners can grab a copy of this.