Dragon Quest is a franchise I’ve always been moderately familiar with. I grew up with the Game Boy Color version of Dragon Quest III, loved Dragon Quest Monsters because I would play anything that reminded me of Pokemon, and I enjoyed what little of Dragon Quest VIII I played, though I was more into the accompanying Final Fantasy XII demo. It was never out of disinterest or anything like that, I just had different preferences at the time. I admired the series from afar – especially Akira Toriyama’s character art – but was never quite interested enough to take the plunge.
Until early 2018, when the trailer for the North American release of Dragon Quest XI dropped, that is.
I don’t really know what activated all of the neurons in my brain, but god damn did that trailer immediately captivate me. It’s like I could feel the sense of adventure emanating from it, and I wanted in on it as soon as possible. It was at that point in which I took it upon myself to look back at the other mainline entries to see what I had been missing all this time (excluding X, which is a Japan-only MMO; though believe me, I certainly still tried). Luckily, this task was made easier due to most of them being easily accessible if you don’t mind committing the gamer sin of playing video games on your phone. The first six games (and VIII but that port is a bit…compromised) are available on android/iOS devices, so I figured I’d start with the first game and see how far I could get before getting sidetracked or bored due to its age, and then skip to one of the later entries.
I finished it in one day.
To be fair, the first Dragon Quest can be finished in around eight hours, but I’m not known for finishing game quickly games either so I consider it a major plus that this old game kept my attention that well (seriously, it took me nearly six months to finish the Resident Evil 2 remake, and I love that game; I have no idea why I’m like this). Despite my terrible sense of timeliness, I had a blast running through this game. It’s definitely one of those old-school experiences where getting a little lost is part of the experience, but the convenience of having it on my phone really helped with the grind and made chipping away at it a lot less tedious. Beyond that, it’s honestly one of the more accessible games of its time. Series creator Yuji Horii wanted to create an introductory RPG for a wider audience, and the simplified mechanics are indicative of that. It’s a good time, enough so that I was already on the store page for the second game as soon as I hit the credits.
From here on out I would pretty much go down the line and pick up the next game whenever I would finish its predecessor. I played the first six games on my phone and VII, VIII, & IX on my 3DS. The most shocking part of all of this was that I actually managed to finish all of them before XI came out. I genuinely wasn’t expecting to be so enraptured by these games, but the sense of adventure in each individual experience was scratching an itch that I didn’t know needed to be scratched. I’ve already mentioned how slow I am in regards to finishing games, and my track record with RPGs is even more dire. Finishing nine of them in a few months is nothing short of a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that I still can’t believe I had the attention span to do. So why this series in particular?
It doesn’t seem like much on a surface level. The series has managed to stay stubbornly consistent over the course of its lifetime, and there are plenty of criticisms levied against it for maintaining that simplicity. But for me, that simplicity was exactly what I needed at the time. Dragon Quest sticks to a tried-and-true, no-frills turn-based combat system that feels quick and snappy and gets the player right back to exploring. Each game tends to have an extra gimmick to spice things up like V’s monster recruitment or VIII’s tension system, but the core combat is always there and it’s always easy to jump right into. Sometimes the exploration can fall victim to the old game disease of not telling the player where the fuck to go, but I usually had a guide handy just in case (especially for II and VI, which are coincidentally my two least favorite entries). Those instances were rare for me though, and I generally breezed through all of these games without getting seriously jammed up.
I also love the way most of these games handle their stories. The scope of this article is already too grand so I won’t delve into any of them specifically, but this franchise has a knack for introducing a lot of familiar tropes and story beats and then flipping them on their heads in the final act. Shit gets real and legitimately dark sometimes, but there’s always a ray of hope that’s pervasive throughout. There’s always something wholesome around the corner and I love that these games are able to balance that so well. Dragon Quest III has some legitimate twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, and playing the prior two games beforehand made that moment all the more hype (which by the way some of these games may have connecting threads and lore but if you just want to pick a random game and jump in that’s okay too).
Of course, there’s also the art direction and Akira Toriyama’s aforementioned character designs that I’ve always loved even before I fell into this rabbit hole (because I, like many a young child in the 90s, loved Dragon Ball Z), but that’s all just icing on the cake for me. The cozy vibes of each game are off the charts, and even when things get grim, there’s always a sense of comfort that comes from exploring each unique, colorful world. I think that’s the main thing for me here. These games feel like coming home after a long journey. There’s really no feeling quite like the solace of being in a familiar place and being at ease, and my binging of this series felt exactly like that – like an escape from the harshness of the outside world.
Dragon Quest XI would eventually get its North American release in September of 2018, and I had just spent the previous five months playing through every mainline game up to IX. I had a brief worry that by the time I got to XI I’d be too burnt out to get through it, but thankfully my obsession was still in full force. In fact, at the time of writing this, I’ve beaten this game twice (the second playthrough being the definitive edition that would release a year later on the Switch). It is now my favorite Dragon Quest installment, as well as one of my top ten games of all time.
Needless to say, I kinda like it. It’s alright.
I don’t know what my grand statement is here, or what the entire point of this post is; I mostly just wanted to document how I became the superfan I am today and share that experience with you. It’s not often I fall head over heels for a series in such a short amount of time, but Dragon Quest has a certain allure to it that I just find utterly intoxicating. Whether it’s the simple joy of a grand adventure, or the coziest of cozy vibes, this series never fails to put a smile on my face, and I’m glad I took the time to explore these wonderful games. I’m looking forward to the future of the franchise, and I also keep threatening to play XI a third time, so it’s safe to say I’ll be a fan for years to come.
- Thanks for taking the time to read this loosely structured ramble. I didn’t have much of a plan or thesis statement going into this one but I figured it’d be fun to write about my experience and why this series means a lot to me now.
- I didn’t even touch the side games aside from briefly mentioning one of the DQ Monsters games I grew up with, but there are a lot. I particularly love the first Torneko Mystery Dungeon game (which subsequently birthed the Mystery Dungeon franchise so that’s cool). I also love both of the Builders games and I hope they make a third one!
- I also didn’t get super into each individual game because we’d be here all day if I did that, but I’ll put my definitive ranking of the mainline games here for you to judge me on:
- XI > III > VIII > V > IV > VII > IX > I > VI > II (keep in mind I like all of these games lol)
- *DRAGON QUEST V SPOILERS*
- I was also getting married in 2018 (September, funnily enough), so the wedding sub-plot of Dragon Quest V made that game even more cozy and wholesome for me. Shout out to my wife, I love my wife!!!
- Next post will be a little more structured so consider this one a bonus! I hope you enjoyed reading it!