With the booming popularity of RPGs ("JRPGs") through the years, its often fun -- and depending who you ask, "important" -- to go back to yesteryear, and see just exactly how we got to where we are today. With Dragon Quest X right around the corner, now might be as good a time as any to check your roots, and see how it used to be..before so much of what we take for granted today was around.
The first game in the Dragon Quest / Dragon Warrior series is, of course, Dragon Warrior, a game that most children of the 80's knew about due to it being awarded as a free gift by subscribing to Nintendo Power. A game that WASN'T given away by the truckload was Dragon Warrior II, a title that improved on many of the flaws of the first installment. While not receiving as much attention on the NES console as Dragon Warrior III or Dragon Warrior IV, it did play an instrumental role in pointing that ship in the right direction, coordinates set to "awesome."
Plot Set 100 years after Dragon Warrior, a Hero in the line of Erdrick (who is known as "Loto" in some versions of the game) sets out on a journey to rid the world of Hargon and his minions, a foul creature who never sleeps, and has disrupted a century of peace. Boo!
What It Does Well
For anyone who can't take Dragon Warrior for the mind-numbing monotony of one-on-one battles..this game may provide enough spice to fix that up for you. Whereas the first game was "you vs. The World," this game allows you to recruit companions (mandatory). The first party-based game in the series, you'll lean on the Prince of Cannock and the Princess of Moonbrooke to aid you in your journey. Dragon Warrior had you play as a warrior-type character, able to equip lots of swords, shields, helmets, and heavy armor, learning few spells along the way. Dragon Warrior II splits up those duties; the Hero gets to carry the powerful equipment, the heavy-hitting soldier of the group, the Prince does lighter armor but boasts some magical abilities, and the Princess is quite close to the mage-type character so commonplace now, heavy in magic and light on hand-to-hand combat.
You might be thinking "hey, three-on-one doesn't seem so fair," but this has changed as well. In Dragon Warrior where every-single-battle was a one-on-one affair, you now find yourself fighting three enemies on a regular basis, and depending on which types of enemies they are, it can be plenty more (ie: those Metal Slimes are back, and sometimes there are 8 of them. Think of the experience.. ). More enemies per battle means more experience points, which means you level up faster, walk around less, and finish quicker. Solid. And because of the diverse run of bad guys, you'll have to employ a bit of strategy here and there, another break from the autopilot of "fight, fight, fight."
This game features a lot more weapons, armors, and spells than the previous game, and allows you to hold much more equipment as well, each character having their own items. One of those new Items is a Ship (though it doesn't go in your Inventory)! The Ship, which you get in the first half of the game, really opens things up and allows you to explore a much larger world, and get from place to place quicker instead of pacing around on foot through the entire continent. Speaking of that continent from Dragon Warrior (and somewhat of a spoiler, sorry), it has RETURNED (though scaled down a bit) and is accessible in Dragon Warrior II. Nearly unchanged (in both sight and sound) from the first game, you can set foot in Tantegel Castle, and get a Critical Nostalgia Hit square in your face. Really cool, and I wish more games did this. You're also able to find the same armor you -- as a player -- wore in the first game, gathering the same Erdrick's Armor set that your ancestor donned 100 years ago.
Lastly (though you'll notice it first), the game is prettier. More vibrant colors, more variation in both party members and NPCs designs, more tones in the enemies palettes, among other things, and a definite jump from the original game will be detected quite early. There is a wider variety of music, also, and unlike Dragon Warrior, it isn't as depressing this time around. Happy day!
What It Doesn't Do Well
While the addition of two new characters sounds awesome, it isn't always. You'll find very quickly that there isn't a whole heckuva lot of stuff you can equip on these other characters, and as the game wears on, you'll find those other characters somewhat underpowered, and definitely taking a backseat to the damage your Hero character is dealing..so much so, that its almost like the backseat of another car, two cars back. They do make up for the lack of physical offense with some powerful Magic, but MP doesn't last forever. In fact, the only way to restore magic points besides sleeping is with a Wizard's Ring, an item -- to my knowledge -- that can't be found or purchased, but only WON in a chance game of Lottery, or apparently on a random drop from a difficult monster late in the game. I could've used it dearly throughout my gameplay, but sadly never came across it. Bummer.
The previous paragraph covers the offense of your buddies, and the defensive situation is even more dire. You're pretty much hosed here; the Hero is fine, but the Prince's best equipment choice is the same as the Princess', a cloak made from two hard to find materials. There can only be one (unless you glitch the game), and your unit without the cloak is not going to have a good time. The best option (after you get the cloak on the Prince, probably) is to purchase the most expensive armor in the game, priced at the sum of 65,000 gold (you stop collecting gold at 65,600 or something, Legend of Zelda style), a total that isn't reached lightly. And its not even that good, especially when compared to the armor you've got with good 'ol P1.
While the ship is a good thing, and the larger world is a good thing, it also means that it takes a darn long time to get from place to place. Some games give you the option of warping to towns you've already been to, but that is not the case here. You DO have the option of casting Return or using a Wing of Wyvern to go back to the town/area where you last Saved, but it isn't perfect. And without a special item, the only place you can save is in a Castle, with a King. You CANNOT save in every town, or in the field.
Even if you DO have that item, there are so many other Items that are mandatory that you probably won't have a lot of room in your inventory. Yes, the inventory is expanded, but you're forced to carry three types of keys, a flute, some other late-game special items that you MUST carry, and this is all ON TOP of your equipment. Lucky this is cleaned up in most other RPGs after the fact, but putting your Sword, Armor, Helmet, Shield, and Accessory all in your pocket doesn't leave room for much more. At the end of the game, everything I was carrying was stuff I NEEDED to carry, and I didn't have any Herbs or Antidotes on me at all. On the topic of healing from your inventory (as opposed to a Heal/Healmore/Healall spell), you only have the ability to revive a character ONCE per outing. Unlike other games where you use a Fenix Down or something like that, this game uses the Leaf of the World Tree to bring a character back to 1 HP, and you may only carry ONE at a time. If you use one up, you get to take a boat back to this island, well out of the way to pick up another one. If you have to use one in a dungeon area, hold your breath and hope for the best. Later on you do gain access to a Revive spell, but only one character has it, and it cannot be used in battle.
I had to use one up before the midway point into my "final run" to beat the game, and it got pretty hairy throughout. I had to ask myself "do I turn back, or do I move forward?" I moved forward, and I made it to the end. And actually, kinda weird here, I thought the final battle was "too easy" (especially in comparison to the hard as balls Dragonlord fight in Dragon Warrior). After losing here and there and everywhere prior, I got to the last guy and just wailed away on him, even after losing the Princess. He fell with relative ease, so much so that I let out a muted-yet-excitable-and-audible "oh?," and scrambled to turn up the TV for some sweet game ending music..
..but before you get there, you've got the "second half of the game." After the ship, the game opens up..but not in a good way. The freedom the game provides you is at the expense of direction. Once I grabbed the ship, I sailed around looking for something to do (I found Tantegel, cool), but got an "alright, what do I do?" feeling very quick. There is an area where you are supposed to look for "Treasure," by directions given to you, and it's apparently very touchy. I tried diving and diving at this disturbance in the water for treasure to no avail. I tried from all angles, all sides, all directions, and nothing worked. I grabbed an issue of Nintendo Power that I had acquired a week prior by chance, and one of the things in there was "Where is the Treasure?" It told me to look EXACTLY where I was looking, and within the next few attempts it told me I found some treasure. Bad hit detection or something? I'm not entirely sure what happened there..
Hand-in-hand with that type of stuff, the second half of the game basically begs you to use a walkthrough. Priding myself as an experienced player, I tried to do the entire game without any outside help whatsoever. I did occasionally check a map online as they would've been included with the game way back when, so I found that ok. When the second half came, and I had no idea what to do and no new information, I had to take a peek.
Exchanging that Treasure with someone in a town, you are given an "Echoing Flute," an item that you're supposed to play and it will resonate if there is a Crest nearby (you must collect all of them to get a special Item -- thankfully, these Crests are stored somewhere other than your inventory). The thing is, with few exceptions, you probably wouldn't naturally come across these Crests, and that goes for a lot of things in this game. I don't think this is me being a complainer or a whiner or whatever, but why in the world would you randomly search a tile in a random part of the world, repeatedly? There is nothing to clue you in to where something MIGHT be hidden, but just that it was placed there magically by the programming gods.
Once you get to the end of the game and you've got everything on you, chances are you're going to grind...for a while. I arrived at my Shrine before Hargon's Castle (nice that they put it there) around Level 24, and I disembarked around Level 33. My last few sessions were for the sole purpose of fighting, getting experience, and saving (every two fights or so). These guys that you're fighting though are -tough- , and sometimes pretty cheap. There are these guys, Gold Batboons that you fight in swarms of three, and sometimes there is NOTHING you can do about them. On numerous occasions I was fighting at usual, and they'd decide to cast Sacrafice. If they do this, your entire party dies, and you watch it happen, without warning or any defense. There is something very bothersome with the idea of a "footsoldier" having the ability to wipe out your world-traveling, monster-slaying warriors in one move. Again, this isn't a boss, but an enemy that you'll meet numerous times through the final portion of the game.
And lastly, again, while you have those extra players and more stuff to do, you'll find yourself doing the same things over and over again in each fight: Attack with the Hero, Attack / Use a Shield to Heal with the Prince, Cast Mass Magic spell with the Princess. I suppose this isn't very different from a lot of other games, but still somewhat frustrating. There is a Thunder Wand that the Princess can equip, and you can use it as an Item as well, casting a lightning attack on enemies, doing about 25-30 damage on average. Towards the end of the game when guys routinely have 100-170 hit points, this isn't going to do nearly enough. You'll rely on your Hero to do the work while the rest of the party watches, and struggles to keep up.
It sounds like I'm really dogging this game in some parts (as my What It Doesn't Do Well section is larger than the first, haha), but I had a good time with it, especially early on. It was fun to feel accomplished recruiting the Prince and then the Princess, opening things up and being able to buy more equipment and such. I with that the other members were able to be competitive physically, something that I KNOW is possible because it exists in so many other games throughout history. Again, this is a game from 1990, and just the second in a series of "going on ten," and it did take a nice big step up from Dragon Warrior.
Should you give it a shot? Eh.. yeah, sure! It's not THAT bad of a game, and it'll definitely make you appreciate how far we've come since then. If you played and liked Dragon Warrior, I do think you'll like Dragon Warrior II a lot better. If you live in Japan (of COURSE you do!!) and have access to the Dragon Quest Collection (if/when it comes out), do it to it. If you're interested, and have your NES and eBay, track this puppy down. I got II, III, and IV in the same week I think it ran me about 70 bucks. You shouldn't pay too much for Dragon Warrior II; the expensive ones (especially if you're looking for a "complete" set with box) are Dragon Warrior III and IV. Look for a barebones bundle, the internet will help you out with Maps and Monster Charts.
Thanks for reading, friends; it was a long journey, but it has now ended. Hargon is defeated, and we can all rest together.
@Mr_Mustache No, I wasn't challenging you; you've already beaten the game I'd just like to try and beat Dragon Warrior II without any help when I get my hands on the game. I did something similar when I heard the original Metal Gear was nearly impossible without a FAQ (though I needed to go online to look up Schneider's frequency, since the game doesn't tell you it and Konami didn't include that info in the MGS3 manual, stupidly enough), and I beat that without help online
@Guillaume I read that, too. Very illuminating. It sort of explains why I prefer Dragon Warrior and Etrian Odyssey to most 'modern' RPGs.
@X-pert74 Wasn't the phone number in the manual, or something? That was so cool, back in the day. A secret code that you actually had to write down. It's fun to notate stuff. Like in Phantom Hourglass. Or Etrian Odyssey!
I finally finished DW2 this morning, and it was...kind of a major headache. I really enjoyed the first half of the game, which felt challenging but fair, and had several memorable moments and setpieces (such as the game's tragic prologue, and how you acquire Moonbrooke). And as a TLOZ fan, I appreciated the open-endedness of the second half. But mixing exploration with a too-large world, no map, random battles, multi-layered world-spanning puzzles, limited teleportation, and enemies that can quickly kill your party makes for a rather overwhelming, confusing experience.
The large DW1 homage was pretty great and ahead of its time though.
The bigger issue is in the game balance. I like challenging games, and one of my favorite things about the DQ series is that it's tough! You have to manage your resources well, play smartly, and know when to charge ahead and when to turn back. But there's way too much left to luck in this game; some of your spells will miss up to half the time (Explodet, anyone?) while enemies have a 100% success rate with them. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for who goes first or why. The party members when targeting a group will often distribute the damage in an unintelligent, inefficient way ("Why are you hitting the almost-dead thing for 100HP when you can kill the other guy with full life in one hit?"), the Gold Batboons can wipe out your party, Sleep attacks can be absolutely brutal and leave you wide open, etc etc. And as noted, Cannock and Moonbrooke are far outclassed by the Hero (who doesn't have the greatest stats himself compared to the enemies), so a lot of the challenge is in simply keeping them alive.
I did like how this made "Parry" (or Defend) a rather viable option throughout the game. That's kind of refreshing.
And boy, is it long. There's a lot here, especially if you don't know where to go. But by the end, I was losing my patience and simply started finding online maps to get through the last few areas as quickly as possible.
This sounds like a lot of complaining, but I have to give the game major props for setting the RPG standard (!!) of multiple party members and multiple enemy groups. That's a major breakthrough that's still done today in just about every JRPG. There's a lot of game here too, lots of enemies, dungeons, items, and even a couple side things and secret drops, etc. The music is good, particularly the File Select and Credits. So it's still a worthy game, just my least-favorite in a very consistently good series. I'd give it an 8 or so.
Wow, I just looked this over again, and you're right, it WAS a good review! (I like my color-coding, AWESOME!! Why don't I write more for us? )
Glad you agree though, and i like what you've written here, too. Is this you first time going back to 2? Have you played 3 at all? I don't know why I haven't just finished that stupid thing. I've gotta be so freakin' close. I think I'm collecting medallions or something? There are so many. But yeah, real close. Theres a time in there where you can reset one of your guys to a different class, and he drops him back to Lv1. So did that with one of them, becoming a Sage, and haven't played much after that.
I don't remember those rockin' tunes you mentioned. Bummer! (But the crap involving finding specific things was trash. How would you EVER find them completely on your own?? IMPOSSIBLE.)
I actually just started 3! I'd never played 2 or 3 before, so I got the chance to buy 2 from my brother-in-law, and I bought 3 online more recently (although it's the GBC port--the NES game was just too pricey). I'll probably start posting about 3 soon enough once I make some headway into it, but at about an hour in, it seems promising.
For catchy music, I quite like the file select theme, "Only Lonely Boy!"
What's funny is that for promotional purposes, they had a J-Pop artist perform it as well:
In fact, you can talk to a character in-game in one of the towns who's meant to be this singer, and she sings the song for you!
Yeah, I don't remember this song at all! Hmm. I remember everything from RAD Secret of Mana though. Ah well. Watching this performed live makes me want to see someone do the opening from Rune Factory Frontier!
Aww man, I'm full of goosbumps! What the heck! (Once it gets to that 1:20 mark, ho man, SERIOUS BIZ) And I've written about this on here before, I think; I loved that open so much, makes you feel like ANYTHING is possible. (If you work for it)
--Jargon and I were kinda playing through III together, but I think he finished forever ago. I'm still..whatever I'm doing. How far in are you? I'm in some Japanese-inspired village, I think. Deeep into the game. I think my guys are Lv30? Lv50? I don't know.