My brother and I continue our RPGTrek with Dragon Warrior III.
This prequel wraps up the original Dragon Warrior trilogy in epic fashion. From the humble beginnings of a long warrior out to save a land tyrannized by an evil overlord, we wrap this first series with a forty hou story of four heroes out to… save a land tyrannized by an evil overlord. But, don’t let the similarities fool you! Dragon Warrior III brings a host of changes and improvements to the Dragon Warrior formula. We have completed our epic quest, and a full review is ready for your reading pleasure! Grab some popcorn and a coke, buckle down and get comfy. Your next RPGTrek review is only a click away!
Released in North America on June 12, 1991, Dragon Warrior III promised the most advanced RPG ever, boasting a huge world, multiple classes and an RPG experience like no other. And, it delivered on most of those promises if you limit its competition set to other NES games of the time. However, Dragon Warrior III also has a few elements not advertised on the box which may throw some modern RPGamers for a loop. Join me as I parse my thoughts on this epic adventure and ask myself the question, “Is it still fun today?”
Your adventure starts with a lone hero who has a disturbing dream. After you wake, the king gives you a command to go out and save the world from a rising evil. I must confess, I glossed over the details after the plot went down the generic ‘save the world’ set up. I quickly found my way to heart of the adventurers’ guild, a new addition to the Dragon Warrior series, where I could create my own party, choosing from eight classes.
The game advertises that you can not only choose from many classes, but change them later on. While this is true, the instructions do not do the best job informing you exactly how the process works and its implications on your characters’ growth. As a result, a player can unknowingly make some rather poor decisions that essentially weaken their character over the long run. Reading a FAQ about how the class growth process works, in detail, can alleviate this particular concern.
Dozens of towns, dungeons and towers await. The sheer scope of this world and the variety in the themes and designs of each location simply amazes. Unlike previous games in the series, where every dungeon and town felt fairly similar, Dragon Warrior III delights in changing things up nearly every time. One minute your party excavates a cave filled with lava creatures, the next you head over to a pyramid designed symmetrically and littered with deadly traps. People grieve as they are forced to sacrifice their children in one Asian themed town. In the next, you meet an old man asking you to lend him the assistance of a merchant party member to begin building from the ground up. Every time we entered a new location, we simply had no idea what to expect.
Fairly early in the game, the party gains a boat, allowing them to travel to the vast majority of these locations, giving the game an open ended feel. Similar to previous games, this can satisfy or frustrate the player. Most players can certainly have fun simply sailing around, mapping new areas, and knocking out smaller side quests and goals as discovered. Eventually, however, the player will need to focus on the single, main quest to progress to new areas, which requires certain magical items to complete. Unfortunately, the evasive clues leading to some of them will break some players’ will to finish the game. When you have a world of this size, and you have no clear direction where to go next, it can cause blood to boil.
Fast, fun and furious, combat feels more balanced than previous iterations, though some spiking in difficulty exists, especially towards the end. Not surprisingly, this adventure requires a fair amount of grinding for your team to effectively handle some of the tougher bosses. Spending time leveling and buying the best gear enables the intrepid group of adventurers to have a fighting chance towards the end. Taking the time to locate hidden weapons and armor can further help their cause. Numerous mini games such as a gambling hall, and finding hidden medals (which a merchant trades for some of the best items in the game) encourage players to take time off from adventuring to explore and kick back.
I played the SNES remake using an English translation patch (huge thanks to “DQ Translations…excellent job!). The graphics come close to surpassing the high standard set by Final Fantasy VI. In particular, battle graphics feature well animated enemies with tons of personality, making combat more of a joy than a chore in most cases. The music brings joy to the ears with a variety of tunes to fit the theme or mood of the location or activity that party finds themselves in.
(And, did I mention this adventure is HUGE? I won’t say more for fear of spoiling important plot details, but DANG. It’s big!)
Bottom Line: Is it fun today? Now that I have experienced this epic adventure from beginning to end, I understand the high praise it constantly receives from those who played it. Great balance, tons of creativity and an epic adventure await any RPGamer willing to dive in. However, two or three negatives hold this title back when playing it without the rose colored glasses of time. Similar to the games before it, required, hidden objects will frustrate those who either cannot decipher vague clues and/or do not enjoy scavenger hunts over vast areas. Required grinding needed, especially towards the end, to handle bosses which completely overshadow their minions in power will frustrate others. The opaqueness of the class system, a lesser offense in my books given how the game balances out eventually, adds to list of negatives.
Similar to my sentiments on the previous two games, my bottom line is no, I do not feel that the average RPGamer will ultimately feel his time well spent in this title today. I can think of other retro-JRPG adventures which provide similar or better experiences with fewer negatives. However, for those who have no qualms resorting to FAQs often, the game boasts many positives and a satisfying experience that clearly surpasses the other two games which came before. Furthermore, for RPGamers like myself who enjoy RPG History, one will find no experience quite like Dragon Warrior III… or better yet, the entire trilogy!
Coming Soon: Dragon Warrior IV!