Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dragon Warrior (NES, 1989)

The Dragon Warrior series (Dragon Quest in Japan) is one of my favorite RPG franchises. While it lacks the fanfare of Final Fantasy, these games tend to be less linear and more about character-building than melodramatic plots.

This is a game that I've played a few times in the distant past. This time around I'm going to try something new: A Tool-Assisted Asskicking. It's like a tool-assisted speedrun, except with excessive 'sploiting of states and luck. I plowed through the whole game in one morning. And here... is the story.

Behold, the descendent of Erdrick. This game is LEGENDARY. It pre-dates the original Final Fantasy by a couple of years.

It's an old-school RPG in every sense of the world, starting you off with no equipment and a ball of lint in your pocket.

I named the hero Connor. Connor Macleod of the Clan Macleod?

Interesting how this game shows you the final dungeon right off the bat... there's a river in the way, though.

The only thing that I bought with my starting gold was a Dragon Scale. Not sure what exactly they do, but they only cost 20G and they go in an invisible armor slot that never gets replaced. Regardless of how small their defensive bonus might be, that's a good investment.

THRILLING ACTION begin as our hero gets into brutal slap-fights with Slimes. If I weren't playing this at 4x normal speed, it'd be quite slow and boring by modern standards. In 1989, it wasn't.

One thing that helps get a Copper Sword (the best sword in the first town) faster is to use Heal spells to recover from fights, then talk to this guy to get your MP back. It's free, and sure beats staying at the inn.

This whole game consists of two things: Item gathering, and level-grinding. You could theoretically walk right up to the final boss at the outset of the game if there were no random enemy encounters. It's like a proto version of Fallout 3 in a way. The whole game is about character improvement rather than following a storyline, and it's a lot of fun.

This flute is necessary for taking down Golem, one of the bosses in this game.

Fast forward quite a bit. Here's Rimuldar, one of the later towns. I'm skipping armor upgrades to save money and grinding out fights as quick as I can.

Here's the second and LAST weapon I buy in the Tool-Assisted Asskicking. This thing is actually very decent for the price, and will get me through to the best sword.

Also bought some magic keys, which let me get these from the first castle. This game is a matter of making a checklist of things that you need to get, then going through and grabbing all of them.

After a somewhat tricky dungeon under Garinham, I get another of the items needed to get to that last castle. Dungeons in this game are painful due to the limited visibility, but it's nothing that can't be fixed with torches or spells.

Another important item for reaching the final area. It's located in the depths of a swamp from hell, one of the nastiest overworld areas. I had to heavily 'sploit saves to get through here at level 9. Also, the place you search is completely vague here. Imagine playing this for the first time and having no earthly clue where to search in this swamp. Old NES games liked to be as obscure as possible so that you'd... get the power. Nintendo Power!

I use death as a ghetto version of the Return spell. I don't have Return yet, and I'm not using my money for anything... except the Silver Shield later. I'll build up for that when I need to, but for now I'm keeping the gold count low so that I can use death as a gate.

Turning in the items that I've been collecting nets me the Rainbow Drop. Now I can cross that intimidating ten feet of water and attack the island of the nefarious DragonLord.

::techno music suddenly starts reverberating::

This also happens in Dragon Warrior 3 (or as seen here, the Super Famicom remake).

Techno music also plays here as the world becomes a flashing LSD trip of pyrotechnic rainbow fireworks and "Move Your Body" by Eiffel 65 plays.


There it is, the last dungeon.



Wait, what the hell am I doing? I'm level 9!

This. Grabbed the best sword in the game from the final dungeon, then hightailed it out of there via death-warp. I had to exploit saves constantly to get to this point.

Again, I've beaten this game several times in the past on the up-and-up. This was more of a sequence break run.

Check that out. The best sword, no armor whatsoever... at level 9... in the last dungeon. Hee, I have no respect for the integrity of the game structure.

In the swamp dungeon, I face this guy. The halfway-point boss of the game, more or less.

I'm not strong enough to beat him, so I spam Sleep on him until it works. Sleep is extremely useful in this game for surviving encounters where you're outgunned.

From there, I just wailed on him and prayed. It worked out. I've gotta be the most powerful level 9 ever.

SLAYING THE DRAGON~! nets me Princess Gwaelin. She's passive-aggressive, greedy, selfish, and she's nearly inanimate in the sack. A man can only do so much missionary, princess!

And our hero is off. Apparently, the bad guys broke BOTH of her legs, since he has to carry the princess.

"Ow, my back" he says. Yes, he has to carry her aaaaaall the way back to the starting castle. The princess is one of the worst characters in the history of gaming.

Connor's first order of business is to take her to the inn for tea and crumpets. AND NOTHING ELSE. Because Lord knows one mustn't go near her accursed nether-parts.

Got StopSpell, which is necessary...completely beat the next big challenge. That'd be the Axe Knight, a foe even stronger than the dragon. Not sure if I can pull it off yet.

Hauksness, the ruined town, is a scary place. It's even scarier when I'm not wearing any armor and carrying around an insufferable brat. Yeah, I'm still lugging her around for the comic relief.


An Axe Knight draws near! This is probably the hardest fight in the game outside of the final dungeon. It's brutal.

Sleep doesn't work for this one. He hits harder than I can heal, and he himself casts Sleep... a lot.

You may have already figured out the key to victory. Casting StopSpell means those Sleep spells will all fizzle, wasting his turns. From there it's a matter of healing a lot, striking when possible, and hoping he uses Sleep more turns than not. Requires a LOT of luck.

It took me several tries, and when I finally did win, it was via good luck with Sleeps AND a critical hit towards the end.

My first and final armor! HAWR HAWR! SEQUENCE BREAK~!

Another important piece of equipment that never gets replaced. Got it easily at this point and should have probably done that sooner.

I say it's important because as far as I know it increases attack and defense by 2 each permanently, which is well worth the trouble. However, some say that it doesn't actually do anything. Given how often these NES RPGs have items or spells that don't do anything, I wouldn't be surprised.

Fast forward a bit, as I spend some time grinding out levels and gold for the Silver Shield.

Next up, Golem. This guy is another of what I consider bosses in this game, along with the Axe Knight and Green Dragon. He's the strongest of the three if fought on the up-and-up, but the Fairy Flute puts him to sleep and renders this fight hard to lose. This leaves the Axe Knight as the more formidable foe overall, despite not being as strong.

And here's the Silver Shield. It's the best shield in the game; there's no Erdrick's Shield, surprisingly. With that, I have all of the equipment I need: Erdrick's Sword, Erdrick's Armor, Silver Shield, Fighter's Ring, Dragon's Scale.

Only thing left is to grind out seven or so levels and take on the final boss.

The rooms before the DragonLord are crawling with the strongest enemies in the game. These are probably the worst of the lot: STRONGER versions of the Axe Knight.

The King of Kings? You mean Triple H Jesus? Well, I talked to this guy while still carrying the princess, to see if there would be any different dialogue with her there. Nope.

You can agree to join him, in which case it's GAME OVER.

I bring Gwaelin back to Tantegel Castle. Finally. Moments after this picture was taken, Connor collapsed.

That won't fix his herniated discs!

At level 17, the Heal upgrade is finally acquired. It's pretty late given how early the first Heal gets outdated. And at 19, the final spell: Hurtmore. It disintegrates most overworld enemies, but has little use inside the final dungeon. Neither of the damage spells in this game are particularly useful aside from grinding when you first get them.

A note on Erdrick's Armor. It regenerates your health as you walk, which is extremely useful in the final area. Can run from most of the enemies and regen the health that you lose when run fails the first time. Shouldn't use any MP before the final fight.

Charlock Castle (this here final dungeon) is home to stronger versions of the earlier bosses. Surprisingly, at this point they aren't much of a problem.

Golem 2.0!

Here's the big boss. In typical Dragon Quest fashion, he's a small unassuming wizard with a badass second form.

This fight is pretty easy, but it's a red herring.

::Puff Daddy's "remix" of Kashmir kicks in::


Looks like it's time to slay the dragon.

AND HE'S GONE. That was a pitched battle. It was even bigger than the final battle in Return of the King. I wish I had gotten more shots, but take it from me, it was one of the most epic battles ever seen in anything.

After beating the final boss, you can walk around and talk to townspeople. They don't have much to say, though. It's either this...

...or this. Still cool to be able to play as the conquering hero rather than cutting straight to credits. I wish more games let you do that.

Speaking of Erdrick and his descendants, I'm going to be covering Dragon Warrior 2 some time, as well as the Super Famicom remake of Dragon Quest 3.

Look, Gwaelin, I really like you, but-

...I need to have my own life, okay? You're a great gal, and-, I'm serious, I need to do this on my own-


Look at those eyes. Those are the eyes of a defeated man. Carry her with dignity, Connor. Hold onto the sliver that remains.

Many roads left to travel? Is there a second quest? Was our princess in another castle? Unfortunately, no.

Something I often forget about this series (somehow) is that THIS GUY designed the characters.

And that's it. Connor would live unhappily ever after, carrying Gwaelin from the living room to the couch and back. And to the bathroom when necessary. Eww.

Something of note about the experience levels in this game... 20 is needed to beat the final boss, yet for some reason 30 is the max. I'm guessing that 30 would completely trivialize the final castle/boss, and with no postgame uberboss to fight it seems unnecessary to have those extra ten levels. Also, after level 18 or so, every level takes the same amount of exp. So level 29 to 30 would take as much exp as 19 to 20. With your power increasing level by level, this means it actually gets faster to level the further you go past 19. Anyone having issues with the final area or boss could easily powerlevel well past the necessary point.

Would have rather they had 20 be the final level. Super Mario RPG and Fallout 3 have the right idea, capping levels at a slightly-higher spot than is needed for the endgame. No powerlevelling to ridiculous proportions in those games. Incidentally, both of them also have level caps of 30.


  1. Another great post. It was fantastic to see all this again. I can appreciate more and more how great it must have been in '89.
    Erdrick didn't have a shield. Those were simpler times before you had to multitask every day to get by.
    The Princess is still unique. I'll give her that.

  2. Classic. Great take on the game too. 10 levels higher than you need is to give you the option spend time fighting easy battles to near-guarantee your victory rather than to risk spending time losing big fights (and having to do it again, spending time but with nothing to show for your efforts). That's the basic theory of grinding, anyway. Not everyone is great at these games either, but they still enjoy them regardless, so this gives them a path to victory.