Dragon Quest II | jp box art

Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line (NES/MSX/SNES/GBC/Mobile/3DS/PS4/Switch): A JRPG Codifier (Detailed Review)

Dragon Quest II is often glossed over when discussing the legacy of the series. While Dragon Quest I is noteworthy for being the first game in the series and Dragon Quest III is noteworthy for being motherfucking Dragon Quest III, Dragon Quest II just seems to be known as “that one that’s really really hard and comes between Dragon Quest I and III.” I often see people act as if Dragon Quest II is completely unremarkable and that is just not the case.

Dragon Quest II is a pretty badass game when you get right down to it. I should note that I have not played the NES original this time around and am thus only familiar with it from a lets play I saw years ago and from what I’ve looked up about it. From what I can gather the later versions definitely seem more polished and well structured, that is unless you are playing and English fan translation of the super famicom version that is.

Dragon Quest II | Glitched screens
Actual in game screenshots of the RPGONE fan translation. Needless to say you should probably pass on the SFC version unless you know Japanese.

While the RPGONE fan translation of Dragon Quest I was fully playable and only had a few graphical glitches, the Dragon Quest II patch has more bugs than Donald Trump’s brain. Unless you are constantly abusing the fuck out of save states the best English patch of super famicom Dragon Quest II is virtually unplayable, and Goddess help you if you decide to play it on a reproduction cart and decide that a certain free inn looks enticing.

The bugs on the super famicom fan translation were so bad that I didn’t even get to see the end credits because talking to a certain NPC causes their text to loop endlessly. The same happens even earlier where if you stay at a certain inn for free, one of your characters gets cursed and the cutscene where you use the key item to bring him back loops endlessly. This turns what was otherwise a short sidequest added to the non NES/MSX versions into a game breaking bug that will force you to play through the rest of an already immensely difficult game with only two characters. Even worse is that there are some areas of the game where everything just starts to freak out worse than an alt right figurehead without a Twitter account.

It’s a bit weird to dismiss the Super Famicom version right away considering it’s the one that I played and thus what most of this review will be based on, but making sure the game actually works when you play it. It is sad that the head of RPGONE died a few years ago because he may have been on the fast track to a future developer at Bethesda. That being said if one knows where the bugs occur and uses plenty of save states while playing the Super Famicom version then it can still be fun, but it seems like the best one to go with is either the GBC or Mobile versions if we are sticking to English releases.

Dragon Quest II | NES Title screen
NES version has a cool title screen though.

Speaking of which, why the fuck have the 3DS and PS4 remakes of Dragon Quests I-III not gotten a localization despite the fact that the mobile versions HAVE? I get that Dragon Quest is more of a niche series in the west but when you just had Dragon Quest XI release in the states one would think it would be wise to have the first few games in the series available on the same console. Furthermore I’m pretty sure the western audience for the Dragon Quest series is more preferable to REAL consoles and not phones. Also why have none of the earlier Dragon Quest games been released on Steam? Do you hate money or something Squeenix?

As with the remakes of Dragon Quest I, every version of Dragon Quest II after the super famicom version is identical design wise with exception to the fact that the life Crest/Soul Sigil is now given to you by the King of Tantegel/Radatome rather than the cave to Rhone. This was a good call considering that not only is the cave to Rhone very mazey and difficult, but also because it prevents people from accessing the final area of the game without a necessary key item that will result in a lot of forced backtracking and repetition.

To briefly go over what I know about the NES version is that, much like the NES version of Dragon Quest I, it is a lot grindier, more cumbersome, and has a lot more bugs than the future re-releases. The remake not only has increased the experience and money gains but many of the enemy stats are altered as well. Unlike Dragon Quest I however, the remakes of Dragon Quest II are still brutally hard. There are even some parts like the final boss fight that are HARDER than the original.

Dragon Quest II | Bullwong
When giving your enemy a name consisting of utter nonsense instead of properly translating it makes them more intimidating… somehow.

Dragon Quest II was still one of those games from before JRPGs started being about storytelling so the story is still “evil wizard rules the world go kill him.” Although this time the main villain Hargon is said to be an evil priest right from the start and has slightly stronger presence than the Dragonlord did. I mean for one, Hargon actually has a name instead of a title. I will also give credit that the previously mentioned sidequest that results Prince of Cannock being cursed that it gives off the impression of just how powerful Hargon is and that he’s always watching over you. Granted he turns out to not even be the final boss but at least the remakes and the original Japanese text of the NES version mentioned he was trying to summon an ancient god to destroy the world. No that’s not a spoiler because this game is over 30 years old and has been used in every JRPG since then.

I do have a niggling complaint with this game in that every character just so HAPPENS to be royalty and that the main characters of Dragon Quests I through III all just happen to be from the same bloodline. That’s not how this shit actually works in real life. Imagine if civil rights activists just decided to call up Martin Luther King’s closest living relative in order to stop the alt right. I know that Dragon Quest II isn’t exactly a story heavy game but this is an absurdly silly trope.

Graphics wise, Dragon Quest II is mostly the same as the original. There are now multiple enemies that show up on screen which means an increase in the things you see in battle in addition to increased variety in gameplay. Unfortunately the NES version of Dragon Quest II did away with the battle background on the field and simply gave you a black background which is kinda lame. I will give credit to the SNES remakes at least for adding additional battle backgrounds and animations. Even if they are weak by the standards of SNES RPGs, they are at least a graphical improvement over the NES originals.

Dragon Quest II | Watergate key
Tell it to the judge Tricky Dick!

The soundtrack of the NES version is a major improvement over Dragon Quest I’s OST. I especially liked how the battle theme is more dynamic and also catchier in order to fit with the longer battles. The overworld themes and ESPECIALLY the dungeon themes are a hell of a lot better to listen to. The absence of a normal boss them is still somewhat egregious, but not quite as egregious as the fact that it took them until Dragon Quest V to add one (Dragon Quest IV had the Estark battle theme that played in one other battle aside from the final boss but I guess it’s something at least).

In my review of Dragon Quest I I talked about how it was a simplified version of Wizardry and Ultima, two games that were very convoluted and hard to grasp. Dragon Quest II continues in this approach by adding features that were not present in Dragon Quest I but were present in other computer RPGs. The most notable addition is that you fight multiple enemies as opposed to the one on one fights of Dragon Quest I. Given that the Dragon Quest series was intended to introduce a lot of people to computer RPGs, Dragon Quest II gradually introduces the mechanics that weren’t present in the first game in a very well thought out manner. At first you start out with just one character like the first game but fight multiple enemies. This shows you that Dragon Quest II will add a lot of new shit and allow the player to slowly adjust to new mechanics.

As they proceed further into the game you get two more party members, and they are given to you gradually so you can get a handle on how they function rather than dumped on a noob player all at once. Dragon Quest II was the game that pioneered this tradition for many future JRPGs to imitate.

Dragon Quest II | Hargon

What makes Dragon Quest II stand out compared to other RPGs at the time, aside from the series it is part of, is just how it requires the player to use nearly every ability they have. If anything this may have been a bit of failing of Dragon Quest II in regards to the time period it was made. Dragon Quest I was meant to be a simplified version of Wizardry and Ultima and yet the second game must have drove kids NUTS with its difficulty.

While the remakes have made Dragon Quest I more accessible to new comers in regards to difficulty, Dragon Quest II is still an immensely difficult game even in its remasters. While the Dragon Quest titles usually require the player to make good use of the various buffs, debuffs, status ailments, and other mechanics that aren’t just “attack and heal,” Dragon Quest II reaches a whole other level where you need to apply buffs on the first turn or you will get your ass pounded harder than a trans sex worker in a right leaning district!

This usually is manageable enough once you figure out what you need to do with each enemy, but what makes Dragon Quest II unique in its difficulty is how harsh the penalties for any slight fuckup can be. First of all you do not get a spell to revive party members until near the end of the game and it costs a metric fuckton of MP to cast. You only have one of your three party members who can learn in the NES version and it just so happens to be the party member with the lowest defense. The only other ways to revive a dead party member is at the church in the towns or with Yggdrasil leaf, which only spawns at one point in the game and you can only have one of at a time.

Dragon Quest II | Badboons
The Badboons live up to their name.

On the subject of MP, you can only restore it through inns or through prayer rings. Prayer rings are a mainstay in the Dragon Quest series that first appeared in Dragon Quest II, and they items that when used will restore about 20 MP. Prayer rings can theoretically be used an infinite number of times but that is only because the rings have a one in three chance of crumbling into dust after every use. So yes, it can be possible to get a lot of use out of the prayer rings but it could also be possible that they will crumble into dust after their first usage and leave you with no way to restore MP unless you have another ring. When you add the fact that there are only a handful of prayer rings in the game and the only to get a hold of more is through rare drops or through the lottery (which you have even less of a chance of getting one than with rare drops), it means that a lot of the gameplay in Dragon Quest II comes down to dumb luck.

It’s not even the prayer rings that are luck based either. There are other instances such as the final boss having the ability to use full heal on itself in the NES version, or the infamous Golden Batboons that have a chance of casting sacrifice and instantly killing your party on the first turn with guaranteed success! Granted the latter didn’t happen to me but I’ve heard it is possible even in the remakes, which just makes things all the worse because there is a small chance of that happening while traveling the stretch on the world map between the Cave to Rhone and a full heal/save point and thus making you need to retread one of the hardest dungeons in the game all over again!

Dragon Quest II | Lucky bitch
Lucky bitch.

I actually am unsure what my stance on these luck based elements is. Some of these things are objectively bad design choices given that randomness is supposed to be bad in a strategy based genre. I do think that having a little bit of luck involved really increases the intensity of the experience and makes you try to alter your plans on the fly. Real life is luck based to, but I guess that’s not the best comparison since everyone wants to play video games instead.

But yes, I would recommend Dragon Quest II. While it doesn’t reach the levels of the series best entries like IV, V, and VIII, those games wouldn’t have existed without this one. It’s also commendable just how much of a major overhaul this is over Dragon Quest I and I do think it’s still a solid JRPG 30 years later. I’d definitely recommend the remakes and possibly the NES original if you want something even harder or to see the game in its original form.

Anyway this review took me longer than expected to put out. I am planning on giving Dragon Quest III a review as well, but I haven’t even started that yet and, I still have some unfinished business with other games to take care of first. Anyway see you all next time. Please turn the power off.

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8 thoughts on “Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line (NES/MSX/SNES/GBC/Mobile/3DS/PS4/Switch): A JRPG Codifier (Detailed Review)

  1. Good review! I do like Dragon Quest II a lot too, and now I’m playing the NES version with some hack roms that improve its flaws 😛 But if there’s something that I REALLY don’t really agree with, is about your criticism of the protags sharing a common ancestor. l mean, video games aren’t supposed to be realistic, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to, imagine playing Zelda and you’re in the final boss but you had to stop the fight cuz Link wants to take a piss, I imagine that would suck. 😛 Besides, royalty princes that share a common ancestor known for being badass is a very badass concept by itself… or at least to me.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed my review! As for the whole common ancestor thing, it’s more so just a thing that sounds funny when I think about it more so than something that really has any effect on the game’s quality.

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