A lot of us who live outside of Japan don’t realize just how important the Dragon Quest series is to gaming. So many of us are bound to have at least one JRPG among our favorites of all time, yet ultimately aren’t familiar with the series that put this genre on the map. I’ve often thought of what it must be like to discuss the differences in gaming culture with a gamer from Japan, about the differences in popularity and what games that we never got in our respective countries.
Dragon Quest III is to the Dragon Quest series what Final Fantasy VII is to the Final Fantasy series. It’s the one that damn near every thinks of when they hear the name of the series. I finally got the chance to play through Dragon Quest III for myself a few months ago through its Switch port, and even thirty years after its release, it still kicks some serious ass!
I would not go as far as to say it’s the best game in the series, as I do think that both Dragon Quest IV and V are superior games, but it ranks in third place of the six Dragon Quest games I’ve played (those being 1-6). What impresses me the most about Dragon Quest III is just how massive and expansive it is when compared to other games of the time period. I got close to fifty hours out of this game, and a lot of 16 bit RPGs don’t even take that much time. And not once during this playthrough did I start to feel bored.
While I wouldn’t put Dragon Quest III in my top 10 JRPGs or anything, and it would be easy for one who thinks every JRPG needs to have a unique and original storyline that makes you question the very nature of existence to say that Dragon Quest III does not hold up (although I would like to kindly request that those people dislodge their frontal lobe from their large intestine before they suffocate), I can still easily see why others would have it as one of their favorites.
The point is, Dragon Quest III improves upon almost EVERY aspect of the previous games. Gameplay wise, Dragon Quest III had its difficulty toned down from its brutally difficult predecessor, but knew not to tone it down too much. It instead offers a “hard but fair” challenge that will still require the occasional bit of grinding, but not too much if you are good enough.
Dragon Quest III followed in the footsteps of its predecessors of simplifying the often overwhelming mechanics of Wizardry and Ultima with its addition of character customization and classes. Rather than sticking the player with the same three characters for the entire game, the party size has been increased to four and you can choose between six different classes (technically seven since the hero class is only given to the MC, and there are two classes that can be unlocked later on). This adds more than one way to play the game, which in turn adds more replay value, but it also doesn’t over complicate things enough to alienate newer players.
In addition to this new change, Dragon Quest III also added a bunch of new features that have since become series mainstays, such as the vault that allows you to preserve gold upon death and store items so you don’t take up inventory space, a day and night cycle, the vitality, intelligence, and luck stats, an selection of places to warp to with the zoom spell as opposed to just warping you to the last place you visited, and perhaps most importantly, a battery backup so that you can save instead of needing to input a password each time. Of course I’m specifically referring to the Japanese famicom version here, as the western releases of Dragon Quest I and II also had this feature, and we can probably thank Dragon Quest III for that.
That is not to say that Dragon Quest III got everything right in its initial release. Thankfully the North American localization of Dragon Quest III did add a few new features such as increased exp and gold gains, a more detailed title screen, unique music, and an added intro featuring Ortega fighting monsters atop a volcano. Said intro has since become an iconic moment of the series, which makes it all the more ridiculous that the Switch version did not have it.
And yes, it is now for the obligatory segment where I talk about the differences between versions and which one is the best to play. While the original deserves credit for bringing this amazing game to us, the remakes do have a lot of quality of life improvements that make the original more jarring to go back to. Some of these improvements include adding a bag to store items and free up inventory space, the ability to buy items in bulk as opposed to one at a time, and some general re-balancing and updates in graphics and music.
While I did have fun with the Switch/Mobile version, it is easily the weakest re-release of the game. While the visuals and the music are updated, the localization is riddled with typos and grammatical errors, which is quite frankly absurd considering that the NES original was handled with greater care. On top of that, the content added in the Game Boy Color version was not present and it removed the pachisi slots featured in Super Famicom and Game Boy Color releases.
Ultimately the choice comes down to the Super Famicom translation and the Game Boy Color version, the former if presentation is more important and the latter if content is. Unfortunately, from what I have read online, the fan translation for the Super Famicom version is also a glitchy mess. I don’t know if it is as bad as the Dragon Quest II fan translation, but I’d recommend doing some research before deciding on it, unless you know Japanese.
It’s actually somewhat difficult for me to go into what is specifically amazing about Dragon Quest III, and I don’t just mean this because I waited until months after I beat this game to review it. I would ascribe this difficulty to the fact that Dragon Quest III may not seem unique to anyone who has played one of the many games inspired by this game. Just think of how many JRPGs have used the “fake out final boss” trope. The trope where a specific boss is hyped up as this grand encounter, only for there to still be a fuckton of game left.
Not only was Dragon Quest III one of the key inspirations for this, but it is STILL one of the best examples of it. The battle against Baramos genuinely feels like it could have been the final boss, and the game goes out of its way to convince you that he is. I already knew that he wasn’t the final boss, but Zoma’s reveal was STILL an intense moment.
And then getting to see how Erdrick came to Alefgard was awe inspiring. The fact that the game went into detail to build on the backstory of each individual NPC, and the lore building is something that even today’s games don’t often nail quite as well. I do also need to give my usual praises to the music. Koichi Sugiyama may be a bigoted war crime apologist, but I can never not give him credit in regards to his music. Dragon Quest III has so many memorable arrangements. And the visuals and sound effects are also top notch as well.
And as for the battle mechanics, they were simple enough to understand but difficult to fully master. You can’t simply expect to plow your way through battles using only the attack command, and will often need to rely on status ailments, buffs, and debuffs during regular battles. The downside is that there will still be some grinding required, but it isn’t an overwhelming amount.
I also just need to point out that the dungeons are also well designed and unique, and the game makes you want to go through them and find every last treasure and explore every area. In general, the game’s various stories, locales, NPCS, and exploration were all very immersive despite the game’s age, and it is a major part of why it still holds up so well. Many of its tropes may have been used a lot since its release, but you still don’t see many that have done things quite as well.
Anyway, I probably would have gone into greater detail if I reviewed this game right after I finished it, but I had a lot of other shit I needed to take care of, and it resulted in this review getting put off for quite some time. Either way, Dragon Quest III is amazing, and it’s a true JRPG legend.
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