RETRO REVIEW: Dragon Warrior III

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

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Dragon Warrior III
Title Dragon Warrior III
Publisher Enix
Developer Chunsoft
Release Date June 12th, 1991 (NA)
Genre RPG
Platforms NES
Age Rating N/A
Official Website

Long before I knew what an RPG was, I was a huge fan of a game called Dragon Warrior for the NES. Its gameplay style was so different from anything else I had ever played. In my quest to find the elusive sequel, I discovered the third game in the series, Dragon Warrior III, actually existed.

“Dragon Warrior” is, of course, the name given to the English localizations of the Dragon Quest series prior to the Square Enix merger. Despite being one of the most popular game series ever in Japan, the Dragon Quest series has had its ups and downs in the West.

The name isn’t the only thing that changed in the localization process. In addition to Nintendo’s usual practice of changing references to religion and alcohol, a new cutscene was added to the game’s introduction. In this scene, you watch a warrior fighting a dragon on the top of a volcano. The battle seems to be going well, until the injured dragon grabs the warrior, and pulls him into the volcano. You soon learn that this warrior was your father, Ortega, and, now that he is gone, it is up to you to complete his quest to defeat the evil Archfiend Baramos, who is currently terrorizing the world.

Dragon Warrior III | Prologue

Ortega fighting a dragon during the game’s intro cutscene

Dragon Warrior III begins on your sixteenth birthday as you’re summoned by the King of Aliahan, who presents you with your quest. The game doesn’t force you to go alone – in fact, it makes it almost impossible to do so. To get companions, your first stop is the local eatery, which acts as a hub for additional party members. There are three pre-made characters ready to use: a Soldier, a Wizard and a Pilgrim. However, you can create your own characters using these, or the three other available classes: a Merchant, Fighter, or Goof-Off. All classes have their strengths and weaknesses – yes, even the Goof-Off has an upside – and >your choices depend only on your preferred style of play. There is a point midway through the game where you can change classes, except for the main character, who uses the unique “Hero” class. You can even unlock a new class with a certain item you find along the way.

Dragon Warrior III uses a menu system that should be familiar to anyone who has played any of the other games in the series, while turn-based battles are initiated with traditional random encounters. The encounter rate for the game is manageable and, with the exception of the rare fluke of the random-number generator, doesn’t overwhelm you with battles when trying to traverse the map or dungeons.

As for the quest itself, I found this game to be well-paced and well-balanced. It doesn’t let you wander too far into dangerous territory before you’re ready, but, at the same time, gives you the freedom to explore the surrounding areas. Even though you generally need to complete a task before moving on, some sequence-breaking is allowed, and a few areas can be skipped altogether. Bosses can regenerate HP, so lower-level parties may have trouble keeping up. At the same time, most bosses are immune to the more powerful attack spells keeping the battles from becoming a cake-walk if you’re at a higher level.  Overall though, the need for grinding is kept to a minimum, and even then it’s mostly for gold, and not experience.

When the game opens up, rather than having you wander aimlessly looking for where you’re supposed to go, it does a good job of providing you with hints to your next destination without actually holding your hand through your quest. Sometimes you may need to piece together information that two or three NPCs have told you, and other things you are left to figure out on your own.

It’s interesting to note that the world map of Dragon Warrior III closely resembles the real-life map of Earth. In fact, many locations in the game are designed to resemble their real-world counterpart, and are even named after them. Examples include the Castle of Romaly sitting where Rome would be. Jipang is an island chain shaped like Japan on the coast of the Asian continent. A pyramid can be found in the African desert. In the middle of the North American continent, there is a village named Soo, populated by a tribal people (which one NPC actually refers to as “Indians”). This familiarity makes navigating the world map much more intuitive.

Dragon Warrior III | Romaly

The graphics are pretty high-quality compared to its 8-bit counterparts. Like all other Dragon Quest games, the characters and monsters are designed by Akira Toriyama, whose detailed designs add a certain charm to the monsters you encounter. Some of the overworld graphics, such as the terrains as well as castle and town designs, have been re-used from Dragon Warrior II. However, they don’t make the game look dated. A common trick found in later NES games, this game uses multiple sprites for each character to add more detail to their look. Unfortunately, due to hardware limitations, this causes the sprites to flicker when more than four characters are in a single row on the screen (four party members and an NPC, for example).

One thing that makes Dragon Warrior III stand out is the game’s amazing music. Series composer Koichi Sugiyama is one of the most underrated in all of gaming, and this is easily his best. Front-to-back, it’s one of the most consistent soundtracks of any game. Individual tracks stand out well against other Dragon Quest games too, as the random battle, dungeon and ocean themes are the best in the entire series. Whether trying to sound sad, ominous, adventurous or regal, all of the music in the game rises to the task, and is appropriate for its setting. And, while Final Fantasy fans may disagree, the final boss music in DWIII is the best final boss music ever. Sure, “One-Winged Angel” and “Dancing Mad” are amazing pieces of music in their own right, but, as far as final boss themes go, this game’s (a track called “Grueling Fight”) sets the standard to which all final boss music should aspire. It amps you up for the fight of your life, while sounding foreboding and making you think “what did I get myself into?”

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About Eric Chetkauskas

Eric has been playing video games for longer than he can remember. His interests skew toward retro games with an emphasis on Japanese RPGs like Chrono Trigger and the Dragon Quest series.

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  • Stealth

    classic that has not aged so well

  • zeezee

    I used to have this mint, in the box. I purchased it brand new when it was released and played it to death until the very end. I remember having to trade in several of my favorite NES games to buy this. I think that I got rid of it for some crap RPG in the 16-bit era. Probably Eye of the Beholder or some nonsense.

    Ultimately, I’ve ended up regretting that. One of these days I will pick it up again and play it through until the end. I also had the first game in the series and my buddies had the second and fourth. It wouldn’t be until the PS2 that I would play another Dragon Quest game. Dragon Quest 8 may be my favorite in the series, but this game is a close second.

    Thanks for the review of a favorite from my early gaming years.

  • RagunaXL

    thank you! what a fun review, love the videos and screenshots. one of the best classic games. and dare i say it, best rpg on the nes!

  • smacd

    Dragon Quest has long been my all time favorite JRPG series, and DQ3 is among my favorite. You are right, this game was designed before a lot of modern conveniences, so it does suffer somewhat when you play the original. I think SOME of it was updated in the SNES/GBA remakes though.

    I remember picking this up at a pawn shop after looking for it for months in the early 90s. One thing that this game did that was unique was that the manual actually included a walkthrough for the game, I believe either complete or at least up to a significant point in the game. I also believe that the class system this game created was possibly the first JRPG job system, which was later copied for FF3 and others.

    I still have all 4 Dragon Warrior games for my NES, although I’d be shocked if the batteries were still good. I remember waiting for a long time, reading game magazines and looking at the order forms for Dragon Warrior 5. I sincerely hope that we aren’t about to enter another dark period. Reggie’s twitter comment gives me some hope we’ll see more DQ in the near future. Hopefully they bring the 4 3DS games

  • multibottler0cket

    Man, we are so overdue for a Nintendo console non-online Dragon quest game.

    My favourite is V, but I love II, III, IV, and VIII as well. Still need to finish VI and IX.

  • multibottler0cket

    P.S I used to make my mom watch the whole Ortega scene every time she played when I was little because it’s just too badass.