Sunday 3 September 2017

Dragon Warrior III - Nintendo NES - 1992

Dragon Warrior is a long running series of RPGs dating back to the mid-eighties and still going strong today.  The first game in the series, Dragon Quest, was released in Japan in May 1986. It predated both Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star making it one of the first (and arguably one of the most influential) Japanese console RPGs.  Dragon Quest was translated and released in North America in August 1989.  Outside Japan the series was renamed as Dragon Warrior to avoid copyright issues with the DragonQuest tabletop RPG.  I was turned off of the original Dragon Warrior game due to the amount of grinding required and the second in the series was arguably worse.  Number three came out in March 1992*, over three years after the Japanese release of Dragon Quest III. We shall see if it is any better than it's predecessors.

After loading the game an intro shows a fight between a warrior and a dragon on the rim of a volcano.  The warrior manages to sever one of the dragon's wings.  The dragon then grabs hold of the warrior and they both fall into the crater....

You start by choosing your name and sex; your character class is 'Hero'.  The game begins on the morning of your sixteenth birthday in the town of Aliahan.  Your mother turfs you out of bed and takes you to see the King.  He says you are the son of the mighty warrior Ortega (the dude in the intro) and, now he is dead, you must take on his mantle.  You are to defeat the Archfiend Baramon who is threatening the world.  Nice birthday present.

Your first task is to gather a party to aid you on your quest.  There is an eatery where the adventurers hang out and you can choose three companions or create your own.  An NPC said the best companions are a Soldier, Pilgrim and Wizard.  As I've never played this game before, and as these characters were already created, who am I to argue?  So we have Ragnar the Soldier who can be equipped with most weapons and armour.  Petrus the Pilgrim can cast mainly healing and status effect spells (such as sleep).  Petrus is also quite handy in combat.  Harley the Wizard is adept at offensive spells, but is weak in combat and cannot equip strong weapons or armour.  I also chose to create a Merchant who the manual says is good at finding extra gold and has the ability to appraise items.  Other available classes are Fighter (good at martial arts), Sage (can cast both Pilgrim and Wizard spells), and Goof-Off which the manual describes as "without exaggeration, a useless living being to take along on your quest".

I first decided to explore the town and talk to the inhabitants.  As usual the populace give stock answers with a few telling you explicitly where to go on your quest - there is no chance not knowing what to do next in Dragon Warrior III.  There is a day and night cycle and some inhabitants change their responses depending on the time of day.  Most towns include the usual inn (recharges HP and MP), a tool shop (sells cures for status effects and other sundries), a weapon shop and a healer.

After leaving town it is not long before coming across your first random encounter.  Combat is almost identical to the other early RPGs on the NES.  The combat is turn-based with each character being given a command which is then played out.  Enemies are usually made up of different types of creatures.  You can only select one type of enemy to attack - for example if you face two slimes and two caterpillars you can attack either one group or the other but not individuals.  This even applies to area effect spells such as fireball - you can only target the caterpillars or the slimes, not both.  If a character targets an opponent that has already been killed then the attack is wasted.  The only real tactic is deciding which type of enemy to target first.
A selection of the weird and wonderful monsters found in Dragon Quest III.
 One wonders how  this motley crew got together.
Once combat is over each character receives a number of experience points and some gold coins.  Levelling up takes place at different rates for the various members of the party with Ragnar the Soldier gaining levels the fastest and Wingnut the Hero lagging behind.  When levelling, all base stats increase by one or more points and spellcasters may gain extra spells.  The Hero can cast both Pilgrim and Wizard spells.

As Ragnar was levelling faster then everyone else, I retired him to test out the Merchant for a while.  The Merchant was reasonable at melee combat and occasionally picked up extra gold after combat.  However, I was unimpressed by his appraising ability and swapped Ragnar back after a few levels.

After I was satisfied with my grinding I returned to Aliahan to pick up my first quest.  There were a few locked doors in the town and my first task was to retrieve a key that was ironically stolen from a thief.  The key was taken to a tower on island that could that could be reached through a cave.  Instead of the boss fight I was expecting, the old man in the tower said he had a vision of giving me the key so simply handed it over. 

The key allowed me to open some locked doors so I could talk to people I wasn't able to before.  I was told of a travel door leading from the land of Aliahan that had been sealed off in a time of war and a magic ball was required to open it.  Again, the magic ball was just handed over.  Breaking the seal on the travel door transported me to a new continent, just south of the city of Romaly, and to my quest proper.  As usual I will note my thoughts below...

  • I found I did have to grind in Dragon Warrior III, but not a much as the first two games and mainly for gold.  This was not as bad as grinding for experience as you set yourself a goal of, say 1500gp for a broadsword, and you can see yourself getting nearer your target after every combat.
  • Most towns you visit have an Inn where you can stay for the night to recover HP and MP.  In Aliahan you can sleep in the comfort of your own bed for free.

"Mother, I am a level 35 hero, you know!"

  • Combat early on can provide an interesting combination of enemies.  In the example below, Infernus Crabs tend to cast the Increase spell.  This increases their defence value making them harder to hit with normal weapons which means resorting to spells.  The Vampire Cats (yes, really) tend to cast StopSpell which causes said spells to fail.

  • Even early dungeons in Dragon Warrior III are non-linear and can be quite complicated to map.  A typical level can contain several sets of stairs requiring all routes to be mapped out.  This makes a change from the typical Final Fantasy linear dungeon.  Annoyingly, the designers decided to 'black out' sections of a dungeon until you walk into them.  This turned from a minor irritation to a major frustration when I had to infiltrate a thieves hideout.   I mapped out the whole floor but could not progress.  I had to relent and consult the walkthrough in the back of the manual which said that some of the blacked out areas need to be 'unlocked' with a key.

I can go North, East and West with no problems but need to unlock the black area to go South.
How is anyone supposed to guess that?

  • The game contains an interesting day/night cycle.  NPCs appear in different places and some only come out at night and vice versa.  The random encounter rate in the wilderness also increases at night.  The town of Tendanki, for example, is deserted in the day having been destroyed by the Archfiend Baramon.  The inhabitants only appear at night, oblivious to the fact they are dead.  Little additions like this add nothing to the plot, but I like them.
  • A fair bit into the game there is the Shrine of Dhama where your party can change character classes, starting the new profession at level 1.  I discovered this can be a double edged sword.  I settled on changing Ragnar from a Soldier to a Wizard and Harley from a Wizard to a Soldier.  Harley can now wear armour and wield better weapons, and also has the ability to cast the same spells he had learned as a level 21 Wizard.  Ragnar, on the other hand, can no longer wear armour or use the best weapons and also had a reduction in hit points; he is now just a regular level 1 Wizard.  His lack of combat abilities started to annoy me so I changed him to a Sage as soon he reached level 20 again.  Only the Hero could not change class.

"But I wanted to become a Goof-Off!"

  • While mapping I began to notice the overworld area of Dragon Warrior III began to resemble a  map of Earth.  Some of the place names were similar too; Romaly is the equivalent of Rome, Portogo is where Portugal would be.  That said, it is massively deformed. Australia, for instance, has moved several thousand miles west to be directly south of India and has shrunk so much it would fit in the Mediterranean Sea.

My map when I zoomed out and realised it looked familiar.  I hadn't started on the Americas yet.

  • Inventory space is limited to just eight slots.  Giving a character a weapon, a shield, a helmet and some armour halves that.  Essential quest items reduce this even further.  Items can be stored, for a price, at a vault in Aliahan.  Gold pieces can also be stored in the vault, but as they do not take inventory space and encumbrance is not an issue, I was a happy to lug these around.
  • Apart from the usual fetch quests the game provides some simple puzzles to break things up a little....

Ooh, a game of Sokoban.

  • A few games ago* in Ultima VI I started the game with the Orb of the Moons which allowed you visit any town from the off.  Dragon Warrior III does this better with the Return spell.  This only allows you to teleport to towns you have previously visited on foot.  This is essential as you can only save in towns where an NPC (usually a king) can scribe your progress in the Imperial Scolls of Honour.  He also informs you how many XP each party member requires to progress to the next level.
  • I was annoyed by some of the non-choices in the game.  Twice I defeated an NPC called Kandar.  Both times the game gave me the choice of whether to let him go or not.  Select the NO option and he asks you to reconsider.  The game won't continue until you say YES.  What's the point of that?  Another time I was crowned King of Romaly.  I couldn't leave town, buy or sell items or otherwise continue upon the quest until I gave up the crown.  Another pointless exercise.

You are given a choice of YES or NO, but Kandar repeats himself until you let him go.
Who thought this would be good game design? Especially in an RPG.

  • Once Archfiend Baramos has been defeated, it comes as no surprise to discover he was not the main antagonist after all.  On returning to Aliahan, a voice rings out saying Master Archfiend Zoma will now cover the world in darkness.  You have to travel to a whole new continent called Alefgard, World of Darkness which is based on the map from the original Dragon Warrior game.

At the beginning of the game you set out to follow in your father's footsteps.  I thought this meant figuratively but along the way you get clues that he may not have died in the volcano after all.  I finally caught up with him in Zoma's castle.  He perished fighting a King Hydra and did not recognise me as his son.
He died before I could ask him how in hell he got this far without any of the quest items I had been collecting.

Before facing Zoma we had to fight the King Hydra that defeated Ortega, followed by Baramos Bomus and Baramos Gonus.  The fights were a lot easier than expected.  Earlier in the castle I found the Sage's Stone.  This item can be used in combat to cast a HealUs spell.  I got Petrus to use this every round apart from one where I had to cast a HealAll on Harley who was getting low on hit points.

On defeating Zoma the castle collapses and the party fall down a pit to the bottom of a cave.

The Return spell only gives us the option to travel to towns in Alefgard.  Returning to see the King in Tantagel triggers the end sequence.....

It could never be said Dragon Warrior III is an attractive game.  The graphics haven't really moved on from the 1986 original. Although the rival Final Fantasy series had migrated to the SNES in 1991,  Dragon Warriors III and IV remained on the aging NES hardware.  The sprites are small and ugly and lack the personality of other NES JRPGs such as Earthbound Zero and the aforementioned Final Fantasy games. The sprites also flicker when there are a few on screen at once.  The music on the other hand is varied and of good quality.  Even after such a long game it didn't get annoying and my wife was even whistling along to some of the the tunes.  The plot is also typical JRPG - a party of four are kept on a linear path (by impossible encounters) to defeat the big bad only to find out there is a bigger bad behind him.  I mention above that you can't really go wrong in Dragon Warrior III, but later in the game I did lose the plot thread on a couple of occasions and had to consult the walkthrough.  This is contained in the back of the manual along with maps (that I didn't use) so I didn't feel too bad about it. Even with this help Dragon Warrior III must be the longest game I have played so far.  On the whole I enjoyed the experience and look forward to future instalments in the series.  I just hope they are a bit shorter than this epic quest.

* I originally played this game with the 1991 games.  The main Dragon Quest III article in Wikipedia gives the US release date as 12th June 1991.  I subsequently found the Wikipedia article on the Dragon Quest Series gives the year as 1992, as does Mobygames and Gamefaqs.  I went with the majority.


  1. This is the game I've been stuck on for three years now. I thought I'd play through my NES cartridges of Final Fantasy (patched), then the four Dragon Warriors. I instead started with the Dragon Warriors, beat I and II, then stalled on III in favor of my Elder Scrolls blog. I'm hoping I can find time to return to my NES once my blog's story is complete.

  2. I couldn't back into a game after a couple of weeks, let alone 3 years!

  3. I never used the default characters, or took note of their names, but I realize now that Ragnar is also the name of the soldier in DW IV. There's no plot significance, and as far as I know they may be unrelated.

    Did you enjoy how the games are tied into each other? My understanding is that every three games is considered a trilogy.

    1. I didn't finish the first two and played them so long ago I can't remember much about the plots. I did like the way they incorporated original Dragon Warrior map and place names into II and III.

      I don't know about the next three games being a trilogy. I've played IV and V and apart from collecting the Zenithian weapons and armour for the 'hero', I don't see much similarity. I'll see what happens in VI in 1995.

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