Thither art many titles in the Dragon Quest series, this much I knoweth. They are fantasy role playing games in a similar vein as Final Fantasy, I can sayeth that too. What I can't sayeth is that I hath played any of them. I hath not. Not even a later entry to the series, nor a spin-off, nor even a demo. Nothingeth.
I am coming into a fantasy realm full of vast quests completely blind, which probably means I'll barely scratch the surface, receiveth horrible wounds, get lost and moan about it not being like Skyrim, or some such blasphemy.
Let's find out.
In English, from here on...
Unlike many RPGs, Dragon Quest gives you the most minimal of introductions before sending you on your way into the wide open world - and it is both wide and open. I had to read up on a lot of the plot just to be sure of what was what.
King Lorik doesn't think you are a descendant of Erdrick, a brave warrior who brought the light back into the lands, slaying evil-doers in the process. Loriks' daughter, Princess Gwaelin, has been captured by a dragon however, and it is a descendant of Erdrick who will be the one capable of saving the day by defeating the dragon. Time to go out and prove yourself. Kill the dragon, save the princess, impress the King. Gotcha.
Once you learn how to walk, open treasure chests, talk to people and use doors and staircases, you are essentially free to explore wherever you please. The old Todd Howard quote for Skyrim, "See that mountain? You can climb it", holds mostly true for Dragon Quest as well - see somewhere on the map? You can probably get there. Unless it is a mountain, or the sea. But the point is, from the word 'go', you can venture in any direction you like.
The further you travel from safety, be it by walking through forests instead of grasslands, or by venturing too far away from the starting area, the harder it will be for you to survive. Enemies will be tougher, most notably, so it's best to either take it slow and/or grind out the levels for a while.
From one snippet of interaction with a local, you're pointed towards a cave just a little to the north. It's basically the only place mentioned, so it might as well be the one you go to. Turns out that within this dark cave (lit up by your torch if you have one, or by magic if you've levelled up just a little too much) is a tablet that displays exactly what you need to do to prove that you are descended from Erdrick, and it's more hands on than 'save the Princess'.
Being an RPG you've got to expect to do a lot of 'hands on' work - there's a reason why levelling up is referred to as 'grinding' after all.
It helps to explore every part of a town, for example. Talk to all the locals, naturally. Find out where the shops are, of course. Learn what happens when you die, or what you need to do to heal so that death doesn't come your way, most definitely, So where do I go again? What's my starting point?
Cave, yes, gotcha. So we head out in search of a cave - we assume somewhere nearby - and encounter a random battle, whey. There's a bit of a love/hate relationship with random battles. They are absolutely essential in Dragon Quest, so if you're capable of fighting something, you ought to fight it. Hopefully there won't be another fight in a few ste-oh, there's another battle, excellent.
You only have to worry about yourself on this quest, with no other party members to have to juggle around in the menus for. The menus are actually not too bad, until you remember what they contain. Want to walk up or down some stairs? Menu. Open a door? Menu. Take loot from a treasure chest? Menu. It's not all bad however, as the menu and your stats - health, gold, experience points and so on - are visible whenever you stop moving.
Speaking of moving, starting to move can sometimes be tricky. One version of the game involved having to pick a direction to face before walking in that direction, leading to a tiny bit of a delay. I'm either playing that version, or have sticky controls or something, as it was sometimes a faff to move anywhere with a purpose. Not that any of the townspeople care. Strangers endlessly walking into walls must be normal to them.
The music is forgettable and repetitive, the visuals aren't terrible, with a first person battle camera and colourful sprites filling the world. The text though... that can be a little tricky sometimes. There's a reason English evolved to not speak like that any more.
It's cumbersome in places, but this really is the birth of the RPG as we know it. It has the look of an old school RPG, it has the feel of an old school RPG. Along with both of those, it has the problems of an old school RPG, but if you look past them you have yourself a game that asks you to put in the time to finish what should be an epic quest.
There aren't any side missions, there aren't any distractions and mini-games, there is just the task of saving the world from a Dragonlord who - in typical fashion it seems - just happens to be residing in a castle visible across the water from where you start the game. Dragon Quest will see you come full circle by the time you finish it.
So I've seen, at least, thanks to a couple of YouTube videos. I just don't have the time to grind. It's a simple game to get into, the fights take no real thought at all (certainly in the early stages), but you may find yourself overwhelmed with it all.
Perhaps I'm used to having - or are expecting to see - a story hold my hand, at least for a little while. Until I get my bearings. Dragon Quest says "You've made it out of the first room, see you later" before giving you your freedom - and there's a lot of freedom. I was free to found out just much damage those slimes can do to a man in such a short space of time, and then how long it takes to get back to a bed for some rest.
It is well worth checking out though, even for a short, single session to see where it all began. You'll see where modern RPGs pull from and what they do an awful lot better, and that's all part of the fun of exploring the history of video gaming.
Your stats are influenced by the first four characters of your characters name, so choose them wisely, if that's important to you.
Dragon Quest, developed by Chunsoft, first released in 1986.
Version played: NES, 1989 (as Dragon Warrior), via emulation.
Version watched: NES, 1989 (as Dragon Warrior, World of Longplays, Loogaroo1)