Dragon Quest 101.
Dragon Quest is a Japanese Role-Playing Game franchise that began in 1986. It was originally called Dragon Warrior in the West due to licensing issues, but it has been called Dragon Quest worldwide since 2005. The series is widely considered the originator of the jRPG genre as we know it.
Dragon Quest is massively successful in Japan. The franchise’s art design by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama helped it gain notoriety, and Toriyama’s signature design persists in the series to this day. The series is so popular in the East that an urban legend sprang up claiming that Enix was forbidden by the Japanese government to release a Dragon Quest game on a weekday due to kids and adults calling in sick days to play it. These rumors don’t hold any factual basis, but they’re still a testament to just how beloved this series is.
With Dragon Quest XI‘s protagonist making waves as a playable character in Smash Bros., you may be wondering if this series is worth your time. Just like with our Fire Emblem introduction, we’re ready to give you an easy answer. Because if you’ve ever liked a jRPG before, the answer is likely yes.
Why Dragon Quest works
Dragon Quest is often described as a “comfort food” game. The series has few flashy gimmicks compared to other contemporary RPGs, but it makes up for this with incredibly rock-solid design in its core mechanics.
Every element of the average Dragon Quest game feels deliberate. Every character you meet in town tells you about a helpful hint, or they’re some part of a side story that is incidental to the main quest. Battle mechanics are never overwrought, which helps random encounters go quickly with the right party setup. And the worlds are always so fun to explore. The series has been a pioneer of non-linear world maps since its first title, yet it’s always integrated so well that it never feels overwhelming.
But most importantly, this is a franchise that you can take at your own pace. Whether you like to methodically level your team and steamroll dungeons, or you enjoy flinging headlong into danger, these games work with your play style. Even if you’ve never played a jRPG before, Dragon Quest is so accessible that you’ll learn all you need to know about the genre just by playing one game. That’s how tight the design is.
What game should you play first?
While the first three games are loosely connected, each title in the series works as a standalone adventure. Dragon Quest XI is the most recent entry, and it’s one of the best titles for a series newbie to try. The Nintendo Switch version of Dragon Quest XI contains bonus content not seen in other versions, and it even has a 6+ hour demo you can download for free. Since your demo save file transfers to the full game, this is an excellent way to try out the series.
These entries are also especially great candidates for series newbies:
- Dragon Quest VIII – The West’s favorite Dragon Quest! The 3DS version has extra features, but the PS2 version still holds up today.
- Dragon Quest V – Arguably the best story in the entire series. It even has a monster-catching system, despite releasing four years before Pokémon did. Available on the Nintendo DS and mobile devices!
- Dragon Quest III – An old school adventure with a ton of content to explore. Includes deep party customization considering its vintage.
- Dragon Quest I – The ultimate palette cleanser game. It’s as basic as basic gets, but modern ports of the game cut the grinding to a minimum compared to the NES original. Easily beatable within 7 hours, a great way to spend a rainy day.
No matter what game you start with, know that there’s no wrong way to play. Explore, get lost, or just grind until you have all the best gear. Just make sure to support the series’ official releases if you like what you see. Maybe it won’t get as big in the West as it is in Japan, but with enough love, it might at least get the recognition it deserves.