This is about as basic as an RPG can get and not just be Dungeons and Dragons or this games immediate influence Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
. This is the template from which all other JRPG's come and it really shows. The game play is basic and tedious for it's time period. By that I mean grinding and lots and lots of it, to say the least. You fight in little screens that pop up in basic turn based battles. Showing only the monsters and not yourself during combat. You only have 1 character throughout the whole of DQ1 and no party members. There are no classes and magic is even kind of scant in this. See what I mean by this being bare bones?
The game has a few towns and villages to visit and one thing I will say in this games favor and that of it's most immediate predecessors, is that unlike a lot of early RPG's on the NES and other early consoles, the people in town are actually very useful and they have just enough personality, to make it all not seem like it isn't just exposition and plot arrow signs. The puff puff girl being the absolute greatest character in the game... Ok, I'll calm down a bit. We all need a little puff every now and then though.
The story is also Mario the RPG edition, I mean you know, before that actually existed. You save a princess as a key part of a plot, which includes an admittedly humorous element where you carry her all the way back to the castle. Which is about half a continent away and through a long cave. At the end of the story like Mario you fight a big lizard man at the end, who is called the Dragonlord. Future Dragonquest games have more things to do and see but this plot is about as rudimentary as possible. One thing I like about this games map layout is you can see the Dragonlords castle from the very start of the game. I like when a game makes it's main goal clear from the start and there is this nagging carrot on a stick element to this basic design that makes you feel like getting there must be a lot easier than it actually ends up being. I can say in the stories defense that it never feels overly complicated or hard to understand but on the flipside it also isn't very memorable on it's own. One interesting aspect of the story is that you can choose to become a servant of the Dragonlord thus giving us one of the earliest "Evil" endings in a video game. The canon story is of course that this didn't happen, but interestingly decades later Square Enix used this plot device as an alternate timeline for the Dragonquest builders games.
There is some charm here with Akira Toriyama's monster and character designs and in the music. I don't quite like it as much as Yoshitaka Amano's art direction and Nobuo Uematsu's music from Final Fantasy [ファイナルファンタジー]
. Neither of these games look as good as motherfucking Phantasy Star [ファンタシースター]
though, fishmen be styling. In Dragon Quest's defense even in the NES iteration Akira's artwork is more apparent than Amano's in the actual execution of the game. Even now I don't think the Final Fantasy games have lived up to Amano's designs let alone in the 8bit era.
Town's in this game look extremely primitive in their display, they're barely a step up from Ultima's early iterations, in that the buildings don't have roofs and doors are only put on certain buildings to be an obstacle and not a function of aesthetics. This extremely basic design would be the case until the games were remade for the SNES (Best versions of the first 3 games.) and even then then the buildings don't look fully formed or upgraded much until the 3rd game.
If I'm rating this game on it's influence and importance to video game history it would be beyond a 10/10. The Dragon Quest games are loved far more in Japan than in most of the rest of the world and they have influenced basically every RPG series that has ever come out of the country in one way or another. I always thought for instance that the rest of the world saw Shigeru Miyamoto as the Walt Disney of video games, you know without the antisemitism... I think. Anyway, I thought this must be the case especially in his homeland but, the reality is even Shiggy Diggy himself plays second fiddle to Yuji Horii creator of Dragon Quest in Japan. When people think of a "video game creator" in Japan, Horii is who they think about, his name is almost synonymous with the job title, in the way that "Spielberg" was with directing in my lifetime. Or at least that is what I'm told. Please tell me in a million and one ways how I'm the worst person ever for being wrong about something I can only know secondhand. My body is ready and willing.
If I rate it for personal enjoyment even with some of the improvements the Super Famicom version and GBC version bring it wouldn't be massively high in all honesty. It holds up for what it is and it can be fun in it's raw simplicity, but again it's not a very memorable experience on it's own. I'm inclined to give this game a slight bump in my estimation of it given some things that happen later in the series that make the plot to this first game seem more important in hindsight. I don't want to spoil anything about future releases, but the Roto trilogy (the first three games) make this game and the land of Alefgard a central building block and even though the plots to those games don't get a whole lot more complicated than this one, at least it all feels natural and necessary and some of the things you learn about this game in hindsight were genuinely interesting to me. As it is it's a pretty solid minimalist experience now, with an influence more gigantic than almost any other game I could think of in it's genre.