Those familiar with the Dragon Quest series in Japan and, to a lesser extent, the Dragon Warrior series in America, know how popular the games were. Most are familiar with the Japanese government limiting sales to Sundays to prevent kids from skipping school to buy the carts, but not everyone knows that Dragon Quest III was the biggest seller of the entire NES series, beating out even the fourth game in the series which, I thought, was superior in almost every way.
It’s no surprise, then, that the first three Dragon Quest games were remixed, remade, and re-released in Japan and, now, the US as well. The first two games got a great reception in the US, and now the third game, with all its upgrades and improvements, help it surpass its predecessors, making it one of the best Game Boy Color RPGs ever.
You are the young hero from the kingdom of Aliahan. A long time ago, Aliahan ruled the world, but over time its influence waned and it was all but forgotten by the outside world. Years ago, your father, the brave Ortega, left on a journey to find and defeat the archfiend Baramos who threatened to engulf the world in darkness. Unfortunately your father never returned, and now it is your turn to face the trials your father did, only this time with a brave crew of adventurers to aid you.
Dragon Warrior III has a timeless story, really. True, it’s a save the world from the forces of evil story, but when it was originally released on the NES, it was semi-original. Okay, I’m lying, the basic story isn’t original: Dragon Warrior I&II both did the same thing. Nor are any of the characters particularly interesting, but neither were they very impressive on the NES version. Dragon Warrior III is not a game you play for the story, at least not today when there are much more enthralling plotlines.
During the course of the game, you’ll encounter towns and villages that will contain townspeople and villagers, and nearly every one has a fetch quest for you to perform. There are a few interesting ones, such as the pepper quest and the quest for the rainbow drop, but often you’ll find yourself following the village/dungeon/village progression. What’s even more annoying is that, halfway through the game, you’re given the most epic of fetch quests since the Triforce in Legend of Zelda, and with such a huge world to explore, finding everything is very difficult and confusing. More than once I was at the point of quitting because I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and this is after having played the NES version to completion.
Fortunately, everything gets better from this point on, especially the gameplay. Dragon Warrior III for NES was lots of fun and the additions made to the GBC edition increase the enjoyment tenfold. Your first task is to recruit up to three companions to travel with you around the increasingly dangerous world. You can choose from seven different classes: warrior, fighter, mage, cleric, dealer, thief, and jester. Each has its own advantages and detractions; for instance fighters usually develop high agility to deliver more critical attacks, while jesters have very high luck and do random special attacks in battle. The game starts out with three pre-made characters: a warrior, cleric, and mage, but you can create your own and distribute ability points to them to create their personality (more on that later).
The most interesting thing about the class system is that you can change classes at level 20 if you wish. Though the character starts his new class at level 1, he gets to keep half the stats from his previous incarnation, as well as all spells learned up to that point. Want to create a warrior that can cast cleric spells? Go for it. A cleric who always goes first in battle? No problem. You can even change to a special Sage class if you get the right item, and from there can learn both cleric and mage spells; very useful. I had a lot of fun playing around with class changing, though I pity my poor thief who had to endure being a dealer before eventually becoming a very kick-ass fighter.
Adding to character customizability is being able to actually direct your characters’ growth by changing his/her personality. By using books and equipping certain accessories, you can change your characters’ personalities, which influence the rate at which your stats grow. Say you wanted a mage with a lot of intelligence, just use a certain book and make her personality “smart”. You’ll soon find yourself awash in MP. It’s a great system and one I would have enjoyed a lot more had I know exactly how it worked from the beginning, but everything is more or less pretty intuitive, and the manual gives great descriptions.
The battle system mechanics are also incredibly easy to pick up. Battles occur randomly as you walk around the world map and dungeons. When you encounter enemies, the turn-based battles start. From there, you choose from six commands: attack, parry, item, run, equip, and magic, and yes, it’s all exactly what it sounds like. Attacks go in order of agility most of the time, with whichever character/enemy has the highest agility acting first, etc. You also have the ability to attack your own comrades, which is nice if you need to get one of them out of a confused state. Battles are pretty simple, but they’re rarely boring.
Magic plays a very important part, both in battles and out. Drawing from the character’s own set of magic points, spells can range from healing magic to attack magic and lots of things in between. The “in betweeners” are the real novelty of DWIII on GBC. Every class, save the warrior and fighter, can learn at least one spell. For instance, the dealer can learn Yell Help, which summons an innkeeper, merchant, or priest at random in the field, and the jester can learn Whistle, a spell that calls monsters to battle you. The most important spells if you’re trying to find all the items in the game, however, are the thief’s Map Magic, which alerts you to any suspicious things in the immediate vicinity, and Smell, which lets you know how many treasures you should be looking for in the area. These new spells add a good deal of variety to what was, originally, a very straightforward deal.
But the most enjoyable aspect of the game has to be all the items to find. Aside from the weapons and armor scattered across the land, there is also an ongoing quest to find Tiny Medals throughout the game that you can trade in for better and better items, as well as a more lengthy and time-consuming quest, which is nearly impossible to finish by yourself, namely the Monster Medal quest. Every now and then, after defeating an enemy, you’ll obtain that enemy’s medal. There are three levels of Monster Medals: bronze, silver, and gold. If you obtain all 165 monster medals in the different levels, something special happens. Don’t ask me what, I don’t know and I haven’t heard of anyone who has actually collected all the medals, but if you want to try, you can link up with a friend via a gamelink and trade medals between you. Gives it a very poke-ish feel. Still, the gameplay is solid, and nothing that has been added hurts the upgrade in the least.
The graphical enhancements DWIII received are also stellar. There is actually less pixilation in the GBC version than there was in the NES one. Enemies are colorful and, though they’re pallet swapped, it’s to be expected. But the most incredible thing is that the enemies now animate when they attack, and not just one animation either, but multiple, really detailed animations for each enemy. Coming from a history of playing DW on the NES, this took my breath away, and I was extremely pleased. The enemy designs were fantastic, all created by Akira “Mr. Dragonball” Toriyama, who, I think, is over hyped but still does a very good job nonetheless. Everything looks smoother than the original NES game, and though it’s definitely an 8-bit title, there are some things that might get you wondering.
Spell effects were also very nice. In battle, each spell has its own effect, and some, such as the hero’s Thordain, are sufficiently massive for a GBC title. My favorite was Explodet, which I was using almost exclusively near the end of the game.
Musically, this title shines. The soundtrack was composed by the legendary Koichi Sugiyama, and boy, that’s one ‘a spicy meatball! Drastically improving on the NES original, DWIII has received a musical facelift, with additional tracks and extensions/complexity increases to returning ones. From the epic opening to “And then Into the Legend”, DWIII delivers a musical tour de force to best any GBC title out there. There were times I thought I was listening to DW3 Symphonic Suite, it’s that good.
Sound effects are just fine for a GBC game, though they’re nothing extremely impressive. The magic effects, though, are creative and original: don’t get in the way of Thordain; you wouldn’t like it.
Finally, there is control, and here I can’t complain either. Everything is very intuitive: A brings up the menu and accepts choices, B cancels, Start lets you record in the field log (a handy feature when you have to shut down on the go!) It’s all that simple, and the controls aren’t oversensitive, so you don’t have to worry about them too much.
Dragon Warrior III for GBC is a great game. With tons of secrets and things to do, a great musical score, and well-done graphics, this title is in every way an improvement on its NES counterpart. I clocked in at around 60 hours total playing time, and there were still lots of things to do, including a pseudo-epilogue and, of course, the Monster Medal quest. If you’re not looking for an earth shattering (or for that matter, breeze blowing) plot, but do love solid traditional RPG gameplay, get this game.