In the eight years since a Dragon Warrior game was last released in the U.S., the RPG genre has exploded from niche interest into some of the most widely followed games in the entire industry. The sales numbers had always been there – the original Final Fantasy sold over a million copies – but now the games were as slickly produced and widely marketed as each movie licensed platformer or annual football update.
Your first small journey
Meanwhile, Dragon Warrior became less an actual game series than a symbol for design philosophies long since left behind. Depending on the person, the quaint medieval atmosphere and first-person battles were either the basics of a good RPG or just rose-colored memories. Now, with Enix's return to the U.S. market and Gameboy Color re-release of Dragon Warrior I & II, gamers are given a chance to evaluate these classics all over again -- and they hold up remarkably well.
Starting with animated introductions in the Akira Toriyama style of the artwork, both games have been given a significant graphic overhaul. Nothing drastic has been done, but the rows of dungeon tiles and grinning slimes have a pleasingly crisp look. Unlike more action-based ports, the different ratio of the Gameboy Color screen has no effect on the display or gameplay.
Gone is the signature Old English text of the original games, replaced with a competent but ordinary translation. The legendary hero Erdrick now goes by the name of Loto while Princess Gwaelin is now Princess Lora, both the proper Japanese translations. Enix attributes these changes to the smaller screen of the Gameboy, as the literal translations were used in lieu of trying to shorten the original names.
Just in case you'd forgotten...
Text editing aside, the most important change has come in the form of streamlined menus. No longer do you have to select virtually any action from the menu, as the A button defaults to searching and stairs are activated simply by walking on them. Menus also stay largely consistent from the first game to the second, and the hero walks somewhat faster than his plodding NES speed.
Players are now allowed to save in two ways: a field log can be made anywhere, but must be resumed the next time the game is played, while having your quest recorded by the king saves permanently. The soundtrack remains faithful to the landmark NES original, with easily recognizable songs and good sound quality for a portable game, and the balance of the first title has been tweaked to make less outright level building necessary.
Overall, Enix has done a fine job of picking and choosing which elements of the game to redesign. Both games were previously remade for the Super Nintendo in Japan, and the improvements of those editions are present here. The only drawbacks are the removal of the famous medieval text and the fact that spending this much time on a portable system is something best saved for long trips only.
Despite never being much of a series fan, when the introduction for Dragon Warrior ended and the original castle music kicked in, I couldn't help but be swept away by the tidal wave of nostalgia. Enix has done fans of the series a great service with a quality remake of these titles and by placing two of them on a single cart. Any fan of the series or the genre would be challenged to find a better use for 30 gaming dollars.
Review by Ed McGlothlin, GIA.