Dragon Warrior III


    In the grand scheme of things, ten years is not a long time. It's easy to forget that the American release of Dragon Warrior III was roughly contemporary with the rise of grunge music and Clinton's bid for the presidency, events that hardly seem out of some bygone era. But in the ten short years since the release of what many consider the best of the American Dragon Warrior titles, video games have grown from a niche hobby to a genuine part of the culture. They may still have plenty of room for growth, but the accelerated nostalgia of gamers and gaming companies alike is forgivable considering the astounding aesthetic and technical evolution of video games in one quick decade.

   It shouldn't come as a surprise then, that companies are dipping into their back catalogs to update a few classics for the current generation of hardware. And while it's tempting to point to these as simple cash-ins, it's hard to be cynical when faced with an update like Enix's reworking of Dragon Warrior III for the Game Boy Color. Based on the Japan-only SNES update, Dragon Warrior III GBC is still the same game you know from a decade ago, but it's been re-balanced, reworked, and polished to a high sheen. Plus, it has a battery that won't die for another ten years.

  Or '88 if you're Japanese.
4 character party like its 1991

      Dragon Warrior III was the third game in the franchise's Erdrick Trilogy, though as in last year's GBC release of Dragon Warrior I&II, that legendary hero's name has been changed to the original Japanese Loto. But, the story itself remains the same. Once again, the game begins in a kingdom called Aliahan, a land menaced by the evil Demon Lord Baramos. The people's champion Ortega set out sixteen years ago to defeat Baramos, but never returned. Players take control of Ortega's heroic heir (son or daughter - the game lets you choose) and are charged with defeating Baramos and bringing peace to the land.

   It's a simple, clichéd story from a time when these sorts of plotlines were the norm, but it's not without its charms and few unexpected twists. The quest is massive, the locales varied, and the new translation brings humor and personality to a tale that is mostly pulled along by a series of fetch quests and dungeon crawls. The faux-medieval dialect of the original NES translation has been ditched in favor of more natural speech and some of the "adult" references scrubbed out of the NES game have been restored. It's definitely not as large a change as was seen in the re-translation of Final Fantasy IV, but, in the same way, the new version comes much closer to the spirit and tone of the Japanese original.

This is 90% of your grade.
It's like reading a book and SCHOOL'S OUT

   DWIII's major innovation over the previous games is the introduction of a new class-based system. The main character is always a well-rounded Hero, but you're free to pick from seven additional classes for the rest of your four-character party. The classes run the gamut from the familiar - fighters and mages - to the more unique; Dealers can appraise items and will earn you more gold in battle, while Jesters (Goof-offs in the original) are mostly good for comic relief. In an feature new to the GBC version, each character has a unique "personality," which helps determine their initial stats and growth. These can be changed throughout the game with special books, but the main character's is decided by an amusing personality test at the outset of the game.

   Once your characters reach level 20, you can switch them to another class; the change resets them back to level 1, but they keep all the abilities they learned from their former role. As with many aspects of DWIII, the system is simple yet flexible, and the strategies used in the game's turn based battles will vary greatly depending on your party composition. The GBC version even adds a new class in the form of the Thief, and the addition is an especially welcome one. Thieves can learn special spells such as tiptoe, which reduces the encounter rate, and smell, which detects hidden treasures. This may seem like a small amendment, but it goes a long way to alleviate some of the frustration that comes from DWIII's 8-bit gameplay mechanics.

  There is no way back for you.
This is Hardcore

   On top of the major additions, there is a host of other subtle changes to make the game more palatable to modern sensibilities. The encounter rate is a bit lower, gold and experience a bit more plentiful, and the general difficulty has been lowered. This isn't to say the game is much easier. DWIII is still the sort of game that drops you in a dungeon, takes away your magic abilities, and faces you with monsters that can kill you one hit. It is still the sort of game that requires you map out maze-like dungeons in order to figure out which pit on the floor above drops down to that chest on the floor below. And, yes, you still need to level up occasionally. The game is every bit as challenging as the original, but it's also more fair.

   Other changes are matters of pure convenience. The original's notoriously baroque menu system has been streamlined immensely, above and beyond the improvements made for Dragon Warrior I&II. An option to memorize conversations for easy reference later has been added and the temporary "field log" save returns from DW I&II. Your party even sports a new walking speed, which has been upgraded to a brisk dash. New mini-games, such as the Pachisi board game and collectable "monster medals," and an original bonus dungeon round out the added features for the handheld version.

I'm out of caption ideas.
GBC comes alive

   The most obvious improvement, however, is in the graphics. While not as large an upgrade as the SNES version it's based on, DW III shows that it's only at the end of the GBC's life that developers are using it to its full potential. Employing the largest cart size released in America, DW III has bright, varied graphics, with a surprisingly high level of detail. But a huge portion of the cart space seems to have been devoted to the new monster animations, which are easily the best seen on the GBC. Each of the game's creatures now has several minutely detailed attacks, and spell effects are expertly animated; these additions go a long way toward spicing up the series' drab first-person battles.

   Enix has put a lot of effort into this one to make it the best version of Dragon Warrior III yet, and the result serves as a reminder of why the series was once the biggest RPG franchise on both sides of the Pacific. While the GBC version probably won't win over anyone who disliked the original, gamers who missed the series the first time around won't find a better introduction than Dragon Warrior III. Unfortunately, with the release of the Game Boy Advance, many RPG fans may have their eyes to the future for their next portable gaming fix. But, as Dragon Warrior III shows, there is still plenty of fun to be had living in the past.

Review by Zak McClendon, GIA
Dragon Warrior III
Developer Enix
Publisher Enix
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium Cartridge
Platform Game Boy Color
Release Date  12.08.00
E3: Dragon Warrior III impressions
119 screenshots
Dragon Warrior III NES art
U.S. box art