JRPG Journey 2021: Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation (January)
Welcome to my JRPG journey, 2021 edition. Last year, I played one JRPG every month and wrote my thoughts on them here, and I had so much fun that I’ve decided to continue it into 2021. Check out my full list of thoughts on JRPGS on my profile, as well as the full list of JRPGs I’ve played, if you’re interested.
Feburary’s game: Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls
At last, I’ve reached the Dragon Quest game I’ve been looking forward to playing the most: Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation, first released as Dragon Warrior III for NES in the West. The first three Dragon Quest games form a somewhat loosely connected trilogy, and everything I’ve heard about the third title has indicated that it’s the best of the three. Originally released in 1988 for the Famicom, DQIII is rather well revered in Japan, consistently being voted one of their favorite RPGs year after year. I played the 2019 Nintendo Switch version, which is a port of the remake for iOS and Android released in 2014. The mobile version is a reworking of a release for the Game Boy Color, which itself included major new features and changes. As such, this review will focus on this latest release and will include discussion of features not found in the original Dragon Warrior III. I completed all content, including the remake-exclusive superboss, and spent around 33 hours total.
I’m pleased to report that Dragon Quest III lives up to the hype. This is the first of the Dragon Quest games I’ve played that feels comparable to modern JRPGs in terms of scope and mechanical depth. For one, it’s much longer than the previous two games, featuring an even larger world than Dragon Quest II, which in turn featured a larger world than the single continent from the first game. (In fact, the first game’s continent is featured in a condensed form on DQII’s map.) In addition, the original world of Dragon Quest I and II is featured as an underworld of sorts in this new adventure, connecting the three games brilliantly, as Dragon Quest III is a prequel to the first two games. You play as the hero of legend from Dragon Quest I and II, receiving the moniker of “Erdrick” (or “Loto” in the original Dragon Warrior and Japanese releases) referenced in the first two games once you complete your quest to save the world. This little bit of worldbuilding makes the adventure feel more impactful than it would had the game been completely disconnected from its predecessors. The music, too, is top-notch, as expected but nonetheless appreciated.
In terms of gameplay, DQIII also stands above the first two games and more closely resembles JRPGs you might find today. By adding a few mechanics, such as character classes, party recruitment, and personalities, a lot of depth is injected into the formula, and careful research and planning is needed if you don’t want to have to grind much. Granted, grinding is still required at a few points, but it’s not nearly as overwhelming as in the previous Dragon Quest games. You no longer have set party members like in DQII. Instead, you or even complete the game as a lone Hero (the player character’s class is uniquely Hero and cannot be changed), without ever recruiting a party member. Adventuring is more fun with friends, however, and I chose a Thief (a class exclusive to the remakes), Mage (or Wizard in the original release), and Priest (or Pilgrim in the original release, Cleric in the GBC release) for my companions at the start. Unlike many JRPGs, the Thief was a surprisingly useful character in combat—it’s a fast class that can deal nearly as much damage as a Warrior, which I originally started with, then replaced after a few hours. Thieves also have a chance to glean item drops from enemies. Priests are your standard healer or white mage equivalent, but they have few attacking spells, instead being able to deal decent physical damage. Mages are almost purely for high damage spells and remained useful throughout the game. Other classes include the aforementioned Warrior (or Soldier in the original release), Martial Artist (a.k.a. Fighter), Merchant (a.k.a. Dealer), and Gadabout (a.k.a. Jester or Goof-off).
At a certain point about two-thirds of the way through, you gain the ability to change classes, which resets a character’s level to 1, but keeps half of their values in each stat. This is highly beneficial, as you can get the best of two classes in one character and also change to the non-recruitable Sage class, which is essentially a Priest and Mage combined into one jack-of-all-trades spellcaster. After some online research, I opted to change my Mage and Thief into Sages, giving me one very powerful spellcaster and one very fast spellcaster, and changed my Priest into a Martial Artist, making him a fast cleric who can deal physical damage if needed. The Merchant class is needed for one story quest but otherwise not particularly useful. The Gadabout is the only class I never used, but I’ve read that, while next to useless in combat, they can re-class into a Sage without a special item that’s typically required, but I didn’t see a use for this, as I was able to get two of those items to make my Sages.
In addition to the new class system, Dragon Quest III also introduces personalities, a unique mechanic to this game that works differently from any other JRPG I’ve played. A cute story intro determines your Hero’s starting personality based on choices you make, but you quickly gain the ability to change your personality to any of several dozen using various Books or items you come across in the world. Using a Book changes a character’s personality permanently, while equipping an item changes their personality as long as the item is equipped, with the trade off being that you take up the character’s accessory equipment slot. Each personality has a unique growth modifier for each of the main stats; for example, some personalities make a character’s Strength increase at a higher rate as levels are gained yet hinder their Agility (a.k.a speed), which affects turn order in combat. Optimizing for the best personalities for each class is a ton of fun, and by the end of the game your whole party will have highly beneficial personalities that boost all stats once you know what you’re doing.
Dragon Quest III also keeps the series staples of low stat numbers (by the end, my hero had around 400 max HP), cute and funny looking enemies, and quirky spell names such as Sizz and Kacrackle. These help me form an attachment to my character and quest and draw me more into the experience. Like no other series, I feel like I actually am the hero when playing a Dragon Quest game, unlikely, say, in Final Fantasy where I feel more like a spectator. Dragon Quest pulls off this kind of charm better than any other series I’ve played, and I can see how the contrast to Final Fantasy, the series’s biggest competitor, may draw certain players more toward one or the other. As a fan of both series, I’m glad that the West has gotten relatively recent releases of most DQ games, and I don’t have to choose. I can only hope that Square Enix continues to show love to Western Dragon Quest fans in the future.
The next Dragon Quest game I’m likely to play is VII, since I already have VII, VIII, and IX in my collection, and those games also form a loose trilogy of sorts. I definitely plan to check out IV, V, and VI though, as every Dragon Quest game gets praise for different reasons, and I don’t want to miss out on any of them. XI, as well is constantly looming on my horizon, and I’m looking forward to the day I finally play it—after I get more familiar with previous games in the series.
Next month, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II. Stick around!