Retro Review: Dragon Warrior III (NES)

Dragon Warrior suffered from a lack of content, and Dragon Warrior II suffered from a lack of balance. Dragon Warrior III suffers from no such issues, and really doesn’t have any major issues at all. This is a very solid, very long, and very satisfying RPG experience. The game is positively huge, yet well-conceived from end to end. The only complaint I can really come up with is that it is perhaps a bit too much – by the end I found myself thinking some earlier plot points had been in previous games because I had gone through them so long ago.

This is the game where the Dragon Warrior formula, at least as far as gameplay, was first perfected. You have the introduction of a class system that is simple yet satisfying and pretty well nuanced. For example, they added an openly useless class and actually gave a solid reason to play it. Indeed this is indicative of what’s so good about DW3: there’s a ton of stuff here, and all of it has a purpose.

Plot-wise, this is pretty basic stuff. The game actually teases a rehash of DW2’s endgame sequence before taking a very cool sharp left turn (And, unfortunately, something Nintendo Power spoiled for me more than 25 years ago.) But in the end, you’re still just tracking down some big bad by venturing through countless dungeons and collecting cool items. That’s kind of what this series is about, at least up until this point.

The first two Dragon Warrior games felt somewhat like the early Ultimas, and that feeling is even stronger in this game. The party system is reminiscent of Ultima III, and in many ways it’s a similar game except that DW3 is many, many times more dense. It’s mostly linear, though it does feature the requisite midgame “gather up all the mcguffins” quest line to mix things up a bit.

Unfortunately, saying more than that would probably venture into spoiler territory. But if you’re looking for an old-school, combat heavy, endurance RPG, you can certainly do worse than Dragon Warrior III. As I understand it, this is the point in the series where all the rumors about Japan making it illegal to release Dragon Quest games on weekdays (sadly not true) started, and I can see why. Maybe with some different timing and better marketing, Dragon Warrior/Quest could have been a thing in the US. Or perhaps the ‘gameplay RPG’ genre was just too well-covered by PCs here. In any case, I really enjoyed this game and would recommend it to any fans of the formula.

Review Score: A−

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