The new Android version of Dragon Quest doesn’t really stand up to the original NES version that came out in 1986. The original Dragon Quest is generally regarded as one of the most influential games in RPG history, but thanks to advances in the genre, it’s often considered to be more of a historical artifact than a fun game in its own right. And while that’s not entirely true, the sacrifices involved with porting it over to mobile platforms do mitigate some of what makes the 28-year-old game interesting in the first place.
The mechanics of Dragon Quest are everything you’d expect: fighting enemies for gold and experience, buying better equipment, dungeon crawling. All of these mechanics were eventually lifted and expanded upon in other Japanese RPGs, so anyone who’s played one before will find this to be much simpler from a mechanical perspective. Even the original Final Fantasy is leagues more complex. The simplicity of Dragon Quest’s gameplay, though, is entirely consistent with the design of the game. You’re saving a princess, collecting a magic artifact, and defeating a dark lord. As long as you can get into the minimalism of it all, you won’t necessarily be bored with Dragon Quest. At the very least, though, you have to like JRPGs and games from the NES era, or else the slow march towards the gold and experience you need to advance might drive you crazy.
Aesthetically, Dragon Quest also has an undeserved reputation for making everything look too boring and archetypal. Akira Toriyama was with the series from the very beginning, and with his help, the game establishes a pretty unique look and feel right of the bat. It’s subtle, but it’s not generic sword and sorcery at all. From the main character to the monsters, Dragon Quest features some of the best design of the entire 8-bit era. Unfortunately, some of that is lost in the graphical overhaul that comes with the Android port. It’s not too different from the original, but modern-looking dialogue boxes and menus make the game feel more dated than it actually is. The decision to put the game in portrait mode hurts the aesthetic, too: the new vertical space reveals too much of the map at once and makes everything look cluttered.
The port’s touch screen controls are also frustrating and add unnecessary tedium to the game. No reflexes are really required because of the turn-based combat, but pushing your thumb along a directional wheel is clunky and doesn’t give you a very good sense of control over your character. The best way to control the mobile version is probably with some kind of stylus instead of just your fingers.
Dragon Quest the game is a little better than the history books make it sound: it’s a small, subtle, dialogue-driven game that’s good at immersing you into a journey. Dragon Quest the mobile port, though, adds a few too many additional frustrations and disappointments to the ones that are inherent to playing an RPG that was designed with such old-fashioned technology. Unlike Square Enix’s other, more expensive mobile offerings, though, Dragon Quest is an extremely reasonable $2.99, so anyone who specifically wants a JRPG for their phone and doesn’t mind the one-two punch of portrait mode and touch screen controls might still find value here. For most people, though, it might best to check out Dragon Quest in another format.
The original classic RPG, still influencing games today and still worth playing. Only those with a tolerance for awkward touchscreen controls and weird aspect ratios should check out the Android version, though.