Review: Dragon Warrior II (NES)

In this review, we venture forth in the quest of Dragon Warrior II. We find out how well this NES RPG game plays.

This game was released in 1990. It is a sequel to the original Dragon Warrior. The series continues on to this day.

Apparently, this game was set 100 years after the events in Dragon Warrior. Your quest is to defeat the evil Hargon who has initiated an attack.

You start off as a single character – the hero. You can name the hero anything.

This game has many features that were carried over from the previous Dragon Warrior. The most immediately obvious element is the menu system. There have been some minor tweaks that do improve things. The biggest improvement that I could see was the fact that you no longer have to sift through the menu’s to find a “stairs” option just to go up and down a flight of stairs. You actually take a flight of stairs just by walking over top of it.

This game features two kinds of areas. There are safe areas such as castles or towns that do not feature any monsters (save for a few cut-scene related fights of course). The other areas are dangerous areas that feature random encounters. This includes the over-world and various dungeons. What kind of monsters you encounter depends largely on where you currently are. If you venture far enough, you’ll encounter gradually tougher monsters.

If you enter a monster fight, you’ll notice another major change. Unlike the previous game, monster fights feature more than one monster at a time. Monster fights that have more than one enemy will tend to group monsters that are the same (not always). When you try and fight a monster, you have to select between the groups you want to battle. If it’s a single attack, then you’ll hit one monster seemingly randomly.

If you defeat all the enemies in the fight, you’ll win both gold and experience points. The tougher the fights, generally speaking, the more gold and experience you obtain. On occasion, you’ll also sometimes find a treasure chest. If you open it, you’ll obtain either some extra gold, or an item and some extra gold.

Another feature making its return is the two kinds of shops. One shop sells “tools” while the other sells weapons and armor. Not all towns feature both, but a number of them do. Different towns have shops that sell different things. One of the most common “tool” is a magical herb. This item can heal some minor wounds you sustain whether in or out of battle. Meanwhile, weapon shops sells (sometimes really expensive) weapons and armor that you can equip.

The system in which you equip items has changed drastically. Previously, items get automatically equipped and un-equipped when you purchase something stronger. Some items were simply equipped by using them (such as a ring or a scale). Now, you could actually manually equip the items one at a time. While this sounds like an improvement, the major downside is that now, every item takes up an item slot. While this isn’t that big of a deal towards the beginning of the game, later on in the game, you can actually use all but two inventory spots just on equipped items. Another aspect of this system is that when you want to, say, equip a sword, you actually have to re-equip every other piece of equipment in the process before exiting the menu. Either that, of you equip items to get to the one upgrade you want, then back out of every possible piece of equipment after. After a while, this system ends up being extremely tedious for such a seemingly simple task.

Inventory item slots are very limiting in other ways too. For instance, once you have the full set of keys, these items can soak up virtually every free space in one characters inventory. Eventually, you cannot even hold more than three or four regular items, forcing you to rely solely on magic for recovery later on in the game. Overall, the inventory and equipment can be best described as one step forward, two steps back.

One new element you’ll notice early on in the game is the addition of healing shrines. These shrines can remove poison, lift a curse, or revive someone. As the game progresses, you’ll find yourself using these shrines more and more.

Probably one of the biggest upgrades this game features is the fact that you can now have a party system. While this is a major step forward for this game, it does little more than catch up to other NES RPG titles such as Final Fantasy 1, 2, and 3. Interestingly enough, this game has a total of three characters in the entire game.

The first character is, of course, the hero which you have in the entire game. One notable feature is the complete lack of magic and MP, so he is more for slicing opponents in two. The second character is the prince. He does feature some magic, but is a cross between a fighter and a magic user. While this is the best of both worlds, the prince is generally a weaker character compared to the full warrior or the full magic user. The final character is the princess. As you can guess, the princess specializes in magic and MP. While HP goes up stubbornly slow for this character, MP goes up a bit quicker and the spells she learns are generally more powerful (she starts off with healmore even!).

Each character has one annoying thing in common: they all start at level 1 when you meet them. For the hero, this isn’t that big of a deal because all that is needed is some grinding to get the levels up. For the second character, this is a bit annoying, but it is possible to fight more powerful monsters and quickly level him up (with the risk of him dying in the process). For the princess, this can be a rather painful process levelling her up so that she survives the fights given that she is found so much later in the game. What’s more is that the experience points requirements for each level is higher for the prince and far higher for the princess. This creates a practically permanent gap in levels for each character throughout the entire game.

While grinding up the first character isn’t that big of a deal, the grinding up of other characters just makes this game drag because it repeats the major problem with the original Dragon Warrior: lots of grinding just for the sake of making the next area survivable. Forget completely destroying the enemies, hours of grinding is needed just for the sake of making the next area possible.

Compounding the problem is the large difficulty spikes found throughout the game. Sure, getting your hero up to level 5 is great, but if you’re chasing down the prince, you’ll eventually come across enemies that can wipe you out in a single lucky round.

Also making its return is the need to speak to absolutely every NPC you can find. This includes kings, guards, townspeople, and even dogs. In fact, part of your quest hinges on you finding the right dog in the right town and talking to it – and this happens on more than one occasion. Many townspeople will offer you hints. Some of them are specific enough for you to carry out the order while others are rather vague. As a result, not only is a guide practically a requirement for success, but so is a map of the world depending on where you are in the quest.

One nice improvement is the fact that you get a boat. Again, while this is a major improvement, this is largely something that plays catch-up with other RPG games released at the time. Unfortunately, the part where you get the boat is largely where this game loses me. you have a series of objectives you must complete out at sea. Which island you must visit (I know at least one of those islands is literally a 1×1 square even!) during which time in the game is imperative for the sake of your characters keeping up with the ever-increasing game difficulty. I thought I had an advantage when I came across an area that had particularly powerful monsters that dropped plenty of experience points and gold. Unfortunately, all that did was mildly improve my characters after the 12th death and seemingly otherwise fast level ups. I can only imagine how much earlier I would’ve thrown in the towel had I not done that, though.

Part of your quest is to locate the 5 crests. At this point in the game, I found myself pretty much using a guide as a crutch just to hobble my way through the game. One of those locations to find the crests involves warping to a particular monolith and walking around the edge of the border and searching in a grassy corner of a stone wall. Could I have found it without the guide? Unlikely. In fact, I broke off the quest with two crests to go just because even with the guide, it was frustrating to search for the crests. It turns out, I was not that far off from completing the game because all I needed to do was find the last two crests and open the final doorway to enter the final fight of the game.

One major improvement in this game, though, was the dungeons. Instead of tiny little square ones with possibly multiple floors, the dungeons are actually something you could explore. There are treasures within that you can get if you hit a dead end. Even better is the fact that dungeons are no longer pitch black and require magic to light your way. Instead, different sections are hidden away. Even better is that hallways are no longer 1 square wide. Indeed, the dungeon system has been greatly improved over the previous game.

So, overall, this game was disappointing. This is because I saw the previous game as a nice starting point even with the flaws. I looked forward to this game improving on some of the previous games downsides and it largely didn’t happen. You still had the endless required grinding, you still have some major flaws in the design of the menus, the difficulty spikes are still there, and the quest tasks are so difficult to complete at times, even with a guide, I just threw my hands up and said “forget it!”

Graphics had some minor improvements over the previous game. While this is generally good, many other games on the NES system were simply speeding past this one. Games like Adventures of Lolo 2, Snow Brothers, and Captain Skyhawk (all of which were released in the same year) complete blew this game out of the water in this department. I can appreciate the cool warp effects that were thrown in, but games that date back to the early Atari 2600 days were already doing stuff like this. So while some games were rocketing forward in this department, this game was simply being left behind wheezing and puffing.

The audio was a bit hit and miss. The sound effects were actually not that bad, but the music was largely passable, but hardly memorable. In fact, the best track in the whole game wound up being the track that was a throwback to the previous game. In an ideal world, the throwback music is nice to hear, but other tracks in the game also held their own. That didn’t happen in this one. To make matters worse, thanks to all the repetition, the music actually gets annoying after a while.

Overall, I had expectations that this game would be a pretty decent game. That just didn’t happen. A lot of problems from the previous game such as large difficulty spikes, hard to follow quest objectives, an overly burdensome menu system, exceedingly limited inventory space, and an excessive amount of grinding remains in this game. There are plenty of improvements to be had such as the healing shrines, a party system, and a group enemy system complete with spells that damage an entire group or the entire hoard of enemies. Unfortunately, some of the new features also ended up adding complications to the game that just made you want to tear your hair out in frustration. Because of this, I would say this game should be skipped because it takes a long time to play and the experience just gradually degrades as you get further into the game.


Furthest point in game: Found 3 of the 5 crests.
Hero: Level 21
Prince: Level 18
Princess: Level 15

General gameplay: 13/25
Replay value: 3/10
Graphics: 5/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 46%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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