Review: Dragon Warrior III (NES)

In this review, we find ourselves searching for some keys in the NES game Dragon Warrior III. We find out how well this RPG game plays.

This game was released in North America in 1992.

We are getting a sense of what this franchise is like now. We first played Dragon Warrior which is where the series began. That game was OK, but nothing huge. Next up, we tried Dragon Warrior II. With the confusing play and constant annoying grinding, the game ended up bombing for us. So, we thought we’d try the third game in the series to see if this one turns things around.

The general storyline is the fact that the hero’s father fought a dragon at the top of a volcano. In the midst of the fight, he plunged to his death. It is up to his son (the players initial character) to avenge his death.

You start off in the castle of Aliahan speaking to the king. He gives you a small amount of money to start off on your adventure. From there, you must travel through the many continents in your quest to avenge your fathers death. If you notice, the previous game integrates an actual party system. This was an improvement over the previous single character gameplay.

In this game, not only do you have a whopping four character party, but you can also choose from a small range of classes. This includes fighters, wizards, pilgrims, and even the goof-off class. Each class features their own strengths and weaknesses. Wizards, for instance, possess a great ability to deliver offensive magic attacks. Unfortunately, their physical fighting capabilities and ability to equip certain weapons or armour leave a lot to be desired. Warriors, on the other hand, are almost completely unstoppable in physical fighting capabilities. However, you have to deal with the reality that you don’t get any MP when you level up. As such, you won’t be learning spells while in this class.

One thing is constant, the hero. You are stuck with this character being in that class. It’s not a bad class because it contains a lot of the fighting capabilities as well as a taste of other classes such as wizard. So, it’s basically a fighting class with some magic capabilities. Not a bad thing at all, really.

Of course, you can only obtain extra members of your party through the eatery in the city. You need to talk to the person behind the counter and start building your party. One of the few helpful things this game offers is three suggestion characters. Of course, if you are really ambitious from the get-go, you can always get other classes from “another country” should you decide to be more experimental in your party composition. Let’s just say they three suggestions are strong ones, though.

Like previous games, there are various other typical locations. The first is the “tool” shop. In this shop, you can buy items such as medical herbs, antidote herbs, and fairy water. Those are just three examples. Other shops feature a wider variety of items on top of those three items (most of the time). More importantly, you have the ability to sell any item you come across. Given the very limited storage capabilities of your characters, this winds up being a very useful feature starting pretty early on in the game.

Meanwhile, the weapons shop allows players to buy weapons and armour. While more expensive generally speaking, these items will give you a better chance at survival. So, saving up for weapon and armour upgrades is essential as you progress through the game.

A third location is the shrine area. In this area, you can heal your characters in various ways. Detoxificaiton cures poison status. Uncurse removes curses (Never encountered a need for this while playing, though I couldn’t make it to the end this time either, so I’m sure it has a use). Revive allows you to resurrect characters that have fallen in battle.

A fourth location of note are inns. Inns allow your characters to rest up until the next day. This restores your HP and MP. Different inns have different rates, but a vast majority of them are more than affordable in this game.

The final location of note are save locations. Typically, you see the king so you can save your game, but there are a few examples where you can save your game by talking to other people as well (rare).

When you venture outside the city/castle walls, you’ll be on the world map. In this area, you can face your first random encounters. These random encounters are generally quite tame – a good thing when you are on level 1!

In the battle sequence, you’ll notice that enemies are formed in groups. As such, when you use the attack command, you are actually going after the whole group. If all enemies in that group are defeated, then any left over attack commands are wasted in battle. So, some planning can help reduce wasted turns, though it is not always obvious when you are going to defeat an enemy.

You have up to four commands in battle. Attack allows characters to execute a physical attack. Parry allows a character to defend themselves. Spell allows characters to use some of their MP to cast a spell. Finally, run allows your party to attempt to run away. Note that you won’t always be successful fleeing a fight.

When you win a fight, you are awarded both experience and gold. How much of both depends on the battle. If you gain enough experience, you’ll level up. Levelling up is crucial because it increases various stats as well as HP and MP. For characters that gain MP, you also have a chance at learning a new spell in the process of levelling up. Gold, meanwhile, allows you to purchase new items or items you can equip.

There are different kinds of spells character can learn. A few of them can be cast while simply walking around. This includes heal and antidote spells. Most, however, can only be cast during fights. This includes attack spells like blaze and bang. Other spells can affect the stats or condition of friends or foes. This includes spells that increase your parties agility on a temporary basis or decreases an enemies defence stats.

One important note is that MP is very limited in this game. So, limited use of spells unless you are in critical situations is definitely recommended to get more mileage in each venture outside.

There are different kinds of locations you can encounter on the overworld map. This includes villages, cities, shrines, and castles. These locations are generally safe from random encounters and allow you to speak to locals. Speaking to villagers can yield important clues for your adventure later on while other villagers tend to offer useless information. It’s all in who you speak to.

Meanwhile, there are other locations such as caves, dungeons, and towers. These locations are crawling with baddies, but also contain treasure and even items critical for your progress.

Items are also critical for your success – especially earlier in the game. You can use them both while walking around and in battle (though using an item uses a turn in battle). Items can restore health (medical herb), cure poison (antidote herb), and decrease your random encounters (fairy water). While items are great for emergencies, you should note the limited number of space in your inventory. What’s worse is the fact that equipped items also use space in your inventory. Also, you’ll obtain key items that also take up space. Combine that with possibly picking up items as well in the game, you’ll quickly find yourself space deficient in a hurry, so item management is also key to your success.

You may encounter chests in your adventure. To open a chest, you must stand directly on top of it and use the search function. This allows players to obtain items or extra gold, whatever the case may be. Do note that there are a few chests out there that are empty. Other chests are also traps and trigger enemy fights. So, don’t assume that every chest is something good, though these dangerous chests don’t actually appear until a fair bit later in the game.

Another thing you’ll notice are locked doors. These are found throughout the game. There are ultimately three types of locked doors: normal wooden doors, re-enforced doors, and barred doors. These doors can be opened with special keys that you can obtain throughout the game. Obtain a key and you’ll be able to access rooms locked behind certain kinds of doors. The good news here is that you get unlimited use of the keys in question.

As you venture further into the game, you’ll get various status ailments. A lot of these typically end up being quite deadly. Sleep, for instance, will cause characters to stop fighting in battle. Characters can wake up, but not every attack will wake them. As such, enemies can have free reign to use more turns to attack your party. Numb is like sleep, only you can only be revived through magic. Status ailments will appear where your level number appears.

You’ll also notice that dying is a pretty easy thing to do in this game. If everyone in your party is killed, you’ll get a “wiped out” status. You’ll be transported to the last place you saved your game. The penalty for dying is that your gold is cut in half. Given how hard it can be to get gold, this is a great incentive to die as little as possible.

Now, as some of you may know with my history of this game, I generally haven’t been really impressed with this series thus far. I want to make it very clear that I approach each game with an open mind. I’m perfectly willing to accept that a game can be great in a series even when other games are disappointing. So, I’m not affected by my previous experiences of this series outside of being able to draw connections between games.

One of the complaints I had about previous games is the constant grinding requirement. We’re not talking spending 20 minutes to fight battles to make the next section a cakewalk. No, we are talking about grinding for a whole day just to survive the next dungeon. When I started playing this game, I was seriously hoping this was dropped because it is a big reason why I haven’t liked games in this series in the past.

At first, the grinding seemingly was dropped. I did a few battles, then tackled the first dungeon. I wasn’t dying within two fights. In fact, the battles are very similar to the initial overworld battles. So, I was quite excited for this game. Unfortunately, after the first dungeon, the grinding returned and it was a case of fighting for hours not only to afford the next weapon upgrade, but to also barely survive battles in the next area. I kept playing hoping it is just a small part of the game that wasn’t thought through well enough, but alas, this is the case all the way through (at least, up to when I stopped playing). As such, the grinding wound up being something that sucked the fun clean out of the game.

A second problem with the game is the vague clues you get. Even if you are talking to the right people, all you are being told is the location of something else. Do you need to go there? Who knows? Of course, in an effort to move the plot forward, you take the chance in a random guess as to where to go next just to see that, sometimes, you are right on that guess. In fairness, process of elimination will sometimes point you in the right direction. However, late gameplay throws that strategy out the window. This leaves you with either hours of guessing at what to do next or following game guides closely just to have an idea of where to go to next. I found this to be annoying and the final straw that broke the camels back in this run.

A third problem in this game is the menu system. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played a lot of RPGs with archaic menu systems. This game, however, has a pretty bad system. Not only do you have to buy items one at a time, but accidentally selecting the wrong thing while trying to cast spells means you have to fumble through the entire menu system all over again. Additionally, there is no selection wrap. Thirdly, some menus have more than one page, but the only hint you get is a small arrow that you must highlight to get to the next page. No, there is no back one page option. Considering how heavily you use the menu system, this really gets annoying after a while.

This is not to say this game is all pitfalls. One positive is the ability to change classes. If you get a character up to level 20 and get far enough into the game, you can get a class change. You keep what you earned up to that point, but your character will then start all the way back to level 1 again. If you get a character that can cast healing spells and you change to a fighting class, then that character retains those spells. Unfortunately, you have to double down on the grinding, but you can get a significant advantage here depending on how many extra hours you are willing to put down in this game.

Another positive is the fact that you have a lot of extra space to explore. While this may not be saying much, you really do get larger areas and more dungeons to explore as you build up levels.

Still, with the hours of grinding you need to put up with combined with vague clues that only help to a certain point, a lot of these positives are overshadowed by the problems. The annoying menu system really doesn’t help much. Yes, there is some interesting class features and larger areas to explore, but it’s generally the case that it’s not if you are going to stop playing, but when. How patient of a player you are determines how far you get into this game.

Graphically speaking, there is some improvements over the previous game. The effects of teleportation is certainly impressive for a NES game, but when you realize that SNES games have already been on the market for a few years now, these effects only make the game a bit more bearable instead of being an impressive feature. The art drawn is nicely done and do make this game a bit more of a bearable experience, though other games are already easily blowing this game out of the water by now.

The only real positive is the decent music. It’s unfortunate that the music can be repetitive, but it is pretty decent. The sound effects are OK, but nothing huge. So, a passable experience here.

Overall, this is a game I really tried to like. I really hoped that I could say this game really made this game a standout one. Unfortunately, I get a lot of problems that plagued previous games in this series. This includes excessive required grinding and vague clues. The archaic menu system didn’t do this game any favours either. While the class system and features do improve this game over the previous games, I don’t see it being enough to overcome the faults of the game. The graphics are decent, though nothing overly impressive. Also, the audio is passable, but can get repetitive at times. So, a very mediocre game that becomes more of a test of patient than a game you can sit down and enjoy for hours on end.

Furthest point in game: Obtained the vase of drought, but became lost and unmotivated to continue the game.

General gameplay: 15/25
Replay value: 2/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 52%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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