Dragon Quest III
Dragon Quest III is a JRPG originally released by Enix in 1988 for the NES/Famicom. Despite seeing a western release in 1992, the title would skip the SNES re-release in 1996, instead coming to the Game Boy Color in 2000. The mobile version of the game, released in 2014, marks the first appearance of Dragon Quest III in the west in over a decade.
The mobile release is based on the SNES version. This means the title features 16-bit visuals and audio. However, as the SNES version was never released in the U.S., Dragon Quest III features a full retranslation. This means a complete overhaul from the NES and GBC versions, featuring modernized town and enemy names as well. You can learn more about version differences here. With that said, we’ll cover the mobile version in our review!
The story features the young hero, your protagonist, to embark on an epic journey to save the world. Following in the footsteps of your father, the legendary hero Ortega, you must save the world as the dark fiend, Baramos, attacks the land. You’ll fulfill your destiny as the King of Aliahan blesses your journey and you pick up your party members before setting out.
In the original versions, you can watch a cutscene of Ortega’s battle. However, it’s cut in the mobile version. But instead, you can still choose your personality. DQ3 will ask you several questions about yourself before aligning your personality. This will affect your stat growth and can be changed later in the game if you so wish.
Despite the simplicity of the story, Dragon Quest III throws a few darker moments. The dialogue is about as simple as the original Final Fantasy, using NPCs to comment on the world or give you small hints. But when you’re fulfilling quests, such as finding the Faerie’s daughter or staying the night in the town of Theddon, the game takes a dark turn. You’ll see how the dialogue and music captivate the mood wonderfully, especially for a game of its time.
Also note that Dragon Quest III predates the story of the first two titles. You may see references to the original two titles. But it may also suit you in that don’t have to play them before this one.
The mobile version of Dragon Quest III is the 16-bit remake of the 1988 NES title. What’s noteworthy, however, is the subtle attention to detail in the environment. As a 1996 remake, it looks like a higher-end JRPG akin to Final Fantasy VI or Secret of Mana, albeit with smaller sprites. Also note that party members follow you around, a trait familiar to players who enjoyed EarthBound!
With creatures designed by renowned mangaka Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball), all the enemies ooze their own personalities and detail. You’ll see simple spell and attack animations from a first-person perspective. One unfortunate loss from the SNES version, however, was the enemy battle animations. In the original SNES version, enemies animated when they attacked. This was lost here, and as such, you only get descriptions indicating their attacks. On an interesting note, however, the attack animations feel quite reminiscent in a way. They look like a major influence that would impact 1998’s Pokemon.
The soundtrack is beautiful. There might be only a dozen tracks in the game, excluding past tunes used in its predecessors. Many of the sounds originated in the first Dragon Quest trilogy, such as level up, magic spell, save, resurrection, and battle victory. You’ll find no shortage of good music and sound effects and even some gorgeous animations, like the legendary bird, Ramia, flying through the sky.
In standard JRPG fanfare, your gameplay involves traversing an overworld, entering dungeons, and fighting monsters along the way. You’ll build up your team, learn new spells, and discover new weapons and armor to equip. Some are rare and more powerful than others and some you can buy at shops. Heal your parties with magic, items, or at Inns and resurrect your party at the Church. You can use Quick Save to save your game at any time you please.
One of the most striking features of Dragon Quest III is the ability to change classes. You can go from one to another. Magic users will be able to retain their spells while characters can altogether level up faster. While they’re taken back down to Level 1, however, keeping them protected is key until they can catch up. Also note that there is an item that can class magic users into Sages. This will allow them to learn both offensive and support magic and increase their stat boosts tremendously.
However, contemporary JRPG fans may notice the number of archaic design features in Dragon Quest III shortly after they start the game.
Dragon Quest III’s progression is based on NPCs giving you hints on where to go. Some will tell you the direction to head out to. However, some might also make a passing reference to an item in a random location that you may not be privy to. There is no journal to log these into automatically and party members can’t help you here. Using a guide may be required if you want to get around. This is especially moreso in the case of required items needed for progression, such as the orbs or the rare weapon treasures before the final battle.
Even then, whether or not you choose to use a guide, you will be slammed by repeated enemy encounters. Some take 10 steps, while many others take between 2 and 5. It becomes an all-too repetitive process no matter where you go.
As mentioned before, you’ll find plenty of dungeons in the game. Many are mazelike labyrinths and only one even has a switch puzzle, which is also vague. These dungeons might include obstacles, like anti-magic fields, forcing you to use physical attacks or flee. In most cases, fleeing doesn’t even work as the enemies block your path. Any chance of escape is limited to Evac and Zoom, neither of which are learned until a good number of levels for your characters.
Also, many dungeons have arbitrary rooms. These serve no purpose aside from giving enemies another chance to attack you. While exploration nets good treasure, this isn’t always the case. Plus, you won’t have access to a dungeon map.
Keep in mind, however, most of the dungeons are quite small. However, should you accidentally fall off a tower, you’ll have to start over again. Save accordingly.
As long as you’re not running from battles repeatedly, good preparation will save you through most of the game. Should you die, you’ll return to the last Castle you saved at, complete with all the EXP you’ve gained and treasures you’ve obtained. Keep in mind that, for most of the game, you’re earning little gold for most of the battles you fight. Much of the strongest armor and weapons you can buy will be quite scarce even if you do sell frequently.
For items, you’ll find no way to recover your MP in shops. You can use the rare Prayer Ring or use Drain Magic. The same goes for revival items. Yggdrasil Leaves are extremely rare. Revival comes at ever increasing costs at the churches.
Magic spells don’t always work, which is rare for any JRPG. In most JRPGs, magic spells hit 100% of the time, even when an enemy inflicts a Blindness status ailment. Despite this, Dragon Quest III is that rare example. Zing, the revival spell, also works less than 50% of the time, compared to its successors where it would. Losing a party member, especially in the earlier game, often means retreating, sometimes more than once.
Finally, level grinding was surprisingly rare. The only time you’re truly required to grind is when you face off against the archfiend, Baramos. When you’re not getting jumped by mages casting AoE spells to kill your party, Baramos can kill your party members in one or two hits. The final fight might require grinding. Note that it’s a boss gauntlet, akin to the Elite Four in Pokemon.
Dragon Quest III takes credit for being an innovative JRPG. Far longer than its predecessors, it felt like *the* game at the time. The storyline with NPCs and continuing quests, the music to fit the moods, the strong boss battles, and the lengthy story made up a foundation that would forever impact its genre. Many songs also returned to later games in the series, such as “Heavenly Flight,” which plays when you awaken Ramia, the legendary bird.
Unfortunately, it still suffers from 1988 problems. Despite this game being remade in 1996, it doesn’t feel like a 1996 JRPG and only looks like one. While I can understand keeping true to the original plot, I feel Dragon Quest III could have done a better job of guiding the player. Lowering encounter rates, allowing items for revival and mana restoration. With that said, it maintains a great reputation for being a revolutionary title for JRPGs. If you’re interested in playing one of the genre’s forefathers, it’s worth playing.
With that said, the mobile version is arguably the best version of the game due to the SNES version’s quality of life improvements, the quality translation, and the quick save feature. However, if some of the archaic design choices bother you, you might want to play a later title in the series instead.
Thank you for reading our Dragon Quest III review. Are you a fan of the series? Have you considered playing this one before? Let us know in the comments below.