If you're a Westerner who's curious about Square Enix's Dragon Quest series, you have a veritable hoard of localized titles to choose from. Trying to choose between them all is a nice problem to have if, like me, you can remember when Dragon Quest practically faded to obscurity outside Japan.
This week brought us not one but four Dragon Quest games for the Switch: The excellent (and definitive) Dragon Quest 11 S port as well as upgraded re-releases for Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest 2, and Dragon Quest 3. This is a clever move by Square, since Dragon Quest 11 has encouraged more Westerners to adopt the series, and some doubtlessly want to know where it all started.
It all started with Dragon Quest, obviously, which came West as Dragon Warrior. If you're interested in getting acquainted with the series' formative years and you're not sure if you should download Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest 2, or Dragon Quest 3 on the eShop, I'm here to help. Download Dragon Quest 3. There, that's done.
All the retro Dragon Quest Switch re-releases have quality-of-life improvements, including larger gold and experience drops from monsters that make grinding less necessary. Nevertheless, Dragon Quest 2 still has some balance issues, and the original Dragon Quest was old before Westerners even heard of it.
In contrast,Dragon Quest 3's influence is still felt in modern RPGs: It's party-building mechanics still feel good, you're afforded a considerable amount of freedom, and there's an interesting story twist that's gradually fed to you as venture further away from home. Firing up Dragon Quest 3 for the Switch reminds me why I like to revisit it every few years, whereas I haven't replayed Dragon Quest or Dragon Quest 2 in quite some time.
The aforementioned sense of freedom is one reason I still love playing Dragon Quest 3. Your mom drags you by the ear and forces you to meet the King in the game's opening moments, but you're largely on your own after that brief meeting. You're free to build your own party with your choice of several classes (though you can kick it alone if you think you can hack it), and are free to explore the surrounding wilderness as soon as you like.
When you exit your home kingdom, you immediately espy a tower that suggests your first major destination—but it's an out-of-reach on a small island. If you want to know how to clamber up the spire, you need to subscribe to the old RPG trope of "Talk to everyone." Soon, you learn there's an important key at the tower's summit. For Dragon Quest fans who are all-to-used to seeing chests locked behind doors, "Find this key" is a very compelling motive for a treasure hunt.
From there, Dragon Quest 3 keeps up its pace without a hitch. There's always a castle or a town on the horizon where you can find clues about your next move. There's always a cave where you might find a vicious boss monster seething in its depths. Your ultimate goal is admittedly vague—"Find the six Orbs necessary to help you take down the Archfiend Baramos who done killed your father"—but the road to that destined encounter rarely feels aimless even though Dragon Quest 3 is short on explicit instructions.
The Switch version of Dragon Quest 3 is based on the 1996 re-release for the Super Famicom, which brings lots of improvements to the already-great 1989 Famicom game. One change is a surprisingly deep personality quiz that helps determine your stat growth, and even affects how some townspeople react to you. When I took the selfsame opening test on the Switch, it challenged me to tell some poor sucker his fiancee wanted to break things off or let him down easy. I gave him the bad news straight, because I am empathy incarnate. This action stuck me with a "Lone Wolf" personality, a build that offers small bonuses to INT and Luck. Later, a guard chastised me for being a loner and reminded me to rely on my friends in times of need. (This is a Japanese RPG, after all.)
One unfortunate omission from the Super Famicom remake is monster animations. Monster artwork is static in Dragon Quest 3 for the Switch, and it ditches sprites in favor of a "cleaner" hand-drawn look. The character sprites utilize the same look, and it's a bit weird-looking against the game's sprite-based backgrounds. Maybe it's a compromise for bringing the standard-definition games to HD. Either way, I'm sad the animations aren't part of the Switch game. Thankfully, graphics aren't everything. If they were, Dragon Quest fans might not have taken notice of the series to begin with.
If you're new to Dragon Quest and you're looking for a good entry point, I still recommend Dragon Quest 11 S above everything else at the moment. But if Dragon Quest 11 S puts you in the mood to start learning about where dragons come from, Dragon Quest 3 for the Switch is a worthwhile travelling companion. It's definitely Blood God approved.