1990 has been filled with a plethora of NES games that will no doubt go down as some of the best in the history of the system. While there were plenty of original pieces of software to play, many of the sequels will surely soak up much of the critical praise. Last year I took a chance on a genre new to the Nintendo – the role-playing game (RPG) – with the introduction of Dragon Warrior. The series is a smash hit in Japan and although we’re getting them several years later, I absolutely fell in love with the concept. That’s why Dragon Warrior II had been sitting on my most anticipated games list all year long. It was supposed to arrive in September, but retailers kept telling me it had been delayed and delayed, and finally it has arrived in my neck of the woods and I couldn’t be happier. Like many sequels, this one promised bigger and better things – and on that front it really delivers the goods. However, over the past year and some months the competition in the RPG department has grown stiffer with games like Final Fantasy vying for attention. I’m here to tell you to crack open your wallet and buy both, because they offer up some of the grandest adventures yet on the NES.
When it comes to sequels usually the first question out of the gate for some players is “Do I have to play the original first to understand this one?” and usually the answer to that is “No” thanks to the pick up and play nature of games in general. Although Dragon Warrior II does have some callbacks to the original title, you play as completely new characters and there’s no reason you have to complete that game first, although honestly you should because it’s a fun time! But, if you only have the funds for one or the other, you’ll get more bang for your buck here thanks to a larger world and more intricate gameplay and story. Having said that, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that right now you can subscribe to Nintendo Power magazine for only $15 and score a free copy of the first game – a value that’s too good to pass up.
But, you’re here to read about Dragon Warrior II, so let’s kick it off with the story. Unlike the first title where you play as a solo hero, this time around you’re going to have three characters join up to battle the evil forces that have plagued the land. This game takes place many years after the original and you play as the descendants of Erdrick – a much-lauded hero from hundreds of years ago. You begin as the Prince of Midenhall who sets out on a journey to find the Prince of Cannock and the Princess of Moonbrooke. Only by teaming up do you stand a chance of taking down the evil forces of Hargon, who recently has wiped out an entire village. The introduction is actually quite dark and the story is heavy, but it’s a good preamble to get your blood pumping for revenge.
Each character in your party, once you’ve found them and they join up, has his or her own special skillsets. The first prince is your standard fighter that is all about slicing and dicing monsters. He can wield powerful and heavy weapons as well as wear the toughest armor. He’s sort of like a tank that can go in and mow down the bad guys. The Prince of Cannock can also wield some light weapons and light armor, but he’s not just a fighter but also a magician. His spells can help out throughout your adventure. The princess is probably my favorite of the bunch since she gets some really powerful magic that can really stick it to the enemies. As you encounter monsters you’ll be able to develop some strategies to keep all of your party members alive and take out the groups as quickly as possible. Oh yeah, for those that have played the first game, no longer are you fighting one-on-one – you’ll often encounter multiple monsters at the same time, so plan wisely!
Like most RPGs, this game features a turn-based fighting system. It’s nearly identical to Dragon Warrior, so you’ll have an instant leg up on the competition if you’ve mastered that game. Each side gets a chance to attack, use magic, parry, or run. You’ll input each of your team member’s actions and watch as the battle takes place. Some may find this style of gameplay utterly boring, and that’s OK, but for those with a taste for this sort of strategic thinking game you’ll no doubt have a fantastic time. As you win battles you will be awarded experience points and gold. You’ll need the latter to purchase better equipment and essential items like herbs to replenish health. The former will eventually level your characters up, whereby their stats will increase and they will become more powerful. It’s extremely gratifying to level up your characters and easily destroy monsters that just a few hours earlier you were struggling with.
A good sequel brings some new ideas to the table, and Dragon Warrior II definitely does that. In addition the aforementioned enhanced battle system and multi-party group, a few things have been streamlined from the last game. You know longer have to open up a menu to go up and down stairs, simply walking over them will transport you to the next floor. Also a plus is you no longer have to purchase and carry torches with you in order to see inside caves. There’s a wider array of monsters to defeat and a whole lot of areas to explore. In fact the world is four times bigger than the last game and it’s really cool to come across the kingdom of Alefgard once again here, complete with familiar music from the first game. The story is better told thanks to the sheer number of townsfolk you can speak with across the countryside in towns and in castles. Basically there’s more of everything this time around and it’s a more well-rounded experience with a longer completion time (probably at least double).
Graphics are marginally improved over the original title, and that’s going to be a problem for some gamers. That’s because the first game wasn’t exactly pushing the hardware limits of the NES. If you stuck a screen shot of this game next to the original most players would probably not be able to tell the difference. Although I appreciate the fact that you can now encounter a bunch of enemies at once and they all appear on the screen at the same time, all of the battles are now on a solid black background. The original game has unique backgrounds depending on where you’re fighting, so in this sense it’s a bit of a downgrade. That being said, the monsters still look pretty cool and the tile set that’s used throughout the towns and castles is slightly improved with more detail and colors than before. If you can get past the somewhat dated look of the visuals then you’re in for a good time.
The audio department has received a big upgrade over the first game. There are a ton more tracks and the quality of the music is better than ever. The series has a sort of classical music sound to it and it’s even more evident this time around. Different overworld music plays depending on your location and the battle theme never gets old, despite having to fight a ton. Various other songs really add to the quality of the game, and be sure to look forward to the ending music which I felt was especially noteworthy.
Dragon Warrior II is far from perfect, despite me loving every second of it. There are inconsistencies in its difficulty that must be pointed out. You’ll have to do a lot of fighting in the fields to level your characters up to take on some of the tougher areas like caves. Even if you’re not trying to get into a fight you’ll no doubt find yourself battling way more often than you’d like. The encounter rate is rather high so don’t be surprised to fight tooth and nail just to get to the next area. This is also a sequel that is very much built on top of its predecessor. In other words, if Dragon Warrior failed to excite you then this one will land about the same. Of course the opposite can be said as well, if you had a good time last time then get ready for an even better ride with more to do and explore than ever before.
I’m a big fan of the new RPG genre on the NES and hope more are on the way. While I think Final Fantasy is the better of the two big releases this year, Dragon Warrior II is still an excellent choice for those seeking out more turn-based combat. I enjoyed this one slightly more than the last and with a much larger quest to beat you’ll easily spend 30 plus hours trying to solve all of its mysteries. What better way to spend Christmas break?
Dragon Warrior II Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 9/109/10
- Gameplay - 9/109/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9/109/10
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
Dragon Warrior II builds upon the foundation of the last game, giving us four times the land to explore, many more towns and castles and stories to interact with, as well as hordes of enemies to slay. While the gameplay doesn’t stray far from the original and the graphics are barely improved, I still found myself enthralled in the adventure and the addition of multiple playable characters is a fantastic move in the right direction. Bring on Dragon Warrior III!