Dragon Quest (1986)

One of the more renowned video game franchises of the Japanese gaming empire is Dragon Quest (ドラゴンクエスト), the single-player RPG series created by game designer Yuji Horii and released in Japan by game publisher Enix. The franchise was born with the release of the first of its series, initially in 1986 in Japan as Dragon Quest (Enix, 1986), followed by a North American release by Nintendo as Dragon Warrior (Nintendo, 1986) three years later. Both versions were released for the 8-bit home video game console Nintendo Entertainment System, also known as the “Famicom” or the Family Computer. The Japanese version was simultaneously released for two other computer-based gaming systems, the MSX and PC-9801, while in North America, where the latter two platforms weren’t as popular, the game wasn’t released in another format until 2000 when it was rereleased for the Game Boy Color.

One of the challenges Horii faced in his development of the game was the relative unfamiliarity of RPGs in the Japanese gaming world at that time. According to Horii, “I first made Dragon Quest, computer and video game RPGs were still very much in the realm of hardcore fans and not very accessible to other players,” Horii explains in a 2007 issue of Nintendo Power.

Yuji Horii, game designer of Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior franchise. (Source: Waseda University)

“So I decided to create a system that was easy to understand and emotionally involving, and then placed my story within that framework.” Horii also had to keep in mind the Famicom system when designing the gameplay—which game reviewer Bill Johnson has described as “Spartan”—because of the added pressure of the rise in popularity of Famicom after the release of Super Mario Bros. Horii speaks of this and his inspirations for the gameplay and game design of Dragon Quest: “There was no keyboard, and the system was much simpler, using just a controller. But I still thought that it would be really exciting for the player to play as their alter ego in the game. I personally was playing Wizardry and Ultima at the time, and I really enjoyed seeing my own self in the game.”

The object of the first Dragon Quest game is quite straightforward: maneuver yourself, the descendent of the warrior hero Loto (ロト, or Erdrick in the N.A. version), through the fantasy world of Alefgard (アレフガルド), slaying as many monsters (e.g. the now-iconic Slime monster) as possible, leveling up through battles, and collecting gold and items. The ultimate mission is to defeat the Dragon Lord, the main villain of the game’s story, and retrieve the Ball of Light (光の玉) from him. The story unfolds through the dialogue box and with the press of the A button, command boxes give the player access to information and various actions with which to control the RPG character, simple commands such as “Talk” or “Door.”

Dragon Quest, 1986 (Source)

The game, with its colorful, low-quality 8-bit graphics based on the illustrations by the famous manga artist Akira Toriyama and the catchy soundtrack by composer Koichi Sugiyama (the main theme of which is perhaps as familiar in Japan as is the Mario theme) attracted wide appeal and sales in Japan, and Dragon Quest is considered to have been a key catalyst of the JRPG. In the US, however, Dragon Quest didn’t attract nearly as much popularity.


Enix 1986, Dragon Quest, Nintendo Entertainment System/MSX/PC-9801, Enix.

Johnson, B. “Dragon Quest – Review: In the Beginning…” review, RPGamer, viewed on 27 Feb. 2017 <www.rpgamer.com/games/dq/dq1/reviews/dq1strev1.html>

Kalata, K. “Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior”, Hardcore Gamer 101, viewed on 27 Feb. 2017 <http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/dragonquest/dragonquest.htm&gt;

neshagui 2006, ‘DRAGON QUEST’ (1986) MSX, video, YouTube, 11 Dec., viewed 27 Feb. 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Erz98uJZxec&gt;.


2 thoughts on “Dragon Quest (1986)”

  1. Although you mentioned that Dragon Quest did not rise to great popularity outside of Japan, it was definitely influential for the RPG genre in Japan. I wrote about Final Fantasy, which was released just a year after Dragon Quest. I can see many similarities between the two games after reading your blog post, like the 8-bit graphics and menu-based play in a fantasy world. I think you did a great job of explaining the gaming climate in Japan at the time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Christine!

      Well, it’s not so much that it didn’t rise to popularity outside of Japan but that it didn’t achieve a popularity level as profound as that in Japan. I also can only speak for its level of success (or maybe lack thereof) in the US specifically—I didn’t really look into stats about anywhere else. And definitely agree about its influence on RPG in Japan, as I mentioned briefly at the end of the post.

      Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest definitely share many similar qualities, including but not limited to their respective giant gamer fanbase and the two games’ impacts on adventure JRPGs and the gaming industry as a whole. My older cousin and my brother loved both games (and still does as an adult!), so I remember watching them play the games growing up.

      Thanks for your feedback, Christine!


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