Format reviewed: MSX I/II
Submitted by: Nathan White
Dragon Quest is kind of big deal over in Japan. Released in 1986 by Enix for Nintendo’s 8-bit Famicom console, the genre defining flagship game in the storied series had more Western influence than many realize. Capitalizing on the growing success of table-top RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons, the popularity of which were increasing in Japan in early 80s, original game designer Yuji Horii used many elements of the pen-and-paper games in combination with conventions ripped straight from Western developed PC RPGs (such as Ultima and A Bard’s Tale). Coupled with famed illustrator Akira Toriyama’s brilliant character designs, Dragon Quest was an overnight success.
The success of the first Dragon Quest game prompted Enix to release a port of the title to an 8-bit home computer standard very popular in Japan at the time, the MSX. The MSX was very popular in Japan and Europe, although it was originally developed in partnership between Microsoft and ASCII Corporation. The MSX was created as a unified personal computer standard and as such many different companies released their own MSX variations. Companies such as Sony, Panansonic, National, and Toshiba all ahd their own lines using the MSX hardware as a base. The designs of the machines varied wildly, but all had the same internal structure, some form of D-pad (usually to the right of the keyboard, and a cartridge slot, although most had two.
It is on these cartridges, very similar in size and appearance to Famicom carts, that a majority of the games were release, although the MSX could be hooked up to Cassette players and smaller, more budget oriented games (especially in the UK) were released this way.
The MSX release of Dragon Warrior is somewhat inferior to it’s Famicom counter-part, given that the MSX did have quite the graphical chops that the Famicom contained. Sprites in the MSX Dragon Quest are less detailed and the colors are more muted. Another point that works against the MSX version is the hardware’s inability to smoothly scroll the screen. Because of this it is as if the screen in being re-drawn with every step you take, which ultimately causes the screen to flash with each step.
One thing in the MSX version that went unchanged from the original release is the manic difficulty and unforgiving nature of the game. Another similarity to the Famicom version is that the MSX port relies on passwords rather than the battery back DQ gained when it came to North America as Dragon Warrior three years later.
Enix released both Dragon Quest I and II on the MSX, however, by the time the third game came was ready for release the MSX’s popularity was in decline and the Famicom was out in astronomical numbers, making a port of part III unnecessary.
Like Square’s MSX port of the original Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest I and II remain almost a prized catch for RPG and Dragon Quest collectors alike, which aids in keeping them at a high after-market value.