We’ve had a pretty severe case of Dragon Quest fever over here at SwitchRPG – and by “we,” I really mean me. September 27th saw the release of not only the long-awaited Dragon Quest XI S, but also the “Erdrick” Trilogy, consisting of the first three Dragon Quest titles. It has been a long, fun journey these past few weeks, slaying the big bads from each world, and learning some things that makes me value this franchise more than ever before.
Dragon Quest III, without a doubt, is the most ambitious of the three original games, introducing a vocation (or class) system that would eventually carry on into several future Dragon Quest titles, among other new additions and features. Ambition alone isn’t a sure-fire blueprint for greatness however, and this version specifically comes with some odds and ends that have a tendency to do more harm than good.
The story follows Hero, the descendant of the legendary warrior, Ortega, as he is called upon the King of Aliahan to vanquish Baramos – a fiend that not only is a global threat, but also is believed to be responsible for the death/disappearance of Ortega himself. For family, king, and country, the descendant of Ortega sets out on his/her sixteenth birthday in hopes defeating the fiend – a task that many deem impossible.
Experience from the previous entries shows us that the descendant angle is a trope that the series often embraces wholeheartedly, but this third entry is exceptionally special, as it helps tie the entire trilogy together in a meaningful way. Specifics regarding these parallels will be left for you to discover naturally, but it’s safe to say that you’ll appreciate the twists and turns if you follow the numerical order of these installments.
While Dragon Quest III has the genetics that should make it the strongest narrative of the trio, it lacks some qualities that, surprisingly, may have been better represented in previous entries. While the lore between Ortega and his offspring is strong, the hero’s party members are little more than lifeless husks, narratively speaking. It is nice to be able to completely customize your party – discussed in detail later – but it comes at the cost of meaningful personalities. That said, Hero is easily the most developed main character of the trilogy, though even the base level of party development present in Dragon Quest II is sorely missed here. Also, some events highlighting the exploits of Ortega were, for some reason, removed in this particular version, and would have gone a long way in solidifying his arc.
Additionally, it takes quite some time to actually feel the threat of Baramos. For comparison, Dragon Quest II opens up with destruction at the hand of Hargon, establishing their villainous nature from the very beginning, where we’re told here that Baramos is just “bad.” The issue isn’t due to “going off just words” – the original Dragon Quest portrays the Dragonlord the same manner, but you can see their domain immediately from the beginning, which establishes that sense of evil dominion without being fancy. This is all laid out not to throw unnecessary shade on the story, or characters, of Dragon Quest III – it is an enjoyable adventure for sure – but it clearly has potential to be even better than it was.
In standard series format, Dragon Quest III has you grinding your way towards success via turn-based battles. The static party of three distinct classes, established in Dragon Quest II, has evolved drastically into a full-blown vocation system for the third entry. While the Hero’s vocation can never be changed – they are the hero, after all – they can recruit up to three additional party members that can specialize, initially, as a Warrior, Martial Artist, Priest, Mage, Gadabout, Merchant, or Thief.
Upon reaching level 20, these party members can choose to specialize in another vocation, cutting their stats in half and reducing their level back down to zero, though any abilities previously learned will carry over to the new class. This can be repeated indefinitely, too – if you haven’t played Dragon Quest III but are familiar with Disgaea’s reincarnation system, they are very similar to one another. While there are clear advantages to using this system, one being access to the powerful Sage class, it isn’t a mandatory feature in order to complete the base game. By design, it will drastically extend grinding requirements, but it is there for those who aren’t bothered by excessive leveling and want to build the ultimate party.
On the topic of min-maxing, several newer versions of Dragon Quest III contain a personality system that allows you to fine tune the stat growth of each character. In the case of the main hero, they will receive an initial personality based on an evaluation given at the beginning of the game. But no personality is permanent – books and some accessories have the capability of changing your personality as you see fit.
The problem with this system is that it isn’t explained to you at all in-game, which is problematic when some personalities have up to a 90% decrease in stat growth (collectively, across all stats). On the other hand, other personalities can boost your overall growth by up to 70%. While you could ignore this feature entirely during a normal playthrough, those seriously invested in their character’s potential will be annoyed by how useless the majority of accessories are due to their personality-changing traits. With no real in-game reference to determine whether a personality is ideal or not, the system feels like useless bloat rather than a meaningful addition to the gameplay.
Progression-wise, Dragon Quest III is set up fairly similar to that of Dragon Quest II, with a linear path outlining the first portion of the adventure before branching out a bit later on, allowing a little bit of freedom in how you tackle certain overarching objectives. As was the case with its predecessor though, a pretty clear path of the choices will be present when weighing the difficulty of the enemies in the area, meaning that supposed freedom may be a bit superficial for those performing a limited amount of grinding along the way. With the exception of a couple of steep roadblocks, Dragon Quest III requires little grinding as long as you’re making an effort to kill things as you go. All of this pertains to the main game however – the postgame may require much more effort in order to succeed.
This version of Dragon Quest III adopts the mini medal feature popularized in later entries, rewarding those that comb each area for the currency with a selection of useful and often unique items after reaching specific milestones. Unfortunately, some of these rewards are personality-changing accessories, which is a bummer for those who loathe the personality system in the first place (i.e. this guy right here). There also exists a monster arena for your gambling pleasure – voting on the winner of a cluster of enemies can net you some serious cash, should you choose wisely. Ultimately, Dragon Quest III runs with the gameplay banner created by its predecessors, but tacks on some additional content and features that don’t always hit the mark.
Graphics and Sound
The mobile roots of the Dragon Quest series on Switch have been a point of contention for many, but it is safe to say that this particular entry is, hands-down, the most aesthetically pleasing of the trio. Character and NPC sprites have been reduced in size significantly, and while they still retain the somewhat odd aesthetics of the first two entries, it makes them much more palatable than the previous installments.
Some assets have been reused from the first two games while other bits have been tweaked, though there is some completely new art that simply looks stunning at times. It won’t win any awards for best graphical presentation, but it absolutely does a good enough job to satisfy fans of the 16-bit-esque aesthetic. As was the case in the previous Switch entries, Dragon Quest III features a fully-orchestrated soundtrack, sporting some of the best tracks that the franchise has to offer – if you aren’t bothered by the lack of chiptunes in the first place.
It is easy to see why so many Dragon Quest fans hold the third entry in such high regard – it ups the ante in comparison to its predecessors by way of a myriad of additions and adjustments, including further focus on its storytelling and the introduction of the class-based system. Not all of these things work, particularly the ill-conceived personality system. Although the absence of exposition cutscenes giving further context for the hero’s father still puzzles me, the journey as a whole is still very much one worth taking.