Released by Enix in 1988 for the NES, Dragon Warrior set the standard for console RPGs. It featured all the basic elements that future RPGs would build upon: towns with weapon and item shops, an overhead world map with simple tiled terrain, a battle system with attack/spell/run/item options, multi-level dungeons to explore, and NPCs who wander aimlessly, their sole purpose in life to impart their one line of dialog to you, the adventurer.

Unlike modern day console RPGs that move quickly and focus the gameplay around progressing the plotline, Dragon Warrior focuses on slowly building up your character through repetitive battles. Though it can sometimes grow tedious, after spending an hour hacking cute little slimes with your wooden sword and finally earning enough gold for that shiny new copper sword there's a sense of satisfaction that just isn't present in quickly paced, modern day RPGs.

For those looking to relive the classic RPG experience, Dragon Warrior I and II have been enhanced and re-released on the Game Boy Color. There's also an interesting looking project to create a Dragon Warrior clone for the TI-83 graphing calculator which can be found here:

Dragon Warrior... ah, I remember that game. I remember sitting in front of the TV long enough for my eyes to see spots from the simple tiled background, for my mind to ache from listening to the extremely simple, epic little midi-like score that played incessantly. This game was the stereotype of an RPG: You first offensive spell was "Hurt", and later you got access to, *gasp*, "Hurtmore".

I remember playing the game for as many hours in a stretch as I was allowed by my father so I wouldn't have to waste precious gold to buy the "Wings". Of course, if you were a die hard, you could always walk back to the castle to save, but that required long, painstaking navigation over the landscape. Such negative reinforement on the part of the developer guarranteed a few more hours out of its gamers every day... those bastards!

Later, in high school as I was experimenting playing with TI-Basic for the TI-83, I began to write a simple RPG to fill up those empty hours in math class. Dubbed "Dragon Warrior CE", this program soon ate up every drop of memory available on the TI-83, and it got so that my calculator required several seconds to perform 2+2. There were over 80 screens total, some saved as backgrounds, others generated on the fly. My favorite part was the weapons choices given to the PC. You started with the Pointed Stick, and progressed up through such martial favorites as the Paperclip Chain and Can of Whup Ass to the most powerful, formidable weapon ever: Biting Sarcasm.
Nintendo wanted to see Dragon Warrior succeed back in the day, as its success could start a whole new trend of RPGs for the NES. The trick, they knew, was to get players to become hooked on the game. Until this point most of the NES's library consisted of platformers (such as Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man) or sports titles (Mike Tyson's Punch Out!). How could they put the game in the hands of die-hard players? They'd give it away for free.

In 1989 Nintendo sent the game to all new Nintendo Power subscribers. It was, at the time, the biggest widescale premium giveaway in Nintendo history. It was an amazing deal. Spend $15 and get a year's worth of the magazine plus a free game. Nintendo gave away millions of cartridges thanks to the promotion. Nintendo Power gave the game ongoing coverage. For the first six months after the game's release (and giveaway) the magazine featured a new portion of the game in a full blow-out map section, devoted the Q&A column "Counselor's Corner" to answering queries about the game, and challenged readers to send in their best artwork depicting the game's characters.

I'd say that the promotion worked. 8-bit RPGs took off, and Dragon Warrior's success in the USA gave rise to other memorable games such as Mother (aka Earthbound Zero in the USA, which unfortunately was never actually released) and of course the Final Fantasy series (which Nintendo Power also seriously hyped). Dragon Warrior may not have been the first video game RPG, but it was one of the most successful.

The promotion sucked me in to console RPGing. Thanks, Nintendo.

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