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Dragon Quest 3… maybe the oldest JRPG that still holds up today.

Content of the article: "Dragon Quest 3… maybe the oldest JRPG that still holds up today."

Originally released in 1988, it was polished up and remade for several systems, including the Gameboy Color (which is the version I'm rocking!).

Dragon Quest 3 succeeds both because of its simplicity and in spite of its simplicity. Everything Final Fantasy 1 did, DQ3 does better. DQ3 is extremely well-balanced with a tough-but-fair design philosophy. It has all the trappings of an oldschool JRPG, but the expected cheap bullshit is toned way down in this one. Enemy encounters, including their stats and exp/gold drops, as well as shops' equipment prices feel like deliberate design choices. It is obvious Enix spend days playtesting and fine-tuning each area of every map to balance out your gameplay progression. Everything feels thought-out and lovingly-crafted.

Two things that will make or break DQ3 for you:

  1. You will grind. However, the grinding is balanced and reasonable. This is a tough-but-fair game that gives you exactly what you deserve: either a hard-earned victory, or a humiliating defeat as punishment for not putting enough effort into grinding.
  2. You will speak to every NPC in each town to piece together where to go next. Sorry Skyrim fans, no waypoint markers for you. Luckily, if you do speak to every npc, you'll rarely go wrong, and there's even a "remember" spell that lets you memorize and recall NPC conversations. There is no Zelda 2: Adventure of Link bullshittery where even if you do talk to everyone, you'd still be lost. Nope, if you get lost in Dragon Quest 3, you only have yourself to blame. The tough-but-fair game design philosophy applies to world navigation as well as combat. You need only to play by the game's rules, and you'll be fine. The game wants you to be a detective and piece together your quest using NPCs' clues. If that sounds like fun, this is your game. If not, Final Fantasy V (or later) or Dragon Quest V (or later) would be much more accessible starting points.
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For me, the earliest Final Fantasy game that compares to DQ3 is Final Fantasy IV, released 3 years after DQ3, and by FFIV I mean the uncut, unkiddified versions of FFIV, which we Americans weren't entrusted with until a decade later. And even then, even with Nobuo Uematsu's beautiful score and Cecil's relatable redemption quest, I find DQ3 holds up better as a role playing game, as a game that makes you the legendary hero and makes you earn that status from level 1. Cecil is a great character, but he is not you, he is not your avatar, his story is not yours, you're just there to help him through his quest. DQ3 makes it clear that your avatar is you, Ortega is your dad, the story is yours and the action is in your hands. This leads to a greater feeling of accomplishment when you surpass Ortega, kill the final boss and are awarded your heroic title.

DQ1+2 and FF1 laid the groundwork for the genre, but DQ3 was the game that pulled it all together, polished it up to a mirror sheen, raised the bar so high that it took Squaresoft 3 more games to reach it, and paved the way for the all-time classics: the likes of FFVI, Chrono Trigger, Suuikoden 2 and this series' own grand masterpiece, Dragon Quest V.

The Gameboy Color version also has a quicksave feature so you can grind in 10 minute increments during a lunch break.

I am unhappy with how the Switch port looks. Stick with the Gameboy Color version if you can afford it; it has really charming sprites and enemy models.

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