Enix's Dragon Warrior made its debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990 (1986 in Japan). Although not the first turn-based RPG video game, Dragon Warrior was the initial introduction to the genre for millions of gamers. As the archetype for every subsequent video game RPG to follow, Dragon Warrior featured turn-based combat, experience-oriented leveling, and an engrossing plot. However, since the game centered upon a single protagonist, it lacked the strategy element inherent in party-based games. A year later, Dragon Warrior II remedied the situation, offering the ability to control a trio of heroes, while also delivering a larger world, beefed-up animation, and a more forgiving items system. Quite literally, both games paved the way for the RPGs we know today. A decade later, Enix has rereleased both Dragon Warrior and Dragon Warrior II on a single cartridge for Nintendo's Game Boy Color, titled Dragon Warrior I&II.
If you're unfamiliar with the Dragon Warrior series and happen to be a fan of plot in RPGs, you'll be happy to note that both Dragon Warrior and Dragon Warrior II feature strong, multithreaded storylines. Dragon Warrior places you, a descendant of the mighty Loto, in the land of Alefgard, which is troubled by an evil dragon king known as DracoLord. DracoLord has stolen the mythical Light Orb, and - unless you can stop him - he plans to use it to plunge Alefgard into eternal darkness. During the course of your quest to stop him, you'll not only become a battle-hardened warrior, but find true love as well. Subsequently, Dragon Warrior II picks up where the first game leaves off. The union forged in the first Dragon Warrior produces many offspring, who later go on to build three prosperous and expansive kingdoms. During a time of peace, an evil wizard named Hargon lays waste to the kingdom of Moonbrook, threatening the world with all-out genocide. As prince of Lorasia and a descendant of the mighty Loto, it is up to you to vanquish this threat. During your quest, you'll also enlist the aid of two other royal descendants of Loto: the warrior-mage Karl and the beautiful sorceress Fran. On their own or taken as a whole, both games feature storylines that are just as vibrant and fresh today as they were ten years ago, easily rivaling those found in any Final Fantasy, Zelda, or Pokémon game.
In terms of gameplay, both games, while similar in some respects, offer their own take on the RPG genre. Dragon Warrior features turn-based combat, experience-oriented leveling, and a quest that focuses on item gathering but does so from the vantage point of a single protagonist. As such, you're a walking army of weapons and spells, but you never really get to fight more than one monster at a time. In keeping with the game's emphasis on individualism, each town and castle has its own unique trait for which it's known. For example, Tantegel Castle is where you save, but the town of Rimuldar is the only place you can go to purchase keys. By contrast, Dragon Warrior II dumps multiple party members, deadly status attacks, and diverse locations into the mix. You play the staunch warrior, unable to cast spells to save your life, while Karl, prince of Cannock and your eventual companion, is a warrior-mage with average ability in both weapons and magic. Later on, Fran, a pure magician, will also join the adventure. These character differences add a great deal of strategy to the game, especially since you now have to face multiple enemies in battle. More importantly, the majority of Dragon Warrior II's towns and castles feature a multitude of save points, inns, chapels, and shops, eliminating the sometimes aimless wandering that plagued the first game. Just the fact that keys don't disintegrate once you use them is a major bonus. As a feature new to both games, you can also search among the many background objects, such as pots, dressers, and plants for power-ups and other hidden items.
Although Dragon Warrior I&II features the same inherent plot and gameplay as the NES releases, it is important to note that these bad boys aren't just exact replicas of their ancestors. If you're a veteran of the series, the first change you'll notice is that a majority of character names and towns have been altered. The mythical hero Erdrick has been redubbed Loto, princess Gwalin from Dragon Warrior is now Lady Lora, Dragon Warrior II's Midenhall is now called Lorasia, and so on and so forth. Enix has gone on record stating that the brunt of these name changes came about not because of modern-day meddling, but to fix a multitude of translation errors that plagued the games when they were originally released. Regardless, they don't hinder the story one bit. In tandem with these name adjustments, Enix has also gone back in and fine-tuned the conversation and plot elements in both games, making it much easier to keep track of what's going on and to figure out where to go next.
Textual changes are one thing, but Enix didn't stop there. Dragon Warrior and Dragon Warrior II feature a number of graphical enhancements as well. While many background and sprite elements were lifted bit for bit from the NES games, the character sprites and tiles have been greatly refined. Hero, villain, and nonplayer characters are larger, with more frames of animation for movement, expression, and body language. Usually such sweeping graphical changes are a mixed blessing in an RPG, but in this instance, Akira Toriyama's endearing character designs have never looked better. Similarly, the many castles, towns, and buildings in both games have been redrawn, benefiting from an artistically cartoonish flair that gives the game a healthy balance of both Japanese and American art styles. Enix has also included new full-color animated introductions and endings for both games. On a down note, though, enemy animation is still a little choppy in Dragon Warrior, and Dragon Warrior II still eliminates lush battle screen backdrops in favor of multiple onscreen enemies. However, in spite of these minor gripes, the graphical revamp puts both games on a level dead even with Nintendo's Legend of Zelda DX or Pokémon in terms of colors, detail, and animation quality. As an added bonus, Dragon Warrior I&II is also compatible with older black-and-white Game Boy units.
About the only aspect of Dragon Warrior I&II that hasn't changed is the music. Featuring the compositions of Koichi Sugiyama, the game's soundtrack is so vibrant and melodic that it's often hard to believe you're listening to an 8-bit system. Backed up by a standard, albeit solid, selection of slashes, crashes, and other familiar RPG sound effects, both games easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Nintendo's Legend of Zelda DX for the bragging rights to best sound in a Game Boy Color game.
Although Dragon Warrior I&II's music is the cherry on top of an otherwise flavor-rich gameplay experience, it's the juxtaposition of both games on a single cartridge that lifts the release to godlike status. Dragon Warrior may seem like just an appetizer for the full-featured RPG experience in Dragon Warrior II, but the ability to play both games in succession and witness the interaction of their storylines greatly enhances the satisfaction gleaned from both titles. The much-needed addition of multiple save slots and an anytime, anywhere field save doesn't hurt, either.