Dragon Warrior and Other Things I Didn’t Know


Editor's note: Sean's decades-long experience with Dragon Quest has been a learning experience. As he's grown to love the series, he's also grown in life. How has Dragon Quest affected you? -Jason

It was 1989, and I still had a lot to learn about the world.

I had moved into my first real apartment, full of the pride and stupidity that comes with being 21. I thought the place was awesome, blindly ignoring the crumbling bathroom walls, the perpetually drunken neighbors, and the sanitation plant a block away.

I had landed my first real job, and I thought that was cool, too. But being 21, I wasn't seeing much farther than the paycheck. I also thought it was still cool to tape posters the living room walls. Like I said, I still had a lot to learn….

Yet blundering through this fog of greenhorn stupidity, I did something right. I bought a Nintendo Entertainment System, and I also bought Dragon Warrior. I bought the game simply because it had two cool words in the title, both of which appealed to me. Apparently, there was this cool dragon dude, and I'd have to fight it.



Having spent my teen years trying to play Dungeons & Dragons, which is an epic feat when you live in the rural hinterlands of Southwestern Ontario and most of your friends just want to listen to Rush, work on their cars, or experiment with chemicals. I loved the idea that here was my entryway into a fantasy world that I could enjoy alone.

So every night, after coming home from the afternoon shift at 11, I'd fire up the NES and play Dragon Warrior until way too late.  At this point, I didn't know that it was actually a Dragon Quest game, which wouldn't have meant anything to me, anyway. (I'd rather Warrior these dragons than Quest them, anyway.) I don't think I even knew it was Japanese. I just knew that it was enough like Dungeons & Dragons for me to love it, even if I didn't get the deal with the cartoon slimes. Seriously? How are those things supposed to be scary? Or even slightly dragon-ish?

Since actually finishing things wasn't really something I was into at 21 (dropping out of college being my latest nonachievement), I was surprised when I came to the final battle with the Dragonlord…and beat him. Just after 2 a.m. on a worknight, I remember sitting back on my carpet and literally feeling my jaw fall open.

I was elated for days. My girlfriend and I were both stunned that I had actually finished something. Dragon Warrior became the first time I experienced that gamer rush of seeing the credits roll, of wanting to just shout "Yes!" In a dead-end job, in an apartment destined to become a crackhouse, I was alive with triumph.

But that was the end of my Dragon-neering for many years. Like I said, I had a great deal to learn. I didn't know the troubles Dragon Warrior was having breaking into the North American market; I didn't really know who Yuji Horii, the creator of Dragon Quest, was; and I still had never heard of Dragon Quest or its popularity in Japan. Hell, I didn't even know what Akihabara was.

(Image from Jmho and used under the GNU Free Documentation License.)

I had a great deal to learn. These were the pre-Internet days, remember.

The years passed. I still gamed. I remember seeing those smiling blobby slimes again, this time in a game called Dragon Quest. And I wondered how they got away with it, since they had so clearly stolen them from my beloved Dragon Warrior game. Even their game title was a kind of ripoff.

Then I began to wonder if the slimes were somehow iconic and any Japanese game could use them or something. Then, shortly thereafter, the scales fell from my eyes, and I understood.

Now, it's many years later. The crackhouse apartment is long gone, replaced by a house, mortgage, better job and about five cats. The girlfriend is now my wife. And here I sit, in my living room, Nintendo DS in hand, playing Dragon Quest IX, and loving it as much as I did its ancient, masked predecessor.  I know quite a bit more than I did back in 1989, like the importance of doing what you love, of realizing the importance of home, of how being true to yourself is a necessity (and the importance of actually sleeping at night).

But I still don't know why I love Dragon Quest as much as I do. And you know? I don't want to know, because magic works better that way.

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