It’s funny how things often go full circle.
My first RPG experience came in the late 80’s when Nintendo Power offered a free copy of Dragon Warrior for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Like most kids my age I was going nuts over pretty much anything coming from Nintendo at the time and (recognizing my excitement) my Mom had offered to get me the subscription to the magazine to get all the gaming news I could in that pre-internet era. A free game was just icing on the cake! Eager to gobble down almost any action title on the system back then I remember the excitement at finding out what lay in store once I popped that cartridge in…just as I remember my disappointment when the game actually started. What followed were inventory screens, menus, static monsters and an open world I had to have a fold-out map to find my way through. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to enjoy the game, but I just couldn’t get past the menus, combat and random encounters. Sadly, after only a handful of attempts I stopped playing.
At the time it appeared that Super Mario Bros., Mega Man and Strider were more my speed and as a result of that first RPG experience I stuck with Mario, Sonic, Street Fighter, 007 and the more action oriented games, and really didn’t touch another role playing game until a good 10+ years later. It was actually Xenosaga Episode I: Der Will Zur Macht on the PS2 (2003) that proved to be my breakthrough game in the genre. I was looking for an engrossing story and after reading an editorial on the game I thought that perhaps this one would turn out to be something I’d enjoy, despite it being an RPG. It took me a little while to get used to the game play conventions of turn-based battles, leveling up, skill allocation etc., but unlike the last time there was this moment where everything just finally *clicked* and I really found myself having a lot of fun. I played through the game  additional times and to say I was hooked would be an understatement (still love the Xenosaga series btw). Obviously I’ve since gone back and played, or attempted to play, a number of the classic RPG’s I had missed during my self-imposed exile from the genre — and ultimately that led me back to Dragon Quest.
I had felt guilty for some time about my first experience with the series, and when Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2; 2005) was announced and I saw those first screens, well, I knew the game would have to be my first foray back into the world that Yuuji Horii and Akira Toriyama had painstakingly created — and dang if I didn’t pick a fantastic DQ game to jump start me back! I was so enamored with DQVIII, what with its dynamic world, rich characters and addictive game play that not only did I figuratively face palm myself in the head for not realizing its greatness back then, but I also decided to use it as a springboard to start up my own Dragon Quest collection. I quickly re-obtained that original NES version of Dragon Warrior, hunted down gently used versions of the Game Boy Color DQ Remakes I-III, Dragon Quest Monsters I-II, and DQVII for future rainy days. I scarfed up Rocket Slime and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker for the DS a couple of years ago, Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors for the Wii, and of course, the shiny new versions of DQIV and DQV on the Nintendo DS which with the future release of DQVI will bring the series up-to-date here in the states. Of course, Dragon Quest IX: Protectors of the Sky hit U.S. several months ago now and 150+ hours in to the game it has certainly earned a place in my Top-Ten already…but more on that down the road.
Point being, Dragon Quest has become my favorite series in gaming in spite of my initial frustrations with the original, Loto/Roto (the original DQ hero) is one of my favorite characters, RPGs are my favorite genre and, truth be told, after 20-something years I even picked up a subscription to Nintendo Power again recently, so as to enjoy some of those nice 3-4 page spreads again. Yes, things really do often come full circle.