But the charm goes beyond that. There’s something wonderfully naïve about the whole enterprise; something unique about its big-eyed heroes and feisty heroines. Dragon Quest isn’t a story of dark ambiguities or sudden twists – it’s a game of simple values and primary colour emotions, told with a sense of humour and a knowing wink. The characterisation is the simple stuff of Star Wars – with a fiendish pantomime villain, a good-hearted hero, a gruff sidekick, a fiery redhead with an outsized cleavage and a lovable rogue with a secret sorrow – and you can pretty much guess the details of the plot.
You might love Dragon Quest, or you might hate it, but a lot will depend whether you mind fighting a bunch of comical bats, slime-riding knights and oversized lips with eyes on stalks, or whether you’ll start crying for those good old orcs and goblins. Let’s just say that if you’ve found Final Fantasy a bit eccentric, then Dragon Quest might be one step too far down the road to nutsville. It’s childlike – maybe even childish – but if you can get past that then it’s also oddly wonderful.
It helps that the script localisation is such a solid bit of work, and that the voices are generally of an impeccable standard. It must have been tempting to bland out characters like the green-skinned, hunchbacked King Trode or the ludicrous, schizophrenic killer squid, Kalamari, for a western audience, but instead Square-Enix has maintained what I imagine was the playful tone of the original Japanese version. And while you may not die laughing at the outbursts of Yangus, played with a brash charm by thuggish comedian Ricky Grover, you’ll certainly sit there smiling. Other translators should take note.
All this is very lucky, because you’ll need plenty of distraction to hide how slow the story progresses in the early stages, and how many hours it takes to get anywhere. Think of that great first act in Final Fantasy VII: the characters, the drama, the comedy, the odd little side stories, packed with emotion; the climactic moment in the Shinra tower. In Dragon Quest, it’s about nine hours before your party is fully assembled, another five hours before any spectacular spells or attacks start to creep in, and longer before it hits any kind of big dramatic high point. The story is even surprisingly linear – there may be plenty of towns and masses of characters, but side quests are few and far between, and though you may want to explore those green hills and rugged coastlines, you’ll be lucky to find more than the odd hidden chest or unique monster.