24. Dragon Warrior 3 (NES)
If I'm going to be perfectly honest with you, this game shouldn't be as high on this list as it is. My nostalgia is elevating it.
But let's not pretend this is a bad game kept afloat by rose tinted glasses. DQ3 is a seminal masterpiece of early JRPG design, a massive and unprecedented leap forward in what a JRPG could be. It's got a job system, a grand sweeping story and world, puzzles, amazing artwork (Toriyama at his best) and a great soundtrack.
The combat is basic, but unlike many boring hit/heal snoozefests, there's a degree of strategy due to the nature of the buff/debuff system and the straight up difficulty that requires you to actually think about what resources you're going to commit to the fight, three floors deep into a dungeon, with your MP reserves running dry. This kind of tension is completely ruined by the modern prevalence of save points with their auto full restores or tents. I'm not saying "save points full restoring you is bad", but if you do that and don't add anything else to the typical JRPG combat system, then the fights become just speed bumps that you mash through (after all, why bother with strategy or resource management when you know the next save point is right around the corner and you're carrying 54 tents) on your way to the boss.
But here's the thing I've noticed: People prefer their JRPG fights to be just speed bumps to the old DQ style.
I'm not saying Speed Bumps are the best system. The best system full restores you after every single fight, and each fight is a real threat. Hi, how are you, Final Fantasy Tactics. I'm saying between the old DQ system and speed bumps, most people seem to prefer speed bumps.
That's fine, to each their own. Some people play games to relax, not to be constantly under the stress of "shit, can I afford to cast a big nuke here? I need to save MP for the boss". Which is why modern JRPGs have gone the way they have, with all the actual strategy reserved for boss fights. If even that.
I prefer the old way. Surprise! Friday likes challenge and being killed.
Of course, the DQ games take that into account. Being killed, I mean. You keep your exp, but lose half your gold. So dying isn't a kick all the way back to the last time you saved, but merely a setback. Dying still sucks, of course, don't get me wrong. Personally I think it should only have made you lose maybe 10-20% of your gold. Half is a bit much.
The job system is basic, but surprisingly robust. You've got quick unarmed fighters, slow tanky soldiers, frail wizards with offensive magic, pilgrims who heal and can fight at a decent level, merchants who bring some special skills and level up quickly, and the goof-off, who is a joke class with a secret. That alone would be pretty basic, but where the game's job system shines is the ability to class change everyone into other classes, letting them keep their spells (and half their stat values) but returning to level 1 in their new class. So you could level a wizard, get Bikill, then turn him/her into a pilgrim for another healer (and someone not so frail) for the endgame. Or level a fighter to high agility and then turn them into a soldier for the endgame gear. Early game merchant into the secret class, sage. Or or or. There's a lot of possible things you can do, and it's all valid. Hell, you don't have to class change at all. You can take the recommended party (soldier/pilgrim/wizard) all the way to the end.
The story is "go kill the archfiend" in traditional early DQ style, but along the way you'll visit various places with DQ's classic vignettes. Get a king's stolen crown back and become king yourself because the old king just wants to fuck off and gamble. Reunite dead lovers. A cat tells you you're going to fucking die. Standard but cute stuff. And there's a twist coming that might catch you off guard.Do I recommend this game:
Double no. No, first, because you should play the remakes, which are better balanced and updated. No, second, because DQ is not for everyone. There's a lot of grinding. This isn't the type of JRPG where you just keep moving forward. You are required to grind enemies to level up and buy better gear. DQ games are hard to recommend in general because pretty much everyone who likes them has already played them, and there are a lot better and friendlier RPGs out there for someone who hasn't played an RPG before. But if you're looking for an oldschool quality JRPG with required grinding, look no further than DQ3.
Gameplay: 7. Yep, I'm saying this game has combat on par with CT. CT is fun because techs are fun. The combat itself is mindless and piss easy. DQ actually demands your attention and tactics. And the buff/debuff system actually adds something to the basic hit/heal combat.
Experience: 8. Again, tied with CT. This is my nostalgia though. I love early graphics and chiptunes and world design. CT is objectively better in this category, though I will defend my gameplay ratings.
Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Francois' excellent LP of the game (and 1, 2, and 4) on these boards. If you haven't read yet, I highly recommend them.