This solely applies for main series entries, not spinoffs.
If you're looking for the Tips and Tricks page on all things Dragon Quest, that's over here.
If you don't know which game(s) to start with, the DQ T&T section has a breakdown of that here.
User 1's NotesEdit
Add anything you feel like adding here.
Common Complaints about the DQ series, justifications of those complaints, and debunkings (the latter two when applicable):
Toriyama: Let's get the biggest one out of the way. Like him or hate him, Akira Toriyama's art has been part of DQ since day one, and as far as anyone can tell, isn't going away anytime soon. It's something you like from the start, get used to, or hate to the point where you won't even play it. This is undeniable. However, it is fallacy to say that "fucking everyone looks like DBZ". They don't. This only applies to the main heroes and heroines mostly. Everyone else looks more like they came from Dr. Slump or other more goofy and cartoony Toriyama works. Hell, ever since DQ7, he's started to move away from that more and more, though his digital brushwork could be better.
On top of all that, complaining about Toriyama in a series where everyone's appearance is shrunk down and simplified to be smaller than your thumb is pretty stupid. Especially when what you mostly see is the monsters anyways, and lord knows they don't look like humans. Sure, DQ8 and 9 are more justified in this complaint department, but at the same time, you mostly see the hero's back anyways, and in 9 and 10 you can customize your character to look goofy as hell (and for the record, 8-Hero's super high tension look was added for western releases, and wasn't even in the JP version).
Turn-Based Gameplay and Random Battles: Let's not beat around the bush. You either deal with it or hate it. Either case has you "mashing A" (or whatever button equivalent) anyways. One bright side to this, from DQ4 onwards, is being able to give tactics to your allies, meaning that they all act automatically, excluding the Hero (since that's supposed to be you). This definitely helps with tedium quite a bit. The DQ remakes on GBC and DS speed up battles quite a lot, making nearly anything not a boss battle generally last roughly 15 seconds or so at most. There's exceptions, but that's generally the norm, assuming you're at a fair level. Sadly, they can still take a while in 7, 8, and 9 due to visual effects taking precedence. In 10, there's a different battle system entirely, so times may vary quite a bit.
In addition, there's going to be a fair number of times where just spamming "attack" won't win you battles anyways, due to attack resistances. As such, it's best to whip out some magic for elemental damage, buffs/debuffs, etc. Thankfully, even this doesn't take a long time to pull off either. The frequency of random battles can also be sharply reduced in every game by the use of "Holy Water"/"Repellent" and using spell/skill equivalents. At the very least, they're not as frequent in the remakes either, and are totally gone in 9 (with the exception of water battles) and 10.
Grinding (money and experience): The only games where grinding is really a problem are the NES originals of 1, 2, and 3 (4NES is pretty lenient). Money is a dick to come by in those as well, even with selling stuff. The remakes of those 3 fixed things up quite a bit, thankfully. 5 can be a bit shitty with money drops, but fighting Goodybags and Bahlibs should give you a fair deal of cash. Try to sell some spare gear and casino prizes that you don't need as well. Some people say that 6 and 8 are hard to get money in as well, but not really if you're a smart seller, since the game gives you quite a bit of extra gear you don't need in chests. In addition, they both tend to be a bit better with item drops from monsters than some of the past games. As for experience in some games not on the NES, the biggest problems seem to be in 5 and 8. 5's enemies seem to give fairly low experience sometimes, even in the remake, and metal slimes tend to run away a bit more often than usual. 8's experience requirements per levels seem to be a bit high from what I've noticed, as such, leveling up doesn't happen as often as earlier games, unless you tear apart metal slimes later on.
Class Changing and Skill issues: Without guides and FAQs, you are pretty much guaranteed to have trouble with these. The games do a sub-standard job of telling you what does what unless you get the skill/magic and/or know about them ahead of time. Even if you do use guides and FAQs, you can still fuck up. The most important thing above all else, is to HAVE A PLAN. If you don't, you'll likely get frustrated and/or grind your ass off with little to no reward for all your efforts. This can suck big time against certain bosses. If you look up what does what, along with when you'll get it, you'll have a much easier time of things, and also have to do minimal grinding in the long run, especially compared to going in blind and learning that 1000 battles later that you fucked up.
Saving: Even as someone who's played DQ for a long, long time (back in the Dragon Warrior days), the use of town-based save points can be something of a downer. This is especially true when you have lods a gold, or just took on an important boss and have to go all the way back to his fort, then go through the fort again to get to him, while fighting enemies all along the way. On the bright side, you keep all experience points, levels, gear, and items you had at death. On the other hand, on top of being knocked back to the save point, you lose half your gold and have to revive anyone not the hero, which requires gold payment or MP for reviving spells (or the foolish use of a Yggdrasil Leaf). In some later games, there's sometimes the odd priest or equivalent character in certain spots, but this doesn't happen too often. While you can use monster-repelling items to make the journey easier, the most important thing is to be prepared. Even thought they don't heal much, consider keeping herbs and antidotes on hand, and MP refilling items if you can get any. Another important thing to consider doing is to have gear or multi-use items that can cast spells in battle for zero MP. They tend to be weaker than using your super-strong stuff, but preserving your MP for when you need it is always the best option. In addition, magic-heavy characters tend to perform less well physically anyways, and several spells let you hit multiple enemies at once. One last thing to note is that there tends to be some gear in nearly every game that can use healing spells as well, which further saves the need for buying herbs.
Confusion: Every now and then, some people claim that the DQ series is a little vague in telling you what to do and where to go. That's not exactly undeniable, but not entirely true either. 1-3 are a little bit non-linear in their exploration. They give you a rough idea of what you're supposed to do and where you should go, but you can still get lost now and then. 1 has a decent amount of townpeople giving fair hints on what to do next, though you might have to piece certain tidbits together to understand them. 2 and 3 eventually let you find items that can point out significant locations. In all 3 though, the easiest thing to do is just traverse the map. It sounds obvious, but at the same time, you might pick up on something you missed as you haven't been there before, or find the last piece to a puzzle you've been trying to figure out. 4 to 8 are pretty straight forward, with 7 being the most linear game in the series. However, each one (except 4, I think) has a fortune teller you can typically set you on the right path. 8 and 9 are a bit of a return to 1-3's style, but not enough to where you won't know what to do next. Party chat, Trode, and Stella also provide hints and a little bit of reminder info as well. In addition, there are VERY few times throughout the series where you can permanently miss something, so you can nearly always revisit places to find things you passed over before.
As for the games themselves (finally):
This is mostly a version comparison, as the games themselves are broken down on the DQ page noted above. However, I will note some aspects of the games as well.
Again, both 1 and 2 are best played together. The 1+2 remix on Game Boy Color is my recommendation, since it goes faster than the SFC, at the expense of some battle aesthetics (though its hardly a big loss). The SFC version runs on 5SFC's engine, which is kinda slow for exploration and loading battles (there's a notable lag any time a battle pops up). It's also a little drab outside of battles. On top of that, the translation for SFC is rather inconsistent at times (one notable example being some monster names like "Hoimi Slime" and "Laliho Ant", despite using the English translations for both spells) and a bit misleading (such as Chain Sickle being translated as "Chain Whip", when the thing only hits one enemy and whips didn't show up until 3 anyways).
The biggest problem for 1, is that there's only one place to save. This was fixed in 2, as you can save with "wise men" as well, who pop up in towns. Both, however, have a "warp" problem, in both the originals and remakes. The "Return" spell (or use of a warp wing/chimera wing) will only send you back to the last place you saved. That's probably the biggest issue with these versus later games. And no, there's no real reason to play the NES version over either remake.
DQ3 is arguably just as good on SFC as it is on GBC. Most guides are made with the GBC terminology in mind though, so make a note of that in terms of personalities, people, locations, and equipment. Spells and enemies are mostly the same between versions with a few insignificant exceptions. Because of all this, I recommend the GBC version over it. In addition, the GBC version has your characters move in 1-tile steps, versus half-tile steps in SFC. This isn't a super big issue, but it does go a bit faster on GBC, and it makes finding hidden items a little easier. In addition, all text on GBC is translated without code errors. The SFC version does have superior visual and musical aesthetics, along with backgrounds in battles (which load up at about the same pace in either version). In addition, more text can be displayed, which makes certain characters and items easier to understand. As mentioned, there's some text-code errors in the SFC version, they don't pop up too often though, but nearly all of the dealer's descriptions of items and gear are garbled messes. Those aren't entirely necessary, but it does make it feel a bit incomplete. Some people like the NES version, but the remakes did everything it did but far better. In addition, there's also several fixes and adjustments as well as additions (one notable one being that the hero(ine)'s MP in 3NES is fucking pathetic).
DQ4 is a bit different between versions, giving similar, but still rather different experiences between them. The DS version has more refined gameplay and aesthetics of the two and plays much faster. However, some find its translation a bit off-putting (thankfully Plus Alpha got their shit together with 5DS, and 8-4 took over with 6DS) and prefer the NES. For 4NES, if you don't like all allies that aren't the Hero(ine) being AI-controlled, then as noted in the main DQ page, you can use a Game Genie code to manually control them yourself. This isn't without some consequence however, so beware.
DQ5 is easily the most improved DQ with its remake. There is absolutely zero reason to play the original. This brings the question of which to play. The DS remake is my choice, given the additional wife and additional party chats in general. However, some still are put off by its translation and stick with the PS2 version, which has 2 different patches, with certain translations (most specifically spells) being more in-line with past DQ or DW translations. The PS2 version has a fully orchestrated soundtrack, but on the flipside, has some really weird lanky midget humans, as Artepiazza can't into 3D for some reason. The monsters look alright, though not on par with DQ8 (which is a given seeing as 8 came out after 5's PS2 remake). The DS version is a bit more consistent and cleaner looking, but it mostly just boils down to preference.
DQ6 has some people defend the SFC version, but honestly, it's pretty lame compared to the DS version. The translation is inferior, there's no party chat, the music as well, and the visuals are much more limited in animations and effects, but also sprite sizing as well (in 6SFC Hassan/Carver is crammed into the same sprite size as the other characters and looks like he always has to take a shit, where as in the 6DS he's standing proud and tall amongst the other characters). There's also some text-code errors in 6SFC as well, more than any other translation of the SFC games. The lack of monster taming in 6DS is used as a defense point in 6SFC's favor, but even compared to the 40 monsters you could recruit in 5SFC, the number you can nab in 6SFC is pathetic to the point where you don't even need to bother with it. You get most of the good monsters in 6DS anyways, and on top of all that, the only advantage that using monsters gives you is that some have a few minor inherent resistances, something that all allies can gain with equipment along with the Dragon and Liquid Metal Slime jobs anyways. All skills can be learned by any ally, so monster taming is a majorly fruitless endeavor, especially since the ones you'd REALLY want to get take too fucking long to get and you have to waste battles as a beast tamer that you could be using to learn other and better skills anyways.
DQ7. SHIT. Where do I even start with this? There's only one version (PS1), so you don't need to fret over which you should play. One minor complaint is how linear it is. All things considered, it makes sense, especially given the time-travel aspect, but compared to the 6 games before, yeah, it pretty much is. There's some side-stuff you can do, but that's mostly inconsequential, save for the town-building and mini-medals. The battles aren't as slow as 8 and 9, but they're definitely some of the slowest of the 2D games. As neat as the Job system is, being expanded and all, it's pretty stupid that you can build up a class path and get fucking nothing out of it (protip: don't go for Pirate class if you plan on making a character into a Hero class). The monster class paths are interesting, but can be confusing without a guide. Some of the cross-class skills are cool, but if you don't nab them at the soonest opportunity, you have to waste extra time to get them, which blows. The semi-3D towns and dungeons aren't refined as they later become in the remakes of older games. As a result, you can miss out on somethings, and while this isn't quite a major issue, some of the dungeons in 7 are an absolute dick to re-traverse. One problem I personally had was the prison town. I missed one single fucking map shard and couldn't find it for shit. Turns out, I had to adjust the camera to find the door to an unlocked building to enter it. You better believe I was fucking pissed, especially since you can see damn near everything in any other town anyways. The issue here is that the game didn't let me directly enter the door, as the sprites would bump against it, but not actually to the point of entering it without the camera change. This seems minor, but spending 3 fucking hours racking my brain in confusion isn't. I know that others have similar shit happen to them in this game as well. One very big thing that I cannot stress enough is that after Mardra is cleared (the place where you learn Majustis and fight Zeppel) and BEFORE you return to the present, make sure that Maribel has nothing in her inventory, ESPECIALLY NO KEY ITEMS. This can potentially set you back at least 40 to 50 hours if she happens to have a key item that you need, because she leaves the party for a long while and both takes and KEEPS everything in her inventory and WILL NOT give you back anything before she rejoins close to the end of the game. In addition, before you switch to Disc 2, make sure Melvin does not have any key items either, as he too will eventually leave the party temporarily with everything he possesses (however, there will be a portion of the game where you control him in his leave). And Don't fucking remind me of Dharma fucking Temple. I could fill up an entire page with nothing but me bitching about Dharma fucking Temple.
DQ8 (PS2) also only has 1 version (technically). It does most things right, but there's also some things off about it. Once again, skill trees are an issue. It's kinda skewed as well on what you SHOULD use, but the game doesn't exactly tell you so. In addition, you can't spread things out, hoping for an all-around character. It doesn't work that way. Not even close. Skills being tied to weapons as well is kinda meh, especially when some are just support skills (not referring to magic spells either). Your characters also built towards certain paths as well, much like 6 and 7, but without the freedom or customization options of either. Honestly, this is the one entry where random battles seem really out of place, and frankly, they are. On top of that, they're the second slowest in the series (only being beaten out by 9, and 7's are just fast enough to be in 4th, after 1+2 SFC in 3rd). Each one has to start up, pan to the players, then to the enemies, then go through the unskipable animations, then exit out of the battle and back to the map. Other games and remakes manage to do this in seconds where battles in 8 can take anywhere from about 30 seconds to minutes at a time.
Tension is both a boon and at the same time not. On one hand, you put off 3 to 4 turns (sometimes more) to do more damage than you would in those 3-4 turns (due to how the multipliers work), but on the other hand, there's a shitload of bosses where you want to use it on, but can't because they spam disruptive wave like it's going out of style, which not only removes tension, but all your buffs as well, which makes those less effective to use as well. This is just bullshit to have happen on anything that's not the final boss or bonus bosses. It also kinda cheapens the skill in a way too. This is just me bitching, but before, you had to be a badass demon lord or legendary hero to pull it off, but now some random ghost pirate out of nowhere can whip it out of his ass for no good reason? Give me a fucking break. Don't get me wrong, 8's a good game, and worth playing, but it's not solid enough to be great, and nowhere near perfect.
DQ9 (DS) is the last so far (that I can fully talk about) to only have 1 version. 9 is like 1 step forward, 2 steps back. It does a bunch of interesting and neat things, but at the same time, it fucks up quite a handful of times as well. My biggest bitch about 9 is how enemies move too fucking quickly to the point where most times you can't outrun them, and cheapens the impact of non-random battles. You still have holy water sure, but that doesn't purely prevent battles. This is especially notable in a number of places with narrow pathways or dungeons built with one-way paths where you can't avoid enemies and have to fight them because they happened to spawn right smack in the middle and you can't walk around them or go a different way. This is especially bad in grottoes, especially those that spawn huge enemies. I dunno, I've been told I'm crazy for saying this, but like how there were still random battles while in the ship, they should have been random in grottoes, especially due to this issue. Maybe have certain enemies spawn non-randomly when you needed them to for quests, and also have high EXP and Gold enemies be non-random, but everything else was too big or too fast in grottos to be anything other than tedious, even with multiple pathways (although there were also more than enough times where this shit happened in one-way paths, which only further disillusioned me of how "great" this game is). The Vocation system is all kinds of bias. There was the intention of making all vocations fair enough to use, but at the same time, the advanced vocations shit all over the normal ones. Yes, it made sense to have them be at least a bit stronger or better due to the effort it took to unlock them, but at the same time, enough things were fucked up normally as well. Taking the Priest's wind spells from him leaves him with shitty death spells that damn near nobody uses. On top of that, Omniheal is not a good enough replacement for Kazing, especially not for how much it costs. Mage was also screwed over as well. Sure, Kafrizzle was one of the best attack spells, but not enough to make up for the mage's weak physical stats and lack of healing. Before, it made sense for the sage class to be OP, since it was something you had to go out of your way to get in 3 and the Mage and Priest were necessary to unlock it in 6 and 7. In 9, it's just more like why would you even bother with Mage and Priest after that? Sure they're a tiny bit better in their respective magic stat, but not nearly enough to make up for their weaknesses and the sage's superiority. Gladiator and Paladin shit all over Warrior and Martial Artist. Together, you don't even need the advantages of a Warrior's slightly better stats of their respective weaknesses. As for the Martial Artist, it's too frail to be a solid attacker, and its good offense is still far too inferior to use over Gladiator. Thief got shit on the most easily. There is no good reason to keep using a thief later on, unless you really care about co-op de graces. Minstrel starts okay, but also gets out classed as well, despite being the most "balanced" early on. Sage wins in magical versatility and Ranger beats him out in healing. Luminary wins in terms of style and wind spells, I guess, but at the same time, you don't have enough reason to use a Luminary over other options either. Armamentalist is, I dunno, a mixed bag. What should have hopefully been a magic knight is limited to blind, sleep, enemy defense sap, speed up, and a single target's attack up. The problem is that while these are pretty good, they're outclassed by others as well. Blind and sleep don't work enough on bosses, and defense sap and attack up can be done by skills and other classes with more options. Speed up isn't enough to justify using it either. Another issue is the separation of levels per vocation. Sure, who can make a class better by the means of skill bonuses which permanently boost stats, but it's not enough in the end and the lack of transferring spells and the lack of skills that make up for this just don't pull it off. Weapon skills are also skewed and a good chunk of them aren't structured well either. One case being claws having 2 multi-hit moves. Sure, the damage formula for both skills is different, but it doesn't make it justified. Others are just way too OP and outclass others, such as Swords being the primary offender. Combining Tension, oomph, and the Falcon and Uber Falcon game pretty much make almost any other single target attack skill borderline worthless. Now, I'm exaggerating of course, but the problem comes to play when some of the skills you get in other trees are single target attack-based and supposed to be good. The biggest example I can think of here would be Axes, whose final skill is Whopper Chop, but STILL does less damage than the Falcon 4-Slash. This isn't the only case either, but it is a big one.
Stepping back and studying this game, I don't think anyone can deny: It was definitely made for multiplayer, It's a nice idea of a revamped system, but the execution is just poor compared to efforts before. This isn't even bringing up all the other issues, such as: tags being necessary to unlock certain things, being unable to trade anything worth trading in multiplayer, the oversaturation of skills and shrinking of the selection windows making it more tedious to get to what you want, the slow text that can't be sped up, the horribly awkward juxtaposition of NPC sprites with 3D models, lag issues, the slowest battles in the series with the least enemies per battle since DQ1, tiny towns and dungeons (save for the last few), and an emphasis on actual grinding for unlocks (such as lv99 bonuses, reclassing, and most of all grottoes and alchemy), on top of that, the soundtrack, save for a handful of songs, is the weakest of the series. It's not a bad game, but it's not a good one either. I don't think I've ever played a "bad" DQ game, but this is one, to me, is just "okay". My biggest justifiable concern, is how it honestly is just pretty much a beta for DQ10, which is what 9 really should have been to begin with.
Strangely enough, SE actually worked on DQ10 and in my opinion it looks to kick 8 and 9 straight in the ass and is what they should have been in terms of gameplay (and in 9's case, music). 8 had good characters, a good story, and soundtrack so it's not totally made pointless by this, but 9's only got good when combined with post-game, which some people might not even realize, due to relying on you connecting online to get it. 10 looks great all-around. Sure, it's similar to 9, but actually interactive enough to work. That combined with all the additions and refinements really puts it high on my ranking. Aesthetics are pretty good too. Maybe not quite as good as they could be visually, but the music's notably better at least and the world is pretty vibrant and vivid. Gameplay and weapon skills/class balance seems a lot more balanced, which is good. The new battle system really intrigues me. I have a rough understanding of it, but I'd really like to play it myself as well.
I think I've said everything I could say about the main 9 (at least for now), and while I have my concerns about some and parts of some, I don't hate any of them. I really enjoy this series, and it's one of my most faves on an all-around level (since it's not thoroughly super-great in any one area consistently). I gush a lot about it, sometimes blindly at times, but at the same time, I'm well aware that these games are not perfect and not without problems, some more minor than others, and more notably in some games in others. They're not for everybody, but I more people could probably enjoy them than they think they might.