Dragon Quest is one of Japan's most beloved game series. Like any piece of media that reaches stratospheric heights of popularity, it's inspired a host of flatterers, pretenders, and flat-out imitators hoping to capture just an ounce of its success. Some of these have been nothing more than substandard cash grabs, while others actually brought something different to the RPG party. We've gathered some of the more interesting ones as proof that while imitation may not be the sincerest form of flattery, it can be the most fascinating.
- Data East | Famicom | 1987
The earliest Dragon Quest clones were cynical cash-ins designed to ride the RPG gravy train; of these, the most high-profile example was Data East's Glory of Heracles. Rather than playing out in a medieval setting, Heracles was set an curiously pastel version of ancient Greece. It told the story of the man we know as Hercules and his quest to complete the 12 labors described in ancient myths. It may seem strange for a Japanese RPG to play its mythological influences straight, but when you're the source material hands you plenty of MacGuffins and "bosses" to kill on a silver platter, there's no need to muck around with it. The first Heracles mirrored Dragon Quest's solo journey, with subsequent releases adding improvements similarly lifted from its inspiration's sequels. Don't mistake the series for garbage just because of its blatant structural thievery, though; even today, Glory of Heracles remains popular in its native Japan, where it remained exclusively until the recent DS revival was localized for the U.S. That particular sequel has more in common with Golden Sun than Dragon Quest, however, concealing the series' more familiar roots.
- Kemco | NES | 1992
One clone Americans did see back in the day was Kemco's Legend of the Ghost Lion, a strange game where every part that wasn't taken directly from Dragon Quest was straight out of a fever dream. Here you have your typical overhead view for exploration along with first-person battles, but pretty much every other design decision can only be described as bizarre. You choose weapons to attack with in first-person battles a la the Final Fantasy Legend (aka SaGa) games, and rather than casting magic spells, you summon beings such as an African tribesman and a wizard who looks a lot like Moses. Did I mention your stats are Courage, Hope, and Dreams? As you may have gathered, many of these mechanics aren't that different than standard RPG fare and only serve to make the game feel odd, leaving you with a Dragon Quest clone that feels like it's trying too hard to appear like it's not totally ripping Enix off. Tellingly, it never made an impact, ensuring that it remains a weird anomaly.
- Ape, Inc. | Nintendo | Famicom/GBA | 1989
Nintendo is usually the company that everyone else copies, not the other way around. But when famed Japanese author Shigesato Itoi wanted to create an RPG for Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES), Nintendo looked to Dragon Quest II for a template. The resulting game saw players gathering party members, battling in a first-person viewpoint, and exploring from a top-down perspective. Where the game differs, however, is in its setting and writing: it takes place in '50s-style American towns as seen through the lens of a Japanese point of view. Itoi's writing is what really sells Mother's somewhat bizarre themes, grounding everything enough to create a game that exudes heartfelt nostalgia. Its sequel, EarthBound, polished up the formula with a rolling hit point counter, better graphics, and an official American release. The more recent Mother 3 opted to use Dragon Quest IV's shifting point-of-view structure to tell its own heartrending story, making this one of the few Dragon Quest clones to arguably outshine its source material.