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Gamephemera: Dragon Warrior (NES)

September 28, 2006 By Glenn Turner

Gamephemera is an intermittent look at the documentation, paperwork and sundry other bits that were lovingly crafted to accompany a video game.

Out of all of the NES games we've found in thrift stores and garage sales, very few of them are still bundled with their original box. And out of the small number found that are boxed, most of those are missing their documentation. Not my copy of Dragon Warrior though. Apart from the $3.00 price tag the thrift store employees markered on the cover, its box and paperwork have held together admirably.

Sure, it's an adequate cover. Compelling design, if not the most original or artfully executed one. In fact, the dragon looks a tad too ethereal for my taste. There's some odd capitalization in the strapline too.

And there's the standard manual. Nothing terribly noteworthy there.

No, what I want to call your attention to are a few other bits that came with the copy of the game:

This strange, roughly 2 1/2" square piece of paper was chucked into the box for, what I can only theorize is, at the last second it occurred to Nintendo of America that some testers weren't finding the game as accessible as they would have liked, which lead to this hastily cobbled together 'starter sheet'. Another possibility is that Nintendo was afraid users wouldn't actually read the manual. but felt these tips were absolutely imperative to the gaming experience. This is latter explain, I imagine, is quite possible as some of the tips on this sheet are repeated at the back of the manual, detailing such facts as the need to attack slimes and when you can start spell-casting. But this is all just speculation.

While I find that sheet a bit of a mystery, there were two, non-intended pieces of ephemera that came with my copy. The first was an aged sheet of ruled paper:

It simply reads "Three items were needed to reach the Isle of Dragons. Which is south of Brecconary. Gather these to win." The first half of this is simply just a transcription of the game's dialogue, pointing you towards an objective. However, taken out of context it's an intriguing, albeit slightly mystifying, piece of paper to receive.

Lastly, and I'm sure anyone who has ever rented a cartridge-based game has encountered this, there are the old save games.

It's always slightly disconcerting to pop a new (to you) game into your console and be greeted with a prompt to continue your quest, since you've never even played this game before, much less have a quest to resume. It's a lingering reminder that someone spent quite a bit of time with the cart prior to you, and it's a feeling that, once seeing the saved slots, you can't really shake – even if you do delete all of their saves. The above photo shows someone else's saves on my cart. I have no idea who each of the three names are supposed to represent, or even know how far along in the game they got - I simply haven't checked. I am, however, glad that the previous owners opted to not use profanities for each of the four-letter names.

Maybe the save games and hand-written guides surprise me because, well, movies and many other reusable, modern media like CDs and tapes don't lend themselves to owner imprints, or at least none that wouldn't be considered vandalism. But yet, save games are part of the game's intended use, and these paper guides were written as part of experiencing and solving the game. It's all part of the playing process, not unlike filling in blanks in a textbook or finishing a newspaper crossword puzzle, but the difference between those and electronic games are the illusion that you can just start over at any point. A magic eraser wipes the slate clean and sets the game anew, just as if you were to press play on a CD player.

The only traces of a prior owner with games such as my Dragon Warrior cart are the contained scraps of paper and the saved games, the latter of which will eventually fade away as the on-board battery flickers out. And now that modern games use memory cards and hard drives, none of these homebrew, copy-bound solutions are necessary, leaving our games as naked and interchangable as DVDs or CDs. There's nothing wrong with that - the process of playing a game has changed. But I do occasionally long for the days where your game history was tangible, and opening up this Dragon Warrior box certainly brought that feeling rushing back for me.


No wallpaper available this week, as none of the designs were compelling enough (or in good enough condition) to merit it. Don't worry - the next Gamephemera article will return to our standard, more aesthetically-based reminiscence.

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2 comments for ‘Gamephemera: Dragon Warrior (NES)’

#1 Soup Sep 29, 2006 10:06pm

It's always a strange form of communion with gamers, the old save files. One could say that on a metaphorical level, it's like passing off the quest, much like a dying/failing hero would bequeath his mission to another before passing away. Done in the right context (aka getting the game from a friend who has lost the manual), simply trying to acclimate yourself to the new settings and find out your immediate goals can be more daunting than simply starting over.

in this relational level, the scrap papers are humorously quite fitting as mysterious parchments to be contemplated during (and thus aid in) one's quest.

The idea of previous gamer imprints is an intriguing one. How many times have we, in years past, gone into arcades and watched the high score lists flicker through a cabinet's demo loop? In neighborhoods, the names might belong to older brothers, or gamers long since graduated and moved on in life. And in vacation sites, quite possibly the last great refuge of the arcade? Like a pilgrimage, untold numbers travel to this remote location and throw down their money for a moment's distraction, either from boredom or to connect with something familiar. Contemplated thoroughly enough, it reaches almost a level of spirituality, this shared experience. Like a rite of passage.

I surely do miss some of the trappings of gaming ages past.

#2 4_point_maverick Oct 13, 2006 09:53pm

I remember getting this game when i subscribed to Nintendo Power my first time.
I saw a commercial for it on T.V. if i remember correctly. My brother and i then begged my mom to get us a subscription. I was in Elementary school at the time so i don't remember every bit of it, but i can still remember all the slimes, skeletons, ghouls, and how instead of making them look bigger or scarier to indicate they were more powerful then the other ones, they just changed the color of them.
A few years ago i was in Goodwill for some reason and ended up spotting some old NES games for about 5 bucks each. Some came with cases/instruction books like Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, and Dragon Warrior. The problem is i haven't been able to play it because i have been NESless for quite some time now.