I love the Dragon Quest series, they’re hands-down my favorite RPGs. I played through all of the numbered games that were released in the US in order, starting with 1-3 on the GBC, 4-6 on the DS, 7 on PS1, 8 on PS2, 9 on DS, and 11 on PS4.
There’s something to be said for playing all the games in order and seeing how they build on their own ideas, but I’ll admit this is too awkward for most folks. The second one is definitely the worst of the series. The first one has a minimalist charm but the second one explodes that in a way that feels cumbersome outside of its historical context. However the third one is SO GOOD and is loosely connected to the first two in a way that makes it kind of worth playing through all three in order as long as you have the patience and dedication it takes to get through the second. If nothing else it’s a more enjoyable game than Final Fantasy II.
I’ll rank my three favorites for the series:
Dragon Quest III - this is the one that cemented my love of the series, the job system is so much fun and the mechanics of this game feel PERFECT. The story and the world are good too!
Dragon Quest VII - probably the most decisive entry in the series, it’s extremely long and takes a few hours before you even have a combat encounter, so I don’t recommend it to newcomers to the series. But if you’ve already drunk the DQ Kool-Aide it’s exquisite. The world is VAST, the story is great, and it feels like a game I never wanted to end and it JUST KEPT GOING. There’s a story about one area that has my favorite DQ moment. I really need to revisit it and play the 3DS remake
Dragon Quest V - there’s a reason this one is as popular as it is, the story is great and hooks you pretty early. I really ought to replay this one myself to experience a different marriage option
I’ll echo the consensus that DQ XI is the best jumping on point for the series. It delivers everything a fan would want from the series with some new features that make the game more approachable for folks who don’t play retro games. Plus it’s easily available on all current-gen platforms. My only caveat to this one is that the “post-game” content is not the “optional extra challenge” it is in other games, it’s actually a full ⅓ of the game and propels the story forward in some surprising ways. If someone stops after the first ending, I feel like they’ll be kind of let down.
Another aspect to DQ I really like is that ALL the Dragon Quest games are real Dragon Quest games. Even if you’re playing a weird spinoff that looks like a ripoff of Pokemon (Monsters) or Minecraft (Builders), you’re getting a finely crafted experience from Yuji Hori, music by Koichi Sugiyama, and art by Akira Toriyama. It’s not like Final Fantasy, where most fans consider spinoffs like Mystic Quest, Legends, or Crystal Chronicles to be something different.
I can gush about the series endlessly…