There is one franchise that could be regarded as arguably the first iteration of the console RPG, contributing to the reason why Role playing games are as popular as they are today...ironically this series is widely unknown to the gaming world of the west.
Most of us know of Final Fantasy, Sky Rim and I bet some of you are familiar with Phantasy Star or even Y’s, but 30 years ago on May 27th a game was released in Japan that would become a national obsession.
A game which spawned a series that sold over 64 million units and changed every game in the genre that followed. That series was DRAGON QUEST.
So...I'm sure you heard all about this monumental game's 30th Anniversary back in May...right?! No? Well, you are not alone as, yet again, Square Enix decided to not focus any of the anniversary campaign in North America. So I feel it is my duty to educate and inform the many RPG fan's (or video game enthusiasts in general) who, by no fault of their own, just don't appreciate the impact Dragon Quest had on the genre and games in a whole.
To say Role Playing Games have come a long way is a bit of an understatement. Since the inception of tabletop “Dungeons and Dragons” type games, players envisioned their adventures using mostly their imaginations, a set of dice and the all important Dungeon master. It wasn’t until the early days of Computer gaming that such titles as Wizadry and Ultima showed how the genre could thrive in the new world of electronic gaming, but in particular Ultima 3 was the main influence to all RPG’s that followed.
Although quite primitive, being able to see a sprite representing your hero or an enemy moving on screen was a game changer. The Role Playing genre exploded in popularity across North America, but the computers of the day were still very expensive, and excluded the average player who could not afford them. The phenomenon spread overseas to Japan, and a virgining video game producer by the name of Yuji Hori became obsessed with the Apple PC games.
The freelance journalists passion for the medium had translated in to several popular murder mystery video games he produced in the early 80’s such as “The Portapia Serial Murder Cases” on the NEC PC 8801. Seeing the potential for the RPG genre, Hori sought to simplify the controls for the then complicated interface of such games as Wizardy and Akalabeth, to make it more accessible to a wider audience. Yuji teamed up with an incredibly popular Manga artist Akira Toriama, creator of the very successful Dragon Ball series, to help flesh out the characters for his new game to help stand out among the many Dungeon and Dragon type titles dominating store shelves.
Hori’s timing seemed perfect, Nintendo’s new Family Computer or” Famicom” (Nintendo Entertainment System in North America and Europe) was selling like hot cakes, it felt like the perfect platform to get the game into as many homes as possible.
Combined with simple controls the most in depth story found on the system at the time, 1986’s Dragon Quest on the Famicom became an instant hit. The premise behind the game was quite simple, using the now standard, “the princess has been captured, fight your way to her and save her” story line....painfully uninspired but a perfect vehicle to showcase the addictive gameplay.
It uses a “turn based” combat system, simply put, your character and the enemy or “monster” you are fighting takes turns attacking each other. Taking cues from Ultima 3’s overworld, you travel the world map from town to town, encountering random enemies along the way, this is what gamers refer to as “grinding”, with each mini battle on the overworld your character levels up which allows you to be able to take on more powerful monsters as your stats increase, allowing you to travel deeper into the world and ultimately facing the final boss. The difference between Dragon Quest and other role playing games were the monsters themselves. Cartoonish style monsters in the game had mass appeal, but none more than the Slime.
The simply designed, drop of slime with large eyes and a smile quickly became the series mascot, which continues to this day with countless products featuring the cute ambassador. The combiniation of light hearted story lines, beautiful character designs, iconic music produced by famous conductor Koichi Sugiyama, and accessibility produced a huge hit for Enix. Hori and Toriama were quick to start work on the sequel which would release a year later to even more success.
The series would come to be known as the originator of the turn based fighting system, and coined the phrase Japanese Role playing game, or JRPG. Many copy cats followed suit, Square’s Final Fantasy being the most popular, and the future of the genre seemed unstoppable, Nintendo’s library quickly became filled with titles that looked to cash in on the Role Playing craze in Japan.
By 1989 Nintendo was looking for their next big seller to keep up sales momentum in North American markets. The legend of Zelda, released a year earlier in 88, found huge success on the NES and Nintendo of Japan thought Dragon Quest, already on it’s third title in Japan, would be a perfect fit due to the runaway popularity in their home country. Much work went into the English translation and graphical tweaks of the original game to ease the transition for North american gamers.. The game was released as Dragon Warrior, due to copyright issues, to a lukewarm reception ultimately leaving Nintendo scratching their heads. Even though graphics had been improved, they still showed their age as the game was, by this time, 3 years old. Dragon Warrior failed to meet Nintendo’s expectations and barely made a dent in the landscape of North American gaming . A surplus of copies had been produced, leaving Nintendo with a large amount of unsold carts. To help ignite interest, a copy of the game and detailed Strategy guide was given away free with new subscriptions to Nintendo Power...it didn't work as well as Nintendo thought, which subsequently lowered the company's support for the sequel already in the process of being translated to English
The sequel to Dragon Warrior, released in 1989 in North America was a vast improvement in gameplay and graphics, but still didn’t manage to sell enough copies to warrant a large media campaign and was quickly forgotten. In Japan Dragon Quest 3 was breaking sales records, and anticipation for the fourth tile was at a fevered pitch. Nintendo of America saw releases of the 3rd and fourth title to low sales, finally deciding to abandon the Dragon Warrior series for home consoles in 1992.
The continued success in Japan saw huge sales for Dragon Quest 5 and 6 on the Super Famicom.With the success of 5, Enix decided to re-release parts one and two on the same cart using the same engine as Dragon quest 5 improving graphics vastly and tweaking the gameplay and story elements. By this time Dragon Quest had captured the hearts of the small country of Japan, and new releases from the series had many workers and students calling in sick to feed their Dragon Quest addiction.
The story and graphics had finally caught up with consumers expectations which ramped up production of their first foray into the compact disc format with the release of the largest game yet in the series, Dragon Quest 7 on the Playstation in 2000. The game was an instant hit and was the highest selling game for the Sony in 2001, achieving a “Greatest Hits” release. Acting on the momentum of strong sales Dragon Quest 6 saw a port for the Playstation in Japan which brought better sound and graphics, it sold well and it seemed like the company could do no wrong.
By this time, Video games had begun to garner more respect in North America, Sony realised this and released a slew of JRPG’s overseas, the genre quickly began to dominate the Playstation’s North American library. Dragon Quest had all but been forgotten in our market since Dragon Warrior 4 on the NES and Sony decided it was time to reintroduce us with the release of Dragon Warrior VII in 2001. The game sold much better than it’s predecessors, and interest seemed large enough to warrant a large North American release when it came time to develop Dragon Quest VIII on the PS2.
Dragon Quest VIII was the game changer Hori was looking for. Produced by Level 5, makers of the Dark Cloud series, the title sold like gangbusters, but this was mainly due to the genius idea to include a demo disc for the next Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy had cemented its popularity with the best selling FF VII on PS1, and since Square and Enix had merged to become Square Enix the chance to bundle two of their hottest IP’s together for the new release was hugely successful. The story, voice acting and gameplay was the most polished role playing game to date, the game was praised by reviewers and sales were impressive. It seemed like the future was bright for the series. Many thought the next game in the series would follow soon as North American gamers had jumped on the JRPG bandwagon, but news for the next home console release never seemed to come. Years went by and western fans seemed to lose hope for another console version with no new announcements.
Spinoff’s for the series sold well, mostly on handhelds like the Gameboy and Gameboy Advance, introducing the genre to wider audience. Ports of the original NES games, and new iterations such as Dragon Warrior Monsters sold steadily leading into Nintendo’s newest handheld the DS. Square Enix focused heavily on portable versions due to High sales and the lower cost of development. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker released on the DS in 2006 introducing handheld gamers to a 3D portable version for the first time. The game was a huge success and was translated and released in North America the following year.
Nintendo saw re-releases of older games in the series remade for DS with stellar sales. Realizing the potential of Nintendo’s powerhouse handheld, development for the new game in the main series, Dragon Quest 9: Sentinels of Starry Skies, would be for the DS only, leaving console owners scratching their heads. The only game in the series to get a full version for the handheld, Dragon Quest 9 seemed like the death nail for the hopes of home console owners. Most fans gave up on expectations for a home version of the next game in North America, but announcements for Dragon Quest X for the Wii in Japan reignited the spark, and fingers were crossed on any news for the Western version, which never came.
It seemed like Square Enix forgot about North America, and the MMO version of Dragon Quest was confirmed to be a Japan exclusive. Many petitions and sites sprung up with many fans banding together to let SE know we still wanted the full Dragon Quest experience, but fell on deaf ears. To this day North America has not received a home version for the main series, and most gave up on any hopes for the future. The seventh generation of Consoles was ignored in the west, but some good news surfaced for the eighth generation with an english release of DRagon Quest Heroes for the PS4 and PS3. Dragon Quest XI was also announced for the PS4, but no news on translation to English. Dragon Quest Heroes sold well enough to warrant development of the sequel in Japan, but still no word on if XI will make it’s way across the pond.
Dragon quest is still referred to as the "genesis" of console RPG’s. It’s steady popularity speaks volumes to the cultural impact the series has produced. In Japan, Dragon Quest has become the unofficial video game mascot for the country. Promotional tie in’s from Dehumidifiers to Dragon Quest versions of Toyota vehicles show the strength of the series in Japan, and we can only hope that one day the popularity will transfer over seas.
Until that time, Dragon Quest will continue to inspire future generations through it’s cult like following, and has earned the respect of video game enthusiasts world wide.
Hello Cartridge Club!! Yes I am still alive!! Unfortunately my old computer is not, thank you Microsoft!! With technical difficulties and being on the road every week with my new job, I have not had much time to enjoy the things I love, one of those things is contributing to this great community! This past weekend was the Barrie Game Exchange, I had two vendor tables to get rid of doubles and games I just don't play anymore. At the event I had the extreme pleasure of meeting some fellow members of the Cartridge Club to whom I say thank you for your kind words, and I look forward to meeting again!
It may be two months late, but I hope you enjoy my speed drawing for the game of the month (cough cough..for January..lol), since I am settled in at my job and my computer decides to co operate there will be much more to enjoy soon!
Please feel free to comment, bash me or just debate Donald Trump's relevance.
The day I heard that the PS4 would receive the first console Dragon Quest game since the PS2’s Dragon Quest 8, I was ecstatic. ( I refuse to acknowledge Dragon Quest:Swords on the Wii) The Dragon Quest games have an odd relationship with the west, like most Japanese role playing games, it has been misunderstood. The announcement I was hoping for was at least a PS4 port of Dragon Quest 10, released on Nintendo's Wii in 2012, but was a little disappointed to discover it would be an action game instead of the RPG I wanted. The title was Dragon Quest Heroes and it's not a step in the right direction for hardcore fans.
As a stand alone game, Dragon Quest Heroes is actually very entertaining. Basically a Dynasty Warriors type game of constant hack and slash with Dragon Quest characters, it adds some light RPG elements by leveling up your character's armour and weapons. You can also assign skill points to each character which is very cool. Nintendo did it earlier with Zelda releasing Hyrule Warriors to moderate success. It was a fun game...but felt like a game in between the game we are really waiting for...as does DQH. With about 40 hours of gameplay, Dragon Quest Heroes is a nod to fans with the inclusion of characters from past games, hardcore's get a small taste of the Dragon Quest characters, costumes and music we have come to love over the years. It’s not enough.
What really scares me is this is what Square Enix thinks we want in a Dragon Quest game for our consoles in the west. The Nintendo DS has really been the only platform that has shown any kind of love for western DQ fans. I understand why the emphasis has been put on the handheld when it comes to JRPG’s, it’s the type of game you can pick up and play for 20mins at a time and grind for experience points (a staple for the Dragon Quest series) which is perfect on the go. It is less of a gamble to re release older games in the series on the DS/3DS, requiring less development since they are basically just tweaking the graphics and gameplay to adjust to two screens. I love the DS versions of the games, especially since part 5 and 6 never made their way to the North American Super Nintendo, it gave new and old fans a chance to finally play these great additions. The 9th game, solely released on the DS, was graciously brought over from Japan. it had a cool multiplayer element which could help lower level players gain experience much quicker. It sold very well in the west, giving fans of the series a glimmer of hope for the future with Dragon Quest 10 announced for the Wii a few years later…..in Japan. We all collectively held our breath waiting for an announcement. When will we get the game? It never happened. You see, Japanese developers have been giving us the shaft when it comes to turn based role playing games since the NES/SNES days. Countless amazing games never made their way over the pond because western gamers were considered less intelligent, action games were all we wanted apparently, and wasting their time translating a long RPG to english wasn't worth the time or money to do so. Unfortunately, to some extent, this is still the case.
So does purchasing Dragon Quest Heroes help or hinder chances of Dragon Quest 11 being released in west? We all gave up on getting part 10 for the Wii, should we get our hopes up again? It’s hard to say. I bought Heroes to show support for the series, my thinking is if purchasing the game helps the cause by letting them know there is still interest we would likely get part 11 of the main series. On the other side of the coin is a reaffirmation that western gamers just want an action orientated Dragon Quest.
My hopes for the future of the series were dashed slightly when I picked up my copy on release day. Only 5 people in my city had pre ordered DQH at my regular EB games location (Gamestop in the States). I asked the clerk why he thought the interest wasn’t there, to which he replied, “ Well, it’s a kids game right?” “What?!” I quickly replied, almost a little angry with him. One would think that an employee of a game store would at least know a little about a series which basically introduced the console RPG to the western world. Dragon Quest is one of the highest selling RPG series ever. The only reason we have Final Fantasy or even Dragon Age for the that matter is because Dragon Quest made it feasible to play a complicated game with 2 buttons on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and still feel somewhat deep. Before DQ, role playing games were heavily text based and required a keyboard. I started realizing I was defending a video game series out of Nostalgia at this point. Even though it is still immensely popular in Japan, the Dragon Quest series (known as Dragon Warrior until part 8 in the west) never made the same impact as Final Fantasy, due to it's light heart roots. My argument fell on deaf ears as my rant left him with a stunned look on his face, I quickly grabbed my game and got out of there, feeling old and grumpy.
Maybe Japan is right. Maybe we are a society that generally has a shorter attention span, and requires a game that caters to that….but I still cling to the hope that the rest of us get what we want. My support for the series won’t stop, even if SquareEnix decides we don't need Dragon Quest 11...but there is still a chance we will get it.
I urge all of you reading to do yourself a favour, if you have never played a Dragon Quest game, find any of the games up to DQ8 on mobile, or the DS(parts 5-9), NES(parts 1-4), translated repro SNES carts(parts 1-3, 5 & 6), give it a chance. Get on the forums, tell Square Enix we want a real Dragon Quest game, Translate Dragon Quest 11...we deserve it!
It's no secret Sega has been making terrible business decisions recently, and it's nothing new. The Sega Genesis/Megadrive was by all regards a success , but most of us know the story of the Nintendo Vs. Sega console war...Sega eventually lost. The company kept producing add-ons in an attempt to keep the Genesis relevant with the 32X and Sega CD, but it backfired and consumers slowly lost confidence in their products. This continued with the release of the Saturn, ending with the unfortunate demise of the Dreamcast. Nintendo and Sony’s market share grew and with the Xbox on the horizon, Sega was forced to abandon the home console business all together.
Sega still owned a handful of well known properties, the most profitable being Sonic the Hedgehog. Deciding to play it safe, many well known franchises faded in to obscurity as the company put all their eggs in to one basket, focusing on on the blue Hedgehog. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Sonic games (Sonic 2 being my personal favorite) but there were so many other experiences that could have gone the distance. Gunstar Heroes, Shinobi, Wonder Boy, Phantasy Star, Panzer Dragoon...all amazing games that are generally unknown to today’s gamers. These games deserve more respect, but none more than one of my favorite series, Shining Force.
Shining Force was a Strategy RPG released for the Sega Genesis in the early 90's, and unless your a retro video game collector there is a good chance you've never heard of it. This game was my first introduction to the Strategy RPG.
It was an upbeat Japanese turn based RPG with strategic game play similar to the immensely successful Fire Emblem, which had been out 2 years earlier on the Famicom. Shining Force was one of the first 8-bit/16-bit Strategy RPG's using a tactical grid based play field to hit the North American shores, to moderate success. Game play was fun with moderate difficulty and didn't take it's self so serious like most RPG's at the time including Ninja's, Robots, and a Werewolf as playable characters. Shining Force II, a technically and aesthetically superior sequel, sold well enough that when it came time to translate Shining Force III-Part 1 for the Saturn, the project got the green light... even though the console was on it's death bed. Playstation was dominating the CD based market, taking up valuable shelf space and Shining Force III-Part 1 never got the chance to get the exposure it deserved. It was the last in the “Force” series to be released in the west.
Shining Force III was the epic pinnacle of the series. In Japan it was released in a Sychronicity System, splitting up the story over three separate games. Not only was releasing games in this manner copied by successful followers ( .Hack, Suikoden III..), the overhead 3D style was innovative in form and function. The developers at Camelot pushed the Saturn's architecture by using the soundboard to pre-load graphical data in order to get around slow CD loading times. Even the story had matured with the audience, and game play was as smooth as ever. Everything was refined and if it wasn't obvious, I love this game. I would have to include the whole Shining Force series in my top 50 games of all time! With all adoration aside, I still wondered how Sega could screw it up? Scenario's 2 and 3 were released in Japan on the Saturn to resounding sales, and the Shining series to this day is still popular there.
With a cult following of Fire Emblem players, Sega fails to see the obvious cash cow that so plainly stares them in the face. For a company that does everything in it's power to ensure no game play gets shown on You Tube, it makes you wonder how they don't understand people uploading and viewing material about the game means there is still interest! Update the game play, graphics and story and you have a financially successful product. Sure, it would be looked at as a Fire Emblem clone, but I guarantee it would sell. The Shining Series is already ripping off the action RPG genre in Japan, why not rip off themselves? You can find Part 1 and 2 on Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for PS3 and 360 but no other effort to return to it's tactical game play seems evident.
I feel like it's a lost cause and I end up sounding more like a whining Fan Boy then a supporter of the series. Don't let my perceived bias overshadow the fact that these games were awesome, and a follow up to Shining Force III could still make money. With the recent purchase of Atlus by Sega, I see a glimmer of hope. I believe if any dev could reinvigorate the series in North America it would be them, but it leads to the question...Sega, what happened to Shining Force?
My name is Ryan, and I love video games, comics...pop culture in general, but what I love more are the communities.
A community can make or break the enjoyment of what you vehemently love, from stamp collecting to retro gaming. The Cartridge Club is the type of community I am proud to be part of, and I look forward to sharing with everyone what brought me here, a passion for gaming, comic books and art.
Thank you Cartridge Club for having me aboard! Every one has been so welcoming and I can't wait to see how large the community grows!
Here is something I would like to do monthly, a speed drawing inspired by the Game of the Month. This month was Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, so I went with my "realistic"version of Firebrand...which my wife said was too creepy...mission accomplished. Please let me know what you think in the comments below and enjoy the speed drawing!