Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past

Introduction

In 1996, Nintendo launched the Nintendo 64, the successor to their 16-bit Super Famicom. Boasting a superior processing power, it proved instrumental in ushering in a new era of 3D gaming with Super Mario 64 in particular serving as a pioneering title. One year before its release, Nintendo announced a peripheral to their new console: the 64DD (Dynamic Drive). It was conceived to compete with the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation, contemporary consoles which favored the CD-ROM and its large storage capacity over Nintendo’s far more limiting cartridges. Among other things, it would feature a real-time clock, rewritable data storage, and the ability to connect to the internet.

One of the proposed titles for this system was a new chapter in the highly regarded Dragon Quest series. After achieving success with its two Super Famicom installments, releasing the next one on the 64DD would guarantee the sale of millions of units. However, technical issues plagued the 64DD’s development, and it was consequently delayed numerous times. Once its original planned launch in 1996 failed to come to pass, Heartbeat, the company in charge of the game’s creation announced the project would move to the PlayStation. This situation had a precedent, as Nintendo’s insistence on using cartridges cost them much of their third-party support, and series such as Final Fantasy would see their sequels jump to Sony’s console.

Unfortunately for Yuji Horii and Heartbeat, the problems had only just begun. The series’ immense popularity was such that as soon as Heartbeat declared their game would be on the PlayStation, Sony’s stock prices rose significantly in Japan along with Enix’s. Naturally, this placed the team under an immense amount of pressure. How could they possibly live up to the immeasurable hype? Because the staff only consisted of thirty-five people, work on the game was extended several times. It was finally released in 2000 under the name Dragon Quest VII: Warriors of Eden. By that time, Sony had launched the PlayStation 2 months prior. This in no way deterred the fans, as it quickly became the best-selling PlayStation game in Japan that year.

Historically, the series didn’t meet with anywhere near the level of success in its native homeland, but Paul Handelman, who was the president of Enix America at the time, expressed confidence in the game, commenting that “…at the end of the day, compelling gameplay is what it’s all about, and Dragon [Quest] VII provides just that.” As the previous two installments didn’t see a release overseas by that point, those who enjoyed the series were doubtlessly confused when this new entry was unveiled as Dragon Warrior VII. Despite having to translate a monumental amount of text, the translators soldiered on, and it saw its North American release in 2001. By this point, Microsoft had entered the console market with their Xbox console, the PlayStation 2 had been out for a year, and the Nintendo GameCube was a month way from its debut. Does Dragon Quest VII manage to end gaming’s fifth console generation on a high note?

Continue reading

Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen

Introduction

In 1988, Enix and Chunsoft had a hit on their hands in the form of Dragon Quest III. Naturally because of this, the public wanted a sequel, and the creators obliged, releasing Dragon Quest IV: The Guided Ones in 1990. Enix, having learned their lesson from last time, wisely decided to release it on a Sunday. There was an urban legend that the Japanese government intervened by forbidding the creators from ever releasing any future Dragon Quest installments on a school day, but in reality, Enix themselves made the choice.

To place Dragon Quest IV in context, Nintendo was working on a successor to the Famicom, the platform on which the previous installments saw their initial release. NEC Home Electronics had launched the PC Engine to compete with them a few years prior while Sega followed suit with the Mega Drive a year later, a console boasting more processing power than their competitors at the time. When the Super Famicom was released later in 1990, it marked the end of an era. Does Dragon Quest IV manage stand as one of the Famicom’s final hurrahs before a new wave of consoles ushered in a new generation?

Continue reading

King’s Knight

Introduction

In September of 1983, a company in Yokohama named Square was founded by Masafumi Miyamoto shortly after graduating from one of Japan’s most prestigious universities: Waseda. Originally, it was a computer game software division of Den-Yu-Sha, a power line construction company owned by Mr. Miyamoto’s father. During this time when the medium was still budding, many projects were conceived and developed by a single person. Mr. Miyamoto challenged this, believing graphic designers, programmers, and professional writers working together on a common project could produce something far greater than the sum of their parts.

Square’s first title, The Death Trap, was created by a part-time employee named Hironobu Sakaguchi and sold enough in 1984 to pave the way for a sequel the very next year. After a series of modest successes, Square decided to branch out into the West. Six years after the company’s founding, the official North American subsidiary, Squaresoft, was established in Redmond, Washington. The American gaming scene had been revitalized thanks to Nintendo’s NES console after a particularly brutal crash in 1983, so this was Square’s chance to capitalize on this new, rapidly growing market. The first title they chose to localize was their debut as an independent company: the 1986 game, King’s Knight.

Continue reading

Takeshi’s Challenge

takeshis-challenge

Introduction

In the seventies, two friends, Takeshi Kitano and Nirō Kaneko (also known as Kiyoshi Kaneko), formed a comedy duo known as Two Beat. Taking on the stage names Beat Takeshi and Beat Kiyoshi, their manzai routines, a sketch which involves back-and-forth banter between a funny man (boke) and a straight man (tsukkomi), became a massive success when they performed on television for the first time in 1976. Mr. Kitano’s risqué material was the true source of their popularity. As far as he was concerned, there were no unacceptable targets, as the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, children, and women among others found themselves the punch line of his humor. Despite being one of the most successful acts of its kind during the late seventies and early eighties, Mr. Kitano decided to go solo, dissolving the duo.

In 1985, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros., taking the entire world by storm and forever changing how artists went about creating 2D platformers. Mr. Kitano observed the game’s overwhelming popularity and decided to create a live-action version – the result being Takeshi’s Castle in 1986. Each show involved anywhere between 100 and 142 contestants undergoing a series of grueling physical challenges with the goal of reaching Mr. Kitano in his castle. This proved to be easier said than done, for the difficulty in accomplishing this task was such that only nine people ever won. It was a beloved show in its native homeland, and it would become a cult classic when it began broadcasting overseas, reaching an unexpected level of popularity in Spain.

In the same year Takeshi’s Castle debuted, Taito Corporation, the company behind the 1978 arcade sensation, Space Invaders, planned an adaption for Nintendo’s Famicom console. When he learned of this, Mr. Kitano himself contacted the designers about ideas for an entirely original game. Inserting his trademark brand of black comedy, the fruit of this endeavor was released in December of that year under the name Takeshi’s Challenge. Other video games bearing the name of a celebrity had been developed prior to this one, but Mr. Kitano was the first to actively contribute to the development process. Partly because of his fame, Takeshi’s Challenge ended up moving 800,000 units, and it left a profound impact on all who played it.

Continue reading

Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation

dragon-quest-3

Introduction

In the mid-eighties, unbeknownst to Western hobbyists, the Eastern scene was quickly developing an interest in RPGs thanks to the Dragon Quest series created by Yuji Horii and Koichi Nakamura. The first two installments were tremendous successes, selling around two million copies apiece, so when Enix announced a sequel, the anticipation was higher than ever. Dubbed Dragon Quest III: And thus into Legend…, it was released in February of 1988 – a little over a year after its predecessor’s debut.

It is almost impossible to overstate exactly how ecstatic the Japanese fans were for this new chapter. So great was its popularity that over one-million units were sold on the very first day. As its release fell on a weekday, the police ended up arresting nearly 300 students who skipped school to purchase a copy. Some of them, mostly high-school students, even dispensed with the whole notion of purchasing it legally by mugging small children on the way home from the local game store.

As was the case with the game that came before, Enix made efforts to publish Dragon Quest III in the West in 1992, hoping it would match or surpass the staggering 3.8 million copies sold in its native homeland. Called Dragon Warrior III in the official NES localization, it met with the same tepid reception of its predecessors. Western gaming fans had no idea of the sheer impact this game, which would eventually be known as Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation, left on their counterparts across the Pacific Ocean.

Continue reading

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

uncharted-drakes-fortune

Introduction

Much like in the fifth console generation before it, Naughty Dog had much success in the PlayStation 2 era with their Jak & Daxter trilogy of 3D platforming games. Shortly after the release of Jak 3 in 2004, Naughty Dog assembled their most technically proficient staff members and began development of a new project under the codename Big. Meanwhile, Sony was working on their newest console: the PlayStation 3. Rather than continue the Jak & Daxter series on this platform, Naughty Dog opted to create a new franchise to better suit the hardware capabilities, terming the art direction as “stylized realism”. Taking inspiration from pulp magazines and contemporary movies such as Indiana Jones and National Treasure, they sought to create an action adventure game with mystery themes that explore various what-if scenarios.

This project was unveiled to the public in 2006 at the annual gaming exhibition, E3, with the working title, Uncharted. When gaming fans learned of its platforming and shooter elements, they inevitably drew comparisons to Core Design’s Tomb Raider series of action-adventure games that became well-known in the original PlayStation era, eventually earning the nickname “Dude Raider” based on it having a male protagonist. The developers distinguished their game by placing a greater emphasis on a cover-based play mechanic, citing the pioneering third-person shooter, Resident Evil 4, as an influence along with other popular titles. The game saw its official release in 2007 under the name, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Critics and fans alike praised Uncharted for its stunning visuals and entertaining dialogue. As the PlayStation 3 met with a tepid response due to a lack of games, this was one of the exclusive titles that helped turn the tide in their favor along with Metal Gear Solid 4 a year later.  Doubtlessly was it impressive that managed to sell one-million copies before its platform caught on with enthusiasts. How did it accomplish such a feat?

Continue reading

Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line

dragon-quest-2

Introduction

Yuji Horii’s 1986 effort, Dragon Quest, would go on to sell more than two-million copies. In doing so, it introduced the role-playing game to a whole new audience. Naturally, it didn’t take long for fans to start asking for a sequel, and this time, the creator was one step ahead; plans for Dragon Quest II began one month before the release of its predecessor. Despite the warm reception Dragon Quest enjoyed, the development team was confident they could create a game to surpass it in every way. Much of the personnel who worked on Dragon Quest remained for the sequel’s creation as well; Akira Toriyama handled the concept art while Koichi Nakamura, the president of Chunsoft, would serve as its director and lead programmer.

The team was divided into two groups: one handled the programming and the other focused on story development as well as the monster designs. When asked by the producer for a deadline, Mr. Nakamura set it for early November of that year, but the project was hit with a brief delay. During playtesting, the team determined that their product was excessively difficult, necessitating them to make minor adjustments to the game’s balance. Luckily, this hurdle was easily overcome, and the mid-December marked the completion of the final version. After rushing to Nintendo to create physical copies, Dragon Quest II was released in January of 1987, and it too successfully moved over two-million units. Undeterred by the relative failure of Dragon Quest in North America, Enix themselves published the game overseas in 1990. Initially, it was localized as Dragon Warrior II, but as time went on, the series reverted to its original name, and the game eventually received the title, Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line.

Continue reading