Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation

Introduction

Dragon Quest V was released in 1992, marking the debut of the popular series on Nintendo’s 16-bit Super Famicom console. Though its presentation arguably paled in comparison to that of Final Fantasy IV released a year earlier, it nonetheless continued the success of Yuji Horii and his staff at Chunsoft by selling millions of copies just like its four predecessors. It has since been declared by fans and Mr. Horii himself to be the series’ pinnacle due to its unique, forward-looking storytelling and novel monster recruitment mechanic. The latter would go on to revolutionize the industry over the next few years when several creators provided their own take on the concept.

As Chunsoft went on to develop a spinoff series known as Mystery Dungeon, the first installment of which cast a supporting character from Dragon Quest IV in the lead role, Mr. Horii joined a new company known as Heartbeat. Their first product was to be the sixth installment in the Dragon Quest series. Production of this game, entitled Dragon Quest VI: The Illusionary Land, proved to be rather troubled, and its initial release was delayed numerous times. The game was at last formally revealed in 1995 at the trade show Shoshinkai before being released a few weeks later. Owing to the large cartridge ROM used in this installment’s creation, Dragon Quest VI ended up selling for a steep price of 11,970 yen. In no way, shape, or form did this deter the dedicated fanbase, as the game went on to sell over three million copies.

Nintendo Power magazine once insinuated that the game was slated for a Western release in 1996 under the name Dragon Warrior V. However, much like its direct predecessor, it was not to be. The series’ lack of success outside of its native homeland, the fact that accurately translating text in a cartridge ROM already at its maximum storage limit into English was an impossible task, and Enix ceasing activities in North America all meant such an undertaking would almost certainly be unprofitable and therefore not worth the risk. Did their admittedly understandable business decision doom another classic to fall into obscurity in the Western world?

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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?

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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?

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Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation

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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.

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Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line

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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.

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Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

Introduction

Yuji Horii’s Dragon Quest series saw four of its installments released on Nintendo’s 8-bit console, the NES (Famicom in Japan). The franchise’s popularity was immense in its native homeland, with the third title in particular codifying the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) in the public eye. Taking note of the millions of copies sold in Japan, Nintendo and Enix put forth an impressive effort to translate each game in the hope of replicating that success in the West. Unfortunately, as there already existed a thriving RPG scene in the Western world long before Dragon Quest was even an idea, it was doomed to fall into obscurity.

The year 1990 marked the release of the Super Famicom, the 16-bit successor to Nintendo’s bestselling console. As fan demand for a sequel on this new platform was high, it naturally didn’t take long for Mr. Horii and the rest of Chunsoft to begin working on one. This project was completed in 1992, and continued the series’ stellar track record by selling nearly three million copies. Taking a look at the poor sales figures of the previous four entries in the United States and taking note of the high costs associated with the larger cartridge ROMs needed to fit an English translation, Enix judged such an investment would not have been profitable, thus it wasn’t localized. In the late nineties, JRPG fans decided to provide their own translation via emulation, but for the longest time, it seemed as though it would never see an official Western release.

Although it would eventually see the light of day outside of Japan, that it never made its way onto the Super NES is a bit of a shame because Mr. Horii has pointed to Dragon Quest V and declared it his favorite installment – a sentiment commonly echoed by its fans. It’s clear this game left an indelible impact on those who experienced it. What is it about Dragon Quest V that allows it to enjoy such a following – one which includes the author himself?

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Dragon Quest

dragon-quest

Introduction

The Eidansha Boshu Service Center was a company founded in Japan by Yasuhiro Fukushima in 1975. They mainly published tabloid magazines with real estate advertisements. When the service center failed to establish a retail chain, Mr. Fukushima transformed his business into a software development company dedicated to gaming in 1982, renaming it Enix. To search for talented programmers, they held a contest, styling it after manga competitions. It was advertised in various manga and computer publications, and winners would be awarded one million yen. One of the winning entrants was Yuji Horii, who managed to place with his sports game, Love Match Tennis.

Mr. Horii had purchased his first computer one year earlier, learning to program with it through the process of modifying other games. Around this time, he read a PC magazine and discovered a budding genre from the United States known as adventure games – a movement largely spearheaded by Ken and Roberta Williams, the founders of On-Line Systems. Their 1980 debut title, Mystery House, was groundbreaking in that it was the first such game to feature graphics, depicting objects and actions onscreen as opposed to describing it in text. Mr. Horii then noticed that the Japanese gaming scene lacked such games and decided to create one of his own.  Developed using BASIC programming language, the result of this effort was The Portopia Serial Murder Incident. The goal of this game was to solve a locked-room mystery involving the death of a successful bank’s president, and the story develops through the players’ commands. Owing to its novel concept, Mr. Horii’s game was met with a warm reception, selling nearly 700,000 copies. Its impact was such that it defined a completely new genre of first-person adventure games known as the visual novel and even inspired other people, such as Hideo Kojima, to enter the industry.

While developing Portopia, Mr. Horii, alongside another contest winner, a programming prodigy who gained fame while still in high school named Koichi Nakamura, discovered Wizardry, a series of pioneering computer role-playing games (RPGs), at a Macworld Conference & Expo. As Mr. Horii enjoyed the game’s depth and visuals, elements of the dungeon crawling mechanics present in Wizardry made their way into Portopia, but once he finished that project, he had a new goal in mind: to expose the Japanese gaming scene to what was, at the time, an purely Western genre. To this end, he sought to have his game released on Nintendo’s Famicom console, believing it to be the ideal platform because players could start each session from where they last left off. To ensure that Mr. Horii’s game would reach a large audience, Akira Toriyama, best known as the artist of the highly popular manga, Dragon Ball, was hired to produce concept art. Its name was Dragon Quest, and it would go on spawn sequels, eventually becoming one of the most beloved series of RPGs in its native homeland.

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The Fall of Squaresoft

The Fall of Squaresoft

Introduction

Squaresoft used to be one of the most prolific gaming companies and a legendary RPG house. Practically all of their works received near-universal acclaim; just seeing them associated with a project was enough to guarantee the sale of millions of units. Unfortunately, it was not to last. Sometime around the mid-2000s, the bottom fell out and, suddenly, the same people who were praising their games found themselves instinctually shirking away whenever they heard the name of Square, eventually turning what was once a respected group of developers into the punchline of every joke lambasting JRPGs. “How could such a lauded company fall so hard?” many veteran video game fans doubtlessly wonder to this day. Personally, I don’t think the answer can be pinpointed to any one thing, and with this essay, I intend to demonstrate the factors that caused their downward spiral.

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