When last we were here, brace adventurers and adventurettes, we were faced with the harsh reality of Dragon Quests V and VI for the SNES never making their way across the Pacific, until many years and a company merger later. It was a dark time for fans of traditional, turn-based JRPGs. Yet there was hope on the horizon, and that hope was in the form of the numeral VII. Two numeral VIIs, actually – both released for Sony’s inaugural effort into the home gaming console realm, the PlayStation. One was a small, niche title from some company called Squaresoft called Final Fantasy VII – you’ve probably never heard of it. And the other was the final Dragon Quest to be developed and released by Enix on its own – Dragon Quest VII.
Released in Japan in 2000, Dragon Quest VII was notable for several reasons. It was the first Dragon Quest game to be developed and released for a non-Nintendo platform, being released for the Sony PlayStation. It also was the first Dragon Quest game to be released in CD format rather than on a cartridge. And with its US release in 2001, it marked the return of Dragon Quest to Western shores. Gameplay wise, most of the core fundamentals remained intact – turn-based combat, an expansive world, and the deepest class system yet in the series. The sheer scope of VII made it stand out – a standard playthrough of the game would easily reach 100 hours, and delving deeply into the different classes could double that number. However, the Western release was marred by two flaws – a poor, incomplete localization, and the gigantic shadow cast by Final Fantasy VII. This led to limited sales in America, and the game quickly went out of production and became something of a collector’s item among JRPG fans. This ended in 2016 when the game was remade for the 3DS, with improved visuals as well as an entirely new, much better translation. This is definitely the way to experience this game.
Released in Japan in 2004 and in the US in 2005, Dragon Quest VIII saw the series jump to the PS2 and into full 3D. It also was the first time in the series that encounters were not random – enemies appeared on the map and could be avoided (this feature would later be implemented into the 3DS remake of VII). It was also the first game in the series not to be retitled “Dragon Warrior” when localized for the West, instead retaining its original Dragon Quest moniker. Finally, VIII was the first title in the series to be developed by the combined might of the merged Square Enix, and as such included a demo of the much- anticipated Final Fantasy XII. The title saw tremendous critical and commercial success in both Japan and the US, with many thinking that this was the mark of the Dragon Quest series finally “modernizing” by combining its classic turn-based combat with beautiful visuals and a unique character development system that eschewed set classes or roles in favor of developing individual skills for each character. It also featured a robust alchemy system for the first time in the series. With this, many expected the next Dragon Quest game to push the visual boundaries and epic storytelling even further – but Square Enix had a surprise in store.
Square Enix shocked many by developing Dragon Quest IX exclusively for Nintendos DS handheld system. Following the success of the visually impressive DQ VIII and the breathtaking Final Fantasy XII, DQ IX’s release in Japan in 2009 and the US in 2010 left many fans scratching their heads. In a way, IX represented something of a “concept album” for the series. Rather than the party being comprised of specific story-based characters, it was comprised entirely of player-created members, something not seen since DQ III. And for the first time in the series, and rarely seen in any JRPG, there was a multiplayer component to IX’s gameplay – other party members could be controlled by other players in combat. Further, IX featured online content in the form of items and visiting characters from previous entries in the series, as well as downloadable quests that couldn’t be received any other way. Gameplay still features turn based combat, again featuring a deep class system. However, while there was again a central narrative driving the player forward, most of the time in the game was spent completing tasks in a robust quest system inspired by MMO RPGs. While a tremendous critical success, IX failed to achieve quite the same commercial success as its predecessor, unfortunately leading SE to conclude that the West once again wasn’t a profitable market for the Dragon Quest brand, and leading to some titles not crossing the Pacific again.
Originally released in Japan in 2012, Dragon Quest X is a unique entry in the series. As of this writing, it is the only main entry in the series that has solely been released in Japan, with no form being localized or announced for the Western market. It also marked a departure from the series single-player roots – X was a full-fledged MMO RPG. A class system that combines elements of classic Dragon Quest games and the MMO features of Final Fantasy XI, and a battle system that was a mashup of the legendary Active Time Battle system and real-time MMO combat allowed X to carve out its own niche in the crowded MMO market. While critically praised and commercially popular in Japan, SE has cited prohibitive localization and development costs as the reason why they have no current plans to bring the title to the West.
And with that, we have reached the end of the current, main series entries in the venerable Dragon Quest franchise. With the exception of the Japan-exclusive MMO DQ X, I have played every entry in the series and I can personally attest to both their level of craftsmanship as well as their place as a cornerstone of the JRPG genre through the years. These games served as my gateway into the world of console gaming, and they have a warm spot in the abyss where you humans would keep your heart. I eagerly await the development and release of Dragon Quest XI, as well as the continued success of the franchise as a whole.
While this retrospective has focused on the main entries in the series, it is no secret that there are a number of spin-offs and side-entries under the Dragon Quest banner. Should any of you wish a look into those, please let me know in the comments section. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed my nostalgic trip down memory lane. And if you haven’t then I sincerely hope you have your life insurance paid up before the meteor I just summoned lands on your roof.
So until next time kids, remember – no matter how you may want to try and spin your support for Trump as not being an indication of you being a hateful, horrific human, when the KKK holds a parade in celebration of your chosen candidate’s victory, you should probably take a long, hard look in the mirror…and then drive your face into it as hard as you possibly can. – EWE