Hank was shaking with excitement over two Dragon Quest games finally coming stateside, and you should be sharing in that excitement…
Last Thursday was a big one for Nintendo fans. Months after the sudden passing of Satoru Iwata, the company was airing its first Nintendo Direct without its famous leader. It was full of big news, like Cloud Strife coming to Smash Bros. and Twilight Princess getting the HD treatment, but neither of those were why I was screaming at 2 in the afternoon. Dragon Quest was finally back in the US, and every RPG around should be as excited as I was in this moment.
To understand why I was shrilly screaming to the heavens, most of it has to do with my love for the series, expecially the mainline games. From the ’80s onward, Dragon Quest has been home to some of the best traditional role-playing action in games. Top of the line job systems and turn-based combat makes the thousands of dungeons I’ve traveled a joy, and the seemingly simple stories offer unexpected depth that have kept me glued to the games for hundreds of hours. I love the world and monster designs so much I even follow most of Dragon Quest’s many sub-series.
Unfortunately, my love for DQ comes with a big helping of disappointment too. The series has always been huge in its native Japan, with most entries breaking sales records left and right, but it never really found footing in the US, let alone Europe. When the NES was in nearly every American home, a trio of Dragon Warrior releases never sold. Even though Final Fantasy VII was a massive hit abroad, Dragon Quest VII flopped big time overseas. And even when Square Enix made its biggest push ever in the mid-2000s, Dragon Quest still only sold moderately compared to western blockbusters. That’s when the series went dark for awhile.
For fans like myself, the last five years having been disappointing when it comes to Dragon Quest. After the 2010 release of Dragon Quest IX on DS, English language releases of DQ games had gone cold, outside of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it release of DQ spin-off Fortune Street for Wii in 2011. No sign of the series just about anywhere stateside, with Square Enix seemingly deciding that the series was finished being localized.
If you had followed the legendary RPG series like I have, this was obviously an annoying turn of events, made even more frustrating because Dragon Quest was still going gangbusters in Japan. More than a half-dozen Dragon Quest games were released exclusively in Japan since 2011, from a lovely Rocket Slime sequel to a remake of DQ’s monster collecting spin-off, even a massive MMORPG that served as the series’ tenth entry. Worst of all were the well-reviewed remakes of Dragon Quest VII and VIII for 3DS, a handheld in desperate need for content.
Each new release in Japan was exasperating for fans who couldn’t get past the language barrier, and it seemed like things weren’t going to be changing any time soon. What made it even worse was that the only English releases the series saw over those years were on mobile. It made me worry Square Enix had decided the series was worthy of quickie mobile ports and little else.
Back in September of 2014 came what seemed to be another annoying tease, with Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii unveiling Dragon Quest Heroes, the series’ first entry on a Sony system in years. The PS4 version of the DQ meets Dynasty Warriors title looked gorgeous, and seemed to indicate the series was shifting away from Nintendo (and the west). But the Musou-enriched spin-off would turn out to be the first good news in a long time for western fans, as it was confirmed for international release this year.
That not only opened the door for the arrival of more Dragon Quest, but I have to believe so did another Square Enix game. Bravely Default appeared to be another case of a quality RPG skipping America, but Nintendo took it upon itself to localize the game, and it sold so well Square Enix was taken by surprise. Here a retro RPG sold better than the seemingly western-focused Final Fantasy release that year. Perhaps that got some executives to change their perspective on the two 3DS remakes, one of which is nearly three years old.
The advancing age of that remake is why I figured Square Enix would never backtrack and localize Dragon Quest VII, though it’s the one in most need of a fresh coat of pixels. It did see release in the US before, but Dragon Warrior VII on PSone had an average-at-best translation and looked hideous compared to its 2001 contemporaries. The 3DS version apparently fixes not only the graphics and hopefully brings the text up to the standards of the last couple releases, but it reportedly streamlines the game a bit, speeding up a lengthy opening that’s long even by DQ’s standards – seriously, it’s over 30 hours before the job system is introduced.
Meanwhile, Dragon Quest VIII is arguably the apex of the series, at least it was on the PS2. Developer Level-5 reinvigorated the series with cel-shaded graphics that aged wonderfully, and much more modern gameplay that didn’t infringe on its retro charm. The 3DS version squeezes all that and some extras all onto a single cartridge, though with some slight changes graphically it would seem based on the footage.
You can see why getting both of those in the same year is better news than I could’ve hoped for even a day before the announcements. And the even better news is that this could be Square Enix testing the waters for something even bigger. Next year in Japan Dragon Quest XI will hit both the PS4 and 3DS, the two systems hosting this long-awaited return of Dragon Quest’s western releases. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see news around E3 or TGS next year that DQXI will be headed our way as well.
So rejoice, fans of Dragon Quest and great RPGs in general! It’s a brand new day for the series. Who knows how long it’ll last, or if we’ve finally broken the cycle of international DQ blackouts every five to ten years? All I know is I’ll be there day one for DQVII, and I hope I’m not alone.