Why Japan Likes Dragon Quest (And Other Pressing Issues)

Why Japan Likes Dragon Quest (And Other Pressing Issues)

Dragon Quest IX was released in Japan on July 11, 2009. A year later, the game is getting released in North America. Finally.

Why the long delay, Square Enix? “The reality is that we were not able to develop all versions of the game simultaneously, since making the Japanese version alone proved to be a huge challenge for us,” Square Enix’s Ryutaro Ichimura, who produced Dragon Quest IX, told Kotaku. “From there, we had more than a million letters of Japanese text to translate, which explains the delay between the release of the various versions.”

In early 2006, there was chatter that Dragon Quest IX was in production. It was assumed by many that the game would be going to the PlayStation 3 as the previous title had been released on the PS2. By the end of the year, the game was officially slated for the Nintendo DS. Kotaku asked Ichimura whether Square Enix would have preferred to release the game on the Wii – or even the PS3 or the Xbox 360. “Actually we would have not, as we originally had a core set of gameplay ideas,” Ichimura replied, “and Dragon Quest X had already been decided to be released for Wii. The volume of graphics would have been enhanced on home consoles, but it was possible to overcome the technical limitations using our development know-how. We never had an idea that any other consoles than Nintendo DS would have been better for Dragon Quest IX during the development.”

After delays, the game was finally released in Japan last year. It wasn’t merely a smash hit, it was a cultural event. As of early this year, four million copies of the game have been sold in Japan. The game isn’t just a video game in Japan. It’s an institution.

“This is because, more than anything, Dragon Quest is enjoyed by a very wide audience from elderly people to little children, with its ‘easy-to-understand’ and ‘enjoyable-for-anyone’ appeal,” says Ichimura. “Dragon Quest really gives players an experience to be a hero to save the world, which can never be done in the real world. I believe that is the huge part of the appeal.” For Ichimura, the game has been building credibility in Japan for the past 24 years.

Twenty-four years of credibility, high expectations and working with Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii.  “Mr Horii is treated like a god of game creation in this industry,” says Ichimura. “It’s been incredibly exiting to work with him, as I have been a huge Dragon Quest fan since I was a child. Of course, sometimes I got strained and nervous with that person whom I hold in such high esteem. But actually, Horii-san is a very kind person.” Not only is Horii a good guy and willing to answer questions about the “bald-head dance”, but Ichimura says he is flexible and open to ideas from others. “I have learned a lot of important things from him as a video game developer.”

Even with the one year delay that Square Enix has spent getting the title ready for North American release, Ichimura does not think the game has lost momentum. If anything, the momentum has been continuing. “A simultaneous worldwide launch would have been really impressive. But fortunately the Nintendo DS hardware hasn’t lost momentum since our Japanese launch, so we don’t feel as though the opportunity is any less at this time.”

Dragon Quest IX goes on sale in North American on July 11.  



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