The Epic 36-Year Journey of Dragon Quest

Brief History Overview

Dragon Quest has captivated fans across Japan and worldwide for over three decades since its first release in 1986. This seminal console RPG series has seen 12 mainline entries, numerous remakes and spinoffs, massive cultural significance in its native country, and over 85 million total franchise sales. While never quite as popular abroad, it remains one of Japan‘s most beloved and best-selling video game series of all-time.

Created by Yuji Horii, Akira Toriyama and Koichi Sugiyama in 1986 during the early days of console roleplaying games, Dragon Quest would establish itself through memorable monster designs, an uplifting heroic spirit, and a tried-and-true gameplay foundation focused on turn-based battles, gaining experience levels, and advancing jobs.

This article will explore Dragon Quest‘s origins, its continued relevance over 30+ years, key innovations with each main sequel, notable spinoffs, creative talent behind the series, factors leading to its unprecedented Japanese popularity in contrast to moderate Western success, and speculation regarding its future.

In the Beginning, There Were Three Visionaries United by Fate

Dragon Quest‘s creation in the mid-1980s stemmed from publisher Enix looking to capitalize on the early popularity of basic RPGs like Wizardry and Ultima. Seeking to develop a breakthrough console RPG for Nintendo‘s booming Famicom system in Japan (the NES overseas), Enix recruited gifted game designer Yuji Horii.

Horii was an outside-the-box thinker who had already found success with entertaining visual novel adventure games like The Portopia Serial Murder Case. Teaming with manga artist and budding phenomenon Akira Toriyama (Dr. Slump, Dragon Ball) and accomplished film/TV composer Koichi Sugiyama, Horii strived to craft an RPG that would appeal to a mass audience, not just hardcore gamers.

Development began under the code name "Project Dragonwich." After considering a fantasy setting, Horii and Toriyama ultimately opted for a more lighthearted world inspired partly by epic magical quests and partly by amusing puns. This fusion exemplified Dragon Quest‘s enduring tone – fantasy adventure meets quirky humor.

Sugiyama brought that vision to life with a classically-orchestrated musical score drawing inspiration from Edvard Grieg and proving that video game soundtracks could be genuine high art.

The Slow Burn Success of "Dragon Warrior" in the West

Enix published the very first Dragon Quest game for the Nintendo Famicom console in Japan in May 1986. The game proved an unprecedented phenomenon in its native country. Although initial excitement was mild upon release, overwhelming enthusiasm soon bloomed thanks in part to an ingenious promotional campaign. Horii published widely-read strategy columns that stoked interest while a raffle for real world treasures like gold bars linked to in-game battles created a national craze.

Before long, Dragon Quest became a cultural sensation on par with the unstoppable manga industry. Long lines queued to purchase the game as its first shipments sold out almost overnight. Dragon Quest eventually moved over 1.5 million copies in Japan alone while still in its first year, serving to legitimize console video games as a mainstream artistic medium. Equally important, Dragon Quest‘s basic template – turn-based battles viewed first-person, random enemy encounters, leveling up strength/spells, and questing to save the world – set the standard blueprint for countless seminal Japanese RPGs moving forward.

In North America, the game arrived in 1989 saddled with the altered title "Dragon Warrior" due to legal reasons. Lacking the manga connection that fueled popularity in Japan, Dragon Warrior floundered abroad. The western NES port only sold about 100,000 copies. Yet this modest figure still stunned retailers for a roleplaying genre just finding itself at the time.

Dragon Quest Sales Figures (In Millions)

Mainline games – 85+ million copies
Manga/Anime – 50+ million copies
Total Franchise – Over 145 Million units

Building on Success With Sequels

Dragon Quest II launched hot on the heels of its predecessor‘s milestone achievement in 1987. Horii, Toriyama and Sugiyama reunited while seeking to expand upon the gameplay. This first sequel thus allowed players to control a party of three characters (prince, princess and male fighter). It sported basic story connections by making the heroes descendents of Dragon Quest I‘s legendary hero Erdrick. Gameplay refinements included more save slots, additional attack spells, and expanded world and dungeon maps.

The following year‘s Dragon Quest III concluded the "Erdrick Trilogy" with the best early franchise entry, serving as a prequel against series chronology. Horii introduced more advanced class system mechanics, let users customize entire parties, implemented tactical battle options like group targeting, and incorporated side quests to enhance replay value. As the concluding 16-bit entry, Dragon Quest VI added a dream world concept in 1995 that substantially expanded the explorable game environments.

Dragon Quest GameOriginal Release YearKey Features Added
Dragon Quest1986– Turn-based battles
– First-person view
– Basic class system
Dragon Quest II1987– Party of 3 characters
– Expanded world
Dragon Quest III1988– Customizable party
– robust class system
– multiple end bosses
Dragon Quest VI1990– Intricate dream world
– Creative job classes

The PlayStation Struggles to Win Over Western Gamers

When Dragon Quest VII launched on the PlayStation 1 in 2000, its excruciatingly slow opening sequence and tedious pacing didn‘t thrill critics. Yet the sheer enormous scope over 100+ hours and deep character class customization still made it the franchise‘s best-seller with over 4 million units pushed – albeit almost exclusively in Japan once again.

Seeking an elusive blockbuster success in North America, publisher Enix (now merged with former rival Square) released Dragon Quest VIII for PlayStation 2 worldwide in 2005 – the first indication they sought a truly global audience. Realistic cel shading graphics, orchestral cutscenes and British voice acting marked a major leap while retaining series hallmarks. Although hardly a smash abroad, VIII fared exponentially better internationally than past efforts, earning numerous "Game of the Year" awards in the west.

Yoshinori Kitase, famed Square producer of Final Fantasy installments stated about Dragon Quest VIII: "This game really does exemplify the very best this genre has to offer, easily surpassing most every RPG release in the last five years. It deserves the awards and acclaim!"

Delving Into Spinoffs and Future Innovation

Beyond main series entries, Dragon Quest has spawned successful anime films, manga adaptations, toy lines and confectioneries reflecting its cultural cachet across Japan. Gazillions of slime plushies probably populate bedrooms! In the gaming sphere, Dragon Quest Monsters won fans by spinning off the monster recruiting element into its own monster catching/battling franchise drawing comparisons to Pokémon.

In more recent times, the landmark Dragon Quest XI for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS in 2017 may represent the apex of traditional turn-based JRPG gameplay. Allowing gamers to switch from 3D to 2D sprite graphics on the fly, it artfully blends modern technological might with old-school aesthetics. Upcoming sequel Dragon Quest XII will utilize Unreal Engine 5 to likely make new graphical strides. With Yuji Horii still guiding his creation over 30 years later, the next chapter should prove well worth the wait!

Culturally speaking, Dragon Quest is virtually synonymous with video gaming across Japan in a way perhaps only rivaled by Mario. But consistent gameplay and dedication to tradition has kept the series from attaining that same worldwide familiarity. Still, with over 85 million games sold and counting, its good-natured stories continue charming fans across generations.

How Dragon Quest Differs from Final Fantasy

Dragon Quest‘s sister franchise Final Fantasy arose shortly after in 1987 and has since matched it in prestige with over 150 million sales. But Square Enix‘s other RPG pillar took a divergent approach. Where Final Fantasy reinvents everything including visuals, combat and more for each mainline sequel, Dragon Quest adheres more closely to tradition – especially in its Japanese incarnation.

Mainline sequels offer just incremental innovation atop established series tenets. The developers avoid sweeping reinvention in favor of providing a "homecoming" experience. Horii‘s vision prizes retaining familiar elements like command menus, random turn-based battles, recurring monsters and a lockstep class system. This creative philosophy has cemented Dragon Quest as a uniquely steadfast JRPG franchise resisting overcorrection. Its devotion to tradition keeps the series feeling comforting rather than dated even today.

Series Continues Quest for Greatness

While Dragon Quest has never found phenomenal financial success in the West compared to The Elder Scrolls or Minecraft, its prestige in Japan and within RPG circles remains peerless. It all stems from Horii‘s heartfelt vision pairing fantastical questing with subtle wit for over 30 years now. Add in Toriyama‘s iconic monster designs and Sugiyama‘s unforgettable musical motifs that amplify imagination, and this franchise shall endure as one of gaming‘s most treasured institutions.

Did you like those interesting facts?

Click on smiley face to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

      Interesting Facts
      Login/Register access is temporary disabled