Role Playing Games have been around long before most of us were even born (myself included). In the early 1980’s RPG’s have been made for various computer systems such as the TRS-80, and Apple II. Genre’s such as MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons), and dungeon crawlers were the major forms of role playing adventures, but were not making huge marks in gaming. This was during a time when tabletop RPG’s like the ever so popular Dungeons & Dragons was still the popular form of Role-Playing adventure.
The first major modern day RPG’s to hit the mainline computer scene in the early 80’s were the Wizardry and Ultima series of games. This set the stage for future RPG’s to improve upon and grow over the upcoming years. In 1986, Yuji Horii created Dragon Quest through inspiration of the Wizardry and Ultima series’ as well as a previous creation of his called The Portopia Serial Murder Case. Dragon Quest was the first console traditional RPG to be released in Japan on May 27th.
Dragon Quest is a series of RPG’s that are not entirely related to each other and can be played in any order a player may wish. The first three Dragon Quest games were considered as the “Erdrick Trilogy” (or Loto as he was called in Japan). This selection of games centered around the legendary Hero Erdrick who freed the Kingdom of Alefgard from darkness. In Dragon Quest III you play as Erdrick and follow the story and his quest to defeat the darkness that plagues the Kingdom, whereas in Dragon Quest I and II you play as the descendants of Erdrick.
Each game has a unique storyline and all pretty much follow the same plotline. You play as a hero saving the land from evil and maybe save a princess. Along the way you’ll run into allies who will assist you on your quest for peace. Future games from the 4th installment onwards all have very different storylines that are not related to each other in any way.
The first 4 Dragon Quest titles were released on the Famicom by Enix between 1986 and 1990. The games were released on the NES by Nintendo under the name “Dragon Warrior” because “DragonQuest” was already a title of a tabletop RPG that was released back in 1980. So obviously the name had to be changed to not confuse the two games.
The US release of the game also saw many changes in sprites, battery backed save games as opposed to the Japanese version’s password system for saving your game, as well as text which resembled Elizbethan English style dialog. The game’s illustrations which were originally designed by Akira Toriyama (of Dragonball Z fame) were replaced with more Westernized illustrations similar to those found in the Ultima series. While the series was an astounding smash hit in Japan, it just didn’t hit the same marks overseas.
The first Dragon Warrior was released 3 years after its initial release in Japan, and by that time the standard turn-based RPG was already set for the console market. When released in the US it was hit with mediocre reviews citing that the game “wasn’t that special” and to play other more established games on the NES like Ultima III.
While the first game may have been a failure in the US the other three games in the series were able to be ported overseas due to a subscription giveaway held by Nintendo Power. Because of the immense success of the Nintendo Power magazine (which was more-or-less 100 pages of Nintendo ads), Enix was able to bring the remaining three Dragon Quest games to the US market for release.
The flaws that were seen in the US release of Dragon Warrior included slow pacing, poor sound, and simplistic graphics. The game just wasn’t seen as being enjoyable in America when compared to the over 2 million copies sold in Japan making it one of the greatest RPG’s to ever hit the Japanese gaming market. The first Dragon Quest received many awards including Game of the Year, Best Scenario, Best Character Design, Best RPG, and many others.
When the Super Famicom was released in Japan in 1990, two new installments to Dragon Quest were released. Dragon Quest V, which was released in 1992 and Dragon Quest VI, released in 1995. An enhanced remake of Dragon Quest III was released afterwards in1996. The remake unfortunately never made it to the US due to Enix America Corporation’s closure in 1995.
It wasn’t until 2001 when Enix of America reopened its doors and the game was remade once again for the Game Boy Color and released both in Japan and the US. The Game Boy Color version of the game was not only the biggest RPG on the handheld but was also the first Game Boy Color RPG to receive a Teen rating.
The remakes included several additions and enhancements to the base gameplay including new mini-games, a new translation, new class, a new medal collecting system, and bonus dungeons. Both Dragon Quest V and VI would not see a US release until 2009 and 2011 respectfully when they were remastered and released for the Nintendo DS.
This would be Dragon Quest V’s second remaster as its first was released exclusively in Japan on the PS2 in 2004 using the same game engine and art direction that was used to create Dragon Quest VII. The engine for Dragon Quest VII was also used to remake Dragon Quest IV which was also exclusively released in Japan for the PS1 in 2001.
Dragon Quest VII was the first game since Dragon Quest IV to get a US release just one year after its initial release in 2000. The US release retained the “Dragon Warrior” name that was used for the previous games that were released on the NES. It would also be the final game to use the Dragon Warrior name before naming future releases as they were originally titled in Japan.
This game was known to be the biggest installment as playing through the main story alone would take a player just over 100 hours to complete. Completing the main story plus all side quests would probably bring a player well over 300 hours or more!! So if you want a game with lots of content and will take you probably half a year to 100% complete, make sure you pick this game up for the PS1.
The game also had a remake released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2016 in Japan and the US. While the Japanese release was simply named Dragon Quest VII, the US release not only retained the original title, but also added a subtitle to the game making the final US release title Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past. The remake was a lot faster paced than its PS1 original, so instead of spending over 300 hours completing the entire game, it only took players roughly 130+ hours.
In 2003 SquareEnix officially registered the trademark of Dragon Quest in the US, and with that, the next game in the series would be titled Dragon Quest VIII in both Japanese and US territories when it was released the following year in 2004. It was the first game in the series to be rendered completely in 3D both in the overworld and during battle sequences.
The game was the fastest selling PS2 game in Japan with 3 million copies sold in its first week and over 4.9 million copies sold worldwide by September 2008. For the US audience SquareEnix also included a small playable demo of their next upcoming game Final Fantasy XII to maybe drive up sales in that region. Sadly it didn’t go as well as they had hoped as only roughly 430,000 units were sold in the US. This didn’t stop the fact that this was the biggest Dragon Quest release to date as the game had beautiful cel shaded graphics and memorable characters to follow along in their story to restoring peace.
It would be 5 years before Dragon Quest IX was released exclusively for the Nintendo DS on July 11th, 2009 It was the only handheld exclusive title in the mainline series of games as well as having no remake (as of yet) for a future current gen handheld or console. This game allowed for local multiplayer connectivity to help each other out with battles, quests, and other things.
The game was designed to be the most difficult in the series, which allows players to make use of the multiplayer functionality so they can have a little bit of an easier time getting through the story and helping each other out. Dragon Quest IX is also the first game where you can create a very customizable character to your liking. You can change everything from gender, height, hair, skin tone, eyes, clothing, and more.
Before its release in Japan, Dragon Quest IX had over 2 million pre-order sales set to ship on March 28th. Some retailers began shipping out their pre-order sales, however they were beingn done ahead of the game’s official launch. This was due to a last minute delay where the game’s original release went from March 28th to July 11th.
One retailer even asked its customers who received the game ahead of the launch to not play the game until its July 11th release. By the end of 2009 over 4.1 million copies were sold in Japan and another 1.02 million in the US and Europe, making this the biggest selling Dragon Quest game, as well as the most popular and best-selling game on the Nintendo DS.
Dragon Quest X was released on August 2, 2012 as the series dove into the MMORPG genre for the Japanese market. As of now the game is a Japanese exclusive, but there have been thoughts amongst the staff of the game to maybe bring it overseas if there’s enough demand for it (this was stated in 2016). The only things holding them back from doing so is the amount of text that would have to be translated into English as well as technical issues related to the servers when operating an MMO over multiple regions.
The fact that games like Phantasy Star Online 2 took 8 years to go from a Japanese exclusive to a US release shows that if Dragon Quest X were to start its development for the US region it may face the same amount of development time before it sees an English release.
Until then, there’s not a whole lot in terms of translation projects that are being worked on for the game. It was originally released for the Wii and ported over to the Wii U, PS4, Switch, 3DS and PC. You will need a VPN in order to play the game outside of Japan however, since the servers are region locked and are not accessible from external connections. Other than that, if you’re willing to fumble around menus and feel your way through the game if you have little to no Japanese knowledge there’s nothing else stopping you from trying the game out for yourself!
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is the latest in the mainline Dragon Quest series of games which was released on July 29, 2017. It was one of the first games to be announced for the Nintendo Switch before the console’s release. To expand awareness of the mainline Dragon Quest series in the west, the game was ported to the PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Nintendo 3DS, and for the first time on PC.
The game was originally considered to be a fully open world, however the idea was dropped as it would have conflicted with the story that was trying to be told. A unique feature that was exclusive to the 3DS version was the ability to switch between 3D and 2D modes of play both in the overworld and battle system. With the dual screens one screen would have the 3D rendered gameplay while the bottom screen showed the 2D counterpart of the same thing. You had the ability to switch control between 3D and 2D at any time. This feature was added in to the console releases when the Definitive Edition of the game was released just 2 years later. As of September 2020 the game has sold over 6 million copies worldwide.
There have also been a plethora of spin-off games and sequels including Dragon Quest Monsters, Dragon Quest Heroes, Dragon Quest Builders, Slime, Mystery Dungeon, Monster Battle Road, The Adventure of Dai, Itadaki Street, and many others. I’d say roughly 1/3 of these games have ever made it overseas with the more notable examples being the various Dragon Quest Heroes, Builders, and Monsters titles.
The series’ popularity in Japan is about as big as the popularity of Final Fantasy in the US, maybe even more. The simplicity of the story, gameplay and characters are what draws players back for future games and is what makes the series such an amazing success. There is no slowing down the series, and it is sure to continue growing for many more years to come.
POST-EVENT EDIT: So literally an hour before this post was scheduled to release SquareEnix presented a Dragon Quest 35th Anniversary Special stream with a few announcements. The first of which was for a free-to-play puzzle game called Dragon Quest けしケシ (Eraser). The game seems to be similar in the style of Puzzle & Dragons where you line up 3 or more eraser-shapped characters and they "erase" the enemies that are drawn at the top of the screen. It is planned to be released on mobile sometime in 2021 in Japan with a possible overseas release later on.
The next announcement was Dragon Quest X Online Version 6, the online MMO that will forever be exclusive to Japan. This version will celebrate the game's 10th anniversary next year since debuting back in 2012. Fortunately, an Offline version "Dragon Quest X Awakening Five Races Offline" was also announced right after. This version is believed to be a remake of the first version of the Online game, titled "Awakening of the Five Tribes". The visual style is changed to a completely super-deformed, chibi art direction. While currently in development, the team is set to release it in early 2022. As for whether we'll see this version of Dragon Quest X overseas has not yet been determined, but we can only hope they will bring this over as part of the mainline series of games.
Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake was the next announcement, which makes this the second remake of Dragon Quest III. This time the game takes on the style of more modern 2D RPG's that SquareEnix has worked on such as Octopath Traveler and Various Daylife. There is no timeframe of when the game will be released as of yet, but one thing we know for sure is that it will be worldwide release, so definitely look forward to it!
Dragon Quest Treasures is the next spin-off game to be released. It stars Erik and Mia from Dragon Quest XI as children setting out on an adventure in treasure hunting. Not much else is known about the game as Taichi Inuzuka, the producer of the game, is still hard at work with his team to bring the game to completion. One thing we do know is that a worldwide release is planned for this title.
The final announcement of the stream was the next installment of the mainline Dragon Quest series of games, Dragon Quest XII: The Flames of Fate. While only the logo was shown, the ambiance and mood of the teaser felt much darker and more mature from previous Dragon Quest titles. The only bit of teased info we've recieved from Yuji Hori is that the turn-based command battle system will be changing for the first time in the series. A worldwide release is planned, but not much else is known.
Of course as time goes on we'll be learning more info about all of these titles announced during the event so I am definitely looking forward to these games being released as they all look amazing and beautiful!