Dragon Quest III

One of the lingering questions in North American video games is “Why is Final Fantasy still popular to this day, and why can’t Dragon Quest catch on?” Indeed, Final Fantasy XV shipped 5 million copies within its first day, but neither Nintendo nor Square Enix have commented on the sales of Dragon Quest VII.

Yeah, that probably means it’s not a pretty picture.

Yet, Square Enix still presses on. The company promised to further promote the series in the English-speaking world, and everyone there is sticking to it. When asked by EDGE why the series has trouble catching on, Dragon Quest Executive Producer Yu Miyake laughed and said “It’s a topic we have been thinking about a lot internally.”

One reason he points to Final Fantasy being much more popular is the timing of when they were released. In the mid-1980s, Japanese console gamers loved RPGs, and Dragon Quest was front and center defining how they evolved. In North America, JRPGs didn’t find mainstream success until Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation.

One conclusion that we’ve reached is that it’s a question of historical timing. When the Famicom came out, Dragon Quest was the key game everyone was playing. But when the PlayStation came out, Final Fantasy VII was the game that everyone was playing. So the source of nostalgia is different for both groups: in Japan it’s Dragon Quest while overseas it’s Final Fantasy. The truth is that if we’d put a lot of effort into localising Dragon Quest at the time, we probably wouldn’t be facing this issue today. I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but we kind of messed up in that regard.

North America also missed out on the Super Nintendo-era Dragon Quest games, and that was about the same time Final Fantasy’s seeds were first being laid.

The cartoonish element also holds Dragon Quest back

I don’t especially agree with Miyake’s other conclusion, given the continued success of Pokémon and its ilk, but he also believes that Dragon Quest’s cartoonish art might be holding it back. Whereas Final Fantasy has serious renderings of classic monsters, Dragon Quest has always been drawn by Dragon Ball Z artist Akira Toriyama to much cuter results.

Now, Akira Toriyama’s art style is cartoonish, and in Japan that doesn’t alienate anyone; it’s not seen as childish. But outside of Japan, I think there’s often a stigma attached to that kind of aesthetic. Now, when an adult tries the game, they will discover that the subject matter is actually quite mature. Nevertheless, players are still left with this disconnect between how the game looks and how it plays.

However, Miyake also says that the series continues to be popular in Japan because it always adheres to trends. Dragon Quest VIII returned to the PlayStation 2 when it was destroying the competition. Dragon Quest IX was made for the Nintendo DS when Japan was playing games on handhelds, and Dragon Quest X jumped in the online world as MMORPGs were in their prime.

It’ll be interesting to see how Dragon Quest XI does because it is the first time in a while that the series will be going against the flow of games. Japan is in love with smartphone games, but Dragon Quest XI is a very traditional game being released on home consoles and the Nintendo 3DS. It’s a move that puts the tendencies of Western gamers over Japanese ones, a first for the series.

Maybe this will be the one to finally do it! Dragon Quest XI will be released for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Nintendo 3DS in 2017 in Japan. No English localization has been confirmed yet.