Square Enix on why Dragon Quest hasn’t been as popular as Final Fantasy in the west, keeping the series fresh
Posted on January 1, 2017 by Brian(@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News
Square Enix owns two big franchises: Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Yet even though Final Fantasy managed to make a big splash in the west, Dragon Quest has still been trying to attain the same sort of success.
Dragon Quest executive producer Yu Miyake touched on this topic in last month’s issue of EDGE. He said Final Fantasy’s western popularity in comparison to Dragon Quest is something Square Enix has “been thinking about a lot internally”.
Miyake brought up a few different reasons in the interview. For one thing, “the source of nostalgia is different” in Japan and the west – Dragon Quest on Famicom and Final Fantasy VII on PlayStation respectively. He also believes that Square Enix should have originally given a greater effort with Dragon Quest’s localization. Finally, Miyake said that the cartoon-like aesthetic of Dragon Quest may not immediately connect with western gamers.
Miyake left some encouraging words, saying that “the age of people who are playing is rising” and there’s a greater interest overall as well. Square Enix is also trying to “soften up the ground for Dragon Quest XI” with its spinoff titles.
Miyake’s full words:
“We’re still trying! [Laughs] It’s a topic we have been thinking about a lot internally: the question of why Final Fantasy is so much more popular than Dragon Quest in the west. 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.
We put a lot of effort into Dragon Quest VIII. We put a lot of thought on how we could appeal outside of Japan. We used a lot more regional voice acting, for example. We put a lot of thought into the menu design. But we didn’t want to give up the core element that made the game Dragon Quest. The game did have some modest sales overseas, but it wasn’t anywhere close to the level of Final Fantasy sales.
One thing that does stand out: in Japan the target audience for Dragon Quest is vast. It ranges from primary school students to people in their 50s. 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. That’s a tension that just doesn’t exist in Japan. What we’re seeing now is that the age of people who are playing is rising. Interest is also increasing. We’re trying to put a lot more effort into promoting overseas the spinoff titles we’ve been working on – Dragon Quest Builders and Dragon Quest Heroes – in order to soften up the ground for Dragon Quest XI.”
Continuing on the topic of Square Enix’s big RPG franchises, EDGE brought up how the design of Final Fantasy often changes and must deal with the risk of alienating fans whereas Dragon Quest’s challenge is maintaining a traditional experience while ensuring that players don’t become over-familiar with the formula.
Miyake had this to say in response:
“Instead of changing the game itself, we focus on changing the way it’s played in the world. For example, with Dragon Quest IX we made a handheld game, because that’s how people were playing games predominantly at that time. Dragon Quest X we made into an online game. So that’s how we try to keep the series fresh. In fact, we run the risk of alienating the fans when we moved from pixel-art to 3D with the move to Dragon Quest VIII. And when we made the tenth game, a lot of players complained, saying that Dragon Quest should never be an online game. But it turns out that, in each of these cases, when you start playing the game, you find that it still has the same feel. It’s still quintessentially Dragon Quest.”