“Dragon Quest isn’t simple... it’s pure.”
March 5, 2019 7:09 AM   Subscribe

How Dragon Quest's Creator Invented JRPGs: An Hour With Yuji Horii [IGN] “It’s been pointed out before that we tend to overstate the presence of genius in the world of entertainment, but what Horii has done can’t be adequately labeled anything else. Much as Warren Robinett did in the United States with Adventure, Horii took a type of game designed to be played on powerful computers using multi-input keyboards and converted the essential mechanics into forms viable on vastly-less-powerful hardware and functional with a controller interface. But his innovations only began there. Horii also took the western-born world of RPGs and instilled it with a manga-inspired aesthetic that made it something remarkably relevant to Japanese culture. He infused the cartoonish artwork and bright palettes of Akira Toriyama and the sweeping symphonies of Koichi Sugiyama into the RPG aesthetic.”

• Meet some of the indie devs quietly pushing the JRPG genre forward [Gamasutra]
“But while the gaming community has largely granted retro-inspired fare like I Am Setsuna and Octopath Traveler a warm reception, it can sometimes feel that the developers’ respect for their forebears skews a little too close to nostalgic idol worship, which in turn reflects a deep aesthetic conservatism that posits Chrono Trigger as the Last, Best JRPG, and jettisons two decades’ worth of genre development in the process. As Japan struggled to find a way forward for one of its most celebrated exports in the post-FFX era of the aughts (which, to be clear, saw the release of many stellar but relatively-unheralded entries in the canon, such as Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne, Shadow Hearts: Covenant, and the lately-resurgent Persona series) a generation of Western developers reared on the likes of Final Fantasy VI and especially the offbeat cult hit Earthbound have stomped onto the indie scene, producing a torrent of oddball output that takes the beloved raiments of these classic games and puts them through a spin cycle.”
• The greatest Japanese RPG franchises [Polygon] [Part 1][Part2]
“Is any genre of video games as closely associated with a single country as role-playing games and Japan? There’s even a term for those games: “JRPG,” a designation that has developed into a catch-all describing games from any region designed in the style of Japanese RPGs. But what makes a truly great JRPG? This month, I’ve decided to explore that question by looking at the entire pantheon of role-playing franchises crafted in Japan and ranking the 25 most notable series from worst to best.”
• A Tribute To JRPG Villages That Were Annihilated [Kotaku]
“The life of an NPC is tough. Perpetually stuck with one or two interesting things to say. Trapped in houses or stores, or making idle chatter around the town’s well. The most excitement that may happen is when the troublesome village kid runs off. But don’t worry, the protagonists will save them. Oh, but what’s this? The villain has set their sights on your humble abode? Uh oh. Play enough JRPGs and certain themes become commonplace. One of these is the tried and true formula in which towns and villages meet untimely ends. If done well, the scenes can be surprising (even if players guess the outcome before hand), or show how merciless games’ villains are. Here are some of the most agonizing moments in JRPGs where places and its people were annihilated, and one unconventional scenario that’s just all kinds of fun.”
• Not Your Enemy – Family Dynamics and the Disappointing Adult in JRPGs [Unwinnable]
“Aside from disappointment caused as part by family dynamics, most JRPGs simply embroil their characters in matters adults should dealt with on their own – large-scale wars break out due to the greed of single individuals for much of the Tales series. Both in Final Fantasy VIII and I am Setsuna, adults show no scruples when it comes to using young people as sacrifices or magical vessels. In these cases entire story arcs revolve around resisting adults and questioning their wisdom in search for an alternate solution. For a genre so reliant on character interaction, character growth that results fromn a character questioning his relationship with others is astoundingly rare. As teenagers, half of the excitement of a story comes from finally being able to question adults and realising that teenagers, routinely questioned or dismissed, possess the power to change the world.”
posted by Fizz (20 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
This makes me wonder if there are other potential game genres or approaches we are missing out on simply because only a few cultures were powerhouses in the early videogame booms. iRPGs, tSHMUPS, rFPS, etc.

One thing I found especially interesting in the interview was story being included and discussed since it wasn't a given, it was a deliberate design concern and choice at the time and one born just from someone starting out making their own games at home until thrust with coordinating a professional product. The formative years of disciplines are always interesting to see how and why standards and common practices became so.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:39 AM on March 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of the best examples of the Dragon Quest series, in my opinion, is Dragon Quest V. The 'familiar/basic/pure' mechanics of the game work great and also serve to easily get out of the way of the amazing and atypical story. It's so good, honestly, that I don't want to say why, in case I spoil anything about it for somebody that plans to play it.

That said, I THINK it's the origin of the whole 'collect/train monsters that fight for you' thing that you may have heard of...
posted by destructive cactus at 10:42 AM on March 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I also find it fascinating that Dragon Quest never took of here in N. America the way Final Fantasy took off. For JRPG fanatics it certainly made its mark but to more mainstream gaming audiences, Final Fantasy had more success and cultural resonance.
posted by Fizz at 11:30 AM on March 5, 2019

***Encounter Noise***

A Metal Slime draws near!

posted by RolandOfEld at 12:15 PM on March 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I also find it fascinating that Dragon Quest never took of here in N. America the way Final Fantasy took off.

Americans prefer big swords to adorable slimes, I guess.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:44 PM on March 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I also find it fascinating that Dragon Quest never took of here in N. America the way Final Fantasy took off.

My understanding was always that Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior was the introduction to the RPG genre for a whole generation of American kids (like me!) who took advantage of NOA's awesome Nintendo Power Dragon Warrior giveaway. Dragon Warrior II and III came hot on its heels, but then for whatever reason Enix failed to release the later SNES Dragon Quests here in the states. So in swoops Squaresoft with Final Fantasy I, IV, and VI to capitalize on the demand for localized JRPGs and the rest is history.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:47 PM on March 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

Dragon Warrior did moderately well in North America, but primarily because of the Nintendo Power giveaway. So a lot of people played it, but it made relatively little money in NA.

Dragon Warrior 2 was pretty difficult (compared to DW1 or DW3) which probably didn't help.

Dragon Warrior 3 was released in 1988 in Japan but 1992 for NES. But SNES was released in 1990, so DW3 was pretty outdated by its release in North America.

Dragon Warrior 4 was released the same year as Dragon Warrior 3, for some reason (in the US). Also for NES 2 years after SNES release.

By DW5, Enix had had 3 games in a row with poor sales (and one that moved a lot of units but didn't make much money) and they gave up.

What is more surprising to me is that modern Square Enix has not tried harder to re-introduce Dragon Quest (very few of the recent games got localizations, or if they did it was very late).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:13 PM on March 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hmm, apparently Square did release DQ5/6 for DS in NA at some point, which I must have missed. Not that I have anything that can play DS games anymore.

So I guess DQ10 is the only one to never be localized outside Japan at this point.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:26 PM on March 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wasn’t there a DQ(W) [whatever!] version of the game that wash’s heavily base building centric? If so was it any good?
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:37 PM on March 5, 2019

Wasn’t there a DQ(W) [whatever!] version of the game that wash’s heavily base building centric? If so was it any good?

@RolandofEld, you're thinking of Dragon Quest Builder and it's lots of fun. Basically Minecraft with Dragon Quest RPG mechanics. I picked it up for my Vita and it was good times. They just recently announced a sequel and it's coming to the Nintendo Switch very soon. I'm pretty pumped. :)
posted by Fizz at 4:45 PM on March 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

DQ Builders is my favorite game in that genre, by far. It's the fun of a crafting game, but with actual goals and story. Plus the DQ artistic style is really well rendered.

DQ11 was one of my favorite games last year, and the only JRPG I've played heavily in a long time. It's just really, really good at what it does, and meticulously crafted around those mechanics.
posted by codacorolla at 5:01 PM on March 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

While I think the Final Fantasy series is colossally overrated, I do enjoy all the old cartridge ones fairly well enough, especially the more underground ones we "never" got in the USA. I'm an old ROM hand, so I've played all the classic fan translations and such but my interest in Final Fantasy waned once it moved onto disc.

Recently just for the hell of it I got a PS3 and some used games. I picked up the remaster of Final Fantasy X, having basically zero exposure to it other than seeing an occasional picture on the web somewhere.

I did not like it. At all.

For me Ys will always be the greatest. At my wake, there will be a CD player, into which will be placed the game disc for the TurboGrafx16 (PC Engine in Japan) release of Ys Book I & II. The data track will be skipped, and every single two minute masterpiece from that disc will be played.

When it gets to Ruins of Moondoria I hope someone will know to say it was my favorite.

There's so many perfect tracks on that disc, but ending with the emotional steamroll trio of A Still Time, Stay With Me Forever, and See You Again, I can think of not a single better way to say goodbye to my dear friends.
posted by glonous keming at 5:56 PM on March 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I picked up the remaster of Final Fantasy X, having basically zero exposure to it other than seeing an occasional picture on the web somewhere.

I did not like it. At all.

The thing is the main character complains a lot and the game is linear to a degree that you basically feel like you're on a railroad track and then there's 'blitzball' which is like if someone took rugby/soccer and decided to drown them both in some kind of slow-moving vomit, so anyways what I'm saying is you're right and the game is trash.
posted by Fizz at 6:14 PM on March 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Well, I didn't want to say that outright, Fizz, since it seems so beloved online, but yes, that was pretty close to my exact reaction.
posted by glonous keming at 7:05 PM on March 5, 2019

I enjoyed the Dragon Quest Builders demo for the Switch -- and even got a little carried away trying to make underground rooms and whatnot. It was time consuming, though, and I didn't manage to finish doing that or the chapter.

I feel the opening sections of FFX stick a little too close to the main character's POV, in a very literal sense -- though I'm speaking as someone who's seen only the beginning played and had, well before that, absorbed most of the rest via osmosis. While I didn't find his situation hard to sympathise with, his cluelessness coupled with the sheer lack of context the game provided for what was going on wasn't doing the beginning of the game any favours.
posted by redrawturtle at 7:19 PM on March 5, 2019

Dragon Quest 8 is one of my top ten games ever. I've played through it several times, and if they would rerelease it on a newer console here with the original symphonic soundtrack, I would buy it again.

I think they do a good job of gating content in those games. They're open world, yet you still need to do some things in order, so your ability to sail, fly, and use other abilities dictates which areas of the world you can get to. I guess that is all facile to say... What I'm trying to get across is just that I can't imagine being the actual designer who has to take that info and transform it into an actual map. And 11 is better at that than any of them yet, with lots of sparkly secrets hidden in distant corners and high ledges, rewarding you for actively exploring.

The funny/punny monsters in these games are comforting too. It's not like the high-stress terror of getting thrashed to death by something horrible in Bloodborne, it feels OK if not safe to be fighting monsters when they're all so goofy.

I was sure that Sylvando was going to end up being an enemy or betrayer since he's a jester like Dhoulmagus.
posted by heatvision at 3:25 AM on March 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Another JRPG that I often wondered about that never got a series/franchise treatment was Terranigma [wiki]. It was one of the first JRPGs I ever played and it left quite an impression on my young mind. I played it on an emulator and it took forever to beat even with save-states (I just recall it being an extremely long game). It was very much in the style of Chrono Trigger/Secret of Mana.
posted by Fizz at 6:51 AM on March 6, 2019

Another JRPG that I often wondered about that never got a series/franchise treatment was Terranigma.

With Terranigma's massive scope, there's not much room for a direct sequel. But informally it's often considered part of a trilogy of SNES action-RPGs made by Quintet with mechanical and thematic similarities, the other 2 being Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. Terranigma is the last and most ambitious, and Soul Blazer feels surprisingly primitive for a game on the same hardware, but all 3 are worth trying if you're into that style of game.
posted by skymt at 9:15 AM on March 6, 2019

Here to say I also played Dragon Warrior 2, but the lack of the games on the Super Nintendo meant my love of the series ended there.
posted by chunking express at 3:29 PM on March 6, 2019

Dragon Quest Builders is my jam! I'm sad I did not discover it sooner. It's everything 13 years old me wanted: season worst, love action combat, Lego town building....


There for a lot of stuff right on that game: hit all the right nostalgia beats, still focused on the story, too the good parts of Minecraft and made some of them better. There are a few bad parts (the minecart rails are... Eeehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh....) But he'll, they even have a proper cannon item, so that's cool!
posted by jonnay at 5:52 AM on March 7, 2019

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