Dragon Quest Primer: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The RPG

I have a confession to make. Despite having a large pile of “new to me” modern era video games to play, I have gone into the nostalgia closet. I dusted off a game I have played several times in my life because…. I love it. I love the entire franchise… Well, I love the base franchise. Some of the spin-offs aren’t quite my cup of tea. It’s a franchise that has been around damn near as long as Nintendo has been making games. Decades.

Dragon Quest, baby.

So first things first, I need to get you all caught up. I can later do detailed reviews on individual games, if you readers want. Mostly because I figure, you guys need a TMNT and GB break from me. Let’s discuss some legal name bingo. In Japan, the series has always been Dragon Quest. However, just before the game released in the USA a company called SPI made a board game called DragonQuest.  This created a Ttrademark conflict especially as DQ was an RPG-based Board Game with character generation and XP. So in America, we got Dragon Warrior for 20-odd years until the game’s trademark had expired due to lack of product from SPI, and 2003 brought us Dragon Quest video games. However, for the ease of this article we’ll just pretend the games were always DQ instead of DW.

There is the main series, which has 10 games and the 11th getting a worldwide release this fall. There are a slew of spin-off games, and we’ll cover them as we go on a short quest.

Main Series

It all starts on the NES with Dragon Quest 1, a simple RPG even by the standards of the time. However, thanks to design work by a young but still rising manga star in Akira Toriyama and a story highly inspired by Western Medieval style stories where you fight dragons and rescue kidnapped princesses, we had a smash hit. Next, came DQ 2 which brought us multiple playable characters and a much bigger world, and sales were actually better. This brought us DQ 3, the final game in the original Erdrick Trilogy as all three games told a multi-generational extended story. Sales were through the roof. We now have a true blue franchise. Starting with DQ 4, there is a new trilogy which is united more by theme than story and many new features were brought into the franchise. Sales dipped slightly, but it’s still a huge selling franchise… in Japan. America was leaning in other directions.

This means the SNES era became Japan-exclusive. V brought a feature wherein you could beat up a monster and it would join you and fight alongside you. Note: This was a few years before Pokemon and it’s ilk. Not saying it was a direct inspiration, but it’s interesting trivia. VI gave us a new feature where classes were now separate from levels which meant folks could switch classes, and people could be whatever class you want. Customizing is here. Sales for the two SNES editions continued to stay strong. III still reigned supreme, though, it is a close margin.

The franchise now moves to the PlayStation systems and away from Nintendo for the first time. VII and VIII take us 3D adding a grander sense of exploration. Sales finally topple III from it’s perch, and the series slips back into America, though the figures are much lower here.

This opens us up though for a return to Nintendo with IX for the DS. This iteration brings in MMO style leveling and class building with skill trees as well as fully customizable sprites. For the first time, every time you change armor your on-screen character changes appearance.

X takes us to the Wii and PC, along with Android and iOS, and for the first time DQ is truly MMO. However, it stays in the East despite sales in US finally legitimizing the fact that DQ had found it’s large audience.

XI is as we said awaiting worldwide release, but it’s back to the single player route and will be released on PS4 and PC.

All of the main games before IX have been re-released. Most multiple times. The first 3 games were released on SNES, Android, GBC and IV-VIII on DS, 3DS, and Android.

Spin-Off Games

We are going to go through this section a bit quicker, as these aren’t as numerous and bounce around different systems. The brave merchant adventurer Torneko Taloon (Jaime’s Note: My personal favorite character.) from IV got a trilogy of dungeon-crawler games that have helped turn him into one of the most-recognized characters of the series. The Slime that happily greets you at the start of the article starred in two games that cemented it as the ultimate icon of the series. So cute, right? There was a on-rails adventure type game called DQ Swords for the Wii which is a fun romp, but is an odd contender. Recent years have seen a Samurai Warriors-inspired pair of games under the DQ Heroes banner and Minecraft’s popularity led to a DQ Builders game.

Perhaps the biggest spin-off franchise is the DQ Monsters series that takes inspiration from the Pokemon style of RPGs with a party of monsters fighting for you, the joy is that every monster has appeared in the main series games. Even the bosses can be befriended once you master the breeding system. At five games, with four getting international release, these games have carved their own niche.

Final Thoughts

So, where does this leave us? As I said, I’ve been a fan of this series since the NES days and so will no doubt post detailed reviews in the future of individual games. How big is the franchise? Well in Japan, it is culturally one of the most recognized RPG series there is. Several anime with geek characters have referenced the series because even non-gamers over there catch the nod and know what it means. Merchandise is huge business over there. In the USA? Well, that depends on how sales go for XI, I suppose. IX did great, but not having X release over here has stalled the momentum that IX and the 3DS re-releases of VII and VIII have generated. Ports and Remakes are fine, but we need new games to keep a series alive in our country. It is the nature of the video game industry.

On that note, I have a IV remake to finish beating once again and will see you all soon.

%d bloggers like this: