Category Archives: Dragon Quest Series

The History of Dragon Quest

Before there was Final Fantasy… There was Dragon Quest. Taking inspiration from western developed RPGs such as Wizardry and Ultima, designer Yuji Horii’s original Dragon Quest game established many foundations of the console RPG genre. Collaborating with manga artist Akira Toriyama and composer Koichi Sugiyama, Dragon Quest has stayed fiercely loyal to it’s traditions resulting in 10 mainline games and a plethora of spin-off titles. Dragon Quest is so popular in Japan that most titles are released on a weekend or public holiday so not to effect school children and people going to work!

Dragon Quest Artwork

Published by Enix the first four Dragon Quest games were released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System and localised in North American under the name Dragon Warrior due to copyright. The Dragon Warrior name was kept all the way up to Dragon Quest VII outside of Japan. The NES instalments featured a fully explorable overworld, dungeons, a simple yet satisfying narrative and a turn-based battle system. Different to Square’s Final Fantasy series, Dragon Quest utilises a first-person view for combat which allowed focus on the detailed enemy designs. Dragon Quest I-IV were initially developed in collaboration with Chunsoft. Yuji Horii’s own studio Armor Project co-develops all the mainline instalments.

Dragon Quest Battle

Moving onto the Super Nintendo, Enix released Dragon Quest V and VI in Japan only. Both titles wouldn’t make their appearance in English speaking countries until years later in remakes for the Nintendo DS. Again Chunsoft developed Dragon Quest V, but from Dragon Quest VI onwards, which was made by Heartbeat the series had a rotation of developers. Heatbeat would also go on to co-develop Dragon Quest VII on the original PlayStation with ArtePiazza (who themselves would develop many remakes of earlier titles in the series). The massive Dragon Quest VII was released in North America and the next few games would follow suit.

Dragon Quest World

In 2003, Enix merged with former rival Square and Square Enix partnered with Dark Cloud developer Level-5 to release one of the most critically acclaimed and successful instalment in the series. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King released on the monumental PlayStation 2 and propelled Dragon Quest into a beautiful 3D cel-shaded world. The exploration was vast, the voice acting engaging and everything else great from the series was carried over and improved to make it one of the PS2’s best RPGs. Dragon Quest VIII also overhauled the dialogue in the English releases which has been carried over into the remakes of earlier games and new releases over the past few years.

Dragon Quest VIII Characters

Having found success with Level-5, Square Enix worked with them again to develop Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies for the impressive Nintendo DS. Originally planned to be an action-RPG, loyal fans disliked this direction so much that the idea was scrapped and a turn-based battle system was restored. Implementing an interesting take on multiplayer in what is predominantly a single player experience, Dragon Quest IX took the series to new heights and arguably it’s most popular era in English countries.

Dragon Quest IX Combat

Unfortunately in the years since, remakes of DQ IV, V and VI were released on the Nintendo DS by Nintendo themselves to a less popular response in North America and the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Dragon Quest X, as well as spin offs such as Dragon Quest Monsters have stayed in Japan only. With such a rich history of quality RPGs it would be a shame to not have any more Dragon Quest games translated into English. There is still hope as the action/ adventure spin off Dragon Quest Heroes is in development for 2015 on The PlayStation 3 and 4 and the next mainline instalment Dragon Quest XI has been confirmed to be returning to a traditional RPG on consoles. So if you are a fan of the series or love a great classic turn-based RPG, the history of Dragon Quest is worth a look into.

Dragon Quest Heroes

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Review: Why You Should Play Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a turn-based RPG for the Nintendo DS that features a full fledge single player experience combined with co-operative multiplayer with up to four players.

Dragon Quest IX FMV

Dragon Quest IX is the first main title in the series to be released on a portable system and features unique aspects such as co-operative multiplayer and the ability to create and customise your own character and party members. It greatest strength is that it can still be completed purely as a single player game with great supporting characters, a fantastical story, a giant world full of secrets and an excellent tradition turn-based battle system.

Dragon Quest IX Hero

The story is based around the Celestrians, a group of angels that watch over the mortal world, who will be one day rewarded for their service by ascending to the Realm of the Almighty. Disaster strikes when the Celestrians are attacked and knocked down to the world below. The main character is stripped of his angel wings and forced to discover who was behind the attack and find a way back home. The story starts off formulaic, but really picks up as more is revealed leading to some great boss encounters during the end of the game. The story progression and minimal party member characterisation feels like a throwback to classic RPGs such as early instalments in both the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series.

Dragon Quest IX Greygnarl

Dragon Quest IX offers a very tradition RPG experience bursting with a robust job class system, skills and special attacks to learn, equipment and accessories, side quests and alchemy to mix and craft different items. The battle system is turn based with up to four party members and there are no random battles as all enemies are seen roaming around the environments. The multiplayer component allows other players to become guests in your adventure, while still being fully controllable by each player. Dragon Quest IX offers one of the best implementations of local multiplayer found in the genre and is great if you are looking for an RPG to play with friends.

Dragon Quest IX Metal Slime Armor

The soundtrack accompanying the journey is classic Dragon Quest and stays pretty closely to the series routes. The main theme “Overture IX” is a triumphant tune that evokes images of a grand adventure, while the more sombre piece “Heaven’s Prayer” played at the Observatory, helps add to the angelic tone of the narrative. There will definitely be some memorable melodies as you play through the game.

Dragon Quest IX Town 2

Dragon Quest IX is a fantastic traditional RPG that is equally fun to play through on your own or with friends. If you wish to play a classic RPG with fully customisable characters, then you should play Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies.

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The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 2) – The Golden Age

The first article recounted how a small Japanese games company named Square had gone from being on the verge of closing down, to finding a hit with the original Final Fantasy and continuing to grow in popularity. Squaresoft had originally planned to release Final Fantasy II in English, but these plans were cancelled as they looked towards the new generation of game consoles with the international release of the Super Nintendo.

During the early 1990’s, Final Fantasy evolved with new hardware adding better graphics, a more detailed and featured storyline and more complex soundtracks. Final Fantasy IV, V and VI would be created in Japan but only IV and VI would be localised in North America and they were released as Final Fantasy II and III respectively. A major update to the series was the removal of the purely turn-based battle system and the implementation of the Active-Time-Battle system by game designer Hiroyuki Ito. Envisioning Formula One racing cars passing each, Ito designed the combat system where each character had a speed gauge that determined when they could act in the battle. The revolutionary new system stayed mostly unchanged up until the ninth instalment in the series.

Final Fantasy IV offered one of the most dramatic and compelling narratives seen in a video game at the time and Cecil, the main character was one of the first heroes to be shown with redemption as his motive. Final Fantasy V instead put game play back at the forefront updating the job system used in the third game, leading to an incredible amount of character customisation. This would be the last time the story would be put in the background as Final Fantasy VI featured one of the best RPG tales ever, combined with a large cast of deep and memorable characters. Hironobu Sakaguchi had directed all of the instalments in the series up until the sixth game when he moved to the watchful role of Producer and handed over the directorial duties to Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito. Final Fantasy VI is often regarded as one the best games in the series and featured Nobuo Uematsu’s greatest soundtrack at that point in his career.

“They say that technologically, it’s good to keep going, and each time, we give it our all and expend out skills and energy until we can go no further; this is what I consider to be the “final fantasy”. – Hironobu Sakaguchi

Square was not content with creating just one masterpiece on the Super Nintendo and in 1995 they released Chrono Trigger, which was designed by a “Dream Team” of developers. Sakaguchi combined with Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii and Dragon Ball manga artist Akira Toriyama to create one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Bringing together designers at the top of their field seemed to allow the creativity to flow, as Chrono Trigger revolutionised RPGs. It removed random battles, allowed characters to combine their special abilities into team attacks and featured a time travel narrative that showed the outcome of player’s actions in the past and how they affected the future. Most notably though it was one of the earliest games to have multiple endings (13) and have a new game plus mode. Chrono Trigger also saw the rise of other great designers at Square such as writer Masato Kato and the brilliant composer Yasunori Mitsuda.

Other franchises from Square were also hitting their stride on the Super Nintendo, such as the Seiken Densetsu series which produced the magical action- RPG classic that was released in English as Secret of Mana. Showing its versatility, Square also teamed up with Nintendo to make Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars which had some of the best graphics ever made for the console. SquareSoft was now localising a lot of RPGs for the North American market and even translated and released Capcom’s original Breath of Fire game as well as creating Secret of Evermore themselves. Unfortunately a lot of games were not released outside of Japan during this period and the English speaking world missed out on RPGs such as the fantastic sequel to Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3, as well as the Romancing SaGa games, Live a Life, Bahamut Lagoon and the tactical- RPG Front Mission.

With some of the most creative and best video game designers and composers at their disposal Square were releasing some of the greatest games ever made. Still, RPGs were not the most popular genre at the time and Square’s success outside of Japan was still limited, but with the next generation of video game consoles fast approaching and the arrival of the new Sony PlayStation that was all about to change…

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The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 1) – Telling a Story

During the 1990s SquareSoft was synonymous with quality RPGs. From Final Fantasy, to the Chrono or Mana series players were exploring magical worlds and experiencing unforgettable stories for over a decade. This series of articles will recount how a small Japanese video game company known as Square rose to become the king of RPGs and create some of the best games ever made.

In the late 1980s Square had produced a few games in different genres for Nintendo’s first home console, but were struggling financially. A young employee by the name of Hironobu Sakaguchi decided that his last game would be an RPG and if it failed he would retire from the games industry and return to university. Inspired by other RPGs of the time such as Dragon Quest from Enix, Final Fantasy was a success for Square and was translated and released in English by its North American branch SquareSoft, leading to a sequel and Sakaguchi becoming the director of the series.

“I don’t have what it takes to make an action game. I think I’m better at telling a story.” – Hironobu Sakaguchi

The first three games in the Final Fantasy series were developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but only the original was released outside of Japan at the time. These games established many of the foundations the series would continue for over a decade including turn-based combat, a job system for the characters, a world map and dungeons to explore. The second game featured a more involved story and an experimental leveling system, while the third returned to the style of the original but allowed characters to change their job throughout the game. The key staff members of the early instalments were Sakaguchi as creator, artist Yoshitaka Amano, Nobuo Uematsu and game designer Akitoshi Kawazu. Each new Final Fantasy game was an indirect sequel, presenting a brand new world and characters, that let the series evolve and grow as technology progressed.

While the early Final Fantasy games were proving very popular, Square also starting creating other RPG franchises around this time, such as the Seiken Densetsu (later known as the Mana series in English) and SaGa series on Nintendo’s first handheld console the Game Boy. Seiken Densetsu featured an action-based battle system similar to Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda, while Akitoshi Kawazu’s SaGa series expanded on elements he had incorporated into Final Fantasy II. Both were marketed as Final Fantasy spin-offs in North America and Europe to increase sales, but as SquareSoft’s popularity grew both series would use their original Japanese names in later instalments.

With the Final Fantasy series as their main franchise, as well as many other talented designers working on establishing their own series, Square had built a solid foundation that enabled them to transition into the next generation of video game consoles with the release of the Super Nintendo and to what many fans refer to as their golden age…

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Which Console Had The Best RPGs? (Part 3)

After the evolution from 2D sprites on the SNES to the limited 3D models on the PlayStation, RPGs on the PlayStation 2 finally featured fully 3D worlds to explore. The powerful hardware of the PS2 allowed RPGs to utilise more detailed character models and environments, exciting new battle systems and topped it all off with orchestral soundtracks and voice acting.

Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2)  

Gone were the days of pre-rendered backgrounds, games were now using fully 3D models with the ability to move the camera around and view the world anyway you wanted. RPGs such as Final Fantasy XII enabled players to roam around its massive world seamlessly, going to places ahead of the story and even finding enemies that were way above their level.

Cut scenes were made more realistic with the use of voice acting and motion capture and games like Kingdom Hearts even had Hollywood actors leading their talents to help bring characters to life. Musical scores where now orchestral and composers could add more depth and instruments to their arrangements.  Even with the advancements in other aspects of the genre, RPGs still had memorable stories to tell such as the wonderful journey through Spira in Final Fantasy X or the 3 part Sci-fi epic of Xenosaga. The improved presentation of PS2 RPGs allowed developers to fully realise their visions on screen and create immersing worlds.

With the popularity of the PS2 and the RPG genre during these years many niche games where able to receive widespread recognition such as Persona 3 and 4, that merged the modern settings of high school classrooms with turn-based dungeon crawls. Not everything became more realistic and the use of cell-shaded graphics in titles such as Rouge Galaxy presented art styles that mesmerised players. Action RPGs became more plentiful and battle systems such as the one found in Star Ocean 3 provided intense action with full control over character movement.

RPGs on the PS2 had a tremendous amount of variety enabling all players to find a game that would satisfy their tastes. The Best RPGs found on the PS2 include: Final Fantasy X and XII, Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, Xenosaga Episode 1,2 and 3, Dragon Quest VIII, Star Ocean 3, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, Rouge Galaxy, Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle, Persona 3 and 4, Odin Sphere, Suikoden III, IV and V and many more.

So what is your favourite console for RPGs? The SNES, PS1, PS2 or do you think another console has a greater collection of games? Let me know what you think!

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Top 5 PS2 RPGs

The PlayStation 2 had a massive library of games, which included many fantastic and diverse RPGs. Designers attempted to evolve the genre by improving 3D graphics and making voice acting a staple. These are my top 5 PS2 RPGs:

1. -Final Fantasy X-

When it was first released, Final Fantasy X was unbelievable. It took everything from past SquareSoft RPGs to the next level. The world of Spira was mesmerising; featuring fully 3D locations, the characters spoke for the first time in the series through the well implemented voice acting, the magical soundtrack had three composers and the battle system was intuitive and flexible. Final Fantasy X showed what RPGs could be like with the power of the new technology, while keeping the spirit of classic games intact.

2. -Kingdom Hearts-

SquareSoft had shown in the past that they could have success with mixing different creations together with Super Mario RPG. Kingdom Hearts was an action-RPG combining Disney characters with some original and Final Fantasy characters. The result was an unexpected hit, providing enjoyable combat, fun cameo appearances, great voice acting and a wonderful soundtrack. Kingdom Hearts captured the fun of classic games such as Secret of Mana while invoking nostalgia from classic Disney movies such as Aladdin and Peter Pan.

3. -Final Fantasy XII-

While Final Fantasy X was vintage RPG design brought up to the modern era, Final Fantasy XII tried something completely different. The whole world of Final Fantasy XII was one huge map that players could explore and enemies were fought without random encounters using a real-time, turn based battle system. It featured the customisable “gambit” system which allowed players to give their AI characters directions and the License Board was used to upgrade party members. Final Fantasy XII was a magical RPG with an intriguing political story and unique game play mechanics that have since been replicated in newer RPGs.

4. -Rogue Galaxy-

The first thing you will notice about Rogue Galaxy is its beautiful cel-shaded graphics. Once you have gotten further into the game you will be hooked in by the frantic and enjoyable battle system, imaginative world and characters and the deep customisation systems. Rogue Galaxy provides an entertaining Sci-fi RPG with plenty of content to keep players engaged for hours.

5. -Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King-

Dragon Quest VIII brought the fiercely traditional series into a fully three dimensional world, but retained all the features the fans loved about the older games such as turn-based battles, levelling up systems and the silent hero. The supporting characters are memorable and the dialogue is well written, providing an epic adventure with plenty to do. While other RPGs looked to change their core design Dragon Quest VIII didn’t try anything new, but every part was so well executed that players loved it anyway.

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