Tag Archives: history

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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Filed under Dragon Quest Series, Editorial

The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 4) – No Going Back

After defining and revolutionising RPGs on the original PlayStation, Square went head first into the next generation by beginning work on the tenth instalment in the Final Fantasy series developed exclusively for the PlayStation 2. With much more powerful hardware, Final Fantasy X saw the introduction of voice acting, more realistic facial animations, fully 3D environments (replacing the pre-rendered ones used in Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX) and had three different composers producing the soundtrack including Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy X was a huge success and was seen as a giant leap forward for the series, while still keeping the features fans enjoyed, such as an engrossing narrative, memorable characters, mini-games, turn-based battles and a gigantic world to explore.

Final Fantasy X Tidus Wallpaper

During the early 2000s online gaming was growing in popularity and Square announced the next numbered Final Fantasy game would be a completely online experience. Final Fantasy XI allowed players to created their own online avatars and take on quests to develop their character and progress through the main storyline. Final Fantasy XI became the most profitable entry in series and is still in operation 10 years after it’s release with new developments expanding the game.

Final Fantasy XI Battle

After the critical success in Japan of Vagrant Story and Hironobu Sakaguchi’s pleasure with Yasumi Matsuno’s work as a game director, Sakaguchi decided that he would entrust Matsuno with the next mainline Final Fantasy game. Co-directed by Matsuno and Hiroyuki Ito, Final Fantasy XII was a massive change in direction for an offline Final Fantasy game. It featured a seamless battle system with no random battles, free camera control, was based in the world of Ivalice from Final Fantasy Tactics and put heavy emphasis on a political storyline. Due to creating the new battle system completely from scratch, Final Fantasy XII had a very long development cycle of around 6 years and during the time Matsuno fell ill leading to his resignation from Square. Final Fantasy XII was completed after he left and was still meet with huge success.

Final Fantasy XII Boss

Square had partnered with Nintendo many years earlier to create Super Mario RPG, but the world was shocked when they announced they were developing a new RPG with Disney known as Kingdom Hearts. Character designer Tetsuya Nomura made his debut as game director as Kingdom Hearts was released as an action-RPG featuring worlds and characters from Disney animated films such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, mixed with original and Final Fantasy characters ranging from Cloud Strife to Squall Leonheart. What seemed like an odd combination produced one of the best RPGs released on the PlayStation 2 and expanded into its own long running series.

Kingdom Hearts Sora Donald Goofy

With Square still dominating the RPG scene, Sakaguchi believed it was time to broaden the company’s horizons as he created Square Pictures and directed his first feature length movie. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the first photorealistic computer animated feature film using the most advanced technology available at the time. Despite some positive reviews, the film didn’t earn enough money to even cover its expensive development and cost the company millions of dollars, Square Pictures was closed down and SquareSoft was in financial strife. Sakaguchi stepped down as vice president of Square and shortly left the company all together when Square merged with their once rival Enix in 2003, creating Square Enix.

Final Fantasy The Spirits Within

During the years either side of the merger with Enix, many talented employees left Square such as  directors and game designers: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yasumi Matsuno and Tetsuya Takahashi, script writers: Masato Kato and Kazushige Nojima, as well as composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda and Yoko Shimomura. Many other employees joined smaller development companies too. Square Enix still continues to create Final Fantasy games and others in old Square franchises, but the golden age of SquareSoft seems to have long past. Still, we can always look back at some of the greatest video games ever made and remember the unforgettable journeys they gave us…

Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi

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Filed under Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Kingdom Hearts Series, Music, Vagrant Story

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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Filed under Dragon Quest Series, Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Mana Series, SaGa Series