Square Enix in one of the biggest players in the RPG world, and their name has become synonymous with a franchise we all are too familiar with: Final Fantasy, which from its start enjoyed modest success in the west; until a certain blonde, spike-haired swordsman catapulted it into the hearts (and houses) of every child with a PlayStation.
Ever since, if you ask those same then-childs about Dragon Quest, most of them will shake their heads, oblivious to the fact Dragon Quest is such a big phenomenon in Japan, urban legends tell Square Enix is forbidden from releasing them on weekdays, should the diligent Japanese decide conveniently to take their day off in unison to make lines.
In an interview with EDGE magazine, Yu Miyake, Dragon Quest’s executive producer, analyses this discrepancy between the worldwide success of Square’s biggest franchises, and discusses the reasons Square Enix has identified for this phenomena.
First, he is quick to point out this can probably be traced back to the past, and sadly was more of a bad timing thing: while the Famicom (japanese NES) is the prime nostalgia console on its homeland, westerns didn’t have that kind of massive connection with videogames until the PlayStation.
So, while Dragon Quest was the title no kid was short of in Japan, the same applied to Final Fantasy VII overseas, and this disparity translated to a bigger emotional draw towards one franchise or the other. It doesn’t help the first Dragon Quests games weren’t properly localized (Dragon Warrior? Anyone?), while Final Fantasy (NES) to Final Fantasy VI (SNES) did pave the way for future releases.
But probably the most interesting reason he cites is that of cultural origins: Dragon Quest has an all-age appeal in Japan, people from school kids to mid-50s adults enjoy Dragon Ball’s Akira Toriyama cartoonish illustrations, as well as the mature stories and characters the game sports; there’s no stigma attached to any of it.
Meanwhile, even the most avid Anime fans in the west will think twice before sweeping their consoles in the bus to play such a “goofy-looking” game, let alone recommend it to their friends that aren’t used to the style.
“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”, he laments.
After his analysis on both audiences, he ends on a high note, saying Square Enix is always trying to “soften up the ground” for Dragon Quest overseas, with spin-offs and constant innovation on the main series games (Dragon Quest X, for example, introduced online gameplay to the franchise). He knows its still nowhere near Final Fantasy level, but assures us “interest is increasing” for the franchise.