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Designed by: Yuji Horii (scenario, creator)
Influenced by: Wizardry, probably also Ultima
Series: Eight to date, with a ninth on the way, and plans afoot for a tenth. There have also been numerous side series: Dragon Quest Monsters, Rocket Slime, Dragon Quest Swords... and Mystery Dungeon was originally a spinoff.
Legacy: Practically all JRPGs (the ones that didn't ape Wizardry, anyway.)
The story goes that series creator Yuji Horii was directly inspired by a copy of Wizardry seen at a Mac show. When he got back to Japan, he began work on one of the longest-running JRPG series of all, if not THE longest-running.
While other long-lived series have strived to keep up with the times and update their look and play mechanics, Dragon Quest has remained stubbornly a relic. The fighting mechanics are still similar to those from the original 1986 game. While the overall theme of the games has changed, the mechanics underpinning them remain the same.
And it seems to work. Dragon Quest has remained stubbornly old-school long enough that the nostalgic urge that has brought some of the older JRPGs back into prominence has arrived to find that DQ is still kicking it.
It doesn't get released nearly as often as it used to, but the same guy still writes the scenario, the same guy's in change of the music, and the same guy, Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama himself -- who probably has so much money now that he could buy Tantegel -- still draws the character art.
Hey, at least it's job security. The fact that the games remain the most popular series in Japan suggests that the basic mechanics of the series may be timeless.
Dragon Warrior III
The result is that the combat, which remains simple, takes up a lesser portion of the game's experience than the stuff around it, allowing it to slip, a little, into the background. Until Dragon Quest VIII, the game wasn't even 3D. DQ8 did a lot to revive the series' moribund fortunes.
Instead of driving further towards photo-realism as did the Final Fantasy games, it aimed instead to replicate Toriyama's character art as much as possible, with startling results. The series' lo-fi presentation has enabled it to target the Nintendo DS for installment IX, and plans are underway to produce DQX for the Wii, a decision that surprised some observers.
As for the games themselves, their use of some of the generally-abandoned features of older games means they have managed to retain some of the strategic depth that attended the classic computer RPGs.
Dragon Quest games still use, for instance, cursed items, gauntlet dungeons that players must conserve resources to pass, difficult boss monsters, and a generally upbeat atmosphere. The fact that the game can be slowly and steadily conquered by all players, equipped only with perseverance, seems to be key to the series' popularity in Japan.