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[Gamasutra presents an in-depth interview with Yuji Horii, creator of the seminal Dragon Quest, which remains the most popular console IP in Japan and the root of the country's obsession with RPGs -- a calm center to the storm the game industry faces in the region.]
Twenty-five years ago today, the first game in the Dragon Quest series was released for the Japanese Famicom (NES). The game became the foundation of a genre that boomed in the country over years and years, and gave rise to a slew of imitators and competitors -- including the Final Fantasy series.
One thing has remained the same, even as consoles and even development teams have changed: series creator Yuji Horii, who still works as a writer and planner on the titles, which are developed by external teams.
In this in-depth interview with the Horii, who's president of his own studio Armor Project, Gamasutra tries to get to the root of the Dragon Quest series (called Dragon Warrior in the U.S. until 2005), discussing what it means to Japanese and Western gamers.
Horii is joined in this interview by Square Enix senior vice president Yuu Miyake, who oversees the DQ series from the publisher side.
What do you think you provide to the audience who picks up a Dragon Quest game? If you could sum up what someone gets when they take the wrapping off and put it in their system, what are you delivering?
Yuji Horii: It's the sense of expectation, and a sense of excitement to provide to them, like when they're opening the game and starting the game, "Well, I'm going to start this exciting game!" This is Dragon Quest.
The most recent release in the series was the remake of Dragon Quest VI for the DS. A lot has changed since it first came out on the Super Famicom. Have you changed your approach to the series in that time, or is the approach still very similar to how it was in those days?
YH: I feels the game market itself has changed significantly since then, but the gameplay system itself, it doesn't feel like it's dated or anything -- it's still the same.
Do you feel that that's the case across all games, or just in terms of the Dragon Quest series?
YH: Only the Dragon Quest series.
Why has Dragon Quest been able to sustain the same gameplay over this long time, as everything else in the industry has changed so much?
YH: For the Dragon Quest series, control itself is not the main focus of the games. When we design the game, it's just like driving a car. When you're driving a car, you don't really get concerned about how you control the car itself; you just enjoy the drive. You know how to drive it without thinking about it -- that's what we're trying to do.
We want to let people enjoy the content without really worrying about the control, so we keep maintaining the same kind of gameplay system people are used to playing, so they still play the game and enjoy the content. That's how Dragon Quest VI maintains the fun part of the game, even after 13 years.
I've played several of the games in the series. One thing that keeps coming up is that the games really show their personality through the characters and the details in the world. When you speak to a character in the town, the character is very empathetic, and it seems to be really important to the series; it forms the core of the appeal.
YH: Yes, I agree with you. What I'm always keeping in my mind while developing the game is that it's not just about the main character's dialogue. Everybody in the village has their own storyline, and they're involved in the story, and by talking to them you can actually develop the story and other parts of the story in the world -- and the series.
Yuu Miyake: In other games, when you go to a certain village, there's one key person you have to talk to -- but everybody else, it doesn't matter what they are talking about. But something is happening in that village -- that means everybody in that village is involved in that incident. So we want to make sure the player does not just talk to the one person. The characters are involved in the storyline, and by talking to multiple people in the village, you can actually advance to the story -- not just by talking to the one person to advance the storyline.
And not just to advance the story in terms of getting from plot point to plot point, but to advance the story in terms of having a richer understanding of what's going on. It advances the depth of the world.
YH: So what I'm saying is that something is happening in one village, and then the main character goes there to save them, right? So if he saves the village, everybody in the village should be thanking him, not just one person.
It's not about the main character's story necessarily. Very frequently, in the Dragon Quest series, the main character actually doesn't talk at all.
YH: It is very intentional for me, because the main character in the game is actually the alter-ego of the player -- so you don't want to push words into the player's mouth. We want the player to feel like they are playing the game, and their own play affects the game. So the only thing you can actually say in the game is "yes" and "no" -- but there's no other dialogue.
Obviously that's a matter of some debate between different developers -- how much the player invests into the avatar on the screen. It seems that you think that it's a very tight connection.
YH: Yes, and what I am trying to avoid is the situation where the the main character you're playing is saying something, and you feel like, "No, that's not something I want to be saying if I were there," so that's the main thing.