If you look at the Dragon Quest series, it's often concentrated on family relationships. That's pretty rare for a video game, particularly in the past. Why is that so important for you to explore?
YH: Initially my feeling towards the computer was that it was very cold and impersonal -- so using a computer when creating a game, I thought, "Well why not create a more personal, more warm, human-like game?"
I think a lot of people in America aren't quite as aware that Dragon Quest is, in a way, considered a casual game in Japan. It's played by people of all ages and both genders from kids up to adults.
Especially nowadays, you're seeing people who have been playing the series since the original game, and now have their own kids. They're sharing it with their kids. It's part of the fabric of Japanese society. How does that affect the way you approach developing these games?
YH: My objective is to make the games intuitive and accessible for anybody. I'm the kind of person who doesn't read the manual before playing a game, so I want to make sure the game is simple, with simple controls -- but you can still have complex action, and enjoy the gameplay. I wanted to include humor in the games -- so the people who play can actually really enjoy, and have laugh-out-loud moments.
And then for Dragon Quest IX, we included the multiplayer mode. The reason behind it was because this is like a classic series, and people who play the classic ones they actually play with their kids -- so if they had the multiplayer, the son can play with the dad and be like, "Oh Dad, come on, we're going this way!" -- playing together.
Did you find that people played with their kids, with Dragon Quest IX in particular?
YH: Yes, online we found lots of people saying they played together with their parents or kids. And for Dragon Quest IX the Tag Mode was really very popular. And then the reason that Tag Mode got so popular was because some people created a really rare map, and then people wanted to have the map, so they actually went outside during the Tag Mode seeking that specific map -- so the virtual world actually influenced the real world.
[Ed. note: Dragon Quest IX's Tag Mode allows players to passively trade dungeon data wirelessly, similarly to Nintendo 3DS' StreetPass.]
I remember reading stories of people gathering in Shibuya or other busy places to do Tag Mode, and that's fascinating to hear about. Were you expecting that kind of reception?
YH: At a certain level, yes, we were kind of expecting it.
YM: When we were originally creating Dragon Quest IX, we did have the Tag Mode feature -- but we didn't and include the map exchange function at first. But then Mr. Horii said, "Well, we shouldn't just do Tag Mode; if players can actually exchange something with each other, that would be more fun." That's why we added the map exchange feature.
YH: Also, my idea was that to let the player have their own name on the map -- so when the map is distributed to different people, some of the maps can become really famous, because of the name. This is exactly what happened to Masayuki's map.
I myself have done Tag Mode with over 1,000 people. When I'm driving, I usually just have my Tag Mode on. I put the DS on the dashboard while I'm driving, and when I'm waiting for the light, I see somebody walking by, and boom!, the Tag Mode comes up. I'm like "Oh, he was playing it!", so it's really fun.
Do you sign your maps? Like, are they "Horii's map?" Do people know when they end up with your map? I would imagine that people would freak out.
YH: I don't use my real name -- I use the name "Joel."
Do regular people know it's you?
YH: They probably don't know. I joined the social network site Mixi in Japan, and I used the same name for it -- and not too many people know that's me.
I think that the Tag Mode was actually really innovative passive multiplayer, which is kind of a big deal right now. However, the way it was implemented is much tougher to make it work in the U.S. Have you run into that, and has it played out as you expected?
YH: I'm aware of that situation, and I was kind of expecting that the same kind of phenomenon would not happen in the U.S. It only happened in Japan, where millions and millions of copies sold.
But then in the U.S., because a smaller number of copies were sold, if you actually succeeded in the Tag Mode, your joy of actually getting someone's data would be like a hundred times more than a Japanese person doing it in Japan. (laughs)
The U.S.' geography makes it difficult, too. Have you thought generally about the fact that, as of 2011, every single game in the series will have come out in America, finally, and you can get data on how players react to them?
YM: When we develop the games, of course we make the games for the Japanese market first -- and the basics of the games, which make the games fun, are the same for the U.S. market and European market, so we don't feel that it's necessary to change the fundamental parts of the game.
But some like the inner parts of the game, like Tag Mode and stuff, might need to be adjusted in different markets -- but because we make the game for the Japanese market first, it's hard to do that just for a certain market.
YH: In addition to that, we feel that there are localization issues too. In Japanese, in a short sentence, we can actually express a certain sense of humor, and have a very good personality of the characters, which makes the game really more fun -- but localizing that into different languages has been hard. It's been a challenge, but we also heard that since Dragon Quest IX's localization really improved, the quality got better, and the humor is actually really communicating well to the American market too.