I think one of the most fascinating things about Dragon Quest IX, specifically, is that it was the first mainline Dragon Quest game to come out as a portable title first, and it really shows a shift. If you look at the Japanese market, it's dominated by portables more than home consoles now. That seems likely to continue.
YH: I agree. It is easy and convenient that you can play on a handheld. Even when you're at home, you can play at home, and then you're not in front of the TV anymore -- so it's very convenient and nice. But on the other hand, some people might want to play the game on big screen, with much better graphic quality... So it's just case-by-case depending on what the market wants at that time.
One of the things that's really interesting about the way the Dragon Quest series has come about over the years is that you had a development partner on all the games.
You did the planning, but you know had partners like Chunsoft, Heartbeat, and Level-5 working on the games. It's obviously worked, though. Could you talk a little bit about how you made that work over the years?
YH: Each developer has their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Level-5 was best suited to creating the kind of 3D world that we wanted in Dragon Quest VIII. That's how we choose different types of partners and make the games.
YM: Depending on the situation with the hardware, we have to select the team that can make the Dragon Quest game Mr. Horii wants to make.
So would you say the partners you've worked with have affected the way you design the games over the years?
YH: Yes, it's very true.
Lately you've primarily been working with Level-5. As a developer of Dragon Quest how would you evaluate what Level-5 has been able to do with the series so far?
YH: So Level-5's strength is 3D graphics, and we feel that really brought out the Dragon Quest world really well.
YM: Right before that, they were with working on Dark Cloud, and they had really nice skills and game quality, and they really brought that to the development of Dragon Quest.
It was reported in the past that you had designed a prototype of Dragon Quest IX with action-based gameplay, but based on audience reaction, you changed back to turn-based battles.
YH: Yes and no, to that rumor. When we worked on the prototype, we actually did make it more like an action game, where you can kind of do the action button mashing, but people didn't really like that kind of gameplay system well. But we didn't change it back just because of that; we also found that turn-based battles are actually fun in the multiplayer mode, so that's what we wanted to do, too.
When you say "people didn't like it", do you mean people internally developing the game, or focus groups, or something else?
YM: It was actually a media event where we brought that prototype, and then there started to be comments on YouTube -- people started arguing about which style was better.
Fundamentally, the core gamers don't like the change. Whenever we try to make some slight changes, they will reject the idea and just bash it. They key is to balance what kind of things we need to change, and what kinds of things we need to maintain.
Well, that's difficult. Ultimately there's an expectation that every Dragon Quest game will sell in the multiple million copies range, in Japan. You need to keep your audience happy, and to keep a lot of people happy at the same time is not an easy thing.
YH: It's very high pressure work.
When you start a new game in the series, how fundamental is the idea you start with? How basic and simple?
YH: The first thing we do is create the game world, what kind of main character we want to have, what kind of evil enemy we will have -- but we also have postmortem meetings from the previous titles and try to make sure that things which were difficulties in the game are addressed in the new one too.
The world we live in is increasingly complicated and it seems like Dragon Quest still manages to stay simple. Is that deliberate? Is there any connection there?
YH: No -- it's maybe just because I'm a very simple person. (laughs)
YH: Yeah. After all, it is just a game. We want to provide simple enjoyment for people; we don't want to make complex things for people to think about. In the real world, there are so many difficulties people are facing. Sometimes, there are no rewards. They don't get any rewards for those difficult things in life, but at least in the game, we want to make sure they will be rewarded for working hard to play the game.
Dragon Quest games are generally challenging, but the thing about Dragon Quest is that if you persevere, you'll eventually succeed. If you just continue, even if you die and you're sent back to the church, you just get up again and go back to the dungeon and eventually you'll make it.
YH: Yes, that's a very traditional thing for us. At the end, you will always be rewarded for your hard work.
That seems to be Japanese somehow. I don't know if that's true or not, but that just seems very Japanese, and not as American.
YH: What does an American think?
I don't want to necessarily speak culturally, but if you look at games right now -- especially mainstream games -- you'll be rewarded just for putting the disc in the drive. It will be cool immediately, and you don't have to work at it. We'll give it to you; it's like a rollercoaster.
YH: Yeah in Japanese style, you have to try, try, try, try -- and then at the end you can finally get a reward.
You'll often hear American game designers often talk about theme park rides as a model of how games should play out and I don't think that Dragon Quest is Disneyland.
YH: Agreed. It's like climbing up a steep mountain -- you have to keep climbing, climbing, climbing, climbing, and then at the end you finally get to the top of the mountain, and you see the beautiful view.