The World of Asian RPGs

Dragon Quest

Dragon Quest series is the undisputed king of RPGs in its homeland. The law that forbids Japanese stores to sell newly appeared Dragon Quest games on working days, for fear that people will leave work and school to be able to get hold of the game, illustrates best the series' tremendous popularity. Dragon Quest, Enix's greatest creation, is for most Japanese the absolute leader of the genre and its purest incarnation. However, outside of Japan the success of the series was questionable at best. While it gained a small, but faithful fan community in the West as well, the majority of Western players found Dragon Quest games (known as Dragon Warrior outside of Japan) too conservative, their stories too simple, their production values too low, and their gameplay mechanics too basic to enjoy. Indeed, Dragon Quest games deliberately ignored the growing tendency of Japanese RPGs towards complex plots with an abundance of cut scenes; they avoided graphical effects and remained faithful to the original concept of required leveling of characters and the integration of story into the gameplay. Paradoxically, Dragon Quest games have always been in a way the most Western of all Japanese RPGs, paying more attention to immersion in the game world than following a set-up plot line.

The first Dragon Quest was still a very primitive game in basically every aspect. There were only one-on-one battles, no variety in combat options, and an almost non-existent story without any characterization. Extensive leveling up was required in order to advance into a different area of the game.

The sequel, Dragon Quest II, had not only a much larger world that allowed plenty of free-form exploration, but also let you find companions for the main hero and fight enemies as a party. Story and characterization were still only rudimentary, and the gameplay system less refined than in contemporary installments of other great series.

Dragon Quest III was a big step forwards gameplay-wise. It featured more party members, and a job system that allowed you to change their classes during the course of the game. The game world also had more variety, and the main story line was tied together with the first two games. Despite all these improvemenents, "Dragon Quest III" still suffered from almost total lack of characterization.

It was Dragon Quest IV that marked the series' foray into greatness. "Dragon Quest IV" had a story that was divided into chapters. Each chapter was dedicated to a character's background story, and you had to play through all those stories until the characters met up with the actual protagonist of the game. The level of characterization of "Dragon Quest IV" was surprisingly high, so high in fact that it surpassed even the best offerings of its contemporary RPGs, let alone its own predecessors. The main story line was much more refined and was unraveled piece by piece, through quests and interaction with NPCs. Rather ordinary graphics didn't prevent this game from being one of the best Japanese RPGs from the 8-bit era. Later the game was re-made for Playstation. Koichi Sugiyama's classic-style soundtrack and further gameplay refinements made this remake a highlight of the series.

Dragon Quest V, the first installment of the series for the SNES console, was perhaps not as revolutionary, but every bit as creative as its predecessor. Instead of depicting just a short period in the life of a hero, "Dragon Quest V" told his entire life story, similarly to the generation concept of "Phantasy Star III". Gameplay-wise, it featured monster-summoning system, which allowed you to recruit randomly encountered monsters into your party, level them up, equip with weapons and armor, etc. The Playstation 2 remake of "Dragon Quest V", although fully 3D, captured well the style of the game's world, and its fully orchestrated music added a new dimension to the game.

Dragon Quest VI concluded the "celestial" Dragon Quest trilogy, featuring interesting plot elements such as parallel worlds. It combined the job system from "Dragon Quest IV" with the recent addition of monster-summoning. While the story line itself was less original than in the two previous games and the main plot was less focused, "Dragon Quest VI" provided perhaps the richest and most flexible gameplay experience in the series so far.

The next installment of the series, Dragon Quest VII, appeared after a very long break, and was criticized by many players for being unable to catch up with the current technical achievements. On the background of contemporary Final Fantasy games, "Dragon Quest VII" with its old-fashioned graphics and total lack of cinematic development looked indeed like a relic from the past. For fans of the series, it nevertheless delivered plenty of traditional Dragon Quest gameplay, especially thanks to its enormous length. The story centered around travels to the past to restore the true face of the world, and the gameplay once again relied on the job system.

Dragon Quest VIII was in a certain way a breakthrough for the series. It was the first game that was released in the West under the original Dragon Quest name, and upon its release it received overwhelming praise from critics and many fans alike. While most of the fans disliked the new weapon skill system, which replaced the job system of the previous games, and the game's story was more than traditional, it's beautiful graphics, large world, and humorous elements made it the most popular Dragon Quest title in the West so far.

Continued: Final Fantasy

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