As the ninth entry in the fabled Dragon Quest series is finally released outside Japan, we talk to two of its principal originators, designer and writer Yuji Horii and composer Koichi Sugiyama (middle and right, above), and Square Enix's producer of Dragon Quest IX Ryutaro Ichimura (right, above).
They describe their parts in continuing the legend of Japan's third greatest-selling game series, and the challenges they've faced in bringing what has regularly been described as old fashioned right up to date in a game we described in our review as "deep and enduringly absorbing".
Is the way you approach making a new Dragon Quest game in any way constant?
Yuji Horii At the first planning meeting we have on the main branch of the Dragon Quest games, I remind myself that it must be easy to play. There has to be warmth in the game, some humanity in the game. Anyone should be able to pick up and play these games. Another important thing is what’s new this time.
How much of a challenge is it to keep making one great Dragon Quest after another?
YH You have no idea how challenging it is. The fact is, there are only five months between Dragon Quest and its sequel. III came a year after II. I need more and more time to make each new Dragon Quest. IX required five to six years to make. I need time to design something that I’m sure will be fun to experience. Also, I need more and more people, so it has been a huge collective adventure for us in making sure the Dragon Quest name remains strong.
The original Dragon Quest, released in 1986
Is it also difficult to make a new soundtrack for each sequel?
Koichi Sugiyama You may have the same concept and the same genre but you should be able to make different music. An important memory I have from the first Dragon Quest is that the producer wanted to keep developing the series for a very long time. He had in his mind a very popular Japanese movie series named Tora-san, in which you find the same cast and identical storytelling, but each movie was different. The producer wanted to make that kind of series, and it’s the same for the music. For each game, I make different tracks that share the same genre and concept. It’s a very enjoyable challenge for me.
Why did you choose to introduce so many new elements to the series with IX – multiplayer, deep character customisation and the end of random battles?
Ryutaro Ichimura It does look like a jump between VIII and IX, but the key to this is that we decided to put it on to DS. What’s the DS good for? Simple, accessible multiplayer. So how do we make that more fun? If everyone has the same avatar, that’s dull. It doesn’t look great. So you have to add a level of customisation and that really opened up the playing field. Essentially, it’s a chain of decisions.
Did that change the way you made a Dragon Quest game?
RI The common points from I to VIII are that we had to start with a scenario and a game system. Horii-san will write that scenario. But what was different with IX is the volume of quests. Because we had to make so many, we had to take on an enormous number of people to make them. There are other things, too, because it’s DS – Wi-Fi testing and content distribution; shop items are added every day. A new quest is added every week, so that’s an ongoing process, and it’s different to other games.
Dragon Quest IX, released in Japan in July 2009
What was the specific idea behind IX’s multiplayer?
YH The idea was to be able to instantly go multiplayer by just powering the console on. I wanted that kind of instant action. I believe that the network is fun but requires too many things to do like getting a provider, getting online and into a network. The DS was able to make the entire process smooth and instant, accessible without the need of great technical expertise. I had the idea that it could be fun to let players have fun together, even among family members – kids with their parents and so on. I had this hunch in my head that something very fun could be done here. That is why I decided to go with the DS.
Did you deliberately design IX so that it would have greater appeal for western audiences?
RI Yes – you can tell from the menu screens. It’s something we worked on from the very start. This was something we wanted to give to the world, not just Japan. The whole world has to access it, so it’s something that permeates through the whole game.
This interview is part of our in-depth look at Dragon Quest in E217, which is out now.