Game Changers: Volume 22 – Dragon Quest IX

There are only a few things in life that you can really count on. Mario will always trump Luigi; there is never anything “final” about Final Fantasy; and Dragon Quest will alway be a bastion of tradition in the RPG world. But in December 2006, Square Enix shook the very foundations of our RPG beliefs: they announced that Dragon Quest IX would slough off the shackles of menu-based fighting and embrace modernity by becoming… an action RPG.

You know... it's hard to come up with captions for a game that hasn't even been released here yet.
You know… it’s hard to come up with captions for a game that hasn’t even been released here yet.

Dragon Quest IX ruffled some feathers right from the start when it was announced for the Nintendo DS. When the seventh generation (yeah, I admit, I had to look that up on Wiki) of consoles came out, the DQ team said the next Dragon Quest would be developed for the system that was the most popular. As it turned out, that was neither the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, nor even the humble Wii. It was the DS. By the end of December 2006 the DS has sold a phenomenal 21 million units worldwide. By comparison, as of August 2009 (2009, mind you, a full three years later), the Xbox 360 has sold 31 million units. We’re not even going to talk about the PS3. As we all know, the Wii has sold like hotcakes, but its numbers still pale against DS sales which, in case you were wondering, are now up to 107 million now. And that’s not counting DSi numbers.

So for the first time, a portable system was the fastest selling system in the world, and a Dragon Quest game was being designed for said handheld. Different, but not earthshattering. No, the most terrifying news was yet to come. Hot on the heels of the system announcement came the news that Dragon Quest IX would be an action RPG with real-time combat. That, my friends, was when the manure hit the fan.

You have to understand that Dragon Quest is an institution in Japan. A lot of people who normally don’t play games, do play Dragon Quest. And for the most part, they were not happy with the proposed changes. A few weeks after the announcement, Famitsu did a short reader survey on the subject with questions such as:

“Do you like the idea of action-based battles in a Dragon Quest game? Will they change your world for the better?”

The results were not so much what Square Enix was hoping to hear:

  • 6.8% say “Neither yes nor no”
  • 19.9% say “I’m not sure yet”
  • 19.4% say “Yes”
  • 53.9% say “No”

Retailers had similar misgivings:

  • 15% — Yes
  • 32.4 — Not sure yet
  • 12.5 — Neither yes nor no
  • 40% — No
When the characters threatened to walk out if they didn't get their menus back, that's when things got serious.
When the characters threatened to walk out if they didn’t get their menus back, that’s when things got serious.

Full credit goes to Insert Credit for an English write up of the Famitsu results. You can check out the full story here.

Now here’s where the really crazy part comes in… A mere four months after the announcement that DQIX would be an action RPG, Square Enix changed their minds. In April of 2007 Square Enix put out the word that the upcoming Dragon Quest would stick with the traditional menu-based combat the series had always espoused. Of course they didn’t quite admit why they’d made the changes. In a 2007 interview with IGN, Yuji Horii, creator of the Dragon Quest series, said that the action-y design was “only an experiment.”

But really, I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb to suggest that the less than stellar response to the action RPG announcement made the DQ team rethink their strategy, what with Dragon Quest being one of Square Enix’s flagship series, especially in Japan. Losing 50% of the fanbase would have had significant financial repercussions after all. So what we have here is a case where fan outcry actually changed the design of a game. Now there’s something you don’t see every day! ¬†And it seems to be paying off. Dragon Quest IX was released in July over in Japan and it managed to sell over two million copies in its first week, in addition to receiving a perfect score from Famitsu. With 3.7 in sales so far, it’s already surpassed Dragon Quest VIII‘s 3.6 million in Japanese sales. For proving that fan outcry can change the course of a game’s developmet, Dragon Quest IX certainly deserves a special place in the annal of gaming history.

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