What Nintendo’s Effort to Make Dragon Quest Succeed Means

Following the announcement that Dragon Quest X would be headed to the Wii, Nintendo Co. Ltd. President Satoru Iwata made the following statement, as quote by 1up:

“With the release of Dragon Quest IX, there are two things I’d like to make reality. The first is to build a thriving Japanese game market together with Dragon Quest that rivals the West’s. The second is to form a strong tag team to promote Dragon Quest overseas. At Nintendo, we were able to popularize the Brain Age series overseas, which was said to be unmarketable. I want to increase the number of people worldwide that understand the appeal of Dragon Quest, which represents all Japanese gaming culture…even if that only turns out to be a single person. I’m looking forward to working together with Mr. Horii and Square Enix.”

To that end, Chris Kohler of Wired Game|Life has taken an exhaustive look at the significance this holds.

An excerpt from his article, regarding the game’s marketing in America:

And that’s Iwata’s second issue: Dragon Quest is part of the pantheon of Japanese popular culture, but it’s just another game series in America. One that doesn’t sell that well. One wonders what plan Iwata and Square Enix have cooked up. If it just means that Nintendo will pay for television advertising and host a Dragon Quest drinks night in San Francisco, then maybe the game will sell a few more units.

But what if Nintendo is planning on taking the entire burden off of Square Enix and actually publishing Dragon Quest IX itself? In that case, it would be a fascinating repeat of history. Almost exactly 20 years ago, in August 1989, Nintendo of America, flush with success in the U.S. to a degree that no other Japanese gamemaker had ever experienced, decided to try to get America interested in Japan’s popular RPG genre.

You might remember that Nintendo licensed the first Dragon Quest from Enix, retitled it Dragon Warrior, and published it to great fanfare in the U.S.

You might also remember that Dragon Warrior was a huge flop.

With Nintendo and Square Enix in roughly the same positions two decades later, it’ll be interesting to see if this time their efforts actually do spark Dragon Quest passion in the rest of the world. Brain Age is one thing, but a cartoony role-playing game is quite another.

Whether or not the plan succeeds, it’s clear that Nintendo, for all its worldwide success, is still fundamentally a Japanese company that wants its home market to be strong, both domestically and worldwide.

I remember the Dragon Warrior promotion all too well. I also remember not taking a part in it. What can I say? RPGs typically don’t resonate with me especially well, unless Mario or Mega Man are involved.

But that makes me all the more curious… Nintendo’s publishing and promotion of Enix’s Illusion of Gaia certainly got my attention; I bought it on Day 1. And it remains a classic in my eyes. What if they’re somehow able to work their magic again?

I’m very curious as to whether they can win me over on this one. I liked Toriyama’s character designs in VIII, perhaps thanks in part to having been exposed to a lot of Dragon Ball in between Dragon Warrior and that game.

Nintendo is my favorite game company, of this there is no doubt, but I don’t see them as flawless, either; I won’t play a game just because Nintendo puts their name on it. But at the same time, they do have a way of making me at least pay attention.

Be sure to check out the rest of Kohler’s piece at Game|Life; in it, he discusses what seems to be a “non-thriving” (in Iwata’s words) Japanese game industry, the way Square Enix and Nintendo have jockeyed for position over the years as to who benefits who, and even an old line from Square Enix about not wanting Sony to fail, but “we don’t want them to be the overwhelming winner either, so we can’t support them too much.”