With more than four million copies sold, Square Enix's Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is one of the top five DS releases of all time in Japan, and its success is sure to grow when it arrives on North American shores this weekend.
Last month Nintendo offered me the opportunity to fire off a few questions to the game's producer, Mr. Ryutaro Ichimura, via email. I just received the answers back, and he had some interesting things to say, not least of which is that he doesn't believe DS exclusivity will keep older RPG lovers from playing.
(By the by, I just started playing the game earlier this week, and I'm having a great time. It's a very traditional, turn-based JRPG-something we don't see enough of these days. I'm away next week, but I'll have a full report when I get back.)
It may seem odd to some that you chose to develop a major, numbered entry in such a popular franchise for a handheld device rather than a console. Can you explain this decision?
One reason for the decision is based on the idea that all the previous Dragon Quest titles have been released on the platforms with the largest install base at the time. When we started the project of Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, it was not clear which home console would have the largest install base. Nintendo DS had the largest user base on overall comparison and we had a core concept of "everyone can enjoy the game together". It requires lower hurdles for players and higher accessibility for gamers of all abilities. From these two reasons, we chose the Nintendo DS portable gaming system as the best platform for this launch.
A lot of role-playing game lovers in the West are older, but, for better or worse, the Nintendo DS is viewed primarily as a children's device in North America. Do you think the game's DS exclusivity will mean that a significant number of older fans simply won't play?
I know that children love Nintendo DS very much, of course, but I don't agree with the idea that grown-ups do not love the system as well. I believe that Nintendo DS is enjoyed by Dragon Quest fans of all ages so I don't think there will be a case where they simply won't play.
From my understanding, the game has been designed from the ground-up to facilitate multiplayer play. What can you tell us about the multi-player element, and why did you think it should play such an important role?
As I explained, we have the idea that "everyone can enjoy the game together" as the core concept. It is an era when people share what they think is interesting among friends and given that trend of sharing, we thought we needed to let Dragon Quest evolve-in a "Dragon Quest" manner. We applied a multiplayer functionality where players can directly share their experiences on the spot. It can offer the Dragon Quest IX player a much more interesting experience than being limited to a single player experience.
Will players who prefer single-player RPGs feel as though they're not experiencing a complete game if they decide not to play with others?
Absolutely not. Dragon Quest the series has been a single player game for a while and we have designed the single-player mode in a manner that will satisfy traditional fans, whose numbers are not small.
Random encounters played a significant role in previous Dragon Quests, but they are not present in the new game. Why did you decide not to include them, and how has their absence affected the game's pacing and character progression?
There are two reasons why we replaced random encounters with symbol encounters. One reason is because we wanted to change the format of how to start battles. Another reason is because of the feedback from foreign players. For example, in regards to Dragon Quest VIII, we had a number of players express their opinion against having random encounters with the rationale that it's not natural to suddenly start a battle against what had been invisible. This change also gives players the option to vary their play styles. If you want to advance the storyline you can ignore monster symbols and if you want to train your party, you have the option to proactively touch the symbol.
What aspects of the game are similar to those of previous Dragon Quest games? How will returning players recognize this game as a proper part of the franchise?
Players can feel the same sense of play in any part of the franchise as they did in the previous titles. The story is told by major characters in a castle or a town and their party enhances their abilities through the battles against monsters. The hero is the player and their adventure will move and change the universe. That sense of play is available only on proper part of the franchise. Players can look forward to this!
The game has sold exceptionally well in Japan. Do you expect similar sales numbers in the Americas and Europe? I read that changes had been made specifically to cater to Western audiences.
Actually, we have been planning the global release of Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies from the beginning of the project so no significant differences or changes to the game will be added for Western versions. We spent a great amount of time and increased our localization team to enhance the quality of the translation as much as possible. Of course we will be happy if we will achieve the same good sales results overseas, but we would like to steadily introduce what Dragon Quest is all about for the North American and European audience.
What's next for Dragon Quest? Might the series return to consoles in the near future?
We are developing next title in the series, Dragon Quest X, for Wii. Please don't miss it!
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