Role playing video games have been around since the advent of the home computer, with the likes of Aklabeth, Ultima, Wizardry, and many others. One of the most important of these is Enix's Dragon Quest (initially known as Dragon Warrior in America.) Created by Yuji Horii, Dragon Quest combined the overhead movement of Ultima with thefirst-person, random battles of Wizardy, and effectively created the Japanese RPG subgenre. It took Japan by storm, inspired dozens of clones (including Final Fantasy, its primary competitor), and remains one of the most important video games ever made.
By today's standard, it was a very simplistic game. You're a lone knight, off to retrieve a sacred artifact stolen by an evil warlord. Along theway, you'll fight some monsters (including a dragon or two, naturally), buy new weapons, and save a princess. The quest is pretty straightforward, you never gain any extra party members, and fights are primarily determined how much highly you've leveled your characters, as opposed to having any real strategy. And yet, it earned admiration all across Japan.
The Rise of Dragon QuestSo why, exactly, did Dragon Quest take off the way that it did? For starters, it had immediately accessible appeal due to the artwork supplied by Akira Toriyama, one of the most famous manga artists in Japan, responsible for phenomenons like Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball. Although the in-game graphics were primitive and barely resembled Toriyama's artwork, it provided a lot of character to theotherwise standard designs of western RPGs, which were heavily rooted in Dungeons & Dragons.
It was also one of the most in-depth games seen on the Famicom at the time. Back in 1986, if you wanted a complicated game, you needed an expensive PC. But while Dragon Quest isn't as remotely in-depth as any of those games, it offered significantly more exploration and play time than most other titles, whichconcentrated on arcade-style action. The soundtrack was also supplied by classically trained musician Koichi Sugiyama, who had previously carved out a living for himself writing background music for commercials. Although the synth of the 8-bit Famicom was simplistic, it supplied a rousing backdrop to the adventure, with a memorable main theme that may as well be Japan's national anthem.
With itssuccess came several sequels. DQII added a longer quest, more items, more spells, and most important, more characters. DQIII added several different character classes (similar to the original Final Fantasy, which had been released a few months earlier in Japan) and DQIV featured multi-chapter adventure that focused on different characters. Each game sold insanely well and established itsreputation as one of the most popular franchises in the nation.
Despite the breakout success of Dragon Quest in Japan, it didn't receive nearly the same response in America. Enix didn't have any offices outside of their home country, so the original Dragon Quest was published by Nintendo of America in 1989, three years after the initial release. Nintendo had a breakout hit with The Legend of Zelda afew years earlier, despite fears that it may have been too complicated for young American gamers, so they anticipated a similar success. They even included a mini-strategy guide that detailed the entire game, in order to groom newbies into the world of role playing.
Unfortunately, most of America simply ignored the title. The graphics and sound were too primitive. The interface was unwieldy. Andperhaps most importantly, it lacked the action and puzzle solving that earned Zelda its success, instead replaced with slow-paced, turn-based combat, requiring hours of tedious leveling to advance. Nintendo vastly overestimated demand, and ended up giving away unsold copies for free with subscriptions to Nintendo Power. Because of this, it earned quite a lot of recognition from American NES...