Industry Chatter 09.06.2011

Industry Chatter? More like Dragon Quest X Chatter.

By Andrew Hsieh. Posted 09/06/2011 16:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

In light of Square Enix’s recent announcement that Dragon Quest X would not only be a MMORPG-ish game for Wii, but also a probable launch title for Wii U, we’re devoting this week’s Industry Chatter to all the craziness surrounding this game. People like talking about this game, apparently. What can we say?

First, the obvious– people want to play Dragon Quest X. How did this happen? A couple of things– first, the success of Dragon Quest IX showed that video game enthusiasts, even those decidedly more rabid Dragon Quest fans over in Japan, will accept change in their Dragon Quest– even if they rant and rave about it first. Randomized grottoes, character customization, and most of all, multiplayer play (!) rocked Dragon Quest’s world. It looked as if the only thing tying Dragon Quest IX to Dragon Quest X was Akira Toriyama’s distinctive artwork and Koichi Sugiyama’s music. But millions of copies and one Guiness World Record later (for anonymous contact through its Tag Mode capability), Dragon Quest IX accepted its place in the hearts of Japan, the United States, and Europe. Rightfully so, we’d say.

Well, you can’t say Square Enix is xenophobic.

So it’s no surprise that Dragon Quest X looks like Dragon Quest IX, only inflated exponentially. Character customization? Check. Multiplayer capabilities? Check. Complete shift from the tried-and-true Dragon Quest formula? Check, check, and check. But at the same time, with five playable races, none of them human (though humanoids certainly walk among them), as well as a sheer focus on the online portion of the game, Dragon Quest X looks more and more like what would happen if Blizzard (or at least the monster huntin’ Capcom) stole Akira Toriyama and Koichi Sugiyama from under Square Enix’s collective noses and forced them to make a MMO(J)RPG. And true to Dragon Quest fan form, reaction has been mixed at best– even in the United States the comments are lukewarm. “I thought this was going to be a real RPG,” reads one; “Yeah, this is a great step forward. I mean, look at the online FF games,” says another. The sarcasm is palpable and yet not altogether undeserved. After all, Final Fantasy XIV, the supposed online successor to Square Enix’s popular Final Fantasy XI, is barely staying afloat even in Japan, even with apology after apology and free trial after free trial proffered by Square Enix. Does Dragon Quest X herald the same doom for Dragon Quest as befell Final Fantasy?

But people– at least those in Japan– still want to play this game, mainly because Dragon Quest runs in their blood or their water or something. They just probably want to play it for free. Andriasang reports, however, that Square Enix has decided to enact fees for Wii and Wii U users, though whether this is in terms of a one-time fee (Guild Wars), monthly fees (Monster Hunter Tri in Japan; Phantasy Star Online), or microtransactions (Mega Man 9; Champions Online) has not yet been detailed. In fact, the online component itself still hasn’t been thoroughly uncovered. Oh, sure, ten-minute gameplay videos, caught surreptitiously from the hip, abound on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet, but other than the fact that online battles will still be turn-based like the rest of the series, we know nothing. We do know, though, that Square Enix, which previously stated that the RPG would be playable offline as well as online, has since V Jump, says Andriasang, is running an interview in coming weeks with Square Enix developers, but that’s neither here nor there. The investors are already wringing their hands in despair.

We wonder what caused that sudden drop on September 5.

Yet game developers like Masahiro Sakurai of Project Sora (Super Smash Bros.; Kirby) continue to defend the game, noting that “in a game industry where evolution and sudden changes are tolerated, even considered expected, just treading the same path would be be troubling.” And as far as the industry goes, it’s nice that Sakurai’s remarks echo Keiji Inafune’s remarks that the Japanese game industry needs to either change or lay down and die, since Inafune needs all the high-profile help he can get so that his words don’t get endlessly beaten down by the media. Still, a couple of words from the guy who popularized Mega Man and the guy who unleashed Kirby on an unknowing world at the age of nineteen don’t mean squat unless they can magically generate money.

We would do well to remember, though, that the backlash that Dragon Quest X currently experiences is basically the same thing that Dragon Quest IX went through upon first announcement. At the time, Square Enix had planned to release it on DS, make it multiplayer-focused, and have it be more of an action RPG instead of the turn-based type that Dragon Quest players were accustomed to. Obviously, the reception was less than positive; Square Enix hastily announced that developers had switched back to turn-based battles and that the game would have just a robust a single-player experience as any other Dragon Quest game. While we can’t necessarily hope for (or even want!) Dragon Quest X to change radically because of potential consumer complaints, it’s certainly possible at this stage. We just have to follow the money.

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