Just because a game isn’t a big hit in the United States doesn’t mean it isn’t a success overseas. One of the best examples of this is the Dragon Quest franchise. The long-running series, considered one of the most important RPGs of all time, is one of the biggest video games in Japan, but it’s never found the same success abroad.
Dragon Quest was quickly became overshadowed by other RPGs such Final Fantasy in many parts of the world. Many American gamers are still not familiar with the franchise even though it’s been around for nearly 35 years. In fact, Dragon Quest has influenced the RPGs that are popular in the United States. Regardless, the series still struggles to find the same fame outside the land of the rising sun.
Dragon Quest took Japan by storm when it first released in 1986. The game captivated Japanese gamers with its epic plot and charming characters. Dragon Quest revolutionized its genre by introducing many elements never before seen in RPGs. The game mixed overhead controls with a first-person combat system making it unlike any other RPG at the time. The game signal handily started the JRPG subgenre that is still popular today.
One would think that such an important and revolutionary game would be more popular outside of Japan. But the fact that Dragon Quest didn’t release in the U.S. until three years after it released in Japan severely hindered its popularity. By the time the game reached the United States in 1989, the graphics, sound and interface were all dated. The gaming industry had plenty of technological advances in the late 80s, and many gamers were getting ready for the SNES by the time Dragon Quest made the leap to America. What was once technically impressive was now primitive. This caused many American gamers to completely ignore the title and focus on more up-to-date games.
The Dragon Quest sequels also suffered from late releases in the U.S. Enix released Dragon Quest III and IV for the NES in 1992 even though the superior SNES had already been out for three years. The series may have been more successful abroad if Enix released the games for SNES, but because Enix took so long to release the games internationally, the series was always a few years behind outside of Japan.
The complex nature of early RPGs made it a pretty niche genre. Dragon Quest was more advanced than most other games in the United States at the time, and many American gamers weren’t used to seeing that level of detail in a video game. Many expected Dragon Quest to play more like Zelda than an RPG. While some American players enjoyed Dragon Quest‘s more advanced gameplay, the majority of gamers weren’t ready for that complex of an experience.
The most popular NES games in the U.S. at the time were platformers and action games. Meanwhile, most RPGs came out on computers, so many NES owners were not familiar with the genre, which limited Dragon Quest‘s appeal.Many American gamers gave up on Dragon Quest before the game really started because they didn’t understand the gameplay. Japanese audiences grew accustomed to JRPGs faster than gamers in the West, causing such titles appeal to wider audiences.
With over eleven games and numerous spinoffs, Dragon Quest is one of the longest-running and most important gaming franchises to ever come out of Japan. The game is viewed as a cultural phenomenon and continues to enthuse Japanese gamers to this day. While American gamers may have been thrilled by the announcement of Banjo-Kazooie joining Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s massive roster during last year’s E3, the big announcement for Japanese players that Dragon Quest’s Hero was joining the fight.
The series is so successful in its homeland that a rumor started circulating that Enix was legally required to only release games on weekends since so many people were skipping work and school to play its games, particularly Dragon Quest. While the rumor is false, there is some truth to it: Enix made the decision to release games on Saturdays after many children skipped school to buy Dragon Quest III. It is safe to say that JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger wouldn’t be what they are today if it wasn’t for Dragon Quest.
Dragon Quest is tremendously successful in Japan but fails to capture an audience in the U.S. Here's why the game series never took off in the West.