With the release of Dragon Quest Builders in the west imminent, Square Enix brought a near finished version to PAX West in Seattle this past labor day weekend. While there, I was granted the privilege of talking with Producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto.
Having already released earlier this year for Japan, Dragon Quest Builders is about to launch in October for both North America and Europe on the 11th and 14th respectively. While speaking with Fujimoto, I was able to ask about the game’s popularity in Japan, expectations for it in the West, as well as the old urban myth about Dragon Quest releases becoming a national holiday of sorts for Japan.
Steven Santana: The game appears to have been very successful in Japan. For instance, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment Japan and Asia always brings it up as a popular title among young gamers. Is Square Enix considering a sequel?
Noriyoshi Fujimoto: The game has been very popular in Japan and a lot of the fans do want a sequel, you can tell that everyone has been saying that. But while we are thinking about doing it, at this time I can’t really say whether or not it is going to happen, but it is definitely being considered. We are very happy that the fans are vocal about the game and the good reception that it has.
SS: I don’t think anyone would have ever imagined a mix between Dragon Quest and Minecraft-esque gameplay before the announcement of Dragon Quest Builders. How did the idea come to be?
NF: When the game was first being considered, Minecraft wasn’t really that big in Japan. So there weren’t that many people playing it much, especially within the adult community. That was part of why we thought that kind of game was very interesting.
And while we thought it was a very interesting concept, the whole sandbox game, one of the problems with it, especially in Japan, is that there really is no goal to it. You play it freely and a lot of Japanese gamers aren’t accustomed to that, they are used to a more structured game. One of the big points of this was to take the sandbox portion of it, and also the RPG portion, and kind of put them together in a way that would appeal to Japanese gamers. To have it lead you through, but you would still be able to do as you please when you play it.
And the Dragon Quest series as a whole is one in Japan that everyone can play. It has always been that sort of pick it up and everyone is able to play no matter if you are good at games, or play a lot at any age, or anything. We wanted to keep that same concept within Dragon Quest Builders as well, to be able to have anybody play this game whether they are familiar with sandbox games or not. If they have never had that experience then lead them through it and that is kinda how that information works.
SS: Speaking about Dragon Quest’s legacy, there is the urban myth that in Japan they would give people off the days that Dragon Quest would come out. I didn’t know if there is any way you could speak to the authenticity of that, or if it was just more of a legend than something that actually occurred.
NF: (Laughs) You do know your Dragon Quest history very well. It is actually true.
So it kinda goes back to earlier Dragon Quests. Especially with Dragon Quest II is when you would see this happen. Dragon Quest II came out and it would be released on a weekday, so people would take the day off and that kind of turned into a problem, especially with children that wanted to play the game. They obviously had to go to school, so from Dragon Quest III they actually shifted the date of release to the weekend to avoid this sort of problem. So there is some truth to the story and that was kind of the way it ended up.
Were there any games that made you want to skip school or work?
SS: Yes, I recently took off the Tuesday that Uncharted 4 came out to play through its entirety that day, because it is a series that I love very much. I think maybe one of the early Kingdom Hearts titles when I was in high school, I think I faked being sick for Kingdom Hearts II. I have fallen off since then, but I was a major Kingdom Hearts fan. A future title I am thinking about is Persona 5. I am very jealous that you will be able to play it before me.
NF: And also, just in general in playing games in that sort of fashion, in Japan there are a lot of people that when they play games lose track of time. Basically they will start playing when it comes out, and then they will play until 5 in the morning and then it is such a drag going to work or going to school. So the community has that sort of sentiment. It happens a lot with recent games too.
SS: Do you believe Dragon Quest can tackle other genres as it has with spin-offs Dragon Quest Heroes and Dragon Quest Builders?
NF: Even in Japan there is a style that we release Dragon Quest games in, where the main games are the numbered ones of course, and we have a lot of spin-offs. We had Dragon Quest Heroes and Builders so we do have a lot of genres and the reason we do that is to widen the audience. There are different types of games that include Dragon Quest and then once people get into that, they might get interested and play the main titles too, if they haven’t already. And so we are trying to do the same thing here with Heroes and Builders as well. As far as a specific genre we want to get into, we don’t know at the current moment, but we do want to take the same method as Japan and release more and more of the side games to widen the appeal.
SS: Considering the success of the formula of mixing a Popular Square Enix IP with this kind of building gameplay, could we see it applied to other IP? Like Final Fantasy Builders?
NF: Tough question. We do think that Final Fantasy combined with that sandbox game would be successful, mainly because over here Final Fantasy is very big as well, compared to Dragon Quest. We hope that Dragon Quest Builders in this form does as well as the other games.
SS: What are your expectations for the western release of the game? Due to the larger base of population in the United States do you think it will proportionally match the audience in Japan?
NF: First as far as the general success, if you take a look at Japan to start, sandbox games weren’t that popular. Especially when it started development, it picked up a little bit since then. The game did still manage to sell well. Since sandbox games are popular in the U.S. then this will be a more popular game, even if it is Dragon Quest. Because sandbox has a base popularity we think it will do well. As far as actual sales numbers go, we are not completely sure, but trying to aim at the same thing: both the sandbox community and younger people who are interested in Minecraft. We are hoping that once it picks up, people who buy the game will tell others, and from there sales will pick up and be at or higher than what it has been in Japan.
SS: I’m sure the Japanese community created some very impressive builds with Dragon Quest Builders. Does the team check them out? Do you have a favorite?
NF: We do actually look at a lot of the fan-made things, and actually there have been contests in Japan so people would just send in their own creations and then we would rank them. We went through all of them and put comments on every single one. We looked through every single one, and had a livestream where we went through some of the top ones and announced the winner. There has been a lot of engagement like that. Asia has done a similar contest and we are hoping to follow suit once it is in the United States and have the same sort of contest.
SS: The game has this very charming element where you, the hero, are the only one who knows how to build things. Everyone else approaches it and is very alien to this, they can’t comprehend that. I am hoping it is a source of comedy in the game, that throughout it you are introduced to more people who are surprised that you are able to do this.
NF: There are four different stages in the game and they all have their separate sub-stories, so there will be a variety of NPCs and, depending on the story, there will be a different reaction. There is a lot of humor that is both in the story that is played, and overall in the fact that the hero is the only one who knows how to build. We are hoping you will enjoy the different scenarios that will occur throughout the game with the different stages.
SS: With the Japanese version, have you been releasing consistent updates for it? Do you plan on continuing support with the English release?
NF: For the Japanese version there have been various updates, where we would add new things and new content. Basically the way we are going to do it now, is the U.S. version will take the latest Japanese version, so all those updates will be included in the base game for the U.S. version. At this time we are not planning on doing anything beyond that, so the U.S. version will be the complete version.
SS: How long have you been working with the Dragon Quest franchise?
NF: I have been with the Dragon Quest team for over 13 years, and have helped with 20 Dragon Quest titles which may be more than anyone else on the team.
SS: Do you have a personal favorite in the numbered series?
NF: Can I pick two? (laughs)
SS: That’s fine.
Dragon Quest VIII would be number one. Dragon Quest III would be number two.
As far as Dragon Quest III goes, in Japan it was the breakout title for Dragon Quest. It really got the series started, and I did purchase it and play it in my own home. It is a very memorable title for me.
SS: What are your hopes for the future of Dragon Quest as a series?
NF: As far as Builders goes, the sandbox game has gained a lot of popularity in Japan. I want to keep expanding the Dragon Quest universe. How I will do it is unsure right now, but I would like to continue working on this sort of game.
SS: Lastly, and since you asked me earlier, are there some games for which you have faked being sick or have taken time off work?
NF: There might be too many to list. (laughs), Final Fantasy XI might be the biggest. Once I was playing Final Fantasy XI and then it was very early in the morning and realized I was too tired to work, so it turned it into a vacation day.
[Questions by Giuseppe Nelva and Steven Santana]