Franchise Festival #96: Dragon Quest Spinoffs

Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.

This week we’ll be exploring the mysterious dungeons and blocky towers of Dragon Quest‘s multitudinous spinoffs. Cover art, unless otherwise noted, is from MobyGames. Please consider supporting that website, as its volunteers tirelessly catalog key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium. Note that core series entries (and an interview with USGamer‘s Nadia Oxford) can be found in Franchise Festival #95.

Where an Anglicization has become recognizable and popularly accepted for a Japan-only title, I have tended to use it; that said, given the spotty localization of these spinoffs, there are instances where no English equivalent is available and I have opted for the original Japanese name. Unless otherwise noted, a single year indicates a Japan-only release and two years separated by a “/” respectively indicate Japanese release date and North American release date.

Table of Contents

Mystery Dungeon
Monsters
Slime MoriMori/Rocket Slime
Monster Battle/Scan Battle
Heroes
Builders
Miscellaneous

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Mystery Dungeon

Koichi Nakamura shifted Chunsoft’s focus to the production of sound novels midway through development on Enix’s Dragon Quest V (1992/2009). These choice-heavy titles, which began with Otogirisō (1992), were designed to revive the text adventure genre on the Super Famicom. After the studio’s successful self-publication of its first game, Nakamura left the Dragon Quest franchise in the hands of series’ co-creator Yuji Horii.

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Monsters gang up on you in the dungeon if you’re not careful. Source: MobyGames

Only months later, however, a proposal by Chunsoft’s Seiichiro Nagahata led Nakamura to approach his former collaborator with a request to use Dragon Quest IV (1990) merchant character Torneko in a new intellectual property (IP). Nagahata wanted to produce a modern adaptation of Rogue (1980), one of his favorite games, for the Super Famicom. Rogue’s high level of difficulty and mechanical opacity made Nakamura skeptical, but he concluded that players might give it a try if they could anchor themselves through Akira Toriyama’s popular monster designs. Torneko was a natural fit for its protagonist, since his campaign in Dragon Quest IV had already been oriented around accumulating items in dungeons. Horii gave his blessing and the first Mystery Dungeon game began production in late 1992.

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As with core series entry Dragon Quest VII, Torneko: The Last Hope made little use of the PlayStation’s horsepower. Source: MobyGames

Chunsoft’s Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon was released to an unexpectedly positive critical and commercial response on September 19, 1993. As in Rogue thirteen years earlier, players explore randomly-generated dungeon floors from a top-down perspective and engage with enemies in mechanically-simplistic turn-based battles. Unlike Dragon Quest, combat takes place on the exploration field rather than in a discrete battle screen. Torneko can acquire better equipment and improve his likelihood of survival by selling collected treasure outside of the dungeon. One of Rogue’s most notorious features, the permanent death of the player character when he or she loses all hit points (HP), was omitted in a bid to make the game more accessible to casual players.

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While it is rendered in full cel-shaded 3D, the dungeons of Dragon Quest: Shōnen Yangus to Fushigi no Dungeon retain the series’ traditional top-down perspective. Source: Jeux Actu

Torneko no Daibouken kickstarted the roguelike sub-genre of role-playing games (RPGs) on home consoles and spawned countless successors. While it was not released internationally, its PlayStation sequel Torneko: The Last Hope (1999/2000) was published in North America “because the localization team was so passionate about it they agreed to work for a substantially reduced rate.” The sub-series’ third entry, Dragon Quest Characters: Torneko no Daibōken 3 (2002), was not so lucky; neither the 3D PlayStation 2 original version nor its 2004 Game Boy Advance port were localized outside of Japan. The latest Dragon Quest-based Mystery Dungeon game for dedicated video game devices, Cavia-developed Dragon Quest: Shōnen Yangus to Fushigi no Dungeon (2006), was published on the PlayStation 2 and starred Dragon Quest VIII’s thief Yangus rather than Torneko. While this too was denied an English-language version, roguelikes have become a worldwide phenomenon through the release of titles featuring other popular IPs like Chocobo’s Dungeon (1998-2019) and the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series (2005-2020). Annual iterations of Dragon Quest Mobile Dungeon 1 from 2006 to 2008 and a 2010 title called Dragon Quest Mobile Dungeon 2 seem to have continued the original Mystery Dungeon sub-series’ legacy on Japanese mobile phones, but little information is available on them in English-language sources and they are no longer available to download.

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Monsters

The Dragon Quest Monsters sub-series began with a pitch from Enix’s Taichi Inuzuka to create a series based on thoroughbred horse breeding around 1993. Inuzuka had just finished producing Chunsoft’s Dragon Quest V and Horii believed that the monster-taming system from that game would dovetail elegantly with a breeding mechanic. Enix hired the prolific – if intentionally anonymous – Japanese studio Tose to develop Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry’s Wonderland (1998/2000) for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color using ideas provided by Horii and an uncredited Inuzuka.

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The player character’s companions can follow him around during exploration. Source: Tamashii Hiroka

The protagonist of Dragon Quest Monsters’ series debut is a child version of Dragon Quest VI party member Terry, who travels the Kingdom of GreatTree and randomly-generated alternate worlds from a top-down perspective as he seeks to save his sister from the sinister Warubou. Though the player is beset by random encounters with enemies in the manner of the game’s source material, Terry relies on up to three monsters to fight for him rather than battle these foes directly. These creatures are treated as party members, accumulating experience points through combat and acquiring new abilities as they level up. New monsters have a random chance of asking to join the party after being defeated.

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Monsters’ wildness level must be lowered before they can be tamed. Source: Tamashii Hiroka

As had been the case in Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei (1992), which remained unavailable in the West until an iOS port in 2014, Terry can breed two monsters to produce stronger allies. While the breeding of monsters is functionally necessary to conquer more challenging enemies, it can be risky: both parents depart once their egg has been laid. Happily, up to 38 monsters not in Terry’s immediate party can be stored at a farm.

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The overworld of Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Heart resembles the core franchise’s SNES entries. Source: MearoGaming

Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry’s Wonderland launched shortly before the Game Boy Color hardware and initially sold poorly. A national competition, which involved battling raised monsters at stores around Japan, brought the game mainstream popularity about a month after its release. This belated commercial success inspired the production of Dragon Quest Monsters 2 (2001) and the Game Boy Advance’s Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Heart (2003, Japan-only), though decreasing sales for these sequels made Enix skeptical of releasing a fourth.

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The cel-shaded graphics of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker make the most of the DS’ limited 3D capabilities. Source: MobyGames

The widespread adoption of the Nintendo DS platform, though, gave the series’ a new lease on life in the late 2000s. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker was produced with an eye to capturing this massive player-base through the addition of cel-shaded 3D graphics, online functionality using the now-discontinued Nintendo Wi-Fi service, and a “cool” player-named protagonist. Its Wi-Fi features would go on to heavily influence development on Dragon Quest IX (2009/2010). Unlike its predecessors, which had been intermittently published by Eidos Interactive in North America and Europe, Square Enix itself opted to publish and heavily publicize the fourth sub-series entry worldwide.

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It’s a shame that the Dragon Quest Monsters sub-series’ flashiest game, Joker 3, never came to the West. Source: JRPG.moe

Dragon Quest Monsters: Jokers’ commercial success prompted another title for the DS, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, published worldwide by Nintendo in 2011 following its 2010 publication by Square Enix in Japan. Though Joker 2 features few changes to the formula established by its direct predecessor, Japan-only 3DS sequel Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 (2016) introduces new mechanics like the ability to ride monsters and equip accessories. Subsequent remakes of the first three games for the 3DS and Switch, along with expanded “Professional” versions of Joker 2 and Joker 3 and stripped-down spinoffs for smart devices (Dragon Quest Monsters: Wanted! [2010] and Dragon Quest Monsters: Super Light [2014]), have not been released outside of Japan at the time of writing.

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Slime MoriMori / Rocket Slime

Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest: Shougeki no Shippo Dan was inspired by Slime Bōkenki, a lighthearted Dragon Quest manga serialized in V Jump magazine during the 1990s, and a plan by Dragon Quest VIII producer Yoshiki Watanabe to create a new Dragon Quest sub-series aimed at young audiences. While its slime protagonist wielded a sword and shield in a prototype, playtesters complained that the character was effectively The Legend of Zelda’s Link and the project was retooled to focus on slime-specific abilities. The resulting Tose-developed game was released on the Game Boy Advance in Japan on November 14, 2003.

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That platypunk is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ in this image from Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest: Shougeki no Shippo Dan. Source: Gameboyzonepl

An unnamed playable slime explores a 2D world from a top-down perspective as he works to save his family and friends from a malevolent collective of platypunk enemies. The script eschews Dragon Quest’s epic adventure in favor of a satirical tone. By holding down the ‘A’ button and moving the d-pad, the player can stretch his or her avatar out and hurl him towards breakable environmental objects or enemies. Monsters can likewise be stacked on the protagonist’s head and used to open up otherwise-inaccessible areas.

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Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime‘s graphics are similar to its predecessor, though it’s set apart by some of the GBA’s zaniest boss fights. Source: Dragon Quest Wiki

The sub-series’ first adventure remains exclusive to Japan, but Square Enix opted to produce a North American version of the DS’ Suraimu Morimori Doragon Kuesuto 2: Daisensha to Shippo Dan (2005/2006) as Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime based on the international popularity of Dragon Quest VIII (2004/2005). Gameplay in the sequel is similar to its predecessor, though the presence of two screens allows for ambitious tank battles in which an oversized enemy is defeated by objects hurled from a giant slime-shaped robot by the player. This localization introduces a name for the player character – Rocket – and Anglicizes the prior game’s sinister platypunk-populated Tails Brigade as the Plob.

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Egads, the slimes have discovered piracy! Source: Hardcore Gaming 101

The series’ third title was released on the 3DS in 2011. Slime Mori Mori Dragon Quest 3: Daikaizoku to Shippo Dan introduces an online multiplayer mode, hybrid 2D/3D graphics in the style of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl (2007/2009), and a new quest in which Rocket and his friends work to recover a set of Rainbow Orbs stolen by Plob kingpin Don Clawleone. Fully 3D naval combat replaces the 2.5D tank battles of Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. A promotional tie-in with McDonald’s in 2012 saw the fast food chain providing free downloadable content in the form of exclusive in-game items and a minigame that, if won, granted the player a store coupon. Sadly, Slime MoriMori‘s third entry remains unavailable in North America or Europe at the time of writing.

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Monster Battle / Scan Battle

This sub-series began with 2007’s Rocket Studio-developed Dragon Quest: Monster Battle Road. All entries are arcade card battlers, a popular Japanese genre which has never made its way to North America or Europe. Players buy randomized collectible cards from the machine and then use them to produce effects in-game, like summoning a monster or special attack, as they battle enemies in an arena. Duels can be fought against an AI opponent or between two real-world players.

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The player and two summoned monsters battle Dragon Quest IV‘s Psaro at a Tokyo Games Show preview of Monster Battle Road II. Source: animebabu (yes, this is the best image I could get of the first two Monster Battle Road games)

The widespread commercial success of Monster Battle Road led to additional story chapters being intermittently added to its single-player mode and, in December 2008, the release of Monster Battle Road II by co-publishers Square Enix and Taito. Where the first game had based its rudimentary story on Dragon Quest and Dragon Quest II, Monster Battle Road II integrates plot elements from Dragon Quests IV through VI. Item cards and powerful special move cards likewise make their debut in the sub-series’ second machine.

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The Wii port is overall faithful to its coin-guzzling source material, but the integration of a character creator is a nice touch. Source: Free Emulator (Dolphin Version)

A Japan-only only enhanced port for the Wii, Dragon Quest: Monster Battle Road Victory (2010), allows players to produce custom avatars in the style of Dragon Quest IX. An optional proprietary controller even attempts to replicate the look of the arcade cabinet’s input mechanism. While neither native Wii hardware nor the game’s proprietary controller can scan the cards for which this sub-series is known, Square Enix offered a workaround in the form of an app available on the DSiWare download service or smartphones.

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Monster Battle Scanner‘s attract mode teachers players how to buy and scan cards. Source: Arcade Belgium

Monster Battle Scanner, a joint project between Square Enix and Marvelous, followed at the arcades in June 2016. Gameplay mechanics are similar to its predecessors, though on-screen action results from the machine scanning a card’s barcode rather than ingesting the entire card, while characters from Dragon Quest VIII and later core series entries appear here for the first time. Monster Battle Scanner received a new title in 2017, Scan Battlers, and has subsequently offered new content in the form of seasonal updates. The sub-series is most famous outside of Japan for Monster Battle Road’s status as the first major video game project directed by Naoki Yoshida, a charismatic figure who would go on to spearhead the ambitious redesign and relaunch of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV in 2014; his overwhelming success has seen him running that project for the past six years.

Note: Image of Monster Battle Scanner arcade cabinet sourced from Arcade Belgium.

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Heroes

Omega Force, which produced many of the best hack-and-slash games of the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 as part of its Musou franchise (Warriors in the West), was contracted by Square Enix to develop a Dragon Quest action game in the 2010s. Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below launched on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 during February 2015 in Japan, following the studio’s hugely popular breakthrough Hyrule Warriors (2014), though only the PlayStation 4 version was published in North America and Europe eight months later; a worldwide PC release followed in December 2015.

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Gritty door-to-door urban military combat, Dragon Quest style. Source: Amazon

The player controls either Luceus or Aurora, Captains of Elsaize’s Royal Guard, as they assemble a squad that includes other new characters and popular heroes from core Dragon Quest titles. Among the playable classic characters are Dragon Quest IV’s Alena, Kiryll, Maya, and Psaro; Dragon Quest V’s Bianca and Nera, Dragon Quest VI’s Terry; and Dragon Quest VIII’s Jessica and Yangus. The heroes work to prevent evil sorcerer Velasco, who has already raised an army of iconic Dragon Quest enemies, from releasing dark dragon Shadroth on their peaceful realm. While most monsters are hostile, the player’s forces are aided by a charming Healslime named Healix and can summon allied monsters in battle by making use of monster coins acquired from defeated foes.

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Dragon Quest Heroes finally lets players battle classic boss enemies like the Green Dragon in real-time. Source: Steam

Dragon Quest Heroes’ story is depicted in lushly rendered and fully-voiced cutscenes between individual battlefields containing thousands of on-screen enemies. Once a battle stage is selected, the player character and his or her allies must complete an objective like defending a location from assault by monsters or leading an attack on an enemy fortification. Oversized bosses require a group of four heroes to work together as a team as they battle in real-time. Powerful special attacks can be used to attack countless foes simultaneously, though they can only be activated once the player character has built up a gauge through combat. Role-playing elements set Dragon Quest Heroes apart from Omega Force’s earlier Musou titles, as characters level up and improve their attributes by slaying monsters and completing sidequests offered by non-player characters (NPCs). New arms and armor can likewise be found and equipped to improve character stats.

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Fan-favorite Dragon Quest IV merchant Torneko finally makes his way to the Heroes sub-series as a playable character in Dragon Quest Heroes II. Source: Steam

Dragon Quest Heroes II: Twin Kings and the Prophecy’s End was released in Japan for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita only fifteen months after its predecessor. The current-generation home console version would be localized in the West for PlayStation 4 and PC players a year later in April 2017. A March 2017 Switch release containing both Dragon Quest Heroes games, perhaps best-known for its shoddy technical performance, has never been published outside of Japan.

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Omega Force’s Musou games are most famous for their densely-populated battlefield, but Dragon Quest Heroes II lets the team stretch itself creatively with some open-world RPG exploration. Source: Steam

While its basic hack-and-slash gameplay remains pleasantly simple, changes around the periphery of the game make it a significant step forward from its predecessor. New playable characters include Dragon Quest IV’s Torneko and Meena, Dragon Quest VI’s Carver, Dragon Quest VII’s Maribel and Ruff, Dragon Quest VIII’s Angelo, and Dragon Quest IX’s Erinn. An explorable overworld is home to numerous towns, including the major hub settlement of Accordia. Unlike Dragon Quest Heroes’ Luceus or Aurora, protagonists Lazarel and Teresa can alter their abilities by switching between different vocations (including warrior, martial artist, thief, mage, or monk); this replaces the equipment system of the prior game. Up to four players can now join one another for multiplayer sessions in the Space-Time Labyrinth, which includes bosses and additional characters drawn from core Dragon Quest games. Dragon Quest Heroes II’s popularity among audiences worldwide led to a steady stream of free downloadable content (DLC), including a new competitive multiplayer mode in which players battle one another using summoned monsters, throughout Spring and Summer 2017.

Note: Cover image of Dragon Quest Heroes sourced from The Games DB.

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Builders

In spite of its popularity in the West, sandbox game Minecraft (2011) was initially slow to catch on in Japan due to its lack of direction. Square Enix producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto believed that a few key alterations to the game’s formula might make it more palatable to local players. A team at Square Enix Business Division 5, under the leadership of Fujimoto and director Kazuya Niinou (best known for his work on Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey), developed an adaptation of Minecraft that integrated RPG-like character improvement systems, a plot that routes players along a predefined creative path, and an audio/visual presentation that leverages the familiarity many Japanese audiences have with the Dragon Quest franchise. The gamble was a success, as Dragon Quest Builders would rapidly popularize the sandbox genre in Japan when it was published on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita on January 28, 2016.

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Dragon Quest Builders posits an alternate universe in which the hero of Dragon Quest failed to rid Alefgard of monsters. Source: Nintendo

Players create an avatar who serves as the protagonist in a cautionary counterfactual variation on Dragon Quest’s plot. Rather than rejecting the Dragon Lord’s offer to rule alongside him at the climax of that game, the hero in this version of events opts to take the villain at his word; the result, of course, is the Kingdom of Alefgard’s complete annihilation. The hero is killed and the player’s avatar takes up the mantle of builder as he or she begins to reconstruct the fallen kingdom.

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Towns can become quite vertical in Dragon Quest Builders due to settlements’ strict horizontal boundaries. Source: Nintendo

Gameplay articulates as a third-person action-RPG in which the avatar travels an environment filled with monsters, deconstructs the cubes which comprise Alefgard’s landscape, and uses their constituent elements to create a town in each of Dragon Quest Builders’ four chapters. The parts to construct specific objects needed to satisfy would-be residents’ needs – beds, furnaces, smithies and the like – are identified as the avatar acquires new blueprints during his or her exploration and completion of quests. At the end of each chapter, the avatar squares off against an oversized boss monster attempting to destroy their finished town before moving on to another settlement.

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Swimming opens more exploration opportunities in Dragon Quest Builders 2, while the presence of partner character Malroth makes combat less daunting than it had been in the preceding game. Source: Steam

The game’s international releases on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in October 2016 were so successful that they inspired Square Enix to greenlight an English-language version of Dragon Quest XI two years later; Dragon Quest Builders’ Switch port was likewise made available worldwide in 2018. Later that year, Square Enix released a sequel on PlayStation 4 and Switch in Japan to even greater critical acclaim than its predecessor had received. Dragon Quest Builders 2 was lauded by some in the Western press as one of the best games of the decade when its English-language version launched in July 2019. As had become standard for major new releases from Japanese game studios, a worldwide PC port released several months later features the game’s richest graphics and customization options.

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Popular creations, like this exceptionally-detailed city by player Harutoma, are highlighted in-game on community boards and on Square Enix’s website. Source: Square Enix

Dragon Quest Builders 2 is broadly iterative, retaining the overall structure and building mechanics of its predecessor, but features numerous thoughtful refinements. A plot set after the events of Dragon Quest II sees the player’s avatar shipwrecked on a deserted island following their capture by the Children of Hargon, a group of monsters seeking vengeance for the defeat of Dragon Quest II’s main villain. AI-controlled NPCs now tag along with the avatar, offering combat support and making the gathering of building components dramatically more efficient. Swimming, diving, and flying through the air on a hang glider offer new opportunities for exploration around the game world’s sprawling archipelago. Finally, internet functionality allows players to visit friends in real-time or see others’ images and videos on loading screens and in-game community boards. Dragon Quest Builders 2 had noticeably improved on every element of its predecessor, whetting fans’ appetites for the inevitable third title in Dragon Quest’s most promising spinoff sub-series.

Note: Cover image of Dragon Quest Builders sourced from The Games DB.

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Miscellaneous

In addition to its sub-series and appearances in multi-IP franchises like Fortune Street (1991-2017) and Theatrhythm (2012-2015), Dragon Quest has also led to a few noteworthy one-offs and creative dead-ends over the last twenty years. The first of these, Japan-exclusive Kenshin Dragon Quest: Yomigaerishi Densetsu no Ken (2003), is a standalone sword-shaped electronic device that players can plug into their televisions to activate an on-screen game. Tilting the controller moves the player’s first-person perspective forward along a linear path where they can battle monsters throughout Dragon Quest‘s Alefgard using motion controls. At the end of the game’s eight chapters, the player character builds and crosses a rainbow bridge before dueling King Dragon. Though its exploration and combat elements aren’t deep, Kenshin Dragon Quest makes up for its simplicity with accessibility and hidden mini medals to collect.

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Not even being mercilessly bisected can get the slimes down in Kenshin Dragon Quest. Source: ClessAlvn

The concept of a motion-controlled adventure in the Dragon Quest universe is more fully explored in the Wii’s Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors (2007/2008). Developed as a collaboration between 8ing and Genius Sonority, Japanese studios respectively famous in the West for one-on-one fighting game Bloody Roar (1997) and RPG Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness (2005), Dragon Quest Swords was pitched as a spiritual successor to Kenshin Dragon Quest by Square Enix in an effort to appeal to the Wii’s large install-base of casual video game players. It retains Kenshin Dragon Quest’s overall presentation while offering a longer adventure set in the Kingdom of Avalonia. RPG mechanics, like purchasing new equipment and leveling up, add to the game’s depth. The simplicity of its generally on-rails forward momentum is mitigated by the implementation of the master stroke, a quick-time event-based special move which the player can activate after filling an associated gauge by attacking or defending themselves from enemies.

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Dragon Quest Swords distinguishes itself from Kenshin Dragon Quest with a fully explorable town and polygonal graphics. Source: Doomlink

The franchise’s next spin-off was created for the DSi download service by Nintendo second-party developer Intelligent Systems. As suggested by Intelligent Systems’ history producing the Fire Emblem franchise, Dragon Quest Wars is a turn-based strategy game that makes use of 6 famous Akira Toriyama monster designs: Slime, Hammerhood, Dracky, Golem, Chimera, and Healslime. Players use the DS’ touchscreen to fight up to three AI- or human-controlled rival monster teams in turn-based combat on a gridded battlefield. Though this was planned as part of a six-game DSi collaboration between Square Enix and Intelligent Systems, no other titles from the partnership were ever produced.

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My money is on the Jolly Jokers. Source: Nintendo

Dragon Quest: Monster Parade (2014) was the series’ first title designed from the ground up for Japanese smart devices and web browsers. In this free-to-play game, the player controls a small team of monsters guarding a caravan as it moves from town to town across a 2D overworld. Travel between towns is depicted from a 2.5D side-scrolling perspective, similar to classic arcade beat-’em-ups, and the caravan is occasionally beset by enemies who enter from the right side of the screen; tapping or clicking on the player character’s monster guardians prompts them to attack these cruel highwaymen. Dialogue sequences with fellow travelers and amusing NPCs serve to break up the otherwise repetitive nature of Monster Parade’s gameplay. Though it outlasted the closure of the browser-based version by four years, Square Enix’s support for Monster Parade on mobile devices ended on July 31, 2020.

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Dragon Quest: Monster Parade is simplistic but wholesome. Source: ReActionExaminer

Dragon Quest’s second free-to-play smart device spinoff is Dragon Quest of the Stars (2015/2020), an internally-developed open-world RPG featuring impressively rich gameplay mechanics and a lengthy narrative. The player-created character and his two siblings, descendants of the mysterious Questocrat, are tasked with saving the galaxy from the Master of the Dark Star. The spinoff connects to its source material through temporary event dungeons that include challenges inspired by core Dragon Quest titles and online cooperative play that takes its cues from Dragon Quest IX.

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Game mascot Cyril and his slime companion serve as allies to the player character in Dragon Quest of the Stars. Source: Malavida

Gameplay consists of overworld exploration, quests into dungeons, and largely-automated combat with classic Dragon Quest monsters as the player character accumulates experience points, gold, and gems. The third of these resources serves as the primary source of microtransactions, as these allow the player to expand their inventory, refill an energy meter that otherwise depletes with each quest undertaken, and buy lucky chests (i.e. loot boxes containing armor and weapons). Gems can be found in-game but are more readily obtained when purchased from the menu using real-world currency. 20,000,000 downloads and $600,000,000 in sales finally convinced Square Enix to localize the game in North America and Europe in 2020.

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Dragon Quest Rivals takes its cues from Hearthstone but puts that distinctive Dragon Quest spin on things. Source: Gematsu

Dragon Quest Rivals, Square Enix’s answer to Blizzard’s Hearthstone (2014), was developed by Tose and released for Android and iOS devices in Japan during November 2017. As with other digital collectible card games, the player uses real-world currency to buy packs of randomized cards and build a deck with which they can challenge friends and strangers online. Cards bear individual attributes that confer offensive and defensive abilities used to reduce the opponent’s overall HP and guard against the reduction of one’s own HP. Dragon Quest Rivals was a commercial success, leading to ports for Japan’s Yahoo Games browser service in 2018 and the Nintendo Switch in 2019. Like Kenshin Dragon Quest and Monster Parade before it, however, no version was published in North America or Europe.

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It’s kind of audacious just how baldly Dragon Quest Walk imitates Pokemon Go. Source: Yahoo News

The series’ latest smart device spinoff also remains locked to Japan at the time of writing. COLOPL-developed augmented-reality game Dragon Quest Walk (2019) is startlingly similar to Pokemon Go (2016), as GPS tracking facilitates players moving around a game world and encountering monsters on-screen as they explore their own real-world surroundings. Even Dragon Quest Walk’s colorful overhead abstraction of nearby topography and notable sights seems drawn directly from Niantic’s free-to-play juggernaut. Its highly derivative nature would be no impediment to overnight commercial success, however, as the game surpassed 5,000,000 downloads within a week of its September 12, 2019 release.

Conclusion

The artwork of Akira Toriyama and the music of Koichi Sugiyama have proven reliable pillars on which to construct any number of gameplay systems. RPGs, card battlers, hack-and-slash brawlers, and sandboxes are all made more appealing through the inclusion of Dragon Quest’s iconic characters and presentation. Of course, none of that would be true without the series’ spinoffs adhering to Yuji Horii’s key design philosophy of accessibility. Where Rogue had plunged players into a punishing dungeon-crawling simulation in which permanent character death arrives with little warning, Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon allows the player to easily recover from losses and try again; where Minecraft can overwhelm with the sheer vastness of its creative possibilities, Dragon Quest Builders offers players guidance on short-term tasks as they build up a series of increasingly complex towns.

One wonders what’s next for the series. A platformer starring hammerhood? A first-person shooter starring bodkin? A flight simulator starring dracky? Whatever genre Square Enix sets its sights on, you can be sure that the presence of the Dragon Quest IP means it’s worth your attention.


What do you think about Dragon Quest‘s spinoffs? Which is your favorite or least favorite? What genre has the series not done yet that you’d love to see? What do we need to do to get a new Rocket Slime game? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Here is a tentative list of upcoming Franchise Festival articles:

  • #97: Steamworld – August 14
    • Featuring an interview with Image and Form co-founder Brjann Sigurgeirsson!
  • #98: The Sims – August 28
  • #99: Heroes of Might and Magic – September 11
  • #100: Tetris – September 25
  • #101: Dead Space – October 2