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The Fake Success of Dragon Warrior

Last updated on 25 days ago
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 2 months ago
Every issue of early Famitsu following the launch of the NES in North America had an column called "From San Francisco" covering the sales and trends of Nintendo's console in America. I'm editing an issue from 1989 which struck me as sort of amusing.

Everyone knows what a huge success the Dragon Quest series is in Japan with roughly eleventy jillion copies sold. So it was no doubt with a great sense of knowing satisfaction that this issue's "From San Francisco" column told the story of what a huge success the launch of Dragon Warrior was in America, and they showed it sitting at the top in the #1 USA sales position, right under Mega Man 2 at #2 and the Game Boy hardware (with Tetris) at #3. The article makes a gratified note that American children, so normally enthralled by shooting and action games, have come to love and embrace the RPG as well.

Except...it's all bullshit.

Dragon Warrior was something of a failure in America, both commercially and critically. Nintendo promoted the hell out of it, hoping and expecting some measure of the fanatical success they had achieved with the first 3 Dragon Quest games that had already been released by that point in Japan. But the reviews for the NES release were tepid, and the sales were sluggish. A year later, Nintendo of America found themselves stuck with oodles and oodles of unsold cartridges.

Rather famously, their solution was to give the game away for free. Well, not free, exactly, but free along with a paid subscription to Nintendo Power. They gave away over one million copies of the game, along with a free strategy guide, in this manner. Hell, that's how I got MY copy of Dragon Warrior.

Did it work? Well, yes and no. It certainly solved their inventory problem, but it didn't exactly warm the youth of America to the Dragon Quest series. The second game only sold 150,000 copies in N.A., and the 3rd and 4th games sold under 100,000 each -- a far cry from the 9.5 million combined copies those 3 games sold in the much smaller Japanese market.

But the giveaway WAS a huge success for Nintendo of America, bringing in a million new subscribers to Nintendo Power, which was essentially a monthly 120 page advertisement for their products. Despite the prognosis of this column's report, it would be some time yet before JRPGs became a genre to reckon with in the West, however.

i.postimg.cc/Btf9d2Mt/Famitsu-84-kitsunebi-010.jpg
modgeezermodgeezer
Newbie
Posted 2 months ago
The Dragon Warrior games were such failures here in the states that they didn't even bother releasing the Snes games 5,6 in the U.S.
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 2 months ago
I think the problem was multi-layered. First of all, Dragon Warrior was released in the USA in late 1989. But it was a (marginally improved) localization of a 1986 Famicom game, so it was already 3 years outdated (Dragon Warrior was released in the USA at roughly the same time that Dragon Quest IV was released in Japan).

By 1989, although few RPGs had yet to appear on the NES in America, there were already plenty of far more advanced RPGs available for home computers. So anyone with any experience playing American RPGs such as SSI's AD&D games or the Ultima series would find little to be impressed by with Enix's much more primitive game.

And as far as console gamers went, as mentioned above, Dragon Warrior wasn't a hot seller. It wasn't until Nintendo literally gave away over a million free copies that it became widely known, but that didn't happen until the end of 1990. By then, not only was the game already 4 years old, but the much more advanced Final Fantasy had already been released for the NES in North America. So many people like myself who received a free copy of Dragon Warrior with their Nintendo Power subscription had already purchased and played Final Fantasy. Being kids unschooled in the intricacies of international ports and localizations, we had no idea Dragon Quest was actually a 4-year-old game that originally came out long before Final Fantasy. All we knew was that we played Final Fantasy first, and Dragon Quest was downright primitive in comparison.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the almost soothing childish simplicity of the original Dragon Warrior. But objectively speaking, while it may well have been groundbreaking in 1986 and it certainly played a vital role in the rise of the JRPG, it simply wasn't a very good game by the time 1989, let alone 1990, rolled around.
S
slider1983
Junior Member
Posted 2 months ago
Japan - Yay! Dragon Warrior!

North America - Oh yeah Dragon Quest. I got that game somewhere.

Europe - What's Dragon Quest?

不不不不不
Edited by slider1983 on 25/04/2021, 2 months ago
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 2 months ago
Yeah, Europe/the UK was left out of not just the early JRPG loop, but early Japanese games in general, due to Nintendo's failure to penetrate the market (granted, they didn't even attempt to - the NES only got released there via a 3rd party deal with Mattel.) And while the Master System was a moderate success in Europe, it was a dismal failure in Japan, so the vast majority of its games were Western-developed, rather than Japanese.

It would have been the same story, though. By the time Dragon Warrior was released in English, everyone in the UK was already playing Dungeon Master. A very different type of RPG, sure, but no one would argue that it makes Dragon Warrior look primitive by comparison.
S
slider1983
Junior Member
Posted 1 month ago

kitsunebi wrote:

And while the Master System was a moderate success in Europe, it was a dismal failure in Japan, so the vast majority of its games were Western-developed, rather than Japanese.
Speaking of Master System it's surprising Golden Axe Warrior was only in Western countries considering it was sort of Sega's answer to Legend of Zelda. I would have thought it would be released in Japan. Strange.

I totally agree about Dungeon Master but also games like the Ishar series, Eye of the Beholder and to a lesser extent the Might & Magic series were doing great in the UK.
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 1 month ago
Not strange or surprising at all. As I said, the Master System was a complete and utter failure in its home country (and the USA, as well.) Golden Axe Warrior was released in 1991, but Japan had already ceased production on Master System games in 1988 (the last game ever for the Master System in Japan was released in early 1989.) Over HALF of all Master System games ever released are exclusive to PAL regions.

And obviously people in the UK/USA were playing all sorts of RPGs at the time - my only point was that by 1989 when Dragon Warrior was localized into English, it was already a 3-year-old game that had been surpassed by more advanced RPGs, so its failure to reproduce the success it had in Japan in 1986 is understandable.
modgeezermodgeezer
Newbie
Posted 1 month ago
Whats crazy is that in Brazil the master system has been sold in some form or other for the last 30 years. Today its a digital system with 100+ plus games but its still made with the same 8 bit processor.
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slider1983
Junior Member
Posted 1 month ago

modgeezer wrote:

@modgeezer - Whats crazy is that in Brazil the master system has been sold in some form or other for the last 30 years. Today its a digital system with 100+ plus games but its still made with the same 8 bit processor.
I have to wonder how many different ways TecToy can re-release the same system with the same games. They really should look into some kind of internal development and create new official games for the Master System.
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 1 month ago
I look at the direction this thread has taken as a meta commentary on the phenomenon I started the thread to discuss in the first place.

The Japanese, intensely interested in Dragon Quest, jumped at an opportunity to turn the column which is supposed to talk about gaming trends in the USA into a column falsely claiming that Dragon Warrior was taking the USA by storm. This wasn't true, and American kids would NOT be becoming infatuated with JRPGs for quite some time yet, but it made the column much more attractive to the Japanese readers since it turned the topic of conversation back around onto their own interests.

This happens all the time in every culture. We like to see our own cultures and interests liked and appreciated by other cultures. Youn Yuh-jung just won the best supporting actress Oscar, but all the Western press could be bothered to continuously as her about was "what was it like meeting (executive producer) Brad Pitt?" Because talking about her long and illustrious career in Korean film or discussing the actual movie she won the award for is less interesting to the Western audience than trying to find out what she thinks of American pop culture.

So in this thread which was supposed to be talking about the odd story of "success" of the original Dragon Warrior on the NES in the USA related to a Nintendo Power giveaway, the conversation was first diverted when a UK user chose to comment on the game's lack of popularity in the UK (well, obviously - since there were ZERO games in the series released for PAL territories until Dragon Quest 8 in 2006), and since then has largely focused on the Sega Master System (after I made the mistake of mentioning it in order to make the point that Europe/UK had relatively little exposure to Japanese-developed games during the 8-bit era.)

I assume this is because the commentators involved have more interest/personal experience with the Master System than with the original Dragon Warrior for the NES, so they've re-diverted the conversation to their liking. Just like the readers of Famitsu had more interest/personal experience with Dragon Quest than with whatever was REALLY happening in American gaming at the time.

I'm not criticizing, btw. Forum threads often take a life of their own like this. I just find it interesting that the same thing happened in this thread as in the article it began by talking about.
KiwiKiwi
Super Admin
Posted 1 month ago
Until I read this thread I hadn't even heard of Dragon Warrior. Or Dragon Quest. Pfft
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 1 month ago

Kiwi wrote:

@Kiwi - Until I read this thread I hadn't even heard of Dragon Warrior. Or Dragon Quest. Pfft

Jesus, seriously? LOL. It's the single most successful/popular RPG series in Japan (yeah, it ain't Final Fantasy). Although it never really caught on big in the States, we were aware of its legendary status in Japan due to the infamous news reports in the gaming mags of queues lined up around the block on release days and Enix being forced to release the games on weekends due to kids skipping school to wait in line for a copy.

But regardless of how popular the games themselves are outside of Japan, it should be remembered that the entire JRPG genre including Final Fantasy and everything else, was HEAVILY influenced (and in many many cases, copied directly from) the original Dragon Quest (aka Dragon Warrior in the USA). Without that game, who knows what Japanese RPGs would look like today?
KiwiKiwi
Super Admin
Posted 1 month ago
Yep!! Seriously!! My early PC gaming choices centred around First Person Shooters or arcade conversions or Command & Conquer. Those and flight sims were my thing of the day and those are really just first person shooters too!! Smile

Even on the Amiga I steered cleared of the whole RPG scene and never touched things like Dungeon Master of those other weirdo named things like Hillsfar (WTF does that even mean anyway??) so even though I most likely had heaps of them in my collection of copied games (because I'd never buy those) I don't recall booting up any of them. EVER!!
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 1 month ago
Well, sure, but...as an American, I've never played or even seen any of those UK-only games that everyone around here loves so much, like Jet Set Willy, Sabre Wulf, or any of those Dizzy games, but I've at least HEARD of them. So when it comes to DQ, I can't imagine even a casual gamer never having run across any mention of one of the most successful game series in the world, let alone a guy who runs a website full of magazines, many of which include mentions of said series.Shock

Although I do find it quite amusing that you've never heard of Dragon Quest, but Hillsfar came immediately to mind when you were thinking of RPGs you'd heard of. (I wouldn't call it an RPG, though.) As for what it means, it's the name of a city in the Dungeons and Dragons setting. It's also the name of a #$%ing terrible computer game that no one has any business remembering. Wink
And of course Dragon Quest is a console series, so if you only played games on the Amiga and PC, I guess that could be more excusable.
KiwiKiwi
Super Admin
Posted 1 month ago
The only reason I know of Hillsfar is because a a couple of decades ago when I bought an Amiga off the local equivalent of eBay for some retrogaming it came with a box load of original games and that happened to be in the box. Needless to say the game never even got opened because, well, it looked all RPG'y on the back cover and it promptly went back in the box until I sold it all off and/or gave it away a decade ago.
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 1 month ago
Ironically, one of the biggest disappointments of Hillsfar for most people is, as you say, it LOOKS like an RPG on the box (it's AD&D for crying out loud), but then it turns out to be a bunch of sh*tty mini games. So even people who like RPGs got screwed with that one.
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slider1983
Junior Member
Posted 1 month ago

kitsunebi wrote:

I assume this is because the commentators involved have more interest/personal experience with the Master System than with the original Dragon Warrior for the NES, so they've re-diverted the conversation to their liking. Just like the readers of Famitsu had more interest/personal experience with Dragon Quest than with whatever was REALLY happening in American gaming at the time.
Two things you need to know about me:

1) My discussion of gaming will be looked at from the experiences of someone from UK and Europe. This is actually a good thing to have in educating anybody who doesn't know about a particular game's success or failure in Europe. I get what you're saying about me talking about my UK experience in gaming has no bearing on your point about the revisionism of DQ success in the USA but was just trying to socialise. It's all good. Smile

2) I have Asperger's so you should ALWAYS expect the thread to derail since I sometimes misinterpret a conversation. Sorry about that! 不不不不不
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 1 month ago
I don't think there are any hard numbers available, but I believe Kiwi will back me up when I say that I think the vast majority of OGM members are from the UK/Europe like yourself, or else, like Jason and Kiwi himself, from places with much closer ties to UK/Europe's gaming history than to the shared Japan/USA gaming histories. So perhaps what this place REALLY needs around here is a few more people like myself to educate everyone on things outside of the UK/Europe scene.Wink

At any rate, regarding Dragon Quest, suffice it to say that the Europe/UK markets really missed out, particularly anyone with an interest in RPGs. Dragon Quest didn't succeed or fail there - it simply didn't exist! One of the best-selling, and certainly most influential series ever created went completely absent in those markets for TWENTY YEARS before DQ8 was finally brought to Europe/UK gamers on the PS2. I assume AUS/NZ was in a similar state, as Kiwi had somehow never even HEARD of the series. So if anyone needs an education about this game, it's you guys. Pfft

To that end, I found a great article by Jeremy Parish (if you don't know who he is, you probably aren't interested in gaming history or retrogaming, as he's one of the most respected contributors to those areas of gaming journalism). I encourage anyone curious about why Dragon Quest is one of the most influential games ever made to check out the article, The History of RPGs: How Dragon Quest Redefined a Genre: https://www.usgamer.net/articles/the-...ed-a-genre
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 1 month ago
Wish I could find a full-page copy of this. Best I can google. Hey, it really WAS a great deal. Nintendo Power PLUS a game for $21? What kid wouldn't jump at that?

i.postimg.cc/9QNp73wq/0z2jbheu.jpg

Also, although the above deal is the one I personally grabbed, it appears the deal got even sweeter later on. This letter suggests that not only did a subscription to Nintendo Power get you the free copy of Dragon Warrior, but also 4 (high quality) player's guides as well.:
i.postimg.cc/RCXnF7HW/image-asset.jpg
KiwiKiwi
Super Admin
Posted 1 month ago
Geez!! They really must've literally given them to the folks over at Nintendo Power. There must have been an epic lack of selling power in the marketplace to drive these "promotions" to move stock!!
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