Rejoice, JRPG fans, because Dragon Quest Heroes has been confirmed for a Western release on PS4.
In the first action-RPG to bear the series' name, players must rise up against insurmountable odds, challenging swarms of enemies and conquering gigantic monsters designed by world-renowned artist Akira Toriyama. Interestingly, Omega Force (the team responsible for many Samurai Warriors titles) will also be helping out with development, bringing their expertise with hack & slash action to the party.
It's been years since a full-fat Dragon Quest title came West (heck, we've pretty much had to make do with DQIX: Sentinels Of Starry Skies on DS) and frankly we can't wait.
This is fantastic news. Obviously. But the more I think about it, the more I can't help but ask a couple of niggling questions. Why now? Why this game in particular: the first hack & slash title in the franchise rather than Dragon Quest XIII or X? Is this actually the game we want? The answer, perhaps, is that Square Enix are using it to test the waters -- and to test us in particular.
There's a common belief that very few JRPGs release in the US and Europe, which is because... very few JRPGs release in the US and Europe. Huh. Much like the stigma surrounding adventure games and survival horror not all that long ago, many publishers and developers feel that JRPGs are a 'niche genre ' here in the West, meaning that a great many studios still don't even consider us as a target audience when creating their games (which then only eventually release over here thanks to localisation outfits like NISA, Marvelous AQL Europe and Rising Star Games). Put simply, the perception seems to be that the Western JRPG audience isn't all that large and releasing them is risky business.
It's a fallacy, of course, seeing as the Western JRPG fanbase is still very much alive and has been growing steadily over the last few decades... but other genres have grown faster while keeping pace with increasing development costs, making JRPGs look like a declining genre in comparison. Genres, as you know, like first person shooting, third person shooting - let's just call it "action." Many independent JRPG studios and publishers now see digital distribution as a way of tapping back into the Western market, such as we see on PlayStation Vita (see also: Idea Factory) and increasingly Steam, but bigger publishers take bigger risks, spend more money and have to satisfy their shareholders before making even the smallest course correction.
That's why we've seen so few Dragon Quest titles localised for the US and Europe over the last few years. Square likely has no idea how big the potential market or fanbase actually is after so many years of inactivity, and won't commit before they know. What they need, then, is a game to test the waters, a canary if you don't mind me amateurishly butchering my metaphors. A game that Dragon Quest fans will go for in a heartbeat, but will also introduce a new audience to the series without completely overwhelming them.
A game like Dragon Quest Heroes.
It's perfect. Fans are already going crazy and quite right too, but the fact that it's an "action" RPG was likely the key factor in localising this for the West. After all, Westerners love action, right? It's the same sort of logic that resulted in Resident Evil 6 despite the very different situation, adding action gameplay to a franchise to increase its "mass appeal," but here the game was created first and the opportunity was seized upon second. Dragon Quest Heroes is the ultimate canary: a game that will show Square Enix exactly how large their potential fanbase and create plenty of new fans in the process.
Meaning that they'll finally be able to decide whether to localise Dragon Quest X, which they've been mulling over for a year without any actual movement, perhaps followed by DQXI.
It's a canny move, but the end should justify the means, and more to the point we're getting another Dragon Quest game. Here's hoping that it's just the start of a comeback... and we pass the test.