In a recent Weekly Famitsu, Yuji Horii, and the makers of the latest Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest VII - Warriors of Eden, were interviewed. RPGamer brings you the translation, revealing the thought and energy that was put in to produce one of the most anticipated games of Japan.
Famitsu: I played VII a little the day before, and I noticed the game has a slightly different feel.
Yuji Horii (Scenario and Game Designer): This time, I intended to design it differently from before. Unlike the "so-and-so Dark Lord" world as before, I began the story with a peaceful world, and what's more, just one island.
Famitsu: How did you get this idea that is at the core of VII's story?
Horii: With this one, I thought of starting it from daily life. You are the son of a fisherman, you have parents and a good-for-nothing uncle. And you help around and do some errands...
Manabu Yamana (Program Director): A daily life that may or may not exist. (laughs)
Horii: And from there, you gradually enter a different world. So the start really is a normal domestic life. I wanted to surprise people a little by that. Further, when you go to the castle town, your uncle speaks badly to you or you are given pocket money (laughs), and you think to yourself, "What am I actually doing?" (laughs)
Famitsu: The problems felt quite tough. Is puzzle solving the main aspect this time?
Horii: Yes. Lately, the story is the main aspect of a game, and we've seen an increase in games where the player doesn't think. Instead, I felt like making something where you are active, and you think what to do, but there is "resistance" from the game. I wanted to produce a feeling of excitement like that of a puzzle solving adventure game.
Famitsu: Don't you fear that players will be distanced from the game with the idea that "there is resistance" will lead to "it is too difficult"?
Horii: That's the difficult part. So I actually played it, and if I found something too hard, I put in clues and directions.
Famitsu: Lately there are games where the clues are so close to the answer. Do you want something that makes one think instead?
Shintaro Majima (Art Director): That's right. I tend to buy a lot of books, and among them there was one full of murals. I was inspired. This time, mural-like objects will appear in the early stages of the game. Although they are quite small, we've put a lot of detail into them. That's what I wanted to accomplish. Instead of giving everything to the player, you have to imagine or think more, and by then the answer will come to you. I feel we were able to show graphics with subtlety.
Horii: The murals are quite realistic. If you look carefully, they are often clues.
Majima: Players will certainly be pleased with these details.
Horii: And that's right, the picture is very detailed, but it's also very small. (laughs) I asked to make them more easily seen, even. (laughs)
Yamana: Those murals were the most enjoyable parts for me. If it's too simple, it's boring.
Horii: We really had to think about the balance between detail and simplicity, didn't we.
Yamana: Even to the extent that we think, what's that picture supposed to be! So, at first the player passes it and gets lost. Then he returns and after seeing the clues, wonders what it is. And thinking further, the clues lead to the answer. When that happens, you get a shiver. That's the kind of feeling we're aiming for. I personally love puzzle solving games. But even I thought at first that VII was a little difficult. (laughs)
Famitsu: People often can't solve some parts of the game. And there are those that everyone beats easily...
Horii: You can't make it too deep because then it's too hard, but making it too easy makes the game boring. So, the best balance is when a player thinks "I understood it, but others mightn't be able to do it." The feeling of "Just me". We know we've succeeded if every player has this feeling. (laughs)
Famitsu: Isn't that kind of balance hard to see through the eyes of the maker, though?
Horii: It's just having common sense. "If we provide this kind of clue, I think that everyone can figure it out."
Yamana: The opinions of each player is diverse, and that's what's fun about it. There may be people who don't have a clue at all, and those who beat it easily. I think atmosphere is important. Without losing that, we don't make it too easy, or too hard. Just to where it is hard enough.
Horii: Well, if we talk about the Dragon Quest series, there was the Sun Stone in I, and II's Lagos, and several others. (laughs)
Famitsu: What is your opinion on CG movies, Mr. Horii?
Horii: At first, I was quite troubled. Of course, there'd have to be people appearing in them if we used cinematics. How would we present people in a Dragon Quest cinema? We have Akira Toriyama's character art, and SD characters on screen, so what would we do for cinematics? We did not want to break people's image of the Dragon Quest series.
Majima: The other big problem was whether these characters would speak in movies.
Horii: So there aren't many movies. Anyway, the quality of the graphics are good enough without cinematics.
Yamana: We don't want to deliberately use cinematics. I don't know why, but a Dragon Quest with movies seems terrible. (laughs) It's as if if we put in movies, DQ won't be DQ. There were lots of letters to Enix asking for us not to use movies or polygons.
Majima: But, around the beginning, when there weren't even any screens, there were lots of questions arising, whether by using polygons it won't be a Dragon Quest any longer.
Famitsu: So maybe you were uncertain whether Dragon Quest would follow the path of games players weren't happy about when they progressed from sprites to polygons. Apart from that, was there anything you were worried about during production?
Horii: Maybe the time players spent actually playing. While playing, that is battling and interacting with the environment, the player is always in control. There aren't too many times where the player is made to continuously watch movies. I want players to be able to be active in the game when they want to, and relax when they want to, progressing through the game at his own pace. That's what I think Dragon Quest fans are like.
Majima: We didn't want the game's atmosphere to be interrupted by forcing in a movie. If we do use a movie, it will integrate with the atmosphere created up till that moment. Like adding spices to enhance the fragrance.
Yamana: At first, we didn't choose to not use movies, nor choose to use movies. All we thought of was purely what this new Dragon Quest should be like. The idea of not using cinematics because it wasn't Dragon Quest didn't particularly arise, nor did we want to use movies just because we could. We're not doing this with the hardware in mind.
Horii: What's most important is not the hardware capabilities, but the contents of the game itself.
Famitsu: It has been 14 years since DQ1. Fans at that time may now be in their 30s. What considerations do you make when aiming for a broad spectrum of players?
Horii: That's a difficult task, but yes, players have certainly grown up. However, if we only consider the adults when making this game, we lose the kids. I really think that even older people have kept that childhood self in them. So my plan is to target the kids and the kids inside the adults.
Famitsu: This time, you are releasing [Dragon Quest] for the PlayStation, so there are new players. Have you considered these people when making the game?
Horii: Yes. We have made it so if you just play the game, you don't need to look at the instruction manual. Well, I've always felt we do this unconsciously anyway.
Yamana: We're not really concerned whether it's for the PlayStation. All that's changed is that three dimensional space is more realised and we can stream the movies. And that it's got great capabilities. Well, that's what we imagined anyway. (laughs)
Famitsu: Are there any points you found hard when showing Dragon Quest in 3D?
Yamana: When we were discussing what Dragon Quest in 3D would be like, I actually made a simple model using Famicom (8 bit Nintendo) images. Then Majima said he'd seriously try making it. Several days later, we made some huts in 3D, and when we showed it to everyone after putting it on CD-ROM, it seemed good even though it was polygons.
Famitsu: So you're saying that the game is like this now because it looked good when you tried it out..
Yamana: Yes. We didn't decide to do it in 3D straightaway. I'm sure even Horii-san only wanted it in 3D if we liked it. Like I said before, we're not making this game this way simply because it's on the PlayStation. What's most important is what kind of "Dragon Quest" we want to make.
Famitsu: With the PlayStation 2, technique has changed too, hasn't it?
Yamana: To me, I feel that the polygon count has just expanded. Like, what are we going to do just because we can use many millions more polygons? It's silly to say that just because we could only have a certain number of characters in the Famicom days, we couldn't achieve anything. It doesn't matter so much that the specs of the machine are amazing, but more how we relate that to making the game enjoyable.
Famitsu: When we heard of the conversation system in VII, we thought that this may be the preliminary stages of Dragon Quest going online.
Horii: If you play Diablo, you know how fun it is to explore while talking to other people. It is true that we wanted to make something similar, making your companions more human-like, as that is not possible with the PlayStation at present. Well, I think it'll be fun to play Dragon Quest online.
Famitsu: So you would like to attempt anything if it is possible?
Horii: Yes, indeed.
Famitsu: What kind of game is VII to you, Horii-san?
Horii: Certainly, it's a huge game. (laughs) Although I didn't mean it to be huge, in the first place. (laughs)
Yamana: At first, the setting would have been just one island.
Horii: Yes. And in that one island, one town and one castle, too. Also, with the conversation system, we said we'd make the game deep but small, but as a result, it became deep and huge. (laughs)
Yamana: We said that the game would just have 10 maps, didn't we.
Majima: We said that it'd be finished immediately. We were tricked, I say. (laughs)
Famitsu: Is there anything this time that made you think that VII was indeed a Dragon Quest?
Horii: Of course, that it is a game in which you are active. If you are too used to playing recent games where you are "taken for a ride", you might be puzzled when you play DQVII. Is what I am doing correct? What shall I do? Where shall I go? But it's been made so that you go somewhere, and talk to someone, and then the road will open for you. So there might be a feeling of uncertainty of course, but we want people to have confidence in what they are doing and play with freedom. I think that that's what Dragon Quest is all about, and VII fits into that as well, I think.
Famitsu: Recently, have you individually been obsessed with anything?
Yamana: Work. (laughs)
Majima: Ethnic cooking. (laughs)
Famitsu: With those keywords, maybe we can see what future Dragon Quests are going to be like.
Horii: You mean, next the theme will be ethnic cooking? (laughs)
Yamana: Before, the topic of networks came up. Actually I was making a program that would work online, around last spring. I realised that this was a lot of fun, and started making various strange games, but after getting suddenly busy, the program was forgotten. (laughs) Even looking at it now, I have no idea what I was trying to do. (laughs) Otherwise, I was driving on the Metropolitan Highway really fast. (laughs) It was really to get rid of frustration, I guess.
Famitsu: With the stage you're at with VII, do you have an idea of what its sequel will be like?
Horii: An even more different approach, I think.
Famitsu: Also, compared to VI, how different is VII?
Horii: Hmm, about 60 percent more different? I don't really know what 60 percent it has changed though. (laughs) And the next one, I'd like to change about 120 percent. (laughs)
Famitsu: An eighth Dragon Quest will come out?
Yamana: "Yes"? (laughs)
Horii: Dragon Quest has always had high expectations. So I don't think we can disappoint, and there has been an increase in RPGs which are different from the ones before. So because we are in that period now, I think Dragon Quest can lose some of its own expectations.
Famitsu: I think that the expectations of games have been changing a little in games, but what do you think of this, Horii-san?
Horii: Let me think. Maybe humans get bored easily, but sometimes we do things and wonder whether this is truly enjoyable. And when playing something like the port of Dragon Quest III, people might think, "Well that's an old game but it's fun".
Famitsu: Is the expectation for Dragon Quest VII the same as its previous titles?
Horii: A Dragon Quest title has been following the Dragon Quest rules, but that may not be becoming the convention now. Recently, RPGs that "Show" have become dominant, and you can enjoy it passively. Aren't these games really more for the beginner? In contrast to this, you have to do things on your own in Dragon Quest, be active, so maybe it's quite a hardcore game. This is what I've been thinking recently.
Famitsu: Do you worry over what type of gamer you should make it for?
Horii: In the end, I have to make a game that I myself can enjoy. If I try to make it towards a type of gamer, I fundamentally have no clue as to what to do, and will only be able to make something half-hearted. I think if I can make something I enjoy 100 percent, then I hope other gamers can enjoy it as well...
Famitsu: As a person who "makes things", do you worry if something won't be received well?
Horii: Yes, I do. But in the end, you have to believe in yourself. What you enjoy sometimes changes, I think. So what you make changes, also. I don't know whether this will meet with the time's needs. I worry in this sense. But, with VII, I'm proud to say that I can confidently release this.