The Zenithia Trilogy
Above: The huge cast of Dragon Quest IV
By the time the fourth and final Dragon Quest for the Famicom/NES came out, Enix was ready for a fresh start with the series and began what would be known as the Zenithia trilogy, as all three games starting with IV incorporated the floating island of Zenith into the plot. DQIV featured the biggest cast yet, as each party member had their own personality and story, a stark contrast to DQIII. Though it eventually lead to a very similar ending, one of where destined hero killing the big bad, it was only after getting the antique armor with the help the ancient dragon that lived in the floating world of Zenith. For once the dragon of the title was your friend, not your enemy.
Above: V follows that turban-wearer's voyage to maturity
Dragon Quest V took storytelling in the series to new heights, as it followed one character’s hard journey from child to man, all the way to fatherhood. Not only did it use the new graphical abilities of the SNES/Super Famicom to make it the best looking DQ yet, but it was really ahead of its time with monster collecting, as any monster you fight can join your party in battle. Once you restore the fallen Zenith and its dragon to power, you are finally able to avenge your father’s death in probably the best told story in DQ history.
Dragon Quest VI, the only main line DQ game yet to see an American release (though the DS remake has a planned release for some time in 2010), wrapped up the Zenith saga and also the series commitment to Nintendo home consoles. Just as before, the hero must free the lost land of Zenith if he hopes to take down the villain, and he must collect the same mythic armor used in IV and V. Once done, the hero, who looks pretty similar to Chrono of Chrono Trigger, saves the day as is expected, ending the trilogy in grand fashion.
Above: One of the Torneko sequels
Though the main games all sell in the millions, the series’ many spin-offs have almost all been met with similar success. The most influential and oldest of the lot is Torneko’s Mysterious Dungeon, one of the very few direct continuations of a main character’s story within the DQ universe. Mysterious Dungeon and its sequels followed the adventure of Torneko, the bumbling merchant for Dragon Quest IV, as he hunted for more treasure and fame for his shop. It was the beginning of the Japanese roguelike genre, which remains popular to a hardcore collection of players who like their RPGs as punishing as possible.
Above: Itadaki Street for the DS
Other spin-off hits include Dragon Quest Monsters, a series that did a newer version of DQV’s monster battle system, updated for the post-Pokemon world. Another, Itadaki Street, has never been released outside Japan and it expanded on the Pachisi board game in previous Dragon Quest, turning it into a Mario Party-esque escapade; in fact when the series came to the DS, Mario joined in on the fun. Lastly, there are the easier and incredibly pun-filled Rocket Slime adventure games, which I found very enjoyable on the DS, but with the main characters being Slime, it did make me feel a little bad about the mass murder I’ve done to that species over the years.
Dragon Quest VII – a thing unto itself
Dragon Quest VII was a whole new start for the series, as they followed their rivals Square and Final Fantasy to Sony’s PlayStation, which was a loss that hurt Nintendo nearly as much as Square’s exit. Though the title was in development a long time, when it finally came out in sold nearly four million copies, which was an all-time high for the series. The mammoth game was also the longest DQ yet, with a campaign that lasted over 100 hours.
Despite all those plusses, when it arrived as Dragon Warrior VII in the US, it was met with low sales and basically zero reaction. Why? Well it could have something to do with it being released in 2001, when all the hardcore players had left their PlayStation for the PS2. And it didn’t help that VII, which had poor graphics when compared to Final Fantasy VII, came out within days of Final Fantasy X, which made it look ancient. Additionally, most reviews pointed out that it took the game 30 hours to get really good. Despite being a great game, it got looked over by the masses like all previous Dragon Warriors, and the franchises’ future looked dim again.