Japan's Dragon Quest fever

An investigation of the RPG phenomenon, straight from Tokyo

Belly fattened with pretend Slime and meat clubs, we just about managed to heave into a taxi to go and meet the masterminds behind Dragon Quest IX: creator Yuji Horii, composer Koichi Sugiyama and IX’s producer Ryutaro Ichimura. Square Enix’s Tokyo HQ is – as seems to be a theme on this trip – surreal. A dour looking office building, its location next door to the Tokyo School of Fashion, results in a constant parade of outrageously dressed Japanese teens marching past the premises. Ever wondered where those crazier character costumes originate from? Try looking out the window.

Above: That's Ichimura, Horii and Sugiyama from left to right, with a liquid metal Slime between them

We meet the team at the end of a long day of interviews. Above their smiles they have a look in their eyes that says “ask me one more question about Dragon Quest IX and see what I do with this replica Slime Stack.” So we don’t. Instead we chat informally about music, fairies and, bizarrely, beef with Yorkshire puddings – hey, Sugiyama is a big fan. Here’s our top ten insights…

1) Horii doesn’t believe in instruction manuals. Tear off the wrapping and get experimenting, he tells us.

2) Sugiyama thinks nothing says Dragon Quest like a Slime. “If you see a Slime, you’re in Dragon Quest,” says he.

3) Horii’s Wi-Fi co-op inspiration? Animal Crossing: Wild World. There’s a hint of the Nook in IX’s Bad Badgers.

Above: Horii drawing a Slime on a copy of DQII

4) Ichimura says working on the DS after the PS2 was like reverting to the “old days”. Still managed to squeeze out every drop of power, mind.

5) Why the irritating girl fairy, Sandy? Horii fancied creating a female character after writing an old man into Dragon Quest VIII.

6) Horii says he uses regional dialects as shorthand for certain character traits – the moment they talk you already have a feel for them.

7) Combat originally involved real-time button bashing, but Horii felt this prevented people from thinking as a true team.

Above: Sugiyama puts down his John Hancock-san

8) Sugiyama says his hardest job is composing a battle theme that doesn’t grate after one thousand repeats.

9) As a young man, Ichimura would queue up on Dragon Quest release day. Now that he’s played the game before launch, he misses the excitement of anticipation.

10) Horii sometimes sneaks down to Akihabara undercover to link up with the fans’ games.

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