For the release of that game, Toriyama’s style would be highlighted rather than buried. To many Western gamers, Dragon Quest had never looked so colorful and distinct. That stylistic push, along with a jaunty translation lauded by critics, a detailed set of 3D graphics, and the inclusion of a Final Fantasy XII demo helped Dragon Quest VIII receive the kind of global attention most of its predecessors did not. Western reviewers continued to ding the game for its simple graphics and out-of-date mechanics, though Dragon Quest VII caught significantly more flak on both fronts.
Mind you, that progress probably went unnoticed by Japanese gamers who collectively bought 3 million copies of Dragon Quest VII in three days. Of course, for many of those gamers, what our reviewers saw as hoary and old-fashioned, they saw as a comforting tradition.
That difference in perception may very well be the key to this mystery. While Final Fantasy continues to dominate sales outside of Japan (comparatively speaking), it’s been attracting more criticism in recent years for its attempts to incorporate a variety of modern concepts rather than embrace its genre traditions. In response, some Western fans have turned away from the series in favor of comfortable genre fare like the Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler franchises. In some ways, those gamers may have recognized what Japanese fans have known all along: Sometimes you just want a simple game. It’s a lesson you might be surprised to discover that Squaresoft never fully understood.
A New Era For Comfort Food JRPGs
A snazzy Square Enix 2022 press release reveals more than just the obvious, though, much like the best JRPG secrets, you have to look a little harder to find it.
While, worldwide, Final Fantasy’s franchise sales look impressive at 173 million copies sold so far, those numbers are significantly bolstered by the Western fans Square Enix takes time to thank in the release. Meanwhile, Dragon Quest, at 85 million copies sold so far, remains the biggest JRPG franchise in Japan (silly slimes and all). Despite Square’s best efforts, that’s never changed.
As mentioned above, everyone has theories regarding the staggering size of that popularity gap. However, some of the most interesting theories come from those closest to the game. In a 2017 interview with EDGE magazine, Dragon Quest executive producer Yu Miyake credits the gap between those franchises to very different ideas of nostalgia.