One of my personal highlights of the year is Dragon Quest XI. I didn’t initially have it on my radar, but it won me over big time. The main reason for this is the game’s compelling narrative. On the surface, it’s the classic good-versus-evil tale we’ve seen/read a million times over. However, there’s a great deal of depth in the narrative that isn’t initially apparent. The story is brought to life thanks to the myriad of playable and non-playable characters which inhabit the land of Erdrea. This endearing tale is one of the reasons I consider the game a modern-day JRPG classic.
To learn more about Dragon Quest XI’s narrative, I submitted questions to the development team. This includes Game Designer Yuji Horii, Producer Hokuto Okamoto, Director Takeshi Uchikawa, and Executive Producer Yuu Miyake. Their answers give further insight into how the game’s narrative was crafted. We also learn how Dragon Quest XI was made with a global audience in mind and how the classic Dragon Quest experience was updated for the modern age.
Dragon Quest XI is the most technologically advanced game in the series so far. At the same time, it retains the elements which have made it successful over the decades. What challenges did the team face when designing a game that balances modern and classic RPG mechanics?
Yuji Horii: First, there is the fact that I’ve never considered the elements to be “classic.” Rather, we have always aimed to develop themes fitting for the current day and age, as well as continued to make advancements along with the hardware. So, I feel like Dragon Quest has been constantly evolving over the years.
Yuu Miyake: And, rather than something being classic or modern, we are always prioritizing how easily understandable and accessible a game is from the viewpoint of the player. So I don’t think we’ve ever assessed things based on this type of notion or perception to begin with.
Yuji Horii: We always aim to create a great experience to the best of our ability within the framework. Thus, in that sense, everything we set out to do was a challenge we had to face. I suppose, conversely, perhaps it was a challenge to have chosen to continue the tradition of command-based battles in this day and age — to use that as a basis while incorporating skills and various additional features to further elevate the enjoyment from battles.
Dragon Quest XI features a grand, epic narrative that is easy for players to understand. At the same time, it contains a great deal of depth. What specific challenges came with crafting such a tale? What did the team want players to take away from the story?
Yuji Horii: With regards to the story, this is something that is worked out through numerous discussions with the team. We work hard to create twists within the story that doesn’t just stop at a generic conclusion, but attempts to take things a step further. In that sense, I feel like we were able to depict the characters honestly and realistically, after contemplating a range of human complexities and emotions from kindness to sorrow.
Hokuto Okamoto: I do want to note that all the characters in DQXI have two sides. So I hope players delve into and imagine various aspects pertaining to the character, such as their background.
It’s clear Dragon Quest XI has a greater emphasis on characters and character development. Given how the protagonist is silent, was it difficult to make him feel as well-rounded as his companions? Where there ever any discussion about possibly letting the character speak (which would be a first for the series)?
Yuji Horii: Let’s see… This is something we have always been quite particular about. The protagonist in Dragon Quest is always meant to be the player, so there would be a disconnect between the character and the player if a character does or says something against the player’s will. That is something we want to avoid at all costs, so we make sure that the protagonist never speaks and never takes actions beyond the player’s control. In relation to that, we try to create the game in a way in which we have the surrounding characters assist to make the protagonist character to feel well rounded.
Takeshi Uchikawa: From the start, we never considered giving the main character some dialogue. As Horii-san explained just now, this thought had already existed, and so it had been decided at the very beginning of development that we would be protecting, or rather placing importance on that aspect. That said, many discussions took place with Horii-san as we contemplated how to develop scenes with action and movement within working in a more realistic environment, especially since we need to ensure that the protagonist doesn’t take any actions that are against the player’s will.
Yuji Horii: We really hammered out the details on how to create a sense of drama without making the protagonist speak over the 32 years we’ve been developing Dragon Quest.
Yuu Miyake: That is essentially the expertise and technique our team has accumulated over the years.
Takeshi Uchikawa: So really, this time, there were many additional points we needed to be careful about given the game itself was heading in a more realistic direction, and so we focused on tackling those inevitable challenges.
The game features a large roster of party members, each with their own specific personalities. Were the characters inspired by any particular people? What role do the party members play in the protagonist’s personal growth?
Yuji Horii: It always starts by thinking about the overall balance. When considering what type of party members to include, I think about characters that may fill certain roles. For example, the role of the middle-aged man, sisters or whatever else there may be. From there, I consider ways in which these characters will interact with the protagonist and work to build out a well-balanced party.
Takeshi Uchikawa: Rather than a specific person, I think there is definitely a part where we rely on Horii-san’s sensibilities, such as his sense of balance that he just described.
Yuji Horii: I also love Japanese TV dramas so there is a lot I take in from watching those. But, I don’t think it’s ever about a specific someone; rather, I feel there’s a part that’s cultivated from overall experiences.
Takeshi Uchikawa: In terms of the starting point, we leave it all up to Mr. Horii’s sensibilities when making those choices, and the development team believes in those decisions wholeheartedly, working to build out that vision. As for the role the party members play in the protagonist’s growth, the protagonist is essentially the player and something that the player actively controls. So, the party members essentially take a supporting role as they take part in the story to help showcase the protagonist’s growth.
Yuji Horii: I feel that all humans have something that they’re lacking or missing. Therefore, I think that these missing pieces are supplemented as the player travels with the party, and they can feel the growth of the protagonist.
All of the game’s cities feel distinct from one another. They also all have a story to tell. What went into giving every location its own identity? Did the real-world cities each locale is based on influence the kinds of stories told in each town?
Takeshi Uchikawa: We wanted players to get the same feeling as when they travel in the real world when exploring the various locations spread out the world of Dragon Quest XI. With that in mind, we outlined features and characteristics unique to each location in a document, and shared it among the development team to ensure the proper representation of each town’s identity. As for the story, there was an underlying humanistic aspect that we wanted to portray, so we did take in aspects from certain towns if we felt it necessary to achieve the feeling we wanted to depict. That said, I think it is safe to say the focus was more on creating that human drama when building out the story.
Dragon Quest XI is not a short game. Despite its length, it never feels like the story drags. How do you go about crafting an extensive tale that continues to keep players engaged for so many hours?
Yuji Horii: Looking at the way we’ve crafted the stories for Dragon Quest, players would generally visit a town and there would be some kind of occurrence at each town. They would then resolve the issue, moving onto the next town thereafter. The story has always been crafted in that fashion. In that sense, each episode isn’t too long as it is essentially tied to one location. Perhaps it doesn’t feel dragged out because we are essentially connecting numerous short episodes. When the player moves to a new location, they can then experience the story afresh.
Takeshi Uchikawa: Particularly with this title, we also received a general direction from Horii-san in that he wanted the story to develop like a roller coaster; in other words, he wanted to leave some elements that draw the player’s curiosity further so that they would continue forward. We really kept this in mind throughout the development, and as a result, I think contributed to generating the feel you mentioned in the question.
Yuji Horii: It’s like connecting all these small stories and placing a larger story on top of that.
Dragon Quest is very popular in Japan but hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success worldwide. Is this something the team thought about when developing Dragon Quest XI? What, if any, decisions were made to give the game worldwide appeal?
Hokuto Okamoto: When developing Dragon Quest XI, we made sure to keep the Western market in mind. First off, we wanted to incorporate features from Dragon Quest VIII, which we believed to be one of the more successful titles for the series in the West, such as including full English voice over and overhauling the user interface. We also included more Draconian Hard Mode options for players who want a challenge, and a dash function to make it easier to traverse through the world. We also added a PC release for Dragon Quest XI, as we understand there are a large number of PC users overseas.
Are there any final thoughts you wish to impart on our readers about Dragon Quest XI and its story?
Yuji Horii: You are the protagonist of your own life, and your struggles will always pay off, so keep it up and live your life to the fullest!
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