Since as far back as the Game Boy Color, Square Enix has taken strides to compete with the likes of Pokémon and Shin Megami Tensei to offer a monster collecting and battling JRPG series of its own. Dragon Quest Monsters might not be quite as high profile as some of its rivals, but over many years now it has been a reliably good time every time one has shown up.
Now Square Enix is back with a new one for the modern era. Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince launches very soon on Nintendo Switch and, many would argue given how controversial the Pokémon series has been on Switch, this is a big chance for Square Enix to really make a splash.
I had the opportunity to fire off some quick questions to the game’s producer, Yokota Kento and Horii Yuji, the game’s director and also the legend behind so much of the entire Dragon Quest series. Look forward to plenty of commentary on the synthesis system. They seem particularly proud of how this works (and from trailers and game information so far, with good reason).
Horii Yuji, you’ve been working on Dragon Quest for almost 40 years now – what continues to inspire you about it?
Horii Yuji: In terms of my motivation to keep making games, firstly I just love games! Of course that goes for playing them, but I enjoy making games a lot too. Over these 40 years, the capabilities of gaming machines have evolved further and further, and constantly seeing how you can do new things is another factor that really boosts my desire to make more games. Recently I have had quite a few opportunities to meet with fans and there was even someone who started tearing up as soon as they saw me, telling me how Dragon Quest was everything to them when they were a child. That hit me emotionally as well and made me feel that I still need to keep doing my best. Having come so far with it now, I think it’s safe to say that Dragon Quest has become my life’s work.
Looking at this new one, first thing anyone does when looking at a “monster collecting RPG” is to compare it to Pokémon. What are you doing with this game to help it stand out as its own experience?
Yokota Kento: The most iconic feature of the Dragon Quest Monsters series is its synthesis system where you take two monsters and combine them to create a new monster. This kind of system is not seen in other monster raising games much and it has been further refined in Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince to make synthesising monsters as fun as it can possibly be.
Dragon Quest Monsters has been around for some time now – I love replaying the original on Game Boy Color every so often to this day! – What are the qualities that you think fans have come to love about the series, and how have you brought those into this new game?
Yokota Kento: It is surprising that you still play the first game today, but at the same time it makes the creators extremely happy to hear that. The most distinctive feature of Dragon Quest Monsters is the synthesis system that I previously mentioned, but the core of what makes that system great is the wide selection of hugely emotive monsters from across the Dragon Quest series. We put great effort into refining that familiar gameplay cycle where you meet many charming beasts, befriend them and combine them together, and have made it even more streamlined and enjoyable for the latest title.
So, the synthesis system is the mechanic that allows you to combine monsters. This has been a feature of DQM from right at the start, so can you go into more detail about what’s new with it this time around?
Yokota Kento: The synthesis system in this latest title focused on the idea of combining both new and old elements. Specifically, this means combining together and balancing various mechanics from the series’ past, such as the highly intuitive synthesis from Dragon Quest Monsters 1 on the Game Boy, where the two “parent” monster types would determine what kind of child was produced, and the system from the Nintendo DS/Nintendo 3DS titles (Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 1 and 2) where the player can pick the one that they like best from a list of possible offspring.
In order to make synthesis as fun to use as possible, we revived and renewed many of the classic synthesis patterns from the previous games, but you can also experiment and find completely new and unknown combinations as well. We also understand that checking and remembering the huge number of possible monster synthesis results on your own can get quite daunting, so we also introduced a synthesis search mechanic. This is a very convenient feature that lets you pick from numerous different parameters and find results matching your specified conditions immediately. We hope that players will make great use of this feature.
Dragon Quest has become renowned and beloved for its monster designs. With this game introducing new ones, how does the team work to make sure that they “fit in” and players will enjoy them as much as the slimes, drackys, and so on ?
Yokota Kento: When we include a new monster, we first take the 2D design and line it up next to many of the classic monsters from the series to see if it feels out of place. We then take each one and check it over together with Dragon Quest creator Horii Yuji, discussing the design and coming up with a name for it. After going through this process, the new recruit finally becomes an official part of the Dragon Quest menagerie.
Another common thread across Dragon Quest is its humour, and playful wordplay in the script. Will this be a feature in this new game, and are there any particularly amusing things that people should look out for this time?
Yokota Kento: Indeed, the distinctive dialogue and wordplay from the Dragon Quest series is alive and well in Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince. The scenario writing was handled by a team centred around Mr. Fujisawa Jin, a creator who has acted as director on several Dragon Quest series titles and who has worked together with Mr. Horii for many years.
One fun thing that I want players to notice in this game is the differences in size between the monsters. For example, even in the same Slime family you can encounter tiny ones that barely come up to Psaro’s knee, as well as gigantic ones that are many times his size. With this mechanic we want to let players customise their monster teams more. Not just in terms of the types they like but also making each member the size they want it.
One other thing that is also from the mainline Dragon Quest series that I hope players have fun with is collecting mini-medals.
This introduction of seasons is interesting to me. Previous Dragon Quest Monsters games have encouraged you to return to areas by using roguelike design elements and the like. With this game, will players need to return to areas in each season, and what changes when you do (aside from the aesthetics)?
Yokota Kento: It is not compulsory for players to return to an area available in each of the different seasons but there will definitely be new discoveries waiting when the season changes. For example, the monsters walking around will change and the terrain might have changed, opening up new areas to explore. In addition to the seasons, the weather can change as well. There are even some rare monsters that only appear in specific seasons or under specific weather conditions, and searching those out is great fun too.
Finally, the arena has always been a major feature in Dragon Quest Monsters. Is there anything new that we can expect to see from it in this game?
Yokota Kento: In the Dragon Quest Monsters series, the arena has always been a place that lets you test your abilities in battle to see how good you really are. For that reason, we have deliberately not changed how it works from previous games. You should go back regularly to take on harder challenges when you feel your team has become more powerful.
Many thanks to Yokota Kento and Horii Yuji for taking the time to answer these quick questions, and stay tuned for the DDNet review of the game closer to release.