Whilst the RPG landscape has undergone countless changes over the years Dragon Quest has stayed just about the same. The throwback feel has largely been celebrated by fans. Yet it has also limited the appeal to newer players. Despite critical acclaim, the battle system and whimsical tone have prevented many players (in the west) from getting into the series. All signs point towards this undergoing major changes in Dragon Quest XII: The Flames of Fate. So what do we know about the upcoming changes and will they be for the better?
What changes are coming with Dragon Quest XII?
As things stand we only have very limited information about the upcoming game. With only what was announced and no gameplay to go on, this is what we know so far:
- Dragon Quest will see big changes to its ‘command battle system’
- The Flames of Fate will have a much darker tone
- Impactful player choices, which change the course of the story, will return to the series
- There will be a simultaneous worldwide launch
Ditching Turn-based Battles?
Perhaps the change that will scare long-time Dragon Quest fans the most is the hinted changes to the battle system. The reporting, in English, on what Yuji Horii said has been somewhat confused. What is clear is it seems that fully turn-based battles are gone but not forgotten. Apparently, the battle system will not completely disappear but will be different. Many RPGs have had hybrid action/turn-based systems in the past, the ATB system, Final Fantasy VII Remake’s system, Valkyria Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 all come to mind.
Will we see a change to something like these games in Dragon Quest? If I had to put money on it I would say the combat will be a lot like Final Fantasy VII Remake. If this does happen though, it will be by far the biggest change to gameplay in series history. Many players who wish they could get into the series but can’t get past the turn-based system may be excited about this change. However, I really hope the classic combat stays largely intact. For the most part, I like to relax with the series rather than engage in high octane fights that I usually see elsewhere.
The upcoming game has been referred to as ‘Dragon Quest, for adults’. Once I got over my initial reaction of “Oi, I’m an adult and I like Dragon Quest y’know!”, I started to wonder what that means. The series is certainly known for its light and adventurous tone. Described as having the atmosphere of a Saturday morning cartoon (is that still a thing?). However, fans of the series will know that the games rarely shy away from getting dark. The most recent game’s second half takes a seriously dark turn compared to the first. Still, it continues to feature monsters like the ‘Viscious Scourgette’ which is literally an evil courgette with a spear. It seems most likely that this will still be the case.
The recurring monsters, including the infamous slime, are one of the series’ trademarks and I just can’t see them disappearing. Most likely the game will maintain the relatively dark tone of its predecessors second half throughout, without getting too gritty or adult. I’m excited to see what they do with this change and think it could take the series in an interesting new direction whilst keeping much of the established charm and most likely its E rating.
Fate Is Inexorable? (See if We May Not Exora It After All)
The information we’ve got so far has indicated choices will be central to the game. The subtitle ‘Flames of Fate‘ has indicated as much and the focus seems to be on how your choices can change this fate. This is somewhat reminiscent of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. There, the main choice of the game was your choice of bride, but this had a limited effect on the story at large. Horii did mention that the focus is on ‘life choices’ but I think these will be bigger in XII than V.
Players will likely have to make far more of these choices too. Modern choice heavy games expect a lot more impact than they did in 1992. As much as I loved being guided through the well-written story of XI, the bland and passive protagonist didn’t really do it for me. This could be a great change.
Why are the changes to Dragon Quest happening?
The classic comparison is between Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. The perceived wisdom is that Dragon Quest appeals to Japanese tastes whilst Final Fantasy has a broader fanbase. However, Dragon Quest XI is seen as gaining a foothold in the west for the series. Strong sales in the west are likely what prompted Square Enix to plan a worldwide release, as with Final Fantasy, and I doubt anyone would disagree that this is exciting news.
Still, does the series really need to follow its rival’s lead on tone and battle system? People certainly love the battle system in Final Fantasy: VII Remake, but it’s not a whole new game with a new tone. Comparing Dragon Quest XI and Final Fantasy XV you might start to wonder which series really needs a change. Dragon Quest XI is widely considered one of the best releases in the series. Meanwhile, many see the mainline Final Fantasy games as stuck in a rut.
Nevertheless, Final Fantasy still consistently outsells Dragon Quest. It’s not hard to see why Square Enix might see Final Fantasy’s action-based battle system and darker tone as the best way to gain fans amongst newer generations of gamers. Turn-based games have been experiencing something of a renaissance in recent years. Unfortunately, this has largely been contained to PC. On console action games still rule. For myself, I don’t think the fundamentals of the series need changing, but the series is always evolving somewhat and I’m excited to see where it goes next.