The Road to Dragon Quest VIII Presentation Report
01.12.05 - 2:12 AM

Today the Digital Entertainment Academy held a special presentation highlighting the road that led to the release of Square Enix's blockbuster Dragon Quest VIII: Sora to Umi to Daichi to Norowareshi Himegimi for PlayStation 2. Present were not only series mastermind Yuuji Horii and the president of developing studio Level 5 Akihiro Hino, but also Square Enix corporate directors Tatsuo Tomiyama and Yousuke Saitou, the head of the company's production team No.9 Ari Miyake as well as human resources chief Katsunobu Handa.

Initially Square Enix has talked to various development studios regarding the development of Dragon Quest VIII. Eventually the company picked the Fukuoka-based PlayStation 2 RPG specialists from Level 5 to submit a prototype. To meet deadlines, company president Akihiro Hino persuaded his staff to cut back on vacations in order to complete the development on time, despite the approaching holiday season and other game projects Level 5 was working on concurrently. When this prototype software was shown to Yuuji Horii, the series mastermind was impressed at how Level 5 had turned Akira Toriyama's illustrations into moving objects. He explained that the keyword for Dragon Quest V had been a story spanning three generations and with Dragon Quest VIII it was 3D. Horii recalled how he envisioned a three dimensional RPG with a Mario Golf-feel already during the days of Famicom. However, considering the limitations of the 8-bit hardware back then, he quickly abandoned the plan. Due to the huge size a 3D field has compared to its two dimensional counterpart, the veteran game designer admitted, drawing up Dragon Quest VIII's story and scenario was difficult in the beginning. Eventually, his first work on the setting was the creation of the final boss.

Level 5 president Hino explained that Dragon Quest VIII was a Yujii Horii game, not a Level 5 title. Pointing to his company's skills when it comes to working with the PlayStation 2 hardware, he continued that Level 5 has used its skills to turn Horii's ideas into a virtual reality. To prepare themselves for the huge task of developing a new Dragon Quest installment, Hino and his staff sat down and played through the entire Dragon Quest series to get a feel for its tradition. Using a stopwatch, they even measured the time a certain sound effect would last. The final say about these things however rested with Yuuji Horii, who would ask to make a certain effect 10% faster or slower.

Another challenge was the transition from 2D to 3D graphics. In particular, the creation of the various motions in a 3D world was difficult to accomplish. Due to the previously mentioned larger 3D field map, Horii had to scale down the dungeons. The game's first dungeon was supposed to feature two additional levels, but to prevent players from getting lost in the huge environments, they were dropped from the plan.

Referring to the engine, Hino explained that toon-shading works well in a VS battle situation. However once you have an RPG featuring many characters, their movement slows down considerably. To create an engine capable of handling this problem made the Level 5 president happy. As far as the next installment is concerned, Horii plans to stay in the third dimension. Using Dragon Quest VIII as a starting point, there are still several things that can be done in the next game, according to Horii.

Chris Winkler