Length: 285 pages
From: TAKIZAWA Hiroyuki/Ishimori Prod./Enix, 1990
Great video games aren't just made; they're worked on, sweated over, tested again and again, subject to disastrous twists and turns, and finally released to an unrelenting public - then usually forgotten about after a few months. Games like Dragon Quest (known to us foreign dudes as Dragon Warrior) are the rare exception, selling millions and spawning even more successful sequels. However, especially in the US, not much is ever said about the people behind the projects. To us they're just a bunch of Japanese names that run across the screen after you save the world for the Nth time. What are they like? What do they go through?
Dragon Quest e no Michi (The Road to Dragon Quest), released both at the height of Dragon Quest's popularity in Japan and during a surge in game-related merchandise, aims to tell the reader a little about these people. The neat thing is that it's done in the manga (comics) format; Ishimori Productions produces a lot of one-volume manga like this that profile famous people and businesses, the idea being that the comics format makes information easier to impart and makes the characters come to life in a way mere text can't. It definitely succeeds in this, a history of the early years of Enix leading up to the release of their first major project.
With the 1980s in Japan comes the video revolution - arcade games, the first consoles, and home computers all attract those with the desire to create. The fledgling game company Enix sponsors a national game programming contest in 1982, which attracts most of who will become the Dragon Quest staff. Nakamura places with Door Door and Horii does the same with a tennis game. The winners all use their prize, a trip to America, together and go to none other than AppleFest '83 in San Francisco. There they get to play Wizardry for the first time, and once he returns home Horii buys a Mac to play the famed RPG on.
The Famicom gets released, and Enix ports most of its current hot sellers over to the hot machine. While discussing what to release next, Nakamura and Chida agree that, although they'd love to release an RPG for the FC, the time isn't right yet as the console is still fully an action game field. So it's decided first to release The Port Pier Serial Murders on the console. It sells fairly well, and Sugiyama meets with the crew after writing a consumer response card for the game.
Work continues at a fast clip, and a release date in February 1986 is set. Toriyama sends the monster graphics in, and the Enix office works to the fanfares of Sugiyama's classical-inspired music. In the process, the game design undergoes constant transformation as everything from the amount of game tiles, to what NPC number 127 should say to the player, to how big the Yes/No choice window should be is debated on and altered. From the beginning, Nakamura and Horii aim for the top with this game - to be not only the first, but also the best RPG on the console market.
Lots of bugs, lack of healthy food and several cases of mass panic later Dragon Quest finally sees release. It sells a million and a half copies, and the sequels sell even more than that. The crew, at the release party for Dragon Quest IV, are already talking about the fifth game. They are just as much adventurers as their game characters - once one quest ends, it's already time to start on the next journey...
That's the real charm of the book - it takes people who are semi celebrities in Japan and unknown everywhere else and makes them into real, believable people with common goals and the occasional arguments. The story is also filled with the sort of anecdotes that always occur in projects like this - Sugiyama and Nakamura have long conversations about old bagatelle and pinball games, Horii goes out for a break and plays Godzilla with some kids' sand castle, Sugiyama gets called with the news that the game is finally complete and plays the overworld theme on the piano for everyone via the phone as congratulation.
It's this sort of attention to personality that made David Scheff's Game Over an interesting book to read, and it's what makes this book a blast to go through. As a manga, it's not too hard to read for Japanese learners, and it's also filled with the things that make manga manga - people staring down each other so hard during arguments that lightning bolts shoot out of their eyes, and such. Out of all the DQ books Enix made around this time, this is probably the most interesting and most fun to read.