Dragon Quest IX: Defenders of the Sky - Nintendo DS
The strongest evidence as to why Playstation 3 is struggling in Japan at the moment is not the news that last week, for the first time, sales of the Playstation 2 surpassed those of its successor. Neither is it because Virtua Fighter 5 has only sold a disastrous 50,000 copies despite near single-handedly resurrecting Japan's arcade scene this year with its popularity. Nor is it even that, as Parappa the Rapper's creator Masaya Matsuura argued this week, the machine is simply too big and cumbersome for the Japanese home (remember how the country scorned the original Xbox for being so huge).
Rather it's this: Dragon Quest IX is to be released on the Nintendo DS.
Dragon Quest is the biggest videogame series in Japan, a boast it has maintained for over twenty years. As such it is the twelfth best selling series in the world - an extraordinary statistic when you consider its poor performance and erratic, intermittent appearances anywhere outside of that country. When we say it's big in Japan, we don't mean in the sense that Grand Theft Auto is big in the UK. The closest cultural parallel we can think of to describe the populace's expectation for a new mainline Dragon Quest game is the rush of Brits to pre-order a new Harry Potter book. In Japan, Dragon Quest is furiously mainstream in the same way that J K Rowling's childlike fantasy reaches far beyond just the genre or medium's fans.
As such Dragon Quest games are always, but always, created for the most mainstream (in terms of sales) system in Japan. Nintendo DS is that system and, in snatching the next major Level 5-developed Dragon Quest from the PlayStation family, the DS has demonstrated its domination.
As well as this undeniable significance, the choice to move the main sequel to one of the most popular game series in the world over to a handheld is near unprecedented. Eurogamer asks Yuji Horii, the series' inimitable creator, if there were any other factors in making the choice? "Well, I want the next Dragon Quest game to be one which can be played by a group of friends together," he explains. "To support that vision we would need to create a bespoke network infrastructure. Doing this from the ground up would be a difficult, time-consuming and expensive undertaking. With the Nintendo DS we have a ready-made framework so we can dedicate our main resources into making the game as good as it can be."
As all the core Dragon Quest games are renowned epics, Eurogamer wonders how the team are managing to squeeze a comparably sized experience into the tight memory restrictions of a DS cart? "It's a challenge," admits Horii, "but we're dong everything we can to make the experience of the size and scope which Dragon Quest players have come to expect. I came to videogames from Manga - I've always just wanted to tell stories and this core aim will be central to this game too despite the emphasis on being able to play with your friends." Details of Dragon Quest IX will continue to remain vague until the Tokyo Game Show, or perhaps, earlier if Nintendo host another one of its Japanese shows this summer.