With Dragon Quest Heroes due out in a week, American fans of the series are clinging eagerly to any desperate hope that Square Enix remembers they exist. Last week, Retronauts looked back at the history of Dragon Quest; this week, let's relive the franchise's finest musical moment.
When Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King launched in the U.S. in November 2005, it kicked off a short-lived but serious commitment to making the Japanese RPG juggernaut a success in the West as well. The game didn't simply show up unceremoniously on PlayStation 2; it appeared in a fancy package complete with a demo of the hotly anticipated Final Fantasy XII.
The deluxe treatment went more than just skin-deep, though. In localizing Dragon Quest VIII for the U.S., Square Enix made some massive, sweeping changes to the game. It was the first entry in the series to see a Western release under the name Dragon Quest rather than Dragon Warrior. The interface received a massive facelift, leaping from dingy PS1-era ugliness to a detailed, attractive menu system. Additionally, the characters—silent in the Japanese version—suddenly found voices in the West. But perhaps the most impressive improvement came in the form of the soundtrack.
DQVIII had a sparse, electronic, video-game-like soundtrack in Japan. It felt comfortable for fans—but American and European gamers, mostly being newcomers to the franchise, needed a little extra pizazz in their music. And the revamped game delivered in spades, turning all those digital arrangements into lush, symphonic renditions of Koichi Sugiyama's compositions. Dragon Quest was no stranger to such arrangements; on the contrary, it was one of the first game series to have its soundtracks reworked for orchestra. However, DQVIII's Western release marked the first time those arrangements appeared within the game, and much as John Williams' work elevated Star Wars from hokey sci-fi to majestic epic, so too did DQVIII's retooled score turn a great RPG into something even grander.
With spinoff Dragon Quest Heroes due in just a few days, why not take some time this week to revisit the greatest moment in Dragon Quest's storied musical history? Start with the battle theme below and then jump on over to YouTube to enjoy the rest of Sugiyama's PS2 masterpiece.