Dragon Quest localization history
This article seeks to provide a localization history of the Dragon Quest series. The various English localizations of the Dragon Quest series are a result of three separate eras of the franchise in North America by Enix and Square Enix. This has resulted in three very distinct periods in the series' international history. This article will list the localization changes that Enix and Square Enix have made since the first English release of Dragon Quest.
Nintendo, Dragon Warrior, and Enix America Corporation
In 1989 Nintendo of America decided to market the series to North America, as the company's action RPG title, The Legend of Zelda, had proven to be highly successful in the North American market. The original title was chosen instead of the then-most-recent and more sophisticated Dragon Quest III for unknown reasons, and was given a slight graphical update. All characters would faces the direction they walked in while moving, shore lines were added to the coast, and the Hero's sprite would show him holding a sword and shield when equipped. A battery back up save feature replaced the Japanese password system, and the syntax of the game relied on Elizabethan English.
The title was renamed to Dragon Warrior as a company called TSR produced a tabletop RPG called Dragon Quest at the same time, and owned the copyright in reference to all RPG context. Due to a combination of bad marketing, the primitive nature of the first game compared to its sequels, and the American preference to action games over turn-based titles caused Dragon Warrior to not perform as expected at retail at 500,000 units, with the unsold copies being given away as a free title to subscribes of Nintendo Power magazine. This is how many Generation X children in America first encountered the series, and estimates of one million units "sold" persist. This failure to perform is not atypical for the time, as the original Final Fantasy sold approximately 700,000 units in the American market.
Shortly after this, Enix Corporation established a localization branch in Redmond Washington, Enix America Corporation, to localize additional Dragon Quest titles for North America. Often called Enix of America, Enix America Corporation brought Dragon Warrior II, Dragon Warrior III, and Dragon Warrior IV stateside. Due to an absence of marketing in the pre-internet days, each title was sold fewer and fewer numbers, at 150,000, 95,000, and 80,000 respectively. While Enix America Corporation wanted to bring the Super Famicom Dragon Quest VI over as Dragon Warrior V, Enix had closed their North American localization branch at the end of 1995
As the Final Fantasy franchise's Super Nintendo Entertainment System titles were being released stateside, the Dragon Warrior series entered a dormancy of eight years. Through sites such as Dragon's Den and the DQShrine, fans in North America were able to form communities and kept hopes of a return of Dragon Warrior to North America alive. It was also at this time that many North American fans began referring to the series as Dragon Quest, DraQue or simply DQ.
Eidos, Dragon Warrior Monsters, and Enix America, Inc.
In 2000 Dragon Warrior returned in the form of an spinoff series, Dragon Quest Monsters for the Game Boy Color. The game was followed by a reestablishment of Enix in North America, as Enix America, Inc., which released Game Boy remakes of Dragon Warrior I & II, Dragon Warrior III, a dual version Dragon Quest Monsters 2, Torneko: The Last Hope, and the much anticipated Dragon Warrior VII.
The portable games' translation was truncated to fit the smaller screen size of the handheld, which prompted the localization staff to opt for romanizations of certain Japanese names instead of the English names used during previous hardware generations; for instance, the usage of Loto instead of Erdrick. The names of characters were more or less faithful to the original script, aside from instances of L and R being switched as in the Loto example above, but the names of monsters became abridged mashups consisting of AdjectiveNoun monikers with odd capitalization habits and spells/skills names being highly inaccurate, with the localization staff either not understanding the wordplay involved in the Japanese script or not asking the developmental staff for guidance.
For example, the wind spells were given the English root word of Inferno despite the Japanese name being an onomatopoeia for cold, blustery gales. This was presumably done to adhere to the names used for the NES, but illustrates that the period was marred by an illogical adherence to poor localization tradition than a true reflection of the original naming conventions. Furthermore, inconsistent, self-imposed censorship continued despite the move to the more liberally-minded platform of the PlayStation, with abilities such as Grand Cross being localized as the nondescript multicut despite there being no external pressure on the company to do so after the establishment of the ESRB ratings board.
Enix of America continued to release the Dragon Warrior titles in America until 2003, with the merging of Japanese parent company with rival Squaresoft leading to the close of the American branch in favor of the latter's more established and professional branch. The final game localized and released by Enix of America was Robot Alchemic Drive for the Playstation 2 on November 5, 2002.
Enix Merges with Square, and localization reboot
On April 3rd 2003, Enix and Square merged into one company to form Square Enix. Shortly after the merger, there was anticipation for the PlayStation 2 port of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride to be released in North America. However, this did not come to pass. In 2005, Square Enix announced that Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the PS2 would be coming to the states and under it's original title, with the company having purchased all copyright registrations associated with the Dragon Quest name worldwide.
The game would be a complete reboot of the localization practice, with industry veteran Richard Honeywood proposing an adoption of British English for the series' syntax and to maintain an emphasis on wordplay to distinguish it from the growing number of competing titles in the RPG market both within and outside of the new company. In an effort to establish continuity between the old and new teams, Honeywood reached out to former Enix of America employees and recruited Matt Alt and Hiriko Yoda into his new team.
This proposal was approved by Yuji Horii, who was displeased with the quality of the localizations of previous titles that failed to convey the clever wordplay he had personally written for every line of dialogue in the series thus far. Horii would weigh in and assess every localization suggestion presented by Honeywood's team, asserting his control over the series internationally to insure it met his personal standards. As a result, the emphasis on puns was restored, spell names became English onomatopoeia, skills became accurate translations for the first time, and monster names were no longer disjointed messes.
Publishing partnership with Nintendo
In 2010, Nintendo of America published Dragon Quest IX in North America and Europe, marking the third time that a Dragon Quest game has been published by a company other than Enix/Square Enix. In 2011, Nintendo published the DS release of Dragon Quest VI in North America and Europe, and published Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 and Fortune Street in these regions as well. Nintendo's marketing push for the ninth game was significantly stronger than Square Enix's had been for the eighth, with commercials staring actor Seth Green being aired for the Summer of 2010 and print ads for the 2011 titles.
However, 2011 would mark the beginning of a second dormant age for the series, though thankfully a briefer one than that seen in the 90's. The 3DS entries in the Rocket Slime and DQM spin-off series would not be localized by Nintendo despite the lack of content for the handheld in its early years and no entry in the series as a whole would not reach international shores until the 2015 release of the original game on cell phone compatible hardware, followed in October of the same year with Dragon Quest Heroes for the PlayStation 4 and PC. This update of the classic and the action spin-off broke the drought, with both the latter and it's sequel being localized along side the first entry in the Dragon Quest Builders sub-series.
Each of these titles would not be ported to any Nintendo hardware for multiple years, which lead to rumors that relations between Square Enix and Nintendo had become strained--this assumption would be squashed with the surprise announcement of Nintendo publishing the international release for the 3DS remake of the Dragon Quest VII in 2016. This came almost precisely three years after the Japanese release in 2013, and many fans had taken it that the translation fees had rendered the game prohibitively expensive. All four titles performed better than Square Enix's sales forecast expected in the American and European markets, prompting the company to begin work on an enhanced, deluxe version of the eleventh game for international release. Dragon Quest XI has performed considerably better than past entries in the series, selling over one million units in North America alone, aided by Nintendo's publishing of the Switch Version of the title and the year long marketing campaign the company presented for the game in 2019.
The friendly business partnership between Square Enix and Nintendo regarding the series has lead to the appearances of several Heroes as playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, further expanding awareness of Dragon Quest to the fighting franchise's widespread audience.
Current Square Enix localization policies
Dragon Quest VIII is the the first game localized by Square Enix. Square Enix USA added several new features including voice acting and the symphonic soundtrack. The original Japanese version of Dragon Quest VIII had no voice acting and utilized synthesized music.
Square Enix of Japan implemented voice acting in Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors for the Nintendo Wii as an experiment to assess the main fanbase's reception to the feature in a spin off. Voice acting would not be featured in Japanese releases of mainline titles until, appropriately enough, the Nintendo 3DS port of the eighth game in 2015. The first game to establish voice actors for several characters was 2015's Dragon Quest Heroes and it's 2016 sequel, with characters not present in either game being voiced in Dragon Quest Rivals.
The tenth game would receive voice acting for certain key scenes in the Version 5.0 update of October 24th, 2019. The Nintendo Switch version of Dragon Quest XI would feature voice actors returning from Rivals.
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Character names for party members are typically changed from the originals under Square Enix, with the purpose ranging from avoiding common place names, to reflecting a thematic element of that particular title, and to emphasize an aspect of a character. This is seen in the changing of Barbara to Ashlynn, Flora to Nera (matching Bianca), and Hassan and Camus being changed to Carver and Erik, respectively.
Certain names are retained from the NES localization set, such as Ragnar McRyan simply gaining a surname that matches his Japanese name. This extends to titles and places as well, with Erdrick being reincorporated into the series with the ninth game and Middenhall being chosen over the GBC era's Lorasia.
Items, weapons, and armor pieces have remained fairly consistent through all three localization periods, with the precise wording varying between eras but keeping the same concept. One exception is the abandonment of water flying clothes for the more fluid and concise flowing dress. Names for equipment in the GBC titles would use an icon showing the type of weapon or armor it belonged to in order to cope with the screen space.
Monster names balance between puns and the original Japanese terms, with some being literal translations (the Gold golem, for example) while others simply abandon the Japanese name for a pun that works better in English. For example of the latter, the Moosifer monster's name in Japanese translates to "Uncle Horn", and does not make any sense in English.
Spell names have been focused on onomatopoeia to match the originals as closely as possible, an aspect that Horii was adamant about mandating. This has resulted in a series of names that perfectly conveys what element the incantation uses in the case of attack spells, and the effects of status altering spells. The latter are particularly more descriptive, with insulatle being more self-descriptive than the vague barrier. Skill names have similarly become more coherent, with occasional English substitutes for Japanese terms being used such as in the case of Kamai-tachi becoming Wind Sickles.
In the North American release of Dragon Quest VIII, Square Enix replaced the original soundtrack with an orchestral version, and removed certain sound effects such as the screen transition. Battle sound effects, movement effects, and the three octave degrees used for unvoiced men, women, and children were retained.
The orchestral soundtrack was well received by international audiences, but due to hardware limitations this could not be replicated with the release of the Zenithia trilogy and the ninth game on the Nintendo DS. It would be implemented in all international versions of the eleventh game, however, with the Japanese receiving the feature as a part of the Nintendo Switch Version. It is currently unknown if the orchestral soundtrack will be featured in a future update of Dragon Quest X or will be the worldwide default in the next numbered title.
In Square Enix's localizations for Dragon Quest VIII and subsequent titles, all references to God are replaced with Goddess. In the Dragon Warrior games for the Game Boy Color, Enix replaced all references to God with "gods". The references to God in Dragon Warrior VII remained intact, presumably due to the divine being in the game being a character who can be spoken to directly, and also accounting to the Christian theming of the title. This was carried forward into the 2016 3DS remake, where the character was named The Almighty--a synonym for God that has no other interpretation.
In the Japanese version, the usage of God and Goddess are conveyed by the genderless Kami instead of the katakana spelling of the English God. Sex is only applied to the divinity that the player can directly interact with, such as Rubiss, Xenlon, and the Zenith Dragon. Due to the structure of the Japanese language, a single usage of the word kami can also refer to multiple subjects at once.
The Christian crosses used as the series' symbol of the divine in all games up to the ninth were altered into tridents for the Square Enix releases. With the ninth game, a new symbol was developed for the church in the series that resembles a triple cross with edges that smooth out into curves resembling a Fleur-de-lis. This saves on development time as the symbol does not need to be changed for international release. References to certain equipment originating from past titles such as the priest's mitre from Dragon Quest III were changed to or retain the trident design.
8-4 Ltd. and Shloc Ltd. localization outsourcing
The Dragon Quest series was localized in-house by Square Enix from 2005 to 2010, with 8-4 Ltd. being hired to translate Dragon Quest VI for its DS release in 2011. This would be the only entry in the series that the company would participate in the production of, but this instance would mark the first time that Square Enix hired a third party to bring Dragon Quest into another language and the fiscal logistics of the decision would make outsourcing the standard approach for the company until the eleventh game was released in 2017. Between 2015 and 2017, all titles in the series were localized by Shloc Ltd., a company co-founded by Oli Chance, one of the members of Richard Honeywood's original team assembled for Dragon Quest VIII. With his past experience with the series, Mr. Chance's participation would maintain the standards established in 2005 and reinvigorate the scripts for the Erdrick trilogy brought to smart phones while also easing the genre shift within the Heroes for RPG fans unaccustomed to muso-style games with familiar prose.
Square Enix would not hire Shloc Ltd. for the whole of the localization of Dragon Quest XI in 2017, but did hire the group to aid in project management with Olic Chance serving as the editor.
- Famitsu issue #621
- Interview with Yusuke Hirata, manager of Square Co. publicity department, Electronic Gaming Monthly 63 page 172, October 1994.
- Famitsu issue #621
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