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Horii was born to a family of glass artisans on Awaji island, helping in the family store during Summer. When he was young he alternated between wanting to be a manga-ka (cartoonist) or a lawyer, deciding by junior high school that manga was more practical than legal affairs. After graduating high school he applied for admittance to Waseda University in 1972, which proved to be a significant culture shock for the young man. This was the era of student protests and political movements, which Horii described as being in the center of a whirlwind. Horii graduated from Waseda University's Department of Literature and he began work as a freelance writer for magazines, newspapers, and manga.
In early 1981 Horii purchased a personal computer to help organize his writing. After reaching the limits of the built-in word processing program he began to explore the capabilities of the machine, teaching himself BASIC as he went. In 1982 he won second place in an Enix-sponsored game programming contest with a tennis computer game (losing out to Koichi Nakamura's DOOR-DOOR), motivating him to join the company.
Horii's first success at Enix was the Portopia serial murder case, a screen-by-screen adventure game that tasked the player with unraveling the mysterious circumstances of a violent murder in the eponymous seaside town. The title proved to be a watershed moment for the young Horii, garnering him well deserved respect at Enix and strengthening his working relationship with top company programmer Koichi Nakamura. Further more, the simple menu-selection system implemented in the game would becomea corner stone of the Dragon Quest series' user input.
The Road to Dragon Quest
In 1983, Enix sent Horii and Nakamura to Applefest; a trade show hosted by Apple computers in San Fransisco that allowed attendees so sample new business software, computer architecture, and computer games being developed. It was here that Horii encountered his first RPG--Wizardry. Having never encountered a game of this kind before, where success depended on strategy and thorough planning rather than quick reflexes, and became so enamored with the seemingly endless mysteries of the game that he purchased an Apple II immediately upon his return to Japan just to play the game.
In 1985 Portopia was ported to the famicom, greatly improving the machine's software library from the handful of obtuse action titles. This porting success gained Horii further recognition among the gaming community, prompting him to be inaugurated in Weekly Shonen Jump's Famicom KamiKen periodical. This bi-monthly article was reflection on current hot titles, game trends, and developer gossip of the period that allowed readers to send in their own essays to be printed in Shonen Jump. When Horii sent in his own article, he was quickly hired as a staff writer. From this connection Horii would put his college education to good use and free-lance his writing skills out to various manga-ka in the magazine as he worked on his games, eventually meeting acclaimed artist Akira Toriyama at an SJ new year's party. The two became fast friends, and Toriyama would contribute character, monster, and location designs to the series.
With the success of the famicom port of Portopia, proving that a "slow game" can dominate the sales charts in an action game market, Horii and Nakamura agreed that the timing was right to begin development of the famicom's first genuine RPG. After a lengthy process of convincing Enix supervisor Yukinobu Chida of the project's potential for success, the unnamed project was given the greenlight to begin development with Horii as sole scenario writer, Nakamura as lead programmer, and Toriyama as illustrator. Instead of a common Wizardry clone, the two decided to combine the best aspects of both the aforementioned series and it's chief competitor Ultima and eliminate the largest design flaws of both in the process. To accomplish this it was decided to use the simple menu-driven command system of Portopia, the first-person battle screen of Wizardry, and the bird's-eye view map exploration of Ultima. Coincidentally, acclaimed composer Koichi Sugiyama had filled out a consumer response card packaged in the back of Portopia, and was quickly approached for the possibility of composing the music for the ambitious title. Accepting the challenge, Sugiyama meets with the team and begins his composition work, even going as far as to play the scores on his piano over the phone for group approval.
After a rough development period and countless hours contemplating the feedback of Enix staff and playtesters, Dragon Quest was released on May 27th, 1986. Sales were slow at first, but strong word of mouth and a healthy advertising campaign in Shonen Jump magazine lead to a steady increase throughout the year, selling 1.5 million copies in total before production of the cartridge ceased in the early 90's. The title was an unprecedented sensation in Japan, leading to a cultural craze that lead to a boom of interest not only in RPG software, but tales of swords & sorcery, European myths and culture, and fantasy literature. For all this influence on his country's zeitgeist, Horii has remained a humble man, happy to give players new quests to venture out on as long as he can.
Horii was also a supervisor of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System game, Chrono Trigger. Chrono Trigger had multiple game endings and Horii appeared in one of the endings with the game development staff.
Horii currently heads his own production company, Armor Project, a company that has an exclusive production contract with Square Enix, a contract established with Enix before the company merged with Square. He also worked on Dragon Quest X for the Wii.
He is on the selection committee for the annual Super Dash Novel Rookie of the Year Award.
Horii has visited the United States twice to promote the North American releases of Dragon Quest. He appeared at the Nintendo World Store in New York City in 2010 for the release of Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, and again on February 12, 2011 at the Palo Alto, California GameStop for the upcoming Valenslimerelease of Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation.
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