Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are two of the most important RPG series of all time, both influencing the genre in massive and profound ways. The franchises have been closely tied together for years, but they’ve had very different paths to success.
Final Fantasy turned into the premiere RPG series in the West, but Dragon Quest never got anywhere close to the same heights. It’s baffling considering that Dragon Quest is a massive event in Japan, and Final Fantasy honestly owes a lot to the series.
While it’s certainly strange, multiple factors contributed to the rise of each series, including how they were marketed toward the respective audiences. Here’s why Final Fantasy is more popular than Dragon Quest in the West.
The topic requires a bit of background on Dragon Quest, and just how incredibly popular it is in Japan. The series is widely considered one of the precursors to the entire JRPG genre, making its debut in 1986 on the NES. Final Fantasy would follow a year later in 1987. While Final Fantasy as a franchise has doubled the sales of Dragon Quest, the latter generally sells more copies in Japan. This is exemplified by the release of Dragon Quest XI, with the game selling an astounding 2 million copies on its first day of release, only in Japan. Compare that to Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which hit 3.5 million sales in the first three days, but that was a worldwide release.
There’s a common urban myth that says Japan had to pass a law to put the release of Dragon Quest on Saturdays in Japan, but that’s not exactly true. No law was ever passed, but Square Enix did move the release date of Dragon Quest games. In the days of the NES games typically released on Thursdays in Japan, but Dragon Quest is one of the only series that releases on a Saturday. At one point, Series Creator Yuji Hori and Executive Producer Yuu Miyake said that Square worked with Nintendo in the days of the NES to have Dragon Quest as a special exception to release on Saturdays.
The first four Dragon Quest games came to the West, albeit a couple of years after their original releases, but due to low sales, North America wouldn’t see another Dragon Quest game for nearly seven years. It was during this time that Final Fantasy really broke into the mainstream.
Much like Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy games saw a delay before they were released in the West. Final Fantasy one, four, and six all made their way west although four was called Final Fantasy II and six was named Final Fantasy III. Then in 1997, a little game called Final Fantasy 7 released and it changed absolutely everything. Final Fantasy had seen moderate success before then in the West, but nothing major. However, Square took a different approach with the release of Final Fantasy 7 and put a massive marketing budget behind the game.
Final Fantasy 7 was an impressive show for the technology of the PS1. It used what was, at the time, gorgeous CGI scenes and elevated the RPG genre to something more. Sony themselves were all in on the potential of Final Fantasy 7, allocating a $40 million marketing budget to the game, separate from what Square would bring. Ads for the game were everywhere, and commercials leaned into the cinematic aspect of Final Fantasy 7 by creating “Hollywood-esque” trailers.
Needless to say, Final Fantasy 7 was an absolute smash-hit, becoming one of the most beloved games on the PS1. The JRPG genre started shifting its tone and style to match Final Fantasy 7, and brooding protagonists suddenly became the norm. Final Fantasy 7 remains the most successful Final Fantasy game of all time, selling over 17 million copies to date. The series had finally established its foothold, and from then on Final Fantasy became known as a series that pushed video games forward and challenged the technology. Final Fantasy X was an early release on the PS2, and a trailblazer in terms of facial capture and voice acting. Final Fantasy XI took the series online and made waves as one of the early MMOs. The franchise has certainly had its ups and downs, but Final Fantasy 7 put the series in the public consciousness and helped keep it there for years to come.
When it released Final Fantasy 7 was one of the most expensive games ever made, between teh development costs and the absurd marketing costs. Yet it paid off for Square Enix and propelled Final Fantasy to be a household name. Dragon Quest simply never got the same chance in the West, and a big part of that was the success of Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy 7 sported a dark and edgy design that stood in direct opposition to the normally bright and cheery JRPG. Other games followed suit and the colorful aesthetic of Dragon Quest simply didn’t hold the same appeal for Western audiences at the time. While Final Fantasy yielded great sales in the West, Dragon Quest couldn’t find a foothold, and that’s not even talking about the many games in the series that never made their way West. It simply wasn’t worth putting in the time and money on Dragon Quest that could be spent on Final Fantasy, a guaranteed hit in North America.
Square Enix didn’t wholly stop releasing Dragon Quest games in the West, and recent years have shown a slow uptick in the series’ popularity. Dragon Quest XI saw rave reviews from critics and a moderate marketing budget, with the Western release pushing the game over 5 million sales. Still, it’s clear that Final Fantasy still holds more sway in the Western world, considering Final Fantasy XV sold 5 million copies worldwide in its first week. As the two series have developed they’ve gone in wildly different directions. Dragon Quest has stayed true to tradition and sports a heavy Japanese aesthetic, while Final Fantasy has adopted western sensibilities and designs. They both played the same role, just in different countries.