Cognition Dissemination: In Search of an Elusive Dragon Quest XI

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age released in Japan on July 26th last year, the first story-driven single-player-only installment to arrive since Dragon Quest VIII on PlayStation 2 way back in November 2004. At the time, anyone familiar with mainline releases outside Japan knew its localization would take a while; but as a way to sate the appetites of DQ fans and those who generally like RPGs outside Japan, Square Enix announced its localization on the day of the Japanese release, through a video address from creator and director Yuji Horii. Around that time, we had the pleasure of hearing about how good it was from those who were playing the Japanese version, while more information on the western release awaited.

The use of “pleasure” wasn’t sarcastic, by the way, as we knew this was a game we’d be playing soon. I’d only be sarcastic if its localization fate was uncertain, a title we’d have to beg Square Enix for. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

They have, on the other hand, been eerily quiet about it since the announcement. At the time, the company claimed in their press release that more details would be announced in the fall. You’re reading this Damage Control post made on January 4th, 2018, as were slightly past that point and no further info has been provided.

So, what happened? It’s unlikely they merely forgot about it, since their plate isn’t that stacked. Developments happening behind the scenes have likely set its production behind, and I have a good hypothesis as to what they are.

First, there’s a good chance they’re adding voice acting to the western version. The Japanese version features well-directed cutscenes with characters interacting with each other, though bereft of voicework. It’s somewhat reminiscent of several PS2 RPGs, and in-keeping with Dragon Quest’s traditional adherence to nostalgia by not changing too much. But that nostalgia has little appeal with westerners, where only a small amount of the gaming audience has a serious history with the series — back to a time where it was called “Dragon Warrior” thanks to another company owning the “Dragon Quest” name in America for a Dungeons & Dragons-like tabletop game. This is why voice acting was added to DQVIII when it released on PS2, and eventually 3DS.

Interestingly, voice acting was also added to the Japanese 3DS version of DQVIII when it released in 2015. It’s why plenty figured DQXI would be the first mainline game to have voice acting from the start, but apparently the 3DS version is considered a bonus port.

Since this will be a big game, Square Enix wants to get the voice acting just right. That means they’ll also want to get the promotion right, and both of those will take some time… if they’re adding voicework.

While we’re on the topic of the sound: I’m hoping Square Enix will use an orchestral version of the soundtrack for the western version, because the synthesized music in the Japanese version sounds subpar. It’s tough to tell whether this could happen or not, since composer Koichi Sugiyama is a notorious control freak regarding where his music can be used, and in what form. For instance, observe what happened with the western versions of Dragon Quest VII and VIII for 3DS in the west, where the orchestral soundtracks were replaced with synthesized versions — though they still sounded good.

Second, the lack of a reveal for the Switch version could be another issue holding them back from providing more info. This assumes the Switch version is the same as the PS4 version that released in Japan last year, likely the case after it was confirmed to also use Unreal Engine 4 like the PS4 one. They may also want to release both simultaneously in western territories. It’s surprising that it’s taken this long for Square Enix to reveal it, but perhaps they’re waiting for a Nintendo event. EA accidentally spilled word in December that a Nintendo Direct will happen sometime this month, and the fact that 18 Switch placeholders were recently uploaded to Amazon for incoming announcements (though they were removed shortly afterward) suggests it will happen soon. DQXI could be shown on it.

Of course, it’s also possible another issue in Japan is holding it up, like coding issues or the creators giving strict demands for the localization. But even in that case, Square Enix wouldn’t have needed to break their pledge to provide more info by the end of fall 2017, and could have said something about what’s happening. This is why it’s more likely to be one of the two key issues mentioned above, but I won’t discount the potential for there being another issue that I didn’t predict here.

Given how these situations tend to go, I wouldn’t be surprised if news of the western version of the game surfaced next week, to somewhat spite this post. But I’d be fine with that. The point here wasn’t concern about the game’s localization being cancelled, but mere curiosity over its whereabouts. There’s a good chance Square Enix will answer that question soon, even if it’s only in a tweet.

P.S. I’d still like to see them localize the 3DS version, despite Nintendo slowly phasing the system out. If they don’t, they really should at least port the SNES-style rendition of the game to another platform.

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