Enix Origins: The Story Behind Dragon Quest

Thomas Well
25 min readMar 17, 2019


The Dragon Quest franchise is an outlier in many ways. Such games prompt questions. Why were they the ones to do it instead of somebody else? How did it come together the way that it did? How on earth did they manage to get Akira Toriyama involved? I would like to answer these questions, but first let me introduce Koichi Nakamura.

Nakamura is probably the most important person in the history of Japanese game development that you’ve never heard of. He is the founder of, and prodigy behind, the company Chunsoft.

His destiny with games was established from an early age. Even before he was tall enough to see over the playing surface of the local newsagent’s pinball machine, young Koichi would borrow a stool from the shopkeeper in order to play. Then, at home (in Kagawa Prefecture, a tiny province on Japan’s smallest main island) he would make his own DIY pinball-like games for himself and his friends to play, with nails hammered into a board and rubber bands used to propel the balls.

By high school, Nakamura had discovered Space Invaders in his local arcade. He hoped that by joining the high school’s computer club he would have the opportunity to spend more time playing games. To his initial disappointment, he was instead taught how to code.

It wasn’t long before Nakamura was writing his own videogames. Just like his home pinball game, he analysed what he liked in other programs, such as Universal’s Space Panic and Konami’s Scramble, until he understood what made them work. That was his path to becoming an exceptional programmer.

It wasn’t just videogames Nakamura enjoyed: like many in Japan, he also played Mahjong. His friends gave him a nickname after the red dragon tile. They called him Chun.

Koichi Nakamura


While Nakamura was still in high school in Kagawa Prefecture, in Tokyo a young man called Yuji Horii was typing up columns for the manga magazine, Weekly Shōnen Jump.

Horii was not one of the magazine’s artists, though art is what got him into the business. In his teenage years he was fuelled by such a passion to become a mangaka that he marched into the office of Go Nagai (the creator of Devilman and Mazinger) and requested that Nagai take him on as an assistant. Young Yuji was surprised to have his request denied.

Since then, he had been drifting. In school, he excelled at maths but wanted to spend his time at the manga club. When he was at the manga club, he spent as much time playing mahjong and drinking than he did drawing manga. While at university, he found that he could write well enough to get paid to do so, but an unfortunate motorcycle accident made it difficult for him to undertake a formal job search, so he became a freelancer.

To organise his work, Horii was an early adopter of the PC, more commonly known as a microcomputer at the time. He bought an NEC PC-6001 after reading about the “microcomputer revolution” in a magazine that he had written for. This computer is also what led him to playing videogames, like the Japanese warfare simulation Nobunaga’s Ambition, and later to programming games himself.

It was a combination of his manga background and his adoption of the videogame medium that led to his work for Weekly Shōnen Jump. One of his friends happened to know another videogame fanatic, Kazuhiko Torishima, who happened to be the editor of Weekly Jump’s star mangaka, Akira Toriyama, who around this time was working on an adventure comic called Dragon Ball that was starting to gain impressive momentum.

Torishima and Horii became friends, and when Torishima conceived of adding supplementary gaming pages to the magazine, he had a perfect candidate to write them.

In his spare time, Horii continued to practice his skills in the BASIC programming language. His most advanced effort so far was a sports game called “Rabu Macchi Tenisu”, or Love Match Tennis.

With a job that combined his talents and his interests and a creative hobby that satisfied his imagination, we can imagine that Horii was a content young professional. However, at the offices of Shueisha, the publisher of Weekly Jump, a meeting was taking place that would create waves in Horii’s life. Kazuhiko Torishima was seeing a representative from a company that until recently had been known as “Eidansha Systems”, a subsidiary of Eidansha Boshu Service Centre. Just months earlier, Eidansha Systems had been renamed as “Enix Corporation”.

Yuji Horii


Eidansha Boshu Service Centre (Public Housing Application Service Centre) was founded by entrepreneur Yasuhiro Fukushima. Like many newly married couples in Japan in the 70s, Fukushima and his wife had planned to move into public housing owned by the authorities of their prefecture. The search for vacancies, however, proved to be a tedious process. From this, a business idea sparked in Fukushima's mind. He would collate all of the information on offers for each of the public housing projects into one tabloid, so other couples in his situation would have an easier job of securing down a house for their future.

His problem-solving tabloids made a respectable profit, but Fukushima was not easily satisfied. He regularly held meetings with his friends and business associates to try and devise where his next big business breakthrough could come from. Eidansha Systems was one proposed answer to that question, established to trade in real estate. Another idea was a chain of sushi shops. Both projects were failures.

But Fukushima persevered. He took notice of the growing market for computer games. For its rebirth in 1982, his Eidansha Systems subsidiary was renamed after the phoenix, and also in honour of the early ENIAC computer.

Enix had no programmers of their own, but Fukushima had a canny plan to break into the industry. He called for a contest for hobbyist game programmers. The winners would make up Enix’s programming talent.

The prize pool was generous, but entries trickled in slowly. To better advertise the competition, Fukushima sent out his salespeople to speak to television channels, hobby stores and magazines. The meeting between Chida-San, from Enix, and Torishima-San, from Weekly Jump, was one such example of this effort.

Chiba explained what Fukushima was trying to achieve, and reassured Torishima that although Enix was an unknown company the prize money was very much real. Torishima assigned the story to his gaming expert, Horii.

A good reporter lives close to their subject — perhaps this was Yuji Horii’s thinking when he decided to anonymously enter this contest himself. Or perhaps he was simply swayed by the headline of the ad (“Why Don’t You Become A Game Software Star?”) and a top prize of ¥1,000,000. Either way, Horii tore the application form out of the magazine, copied Love Match Tennis to a floppy disk, and sent them in an envelope to the Enix office address.


That Enix office was not much to look at from the outside, as Horii was to discover when he arrived at the building some months later. He was there in the capacity of a reporter for Weekly Jump, and the occasion was the winner’s ceremony of the hobby games contest.

Horii reported to the representative that had met with Torishima, Yukinobu Chida. Soon, he too would have a key part to play in this story. For today he was simply here to assist Fukushima in meeting the promising new programmers and running the event.

It was not a lavish affair. The office was small, and half of it was in use by Eidansha staff in the continued business of publishing their real estate tabloids. Crammed into another section of the room were 13 computers that were running the games of the 13 contest winners for the guests to view and play. Horii was impressed by the display. He saw a complex looking battlefield simulation that played out on a grid. He saw a game that featured a colourful and cute doll-like girl. He saw a sci-fi game, a monster game, card games and….

“Hey! Mr Chida” he called. “… that’s my game!”

Indeed, Love Match Tennis too was running on one of the PCs. He had submitted is anonymous, but Enix had liked it enough to give it a special award anyway. Chida was surprised and amused. “I’ll have to start treating you as a winner as well as a reporter, then!”

When everybody had arrived, president Fukushima announced the winners to the room. In first place came the grid-based war game, Morita no Battle Field. The programmer was Kazurou Morita, who would go on to put his name on future games also. Second prize went to a puzzle game called Door Door.

Horii diligently spoke to as many attendees as possible. He introduced himself to the winning programmer of Door Door and asked the teenager for a short interview. “Well”, he said, “My name is Koichi Nakamura, though my friends call me Chun.”

The story behind Nakamura’s Door Door, which he had travelled across the country to accept the Enix prize for, is as follows:

During his high school years, Nakamura’s free time was dominated by the arcade. It had been Taito’s Space Invaders and Konami’s Scramble that had first ignited his interest, but by 1982 Namco was increasingly dominating the sector and their games — Pac-Man, Xevious and Dig-Dug — were Nakamura’s favourite.

Xevious was been designed by Masanobu Endō, who would increasingly become an idol of Nakamura’s. But at the time of the Enix contest, the young programmer had a special interest in Dig Dug. By this point, Nakamura had some experience professionally making games for a gaming magazine on the weekends and school holidays, earning royalties and some recognition in the process. He was confident he could achieve success in the contest also, but there was a problem. All of his previous work had been copies of other games — legally, there was no issue with this at the time. But the Enix contest required an original work to be submitted, so his first idea, a clone of Dig Dug, was out of the door. This was to be Chun’s first significant creative challenge.

Door Door was made to give players to same feelings Nakamura had while playing Dig Dug, without any of that game’s mechanics. In Dig Dug, you lead pursuing monsters into tunnels, tricking them into running into your attack or into a falling rock. In Door Door, you lead enemies into rooms then trap them by closing the door. But this is a reductive way to look at it— if you saw them side by side, you’d never make the connection. This was truly Nakamura’s first original work, and, proud of the achievement, he named the main character “Chun-kun”.


Horii and Nakamura would not actually work together for a few years later, but the contest had a profound impact on each of them, giving them a new direction in their lives. Indeed, for what it set in motion, the Enix contest has since attained legendary status among fans of the early history of JRPGs.

On Enix’s part, the contest was the fuse for an explosive financial upswing. All of the 13 winning games were polished, packaged and released in February 1983. Horii, Nakamura, and the other winners had their names and faces on a videogame product for the first time. Chida took on the role of a producer for the many new gaming projects Enix had taken charge of.

Enix did not at this time take on the winners as employees. Its role was that of a publisher. They took the code, sent it to the factory to be loaded onto Famicom cartridges, arranged the promotional material, boxed and advertised the product, sold it on, then paid the designers royalties.

Door Door’s box with Nakamura’s face and profile.

Of course, considering how well Morita no Battle Field, Door Door and Love Match Tennis were selling, Enix’s next question to the designers was “Can you make more?”


Horii offered to Enix a game the idea for which he had been working on for some time: a crime-themed text-adventure with pictures.

To give some context, in 1982 the text-adventure genre was just getting started. Infocom, the premier text-adventure developers, were hitting their stride overseas. Zork I and Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz had been hits, and they were soon to release their third game, a far more thematic and coherent adventure based on detective stories, called Deadline. This was the game that Horii had seen in a magazine. A marriage of novels and video games: it’s obvious why Horii was invigorated by the idea.

But Horii had not aspired since childhood to be a novelist. He had aspired to be a mangaka. The result was the first of what we today consider a “visual novel”: the Portopia Serial Murder Case

Portopia running on a PC-6001mkII. Image credit: beep-shop.com
Interogating a suspect in the original version of Portopia.
Karuizawa Yuukai Annai (The Karuizawa Kidnapping Guide)

Horii’s adventure game was set in Kobe, Japan, and had users roleplaying as a detective to hunt down a serial killer. Horii carried what he knew writing manga to the game. In manga, the words should enhance, but not distract from, the images. In a game, he theorised, the words should not overwhelm the play. So his writing was succinct, though full of wit. “He’s the one who was killed”, the game reads when you examine the victim: “Probably doesn’t need to have an alibi.”

All the programming and pictures were made by Yuji for the PC-6001. It was published by Enix in 1983. The visuals were primitive, the game was short, but the idea was groundbreaking.

This new format of games would keep Yuji Horii busy for a couple of years. Enix would release two more of Horii’s adventure games, Hokkaidou Rensa Satsujin: Ohotsuku ni Kiyu and Karuizawa Yuukai Annai in 1984 and 1985 respectively, each with increasingly advanced programming and graphics.


As for Nakamura, his life after the contest was to return to high school. But a new dream was alight within him. He knew that soon he would be moving to college in Tokyo, and he anticipated his chance to start a game company of his own when he got there. He had already proven that he could design games that people wanted to buy. Now he wanted to start a company just like Namco. It wasn’t long into his time at the Tokyo University of Electro-Communications than he and a few of his friends started making games together in Nakamura’s apartment.

In the university library, Nakamura looked for books about how to start a company. Japanese law at the time stated that an organisation of seven people was needed before an application to the appropriate authority would be accepted. So, at the age of 19, Nakamura and six of his friends got together to register “Chunsoft Co. Ltd”.


The Nintendo Family Computer was released in 1983, and its impact sent ripples through the gaming industry, and through the careers of both Nakamura and Horii.

At Weekly Shōnen Jump (for whom Horii had continued to freelance while working on his “mystery trilogy”) Horii’s gaming pages were repurposed to focus on the new, affordable Nintendo machine. This was the start of the Famicom Shinken, which provided news, cheats and tips on Famicom games, and was also one of the first Japanese publications to regularly review Famicom games. It was a hit.

The Famicom also opened up new doors for Nakamura and Chunsoft. Enix was naturally eager to take advantage of the new market opportunity, and they looked to their programmer contacts to port an existing game to the new home console.

We can imagine Enix might have approached several teams, such as Kazurou Morita’s company Random House, whose second game after Morita no Battle Field was a PC-88 shmup called Alphos. But ultimately it was Nakamura that answered the call.

The Famicom’s efficient and fast tile-based graphics meant it handled action games with ease — seeing Donkey Kong running at near arcade quality left Nakamura in awe. He wanted to find out what he could do with the console, and he was optimistic that his skills could meet the challenge. Chunsoft took on this new responsibility, and the first project the team worked on between college classes was to get to grips with the Famicom hardware and port Door Door to the console.

Door Door for Famicom. Image Credit: Bryan Ochalla

This project proved Chunsoft’s reliability to Chida and Enix. Door Door for the Famicom was also a success, and the question, as always, was “What next?”

While part of the Chunsoft team had been dedicated to the Famicom port, the other programmers made a new game for PCs: Newton. It felt natural to Nakamura that their next job would be to port Newton to the Famicom as well. But Chida felt a different approach could be fruitful. Ultimately, they did decide to release a new Famicom port of a PC game, but not a Chunsoft game. Instead, Enix had a more mature game, an adventure game, in mind, one that was recently made by another of their programmers...


Following the release of Karuizawa Yuukai Annai, Yuji had also been talking with Chida about what his next game should be. Since his foray into the adventure genre had started, Yuji had bought an Apple II PC in order to play Wizardry and Ultima. These games had hit Japan like a wildfire. His colleagues at Shonen Jump, including Torishima, played them too. One of Horii’s friends even started up a Wizardry club.

Therefore, Horii had expressed an interest to Chida about making a game like that — an RPG for the computer. Much like text adventures had inspired him to make Portopia, his new interest in RPGs had him eager to extend his story writing talents in a new direction. Chida, however, felt this was too extensive a project, and asked him to try something else first.

So that’s how Yuji Horii ended up walking through the door of Chunsoft (which had relocated from Nakamura’s apartment to a dedicated rented office room) for the first time, to work with Nakamura and his team on the Famicom port of the Portopia Serial Murder Case. This project would lay important new foundations for the company that would make their future successes possible.

In the tiny Chunsoft office, Horii found fellow spirits. Nakamura and his friends at Chunsoft had also become addicted to Wizardry. Horii made a case in favour of Ultima: “Wizardry has no story”, he pointed out.

“But Wizardry is more addictive”, the Chunsoft boys retorted. Horii couldn’t deny that — the compulsory nature of Wizardry was a topic he had pondered himself.

Both sides enjoyed these little debates. It wasn’t long before Horii and Nakamura decided that their next game would be an RPG for sure.


Before that could happen, Portopia for Famicom had to be finished. Horii was excited to bring the adventure genre to a new audience, but it presented some interesting challenges for the team. The PC-6001 version had been controlled with a text parser — the player typed their actions into the keyboard in kana, and the game interpreted it and responded. With no keyboard on the Famicom, only a directional pad and two buttons, the text-parser method would not be sufficient. Moreover, the NES handled graphics differently to PCs. Portopia wouldn’t just be re-coded, but redesigned.

The first step was to replace the text-parser with a menu-based system. Horii had already used menus in his later adventure games, and they would fit the control method of the Famicom nicely. This bit of problem-solving would be important. Like text-adventures, RPGs of the age also relied of the whole of a PC’s keyboard — this was true of Wizardry, Ultima, Rogue, and earlier Japanese efforts like The Black Onyx. Press [A] to attack, [R] to run, [I] for inventory, that sort of thing. By being one of the first developers to translate games designed with the PC in mind over to the Famicom, Chunsoft was forced to find solutions that made those games more accessible, and this approach would by necessity carry over into their future work.

We can imagine the sort of set-up the Chunsoft office might have had in 1985. The office would have been cramped. Each of the three or four programmers would have had their own terminal, likely an NEC PC-88s, or PC-98s. To test the game, a Famicom would have been set-up at a television. The game code would have been slowly loaded onto a Famicom development cartridge supplied by Nintendo or a third party, then plugged into the Famicom — a laborious way to test.

The programmers would have been typing in assembly language with none of the conveniences of higher level languages or of modern-day user interfaces. Proper organisation of the code would have required extensive paper files.

Also of interest: you could tell where Horii’s and Nakamura’s minds at the time, as they added a short first-person maze section to the latter half of the game, reminiscent of Wizardry.


Meanwhile, there had been an interesting development at the Enix offices. Kazurou Morita’s 3rd product was a virtual game of Shogi, Japanese chess. Enix, which was growing quickly and, as always, had eyes on the future, included questionnaires in copies of their games, which were reviewed to help ensure that business was proceeding in the right direction. One such questionnaire, relating to Morita Kazurou no Shogi, had been returned. The feedback was not particularly positive, though it was well written and showed a sharp understanding of both shogi and videogames, but this was not what caught the attention of the Enix staff. What surprised them was the name at the top of the form: Koichi Sugiyama.

“Isn’t he the anime composer?”


“Yeah, he did the music for The Sea Prince and the Fire Child. That movie made my kids cry.”

“I think he did the Cyborg 009 movie too.”

Indeed, it was the very same Sugiyama, a middle-aged composer with a musical career stretching back to the 60s, including experience composing for adverts conducting in front of an orchestra.

When word got to Chida that a somewhat famous musician had contacted the company he phoned Sugiyama, thanked him for his message, and asked him if he would like to compose music for a videogame. To their surprise, Sugiyama said yes. His first job for Enix was on a licenced game, Wingman II.

This all took place in Enix’s brand new office in Shibuya, Tokyo, a major business centre of Japan. They were riding the wave of their success.


Even Shueisha had developed a business relationship with Enix. The Wingman franchise that was Sugiyama’s first work in videogames? That was a manga published in Weekly Jump. Enix also published a game based on Akira Toriyama’s Dr. Slump.

Horii kept Torishima abreast of his work in the videogame industry after editorial meetings for the Famicom Shinken. Torishima loved to discuss this topic, both as an avid gamer himself and as somebody with a nose for opportunity.

The way he saw it, a hot new videogame was soon to be unleashed on a Japan and Torishima had a man on the inside. This was big for the Famicom Shinken — it meant exclusive stories! It might even be big for Shonen Jump as a whole if the magazine could feature stories set in the game’s universe. If only he could get involved somehow…

“You know”. Torishima says to Horii, “Toriyama-San is very interested in illustrating for a video game. You should make this game together!”

In reality, it’s not clear if Weekly Jump’s star mangaka had any interest in videogames at all. Akira Toriyama’s passions outside of work (which he dedicated most of his time to) consisted of movies and animals. But he was always interested in trying something new, so he allowed Yuji and Torishima to convince him.

Both Horii and Torishima agreed that they did not want their Weekly Jump bosses, the management of Shueisha, involved in the project. Shueisha had a poor track record with licenced games in the past, and Torishima predicted that they would meddle with Horii’s RPG. So, though Torishima would fo on to arrange a deal between Enix and Shueisha that allowed Weekly Jump to publish a manga based on the game (and Toriyama’s designs) royalty-free, he didn’t ask Shueisha to have any further involvement.

And that, in case you were wondering, is how one of the era’s premier manga artists and a renowned movie composer both came to work on this unknown Famicom game.

Other well-known manga artists at Shonen Jump at the time included Tetsuo Hara of Fist of the North Star and Yoshinori Nakai of Kinnikuman- imagine if Torishima had said one of their names, and what the Dragon Quest series would have looked like now if he had.


Portopia for Famicom was released in November 1985. With the menu-based user interface, new artwork and extended story, the port was the definitive Portopia experience, and the best-selling version by far.

For context, other popular Famicom games in 1985 were Super Mario Bros and Kung Fu master. Portopia stood out. For Japan, Portopia was a seminal moment in videogame history. In Kawanishi, Hyōgo an economics student by the name of Hideo Kojima would play The Portopia Serial Murder Case and it would inspire him to choose a career writing games.


Work on the Chunsoft RPG started towards the end of 1985. Enix must have been happy with with the project they had found themselves with. It’s not every day a classically trained composer and top-class manga artist fall out of the sky.

Nakamura and Yuji decided on an RPG that would combine the top-down perspective of Ultima with the first person battles of Wizardry. They knew that on the Famicom they had a different audience to win over than the PC owning fans of Wizardry and Ultima. Plus, like Portopia, their new project would have to be scaled to the hardware. They had only 64kb of cartridge space to work with. An early decision was to give up the parties of multiple characters found in western RPGs and focus on a game with a sole hero.

Yuji’s main responsibilities were to come up with the game scenario, write the dialogue, and draw the maps. The first things he set down were the world it took place in — that of Alefgard — and the enemy that would be the source of the conflict for the player — the “Dragonlord” that had stolen the orb of light that keeps the land safe from monsters, and also kidnapped the princess.

Horii’s planning documents for Tantegel Castle

It was important to Yuji that the tone of Alefgard was warm and welcoming into players. “It’s not the computer we are talking to. It’s the person on the other side of the computer. We need to think of ways to bring them happiness.”

Though the game did sometimes present a steep challenge for players to overcome, there was no game over screen — the player was shipped back to a church and could continue from there. The Alefgard map was also designed to be intuitive to players. Increases in the strength of monsters generally only occurred when players crossed bridges onto other landmasses, for instance.

Yuji’s also wanted to make the player feel that they had become the hero of the adventure, had fallen into Alefgard. They should be able to enter their own name and live a different life through the computer. This would influence the game in subtle ways. For instance, how almost all of the story is delivered to the player is through the voice of other characters, rather than through a computer narrator. Or how the screen shakes when you get hit as if both the player and his avatar have been staggered by the blow.

With these concepts in mind, Yuji’s next step was to discuss the scenario with Toriyama. Yuji provided Toriyama with his own sketches, and Toriyama worked his magic on them, turning them into iconic designs.

It has been theorised that some of the series raunchy humour might have originated with Toriyama’s involvement. Bawdy innuendo of the likes of “puff puff” would have fit right in with the tone of Toriyama’s early Dragon Ball, though it might simply be that Horii had a similar sense of humour. We can only wonder what those early chats between the two sounded like.

Horii’s initial concept sketches for the slime monster (left) and Toriyama’s final design (right)

The designs that Toriyama returned were interpreted by the programmers of Chunsoft and put into the game. It was the players' job to fight these monsters to get stronger, though Toriyama’s designs were so cute the message shown after a fight indicated that they were only “defeated” rather than “slain”.

When it came to the music, Nakamura was doubtful of the ability of a non-programmer to make videogame music. But Sugiyama had been prepped on the limits of the Famicom sound chip, which could only produce so many sounds at one time. Sugiyama took this into account when composing his melodies, which he sent to Chunsoft as sheet music to be interpreted by and programmed into the game by Chunsoft’s sound guy.

Koichi Sugiyama at work

Sugiyama composed a total of eight tracks for the game: overture, town, castle, overworld, underworld, battle, requiem, and ending. He also wrote a few shorter pieces like the level-up tune — his background in devising jingles for commercials had prepared him well for this part of the job. Such micro-compositions were to destined to stay lodged in the ears of players for years to come.

Horii and Nakamura took a joint interest in getting the game tuned to perfection. Horii was a meticulous play-tester of Nakamura’s work. To Horii, a player should be able to play a game unconsciously, and that means getting every detail of the feel and design of the game just right. Horii also put his affinity for maths to good use here, balancing damage and monster data himself.

All of the core programming, except the sound, was performed by Koichi Nakamura. He was in a sense the magician at the heart of the process, who took the separate disciplines of each of the team members and alchemically combined them into a video game.

When Horii’s instructions were vague or incomplete (designing a whole world is a big job) it was Nakamura who would fill the gaps. Moreover, it was only with the expertise Chunsoft had built up with the system that allowed Dragon Quest to come into existence at the time that it did.


The game was finished and the code was passed over to Enix via floppy disk, but the task of getting the Famicom cartridges made, boxes and manuals printed, the product assembled, adverts commissioned, and the other jobs of a publisher, took a few months. In the meantime, Chunsoft moved immediately onto working on Dragon Quest II. Horii was confident that if their players had spent a lot of time in Alefgard already they would be eager to go back there for new adventures.

The Famicom box for Dragon Quest that would have sat on the shelf of Japanese entertainment stores alongside Super Mario Bros, to be perused by children and adults alike. In other aisles of these shops, consumers would have found the music of The Checkers or the VHS cassettes of Megazone 23 Part II

This turned out to be a good decision for the sales of the first game, which were modest at first but bolstered when Chunsoft released more information about the sequel.

Horii continued to hype both games in the Famicom Shinken, and before long Dragon Quest had become a phenomenon.

Dragon Quest II had higher capacity Famicom cartridges to work with, so Chunsoft could take a step closer to a fully-fledged RPG with a bigger world and a party of multiple playable characters. With more pressure on their shoulders and a larger staff to coordinate, it was to be a difficult development period for Chunsoft.

But when Dragon Quest II was released in 1987 it was even more successful than the first game. Horri, Nakamura, Toriyama and Sugiyama had set a fire ablaze in Japan, and it remains burning bright to this day.

Queues to buy Dragon Quest II



While Dragon Quest fever was spreading across the country, another, much smaller, Tokyo based developer was struggling to get a foothold in the videogame market. One of the company’s frustrated young directors, Hironobu Sakaguchi, a university drop-out who had only recently become a full-time employee of the company, was considering leaving the business altogether after none of the Famicom action titles he had worked on had met sales expectations.

After Dragon Quest became a success, however, he was inspired to attempt to create a different sort of game, something he felt he would be better at. If this final attempt failed, he would return to college. This led to him pitching to his colleagues at Square Ltd a Famicom RPG initially titled “Fighting Fantasy”.

But that’s a story for another time.


Where are they now?

Fukushima oversaw the unification of Eidansha Boshu Service Center with its more successful subsidiary, and remained the Enix Corporation CEO through to its merger with Square in 2003. He remains the honorary chairman of Square Enix. In 2013, he attempted to repeat the tactic of the famous hobby game designer contest in the developing videogame market of India, though the results were underwhelming.

Sugiyama conducted the first-ever videogame orchestra based on the music of Dragon Quest in Tokyo in 1987 in the Family Classic Concert series. He would continue to write music for Dragon Quest for over 30 years, most recently writing the music of Dragon Quest XI at the age of 85.

Torishima got the Dragon Quest manga he asked for a few years later with The Adventure of Dai, which became one of Weekly Jump’s bestselling manga of all time. He continued to oversee Toriyama’s manga and helped make the Dragon Ball anime a success.

Nakamura and Chunsoft went on to develop the first five Dragon Quest games, the period the series was at its peak of cultural relevance and commercial success. Nakamura would become increasingly less involved in the programming and more with directing and producing. He still works at Chunsoft, which merged with Spike in 2012, which is today best known for roguelikes, like the Mystery Dungeon series, and visual novels like Danganronpa.

Toriyama’s art was unfortunately stripped from the western release of Dragon Quest, which was brought across the water by Nintendo and renamed to Dragon Warrior. Thankfully, he probably wasn’t too bothered at the time as the anime based on his Dragon Ball manga was just starting. He has contributed character and monster designs to every Dragon Quest game since.

Yuji Horii is a revered figure in the Japanese game industry. He has written the scenarios for every main Dragon Quest game, but he is yet to start work on his second tennis game.

The exact deal Enix (now Square Enix) has with the Dragon Quest creators isn’t entirely clear. The intellectual property seems to be joint own and split into parts, Sugiyama owning the music for example. It’s hard to know how many of these parts — Enix, Horii, Sugiyama, Toriyama— you could remove and still be able to make a Dragon Quest game… though many would argue that the number you could remove and still have it feel like a Dragon Quest game is zero.


Finally, what can we learn from this story? I think Yuji Horii put it best, during a recent visit to meet the young members of his high-school manga club:

“Please use this time, go out and meet people, and see as many places as you can. These experiences will surely shape your future. You are the main character of your life. Life is a role-playing game, so please shape a fun future befitting its main character.”



Thomas Well

Videogames and comics. New articles every Sunday. Contact me at thomas25well@gmail.com, or publicly by replying to one of my articles.