Final Fantasy vs. Dragon Quest – Which is the Defining JRPG?

Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest

Final Fantasy vs. Dragon Quest – Which is the Defining JRPG?

Debating Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest requires some historic context. The mid-1980s were arguably some of the most important years in the salad days of the video game industry. Just as an early boom and bust cycle in the West lead to an industry-wide crash in 1983, the Japanese home computer market was thriving, prompting Nintendo to release it’s own home computer: The Famicom.

Two years later, the device arrived in the West as the NES, practically single-handedly reviving the video game industry in the process. The release and widespread adoption of the Famicom/NES helped to inspire an entire new generation of game developers, who subsequently used their creativity and ingenuity to craft gaming experiences unlike anything that had come before.

In addition to the now-legendary arrival of The Legend of Zelda from Nintendo luminary Shigeru Miyamoto, 1986 also saw the release of the newest game from creator Yuji Horii at Enix. Dubbed Dragon Quest, this title took Japan by storm and practically coin the term JRPG as well as the characteristics of games earning the moniker. At the same time, a young programmer at Square named Hironobu Sakaguchi created his own take on the role-playing game. Released in 1987, Final Fantasy would end up being a massive success in both Japan and as a crossover title in the West.

The debate continues to persist among RPG fans over which series is the definitive console RPG, and it’s easy to see why. Both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are incredible games that establish the formula hundreds of other titles would follow, and both games eventually spawned their own long-lasting legacy in the medium via legendary franchises.

Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest: Side-by-Side Comparison

Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest

Since many consider both games to be the forebears of the JRPG subgenre, it should come as no surprise that both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest share a lot in common. Not only that, Square and Enix are no longer separate companies, instead existing under the Square Enix moniker since their merger in 2003. Although both series now exist and release under the Square Enix banner, there was a time when these two franchises were somewhat rivals, and comparing them side-by-side paints an interesting picture of their subtle differences.

CharacteristicFinal FantasyDragon Quest
Release Year19871986
DirectorHironobu SakaguchiYuji Horii
Random Battles
Perspective During TraversalThird-PersonThird-Person
Perspective During CombatThird-PersonFirst-Person
Character Classes
Bestiary Full of Monsters
Monster & Character DesignerYoshitaka AmanoAkira Toriyama
Copies Sold3.49 million3 million
Number of Remakes/Re-Releases43
Total Games in Series1612

Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest: 5 Must-Know Facts

Here are 5 must-know facts about Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest:

  • While Final Fantasy might be the first series fans think of when they hear the term “JRPG”, it’s Dragon Quest that actually takes the crown as the first game in the subgenre. The characteristics that have come to define JRPGs — world map to explore, dungeons to traverse, random encounters, gaining experience and strengthening characters, etc. — originate with Dragon Quest.
  • Although Dragon Quest is technically the first JRPG, Final Fantasy is the title that collectively elevates the genre’s storytelling. Dragon Quest‘s plot is mostly threadbare and told in broad strokes, while Final Fantasy (comparatively) tells a much richer narrative and requires NPC interaction and dialogue.
  • Both Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy have their adventuring take place from a top-down third-person perspective, but each title switches things up in battle. While Final Fantasy stays in third-person but switches to a side profile perspective, Dragon Quest moves to first-person in encounters.
  • Both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest have comparable sales, with both titles selling just over 3 million copies worldwide. That said, Dragon Quest slightly edges out Final Fantasy in terms of North American sales numbers for a very peculiar reason.
  • Final Fantasy features character and monster design from Yoshitaka Amano, but Dragon Quest‘s art comes from none other than Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, who is also a key member of the series’ creative team.

Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest: First or Best?

In determining which game is the more definitive JRPG, it’s important to consider which quality matters more: which came first or which did it better. While Dragon Quest‘s release is a full year ahead of Final Fantasy, it’s obvious that Sakaguchi was able to learn from Dragon Quest to iterate on its formula in Final Fantasy. The result is that Final Fantasy features a larger world, more monsters, a grander story, and more serious stakes. Dragon Quest may be first, but Final Fantasy arguably perfected the JRPG formula to establish a bar of quality moving forward.

Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest: A Matter of Perspective

Like many other RPGs on home computers and consoles of the era, Dragon Quest uses a first-person perspective in battle. Both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest show the player character from a third-person, top-down perspective while traversing dungeons and the overworld map, but only Dragon Quest uses first-person perspective for encounters. This continues to be a series tradition up until recent entries in the series, with the first-person perspective allowing for Akira Toriyama’s iconic monster designs to truly shine on the screen.

Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest: Western Crossover

Interestingly, despite stronger sales in the West, Dragon Quest never took off with mainstream crossover appeal in North America like Final Fantasy did. Final Fantasy only has roughly 800,000 of its 3 million total sales attributed to North America, while Dragon Quest has 1.5 million. The reason for this crossover success of the first game in the series is perhaps mostly due to the Nintendo Power promotion giving away a copy of the game along with subscription renewal. The North American version of the game (Dragon Warrior) was a massive success thanks to this promotion, but the subsequent sequels never saw the same kind of adoption. The same cannot be said of Final Fantasy, which waited until the release of the SNES to bring more entries to the West.

Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest: Iconic Monsters

Both series have incredible and iconic artists as part of their creative teams, with the talents of Yoshitaka Amano going to Final Fantasy and those of legendary manga artist Akira Toriyama going to Dragon Quest. Both artists continue to produce concept art for both series, and the designs of both artists are some of the most iconic imagery associated with each franchise. While Final Fantasy has the Chocobo, Moogle, Bomb, and other iconic enemies, Toriyama’s unmistakable style has granted the medium of video games with instantly recognizeable pieces of gaming iconography like the famous Slimes from Dragon Quest.

Bottom Line

As an RPG fan, it’s nearly impossible to draw a line between these two incredible franchises. Both Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy continue to be arguably the two most important RPG franchises, and each have a rich legacy spanning more than 35 years. Both series are also still going strong, with Final Fantasy‘s 16th mainline entry arriving this year and the 12th Dragon Quest game potentially hitting the shelves next year. Still, if one were to limit the debate to just the first series entry, it’s hard to not hand the victory to Final Fantasy.

Not only does Final Fantasy include a much more detailed and fully-developed story, it also allows players to craft their ideal adventuring party and takes a more serious tonal approach than Dragon Quest. Both games are great, but while one feels like the first steps for a winning formula, the other feels like lightning in a bottle.

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