During its run, Nintendo Power was a publication beloved by fans of Nintendo all across North America. One of the most famous tales from the magazine’s run is of the time you could subscribe and receive a brand-new copy of the role playing game Dragon Warrior (which would go on to later reclaim its original Japanese title, Dragon Quest).
More recently, former Gamemaster for Nintendo of America, Nintendo Fun Club President, and Nintendo Power writer Howard Phillips appeared on Reddit to host an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) session, and the subject of the the game’s failure to perform as well in the west as it did in its homeland of Japan, where it quickly became a cultural phenomenon.
Reddit user Tobaccolade posed the question, “What was one of the biggest games that Nintendo pushed, that you actually thought was a sub-par game?”
Without holding back, Phillips responded “That’s an easy one – Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior – it was sub-par because it was pushed into the Western market several years too late.”
For those keeping track, Dragon Quest was originally released for the Famicom in Japan on May 27th, 1986, whereas its western counterpart Dragon Warrior did not come to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States until August of 1989, a difference of more than three years.
Another user, Dead_Toad, would ask “Nintendo Power gave away a free copy of Dragon Warrior with every new subscription. … Why was Dragon Warrior chosen for the free game, and were other games considered?”
To this, Phillips said of the late-1990 promotion: “Dragon Quest tested poorly primarily due to the relatively limited action play and the dated graphics – Mr. Arakawa badly wanted to get the benefit of releasing the whole series in the U.S. as it had been hugely successful in Japan. Unfortunately, the graphics of Dragon Quest 1 looked really dated and this helped depress expectations. After ordering manufacture of 1 million copies, Mr. A decided to give it away to promote Nintendo Power subscriptions (it was originally a free magazine!), launch the series in the U.S., and get rid of the million copies of the game.”
The promotion was apparently a success, attracting some 500,000 new subscriptions to “The Source for NES Players Straight From the Pros.” And as one might expect, the logistics behind such a promotion are rather impressive, with 70,000 pieces being processed per hour over seven and a half 19-hour days:
@frankcifaldi And the logistics behind that promotion as documented in the Nintendo internal newsletter: pic.twitter.com/DZFPrHDAtK
— Steve Lin (@stevenplin) August 28, 2014
While a successful promotion for Nintendo Power, video gaming historian Frank Cifaldi says the game’s failure to catch on otherwise saw to it that Nintendo of America would opt out of publishing the sequels, and would only publish the first Final Fantasy as well, before throwing in the towel — and cancelling plans to release Earth Bound in North America as well.
But with Dragon Quest XI arriving for PlayStation 4 and Steam on September 4th (with a Nintendo Switch version to come sometime later), Final Fantasy having just released its fifteenth game, and EarthBound becoming a cult favorite, you’d be forgiven for never imagining that the series — and the genre in general — got off to such a rocky start in the west.
[Note: Some light editing for typos and formatting was applied to the quotes above; they remain unchanged otherwise.]