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Go Behind the Scenes of the Latest Dragon Quest Nintendo DS Game

Jun 08, 2006

NP talks with game's producer Yoshiki Watabe

by Chris Hoffman

The smiling slimes of the revered Dragon Quest series will be splattering all over North America this September when Square Enix releases Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime for Nintendo DS. The game boasts a full single-player adventure mode—in which you control Rocket, a blue slime, and bash baddies to save your pals—as well as tank battles for up to four players; for more details, check out Nintendo Power Volume 205, available now. NP recently sat down with the game's producer, Yoshiki Watabe, for an in-depth discussion about the blue blob, along with a few friendly games of multiplayer combat. Prepare to get slimed.

Nintendo Power: We've seen the early stages of Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime and had a chance to play the demo. What should we expect as the game progresses?

Yoshiki Watabe: Apart from the single-player mode that's the main thrust of the game, the multiplayer mode is so well-done that it’s almost a selling point in itself. As you saw when you played it, the multiplayer mode is quite well-balanced and there's alternate ways of playing it—different strategies for playing it—and I think that's what people will get into.

NP: What about the later stages in the single-player mode? How do later stages and puzzles build upon the basic mechanics of stretching the slime and throwing objects?

YW: There's all different types of puzzles. There's just so many of them, it's hard to describe, but there's all different types of puzzles. But the main thrust of the solo mode is to save 100 slimes that have been kidnapped. And as you unlock them you'll meet different characters. All those 100 slimes have different ways of speaking, different characteristics, and they can be used in tank battles where they all have different artificial intelligence. There’s quite a lot of variety in just the population of the town that you're saving. Because we characterized the 100 slimes in the Japanese version so well, it's really tough for the English translators to try and beat us at our own game at characterizing them [laughs]. This is an in-joke, because I always say that the characterization is very cheap in the Japanese version, and I'm trying to make it much more interesting. I think the user is going to have much more fun [laughs].

NP: So how did the slimes get a chance to star in their own spin-off game anyway?

YW: Well, slimes have been pretty popular during the last several years in Japan. So once when I sat down with Yuji Hori, the Dragon Quest creator, we were thinking that we wanted to make a game for kids, and we decided to make a game that features slimes. That's what started it off. I don't know if it's OK to say this, but in the very beginning when we made the game, the first version of it had the slime holding a sword and a shield and running around, throwing a boomerang and all those sort of things. We looked at it and thought, "This isn't really a slime game. It's just like a blue version of Link!" So rather than making like a Zelda game, we decided to change it totally and just focus on what a slime can do that other characters can't do. And that was the stretching and catapulting or slingshotting himself, and that became the focus of the game instead of swordfights.

NP: To what do you attribute the popularity of the slime character in Japan in the first place?

YW: Akira Toriyama designed it, and it's a high-quality character, but at the same time, it's very simple, so anyone can draw it. I think that's what makes a good character, a popular character, is the fact that it's cute and well-designed. Even when I was a child I used to draw slimes too, because it's so easy that even kids can draw it.

NP: Did you ever consider using the DS touch screen to stretch the slime and launch him through physical interaction?

YW: We actually did make a version that did that originally, but for the slime gameplay, it was a little bit hard. When the DS was announced originally, I thought that the DS's focus was to have two screens, so it was interesting to focus on those two screens rather than the touch panel. DS [stands for] for dual screens. If the name were TS for touch screen, I would have made a touch-screen game [laughs]! But the truth of the matter is that a lot of different companies would make a touch-screen-based game, and even when you use the touch screen and the dual screen at the same time it may confuse players, so I just decided to focus purely on the dual-screen aspect rather than the touch screen. I've gone around the convention today and seen that a lot of people are making dual-screen games, but they seem to use the second screen as a menu or a map rather than making it part of the actual functionality of the gameplay. I'm very proud of the fact that it actually is part of the gameplay—you use both screens properly, not just as a map or a menu screen.

NP: I was kind of curious—where did all the humans from the Dragon Quest universe go?

YW: It's like a parallel universe that’s only inhabited by slimes. That's sort of the concept of it. Because if humans did appear, they'd probably just run around killing slimes, so that's why I thought of a world where the slimes just exist on their own. Otherwise one of the Dragon Quest heroes would suddenly show up and kill you to gain experience or something [laughs]. The hero would go up in experience and the slimes would all be dead. So yeah, we spoke with Hori-san about making a totally slime-inhabited land with a few other monsters making appearances from other games. A lot of the different monsters make an appearance from the other Dragon Quest games, and also there's a few characters from Dragon Quest VIII that also make cameo appearances in slightly different forms. They can't be just as they are, but people who've played Dragon Quest VIII will get it. But you don't have to play Dragon Quest VIII to enjoy it. All the jokes stand on their own, and all the references are funny even without knowing where they're being referenced from. But if you do know what we're referencing or what we're making fun of, you'll laugh.

NP: What was Yuji Hori's role in the creation of Rocket Slime?

YW: He oversees the project, so he wasn't hands-on with every little point or anything, but he did oversee it. Even though I was directing it, he was executive producer. He did check the whole content of the game, of course. He's very interested about game balance and things like that, so he always looks at it and gives me advice about how we should make it more like Dragon Quest VIII. Sometimes he even sits there and actually plays versus mode with people for hours on end to get the balance right!

NP: Speaking of which, what are some of your favorite experiences while playing the versus mode of the game?

YW: The game first came out in December; since then we've had regular round-robin [competitions] where the kids can come in and play against each other, and one of the prizes that the kids win is that they get to compete against the producer and the executive producer and assistant producer. And at first, back in December when the game first came out, the kids were really weak at it and we always won, but lately, say March or April, the more recent competitions, the kids have gotten so good at it—and they're finding different ways of playing the game, different strategies that I hadn't seen before—and so they're always kicking my butt, so to speak! Lately I've been trying to get out of having to play versus against these kids so I don't lose face [laughs]! I realize that these kids have obviously put a lot of hours into playing multiplayer mode and formulating their own strategies and acquiring ammo and equipment and all that type of stuff, and I was really pleased to see kids liking my game so much, but at the same time, I started to steal their strategies so I could use them myself.

NP: There's a whole bunch of different tanks you can use in versus mode, right?

YW: Yeah, there's about 25 or so. There's a lot of hidden ones as well that you have to unlock somehow.

NP: So how do you acquire the different tanks?

YW: In single-player mode, there's all these different places where you fight the tanks—about three in each stage. There's also an arena in the game where you can fight. When you beat [a tank] in the single-player game, it unlocks it so it's available in multiplayer mode. That's the main way you unlock them, but there are other secrets in there. There are a few secret tanks that are unlocked in special ways, but I can't talk about them.

NP: What are the differences between the various tanks?

YW: The layout inside the tanks is different, so there's different ways of getting to the engine. The actual construction of the tanks is different. Plus, some have different abilities, like some have special weapons that they can shoot, but basically they all have two main [weapons], but on top of that, they might have secret weapons as well. So you choose the tank that suits you best, because there's different strategies that can be made out of defense systems and weapons. You can choose the tank that you like. We’ve got 27 all together. They're all very cute, and all of them have very bad puns as their names [laughs].

NP: Is the game using LAN or does it use the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection?

YW: For this game in the series, we're not actually using the Internet connection. But as you know, it's the second game in the series—even though it's the first one that's being released in America—so if it sells well, we'll look into making a sequel, so perhaps the next one we might look into Wi-Fi.

NP: I was wondering if you could share some of your strategies for tank battles to help North American players get off on the right foot.

YW: My main thing is actually defense. Of course, I do fire unusual ammo that hurts the other tank, but at the same time, I put in a lot of shields and boomerangs that are more defensive weapons. When I play versus mode or single-player mode, I set the other characters' artificial intelligence to defense—you get to have three different [allies] accompany you in the tanks—as well as sneak attacks. Instead of just shooting cannons all the time, I also focus on getting my character with a slime hammer on his head and sneaking over to the other tank and destroying all their defenses that way. The last time we played versus mode, I didn't want to reveal my secret, but one of the ways that I often play double-player mode (two against two) is [having] one player focus on just loading the cannons while the other one focuses on fetching items and just throwing them into the room rather than actually going all the way to the cannon. Last time I was showing you, I didn't want to reveal my secret by doing it, but rather than having two people running around looking for weapons as they appear in the tank and crossing each other's paths, it's better to have one person focus on loading the cannon and the other one just focused on finding the ammo and throwing it into the room. Decide between the two [players on the same side] where you're going to put the healing items, like the medicinal herbs you can use to heal the tanks. If you put them in a special spot, . . as soon as you're in danger or losing HP, you can run and grab the medicinal herb from the spot you always put it in. That way you're not accidentally loading them into the tank when you're at full HP. If you discuss those types of strategies ahead of time before you try versus with four people, it will make you stronger. Despite being the one who created the game, I still get beaten by kids [laughs]. Kids are really clever. I want American kids to think of different strategies and come up with some new method that Japanese kids don't do.

NP: Is there a certain tank that's your favorite to use?

YW: In English it's called the Bully Mammoth! The subtitle is "He never forgets." He's got a special weapon that you can use. That's why I use him. But that's in one-on-one mode. When I'm playing two-against-two mode, I use a tank called the Schwarzman Tank. The main tank is the Sliman Tank. It's a pun on Sherman Tank. That's the blue one. But your rival has a black version of that, which is called the Schwarzman Tank. The way it's structured inside the tank is rather different from the others, so when you're playing two-against-two mode, that's the best one to use in my experience. It's good from a defensive point [of view], as well as really easy to move around in.

NP: Is there anything else you’d like to tell American players about the game?

YW: Basically, I want the American kids to play this game! I've been playing the Dragon Quest series for 20 years, since I was a child, and I remember how I felt when I was a child playing Dragon Quest. That's why I put that same feeling into this game—I'm trying to get new kids to enjoy the same feel of the Dragon Quest world. I hope American kids will, from this game, learn about the Dragon Quest world and come to enjoy the Dragon Quest series. There's so many games that are recognized for great graphics and being high-spec and all that. My game is more about the idea and just enjoying it. The concept is different, so rather than trying to compete with high specs and being the most beautiful game, I'm just focusing on fun and having the best idea.

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