Dragon Quest III’s new HD-2D Remake gives a classic the respect it deserves

We live in a wonderful world of remakes. And unlike the movie industry, which more often than not makes a right hash of things when it tries to remake classics, the games industry is getting pretty good at modern interpretations of older titles.

As part of Square Enix’s 35th anniversary celebrations for the legendary RPG series Dragon Quest, the company announced that an “HD-2D remake” of Dragon Quest III is in the works, produced by Masaaki Hayasaka. Which is great news for an old-school Dragon Quest, since Hayasaka was also a producer on Octopath Traveler, Square Enix’s absolutely gorgeous 2018 RPG that combined 3D backdrops with pixel-art characters — and it looks as if Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake is running on the same engine.

Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake

Dragon Quest is a huge deal out east; during the anniversary celebration livestream, series creator Yuji Horii and presenter JOY noted that the game sold nearly 4 million copies on its original Famicom release, with a million of those sold in just one day. Legend has it that there was somewhere in the region of 300 arrests for truancy on the game’s release day as Japanese kids skipped school to go pick up a copy of the game.

For one reason or another, Dragon Quest has never quite resonated with the west in the same way as its big rival Final Fantasy — which, of course, ended up under the same roof as Dragon Quest when Squaresoft and Dragon Quest’s original publisher Enix merged in 2003. That’s not for lack of trying, mind; over the years we’ve seen the PlayStation 2 version of VIII, some excellent Nintendo DS and 3DS reimaginings of the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh games in the series, the well-received ninth installment as well as a number of successful spinoffs.

Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake

But the series has always deserved more. In particular, the early installments in the series have always deserved a lot better than the horrible-looking mobile ports they got a while back, which spectacularly managed to simultaneously miss the point of both a retro rerelease and an enhanced remake of said retro title. I mean, it’s cool you can play Dragon Quest I, II and III on Nintendo Switch at all, but the series deserved a lot better than what it got with those versions.

Which is why Dragon Quest III HD-2D remake is such a welcome sight. Finally, this classic installment in the series is getting the respect it deserves: a remake which understands that part of the appeal of classic games is gorgeous pixel art, but which also acknowledges how modern gaming technology can make games look quite unlike anything we would have ever seen back in the 8- and 16-bit eras.

Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake

You may wonder why Dragon Quest III in particular has been chosen for this treatment rather than simply starting from the beginning. Well, there are likely several reasons for this. Firstly is the aforementioned sales figures; Dragon Quest III specifically was — and still is — immensely popular, so it makes sense for this one to be prioritised for special treatment.

Secondly, the first three Dragon Quest games make a coherent story — and Dragon Quest III is, narratively speaking, the “first” installment, telling the story of the hero Erdrick and his attempts to defeat the demon lord Baramos.

Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake

Thirdly, Dragon Quest III is the game from the first trilogy that would likely need the least work from a mechanical perspective to make it palatable to a modern audience. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the first two Dragon Quest games, of course, but Dragon Quest III added a considerable amount of depth even in its original Famicom incarnation: job classes, day-night cycles, an open-world structure and better party management, to name just a few features that made it stand out back in 1988.

If Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake ends up being a success, it’d be fantastic to see other installments in the series get the same treatment. Notably, it’d be great to see Dragon Quest IV, V and VI freed of the constraints of the Nintendo DS, since although those versions are absolutely wonderful, it’d be even better to be able to play them on the big screen. Porting or remaking them for modern consoles also opens up greater possibilities for people to make videos or stream them — which is, of course, an important part of helping a game succeed these days.

Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake

For now, though, Dragon Quest III HD-2D remake is very much a step in a positive direction — and here’s hoping this means that Square Enix has left behind its dark age of awful-looking mobile versions of classic titles. Can you imagine other games from their back catalogue that would benefit from this sort of treatment? Imagine a Final Fantasy VI HD-2D remake; or Chrono Trigger HD-2D…

Ooh, I think I need a lie down.

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