There is no calling into question the quality of the Dragon Quest series. While they may be too stripped down for some RPG fans, they represent the absolute pinnacle of both JRPG design and narrative, not to mention Japan's biggest franchise. However, it has had a very hard time catching on here in the U.S. It was beginning to look as if Square had accepted that Dragon Quest would be nothing more than a niche franchise here. But it seems the series has a second chance. This time, it's Nintendo's turn to give it a shot.
For Dragon Quest's 9's DS release, Square Enix has partnered with Nintendo to give the game a chance at market penetration. Nintendo will be handling the publishing and all the marketing for the game. In a way, this makes sense, as Nintendo has broken many different games to a wider audience. Nintendogs and Brain Age were the dawn of the non-game's dominance, and Professor Layton had sensibilities that both hardcore and casual players identified with. Dragon Quest 9 actually shares a certain simplicity with those games, so the game fits right in with Nintendo's lineup. However, there are several challenges that Nintendo must overcome before they can succeed. The first is Nintendo's complete lack of experience with RPGs. They're going to have to dig deep and go back to their SNES heyday when they were pushing other publishers' successful RPGs left and right. The other big obstacle is 9's large multiplayer features. The main quest lets you create a party using premade characters, but you can also hook up with three friends to complete the game together. This works well in Japan, where the dense population means partners are easy to find. The U.S., however, can't benefit from the same assumption. Given that the Japanese release didn't include online play, Nintendo and Square Enix are going to have to come up with some sort of solution to make the mode viable.
There is little question that Dragon Quest 9 will satisfy RPG fans. The big question is whether the series can finally find a larger audience. Given how successfully Nintendo has been at creating and promoting successful IP, this might be the best chance the series has ever had. Stay tuned.