Will Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 Ever Be Localized?

With the recent confirmation of Dragon Quest XI's Western localization, will this spin off series ever make it back?

Dragon Quest XI : Echoes of an Elusive Age was just recently confirmed for a Western release in 2018. All of the past main entries in the Dragon Quest series -- other than the MMORPG Dragon Quest X -- have been released in the West at some point, with certain spin-offs arriving in Western regions as well. One of the more notable spin offs, which was able to start a series of its own, is Dragon Quest Monsters

The goal in Dragon Quest Monsters is to recruit,  battle, and breed monsters, rather than just kill them -- expanding a concept which was originally seen in Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride.  The series started on the Game Boy Color and has since made its way to several other Nintendo handheld platforms, as well as the Sony PlayStation -- with the most recent being Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 for the Nintendo 3DS.

Despite positive reception, only some of the games in this series have been released in the West. But with localization of Japanese games on the rise, as well as the increase in popularity for the main Dragon Quest series and other recent spin-offs, will Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 be localized? Will this series ever come back to the west? Let's study the series' history and find out.

The Journey Begins on the Game Boy Color

The first game in the series, Dragon Quest Monsters (known as Dragon Warrior Monsters in North America) was released for the Game Boy Color in Japan in 1998, then came to Europe and America in 1999 and 2000, respectively.

Despite being called a "Pokémon clone" by some critics at the time of its release in the West, Dragon Quest Monsters has quite a few key differences. A notable feature which  makes Dragon Quest Monsters different from Pokémon, was that it has a strong focus on breeding monsters. 

Dragon Warrior Monsters released at a time when the Pokémon phemonenon was still at its peak, and right between the western release of Pokémon Yellow and Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver, and even had reviewers suggesting it to fans anticipating the next batch of Pokémon titles. The game's relative success despite its strong competition helped pave the way for a sequel soon after.

Split Sequels

A two-version sequel, Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Coby's Journey and Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Tara's Adventure was released for Game Boy Color in March 2001 for Japan, then September 2001 for North America. Similar to Pokémon, each version contained slight differences -- such as which monsters appeared in each game. The well-timed release of the first game, as well as generally positive reception it received, makes it no surprise these sequels were also able to make their way Westward.

A PlayStation remake of Dragon Warrior Monsters and Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 that featured enhanced graphics was also released for Japan in 2002, but that version never made it to the West. Though other monster-focused games were seeing some decent success at the time, this remake may not have gotten a port because the developer decided it would be better to keep the series on handheld devices. 

Thus, Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 would be the last entry in the series the West saw for seven years -- though only one new entry in the series was released anywhere during that time.

The Game Boy Advance Title Stays in Japan

Dragon Quest Monsters had a single game on the Game Boy Advance called Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Heart, which released for Japan in March 2003. Although this game was never released outside of Japan, an unofficial English fan translation does exist.

Dragon Quest Monsters Caravan Heart is one of only two Dragon Quest games to ever be released on the Game Boy Advance. During this time, the majority of Dragon Quest games were being made for PlayStation consoles instead.

Caravan Heart may have not been localized because no other Dragon Quest games had been released outside of Japan since Dragon Warrior Monsters 2, and no main series game had been localized since Dragon Quest IV in October of 1992.

But despite the long gap in Western releases, the series made a comeback in the West with Nintendo's next hit console. 

The Series Returns to the West

The main Dragon Quest series returned to the West once the Nintendo DS remake of Dragon Quest IV was localized in 2008. Since the popularity of the Nintendo DS was rising worldwide, more Dragon Quest games started coming to the West again as well -- including Dragon Quest V, VI, and IX, as well as the spin off title Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime.

The Dragon Quest Monsters series arrived on the Nintendo DS with Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, which released for North America in November 2007, and Europe in March 2008. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker was the first game in the spin-off series to have a Western release since the Game Boy Color games, as well as the first in the west to not have its name changed. It was also the first in the series to have online play.

With improved graphics and more unique gameplay overall, Dragon Quest Monsters Joker received relatively positive reception, with many reviewers claiming it was more than just a Pokemon clone. This positive reception in the west helped lead to the localization of the sequel, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 in 2011.

Joker 2 saw some slight improvements from its predecessor -- and as usual received positive reception. But it didn't sell well in the West for a variety of reasons. With games like Pokémon Black and White and Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation releasing earlier that year, it's possible that Nintendo DS owners had already had their fill of monster taming. So Joker 2 was the last game in the series to see a Western release.

Nintendo 3DS Games Start Staying in Japan

Though the release of the original DS revitalized the localization of Dragon Quest, the release of the 3DS didn't do the same. Out of the three Dragon Quest Monsters games for the Nintendo 3DS that have been released, none have made it outside of Japan. Whether this is due to a decrease in popularity and sales in the West or something else entirely is unknown.

The first 3DS title, Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry's Wonderland 3D, released as an enhanced version of the first game in the series -- including improved 3D graphics, commanding four monsters at once, a day/night cycle, and randomized dungeon layouts. The second 3DS title, Dragon Quest Monsters 2: Iru and Luca's Marvelous Key, was also a remake that combined the two versions of DQ Monsters 2 into one game while keeping the enhancements fom Terry's Wonderland 3D.

Despite their obvious merit, neither of these remakes have been localized, and it's currently unknown whether there are any plans to release them outside of Japan.

The most recent game in the series, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3, released for Japan in March 2016. Joker 3 introduced mountable monsters to the series, with different monsters having different purposes and skills. Joker 3 also features over 500 monsters and the ability to customize each monster's colors after certain conditions are met.

If Joker and Joker 2 released in the West, and Dragon Quest has enough popularity to have various spin offs localized, then how come we haven't heard anything about the release of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 outside of Japan? There may be a few reasons for that.

What Might Affect Joker 3's Localization?

Joker 3 is the mostly likely candidate for a Western release, due the fact that it's the most recent entry in the series and that the Joker titles are more familiar to Western fans. But a release of Joker 3 outside of Japan may depend on a few different factors.

The Success of the Main Series in the West

Dragon Quest has seen relative success in the West over the years, with the most recent titles being the Nintendo 3DS remakes of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past, and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.

Originally, the remake of Dragon Quest VII was to stay exclusive to Japan, due to the time and money which would be needed to localize the game's expansive content. It wasn't until after fans outside of Japan, as well as Nintendo and Square Enix executives, sent numerous letters that it was decided the remake would be released worldwide.

Not too long after the 3DS version of Dragon Quest VII reached Western regions, a 3DS port of Dragon Quest VIII had already been announced for worldwide release as well. This is largely due in part to the positive fan reception of Dragon Quest VII, but also due to the popularity of Dragon Quest VIII in the West.

So how does the release of Dragon Quest VII and Dragon QuesVIII  on 3DS in the West affect the western release of Dragon Quest Monsters? It's a somewhat reliable way to measure the popularity of the franchise outside of Japan. Square Enix is less likely to localize spin-off games if the main series doesn't have much popularity or sell well outside of its country of origin. So although Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 may not have the same amount of fan response as Dragon Quest VII, that doesn't necessarily mean it won't ever be localized like other spin-offs.

The Success of Other Dragon Quest Spin Offs in the West

Due to the continuing success of the main series in the West and the increase of Japanese games being localized, other Dragon Quest spin-offs have been released worldwide to decent results in the past few years.

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below, for example, may not have had the most stellar sales numbers worldwide -- but it still successfully combines two of Japan's most popular video game franchises, and even led to the sequel, Dragon Quest Heroes II. Both games received positive reception, despite some reviewers claiming the gameplay was too repetitive and was only fun for a short while.

The same is true for Dragon Quest Builders, which introduced the series to sandbox-style gameplay similar to Minecraft. And like many other spin-off games that were localized, this title also received positive reception for being a unique experience.

Given the success of games like Dragon Quest Heroes and Dragon Quest Builders, maybe Square Enix might be more open to the idea of releasing Joker 3 in the West despite its spin-off status -- although one other factor could be holding back the game's Western release.

Localization for Recent 3DS Games in the Same Genre Took a While

The Western release of Joker 3 may also depend on Nintendo, since ultimately that company itself decides whether or not it wants to distribute a game outside of Japan -- and sometimes even then the localization process can take a while. And the amount of time that passes can seriously impact sales.

The first game in Level-5's popular Yo-Kai Watch series, for example, originally released for Japan in 2013, but did not start to reach Western territories until 2015-2016. By that time, the game had a two-version sequel, an updated version of that sequel, and a third game on the way.

Even so, Yo-kai Watch still saw some success with its key demographic in North America and Europe -- though not as much as it did in Japan. Despite the drop in popularity in Western territories, the Yo-Kai Watch sequels are still being released outside of Japan.

Monster Hunter Stories is a similar case as well. This RPG spinoff of the Monster Hunter action series originally released for Japan in October 2016, but won't be localized for the West until this Fall. Although the rising popularity of the series in the West makes it strange that Nintendo and Capcom didn't localize it sooner, its lower-than-expected sales in Japan might have been a factor.

How can we apply the localizations of these two games to the possible Western release of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3? Their success -- though nowhere near the phenomenon-level hype of Pokémon's recent titles -- helps show that Nintendo owners are open to the idea of monster-raising RPGs outside the Pokémon franchise. If Nintendo and Square Enix can realize this, then Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 might get see a western release before it's too late. If not, we may not see the series return for some time.

Dragon Quest Monsters on Nintendo Switch?

Although it has been said that the Nintendo 3DS will still be supported through 2018, it's possible that the West may not see Dragon Quest Monsters again until the series has an installment on the Nintendo Switch -- if there is one. Dragon Quest Heroes is already on the Nintendo Switch, and Dragon Quest XI will be coming to the system in the future. So there's no reason to doubt that other Dragon Quest titles will release on the system as well.

Even if Dragon Quest Monsters does get an entry on Nintendo Switch, though, there's no certainty it will be localized. But disappointed fans will still be able to import the game if they wish to.

Hopefully, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 arrives on Western shores before Nintendo 3DS systems go out of commission. For now, fans can only hope that the positive response to other games will help the western release of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3  become a reality.

Published Aug. 2nd 2017

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