TOKYO--When it comes to the popularity of video games in Japan, one of the franchises that can't be ignored is the Dragon Quest series for the PlayStation 2.
While the RPG hasn't been a hit in America, where it is called Dragon Warrior, it is one of the very few games that practically everyone in Japan has heard of, be it an urban student or a rural farmer. You also don't have to be a gamer to know when the latest edition is released, either. The long lines to purchase each edition's release are national news.
Back in the old Famicom (NES) days, newspapers wrote of how people formed three-mile lines just to buy the games, and how one gamer was brutally robbed of his copy shortly after purchasing it. So when the eighth installment of Dragon Quest was released in Japan--shipping 3 million copies in the first three days after launch--GameSpot braved the crowds and went to see the lines of gamers forming in Akihabara, the mecca of electronics and video games in Japan.
The first store we checked out was Gamers, a shop dedicated to selling game-related merchandise of all kinds. Located right next to the Akihabara train station in Tokyo, the store had about 40 people waiting for it to open.
The next two stores we checked out were Sofmap and Laox, the two largest games shops in Akihabara. Both had lines of about 80 people that curved around their respective buildings. In the case of Laox, the store clerks were dressed up as Dragon Quest VIII's hero, and they were holding up the slime-shaped controller that's being released simultaneously with the game. While the controller was extremely hard to preorder online, it seemed that the retailers actually had several in stock.
Next we took a trip to Shinjuku, a densely populated commercial district. There we saw a massive line forming in front of Yodobashi camera, a major electronics store. With about 300 people, Yodobashi's line was far longer than all the Akihabara lines combined. It curved around four street corners and was complete with store staff and security guards controlling the intersections to make sure nobody got hurt by the cars passing by.
Square Enix put a strict curfew on retailers, prohibiting them from selling the game any earlier than the national launch time of 7am. The company actually had staff walking around the main areas of Tokyo and Osaka in the middle of the night, making sure that there weren't any stores breaking the embargo.
Although the four major stores had long lines, it should be mentioned that the lines weren't as long as the legendary lines formed for Dragon Quest during the Famicom era. For the major stores we checked, excluding Yodobashi, the lines dispersed relatively quickly, usually within 15 minutes. It was also apparent that there were huge differences between the lines, depending on the stores. The medium-size shops in Akihabara, although located in the main street, had only a handful of people lining up.
Yodobashi's rival stores, Sakuraya and Bic Camera in Shinjuku, had more staff holding Dragon Quest VIII signs than there were people lining up to buy the game. Perhaps with the modern convenience of Internet shopping, the phenomena of lining up to purchase a game, even one with as much clout as Dragon Quest, is becoming an old trend even in Japan. Another contributing factor may be the abundance of local convenience stores selling the titles. In Tokyo, one can barely walk more than 10 streets without seeing one.
All in all, it seemed that there were plenty of copies of Dragon Quest VIII and slime controllers left for customers who didn't brave the morning crowds. For those who did, waking up early had its rewards, as early purchasers of the game received a free bonus DVD that featured promotional trailers for Square Enix's upcoming games, including an exclusive announcement of one project. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more details on the new project, and be sure to check out our impressions of Dragon Quest VIII.