From Dungeons & Dragons to Dragon Quest: Cultural dialogue and material shifts


Dungeons & Dragons
Role-playing game
Dragon Quest

How to Cite

Mariucci, A. “From Dungeons & Dragons to Dragon Quest: Cultural Dialogue and Material Shifts”. Mutual Images Journal, no. 11, Dec. 2023, pp. 27-50, doi:10.32926/2023.11.3.


Arguably one of the most popular genres in today’s video game market is the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG). The distinguishing traits of the genre are often a matter of debate. The final decision on whether something is a JRPG usually relies more on general feelings than on rigid criteria (Mallindine 2016). However, one shared trait among the exponents of the genre is that they find its roots in Western tabletop role-playing games, such as Dungeons&Dragons (1974). As a matter of fact, Dungeons&Dragons served as an inspiration for many other role-playing games (RPGs). One such example is Wizardry (1981), which, together with Ultima (1981), was among the most successful computer role-playing games of its time (Barton & Stacks 2008). The two games served as the beginning for long-spanning series, which enjoyed wide success in Japan (Adams 1985), where the RPG genre as a whole was soon integrated, through various platforms, into the local media ecology (Steinberg 2015). Wizardry in particular was also among the games which influenced Horii Yūji (Horii 2018a. 2018b) to create Dragon Quest (1986), one of the earliest examples of JRPG. This article seeks to draw a connection between Dungeons&Dragons and the early JRPGs. First, I compare Dungeons&Dragons, a tabletop RPG, to its most well-known digital counterparts of the time, Wizardry and Ultima. By doing this, I expose the differences between ‘pen and paper’ and ‘screen and software.’ Then, I observe the differences between Wizardry, Ultima, and Dragon Quest in terms of both aesthetics and gameplay, in order to understand how Japanese developers and distributors negotiated the concept of RPG for the Japanese market. In both comparisons I consider how characters, avatar, gameplay, and narrative are mediated by the platform and the cultural milieu hosting them.
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Copyright (c) 2024 Andrea Mariucci