Dragon Quest X begins the unusual transition from Wii to Wii U in Japan this August

The Wii isn’t dead. Not yet. As quiet as Nintendo’s little white box is these days, there is still an IV drip of vital nutrients slipping into it. The recently released Xenoblade Chronicles; the twin June releases of New Play Control: Pikmin 2 and Hironobu Sakaguchi’s The Last Story; there’s even that Kirby 20th Anniversary Collection coming this fall. It is not an ignoble death ahead of the Wii U. In fact, it’s shaping up to be an unusual one across the Pacific as well. Come August, the Nintendo Wii will receive its very first MMORPG when Dragon Quest X: Waking of the Five Tribes releases on the system.

Nearly four years after the game was originally announced for Wii, Dragon Quest X will finally be out in Japan on Aug. 2. Unlike past games in the series, even multiplayer entries like the popular Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, Dragon Quest X will be a full online role-playing game, letting players create a character in one of six races and then team up with others to grind levels and rid the land of darkness.

Given that online RPGs require regular maintenance through patches, it’s no surprise that Dragon Quest X can’t run on the Wii without the addition of an external memory expansion. Players must have a USB drive with at least 16GB of free memory plugged into their Wii to actually play the game, a first for the system. Square-Enix is actually releasing an edition of the game in Japan that costs 8,980 yen (about $110) and comes packed with a USB drive. A subscription fee of $12 per month is required to play the game as well, though online action RPG (albeit a very different RPG from Dragon Quest X) Monster Hunter Tri used a similar system in Japan.

Dragon Quest X’s release abroad in the Wii’s twilight hours is remarkable for a number of reasons. The first is that this may be the first time that Dragon Quest’s stuttering development cycle may actually hurt the game’s chances at retail. Dragon Quest VII released at the end of the original PlayStation’s life cycle back in 2000, but the PlayStation 2 hadn’t taken root enough to keep people from buying PS1 games in Japan. Dragon Quest X was first announced in December 2008 when the Wii was at the height of its power, but the system has disappeared from the charts since. As of late, Nintendo’s been struggling to sell 25,000 Wiis in Japan per month.

The second reason is that Dragon Quest X is also a transitional game. A Wii U version is planned, and since the Wii U is already promised to be backwards compatible with Wii, Dragon Quest could both be the Wii’s last and the Wii U’s first big game.

Will people play it? Will it make out of Japan? Tough questions for both Square-Enix and Nintendo.

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