Released by Enix in Japan in 2000 and in the US the following year as Dragon Warrior VII (in keeping with the names of previous titles in the US), DQ7 was the highly anticipated addition to the legendary role-playing series which went on to sell over 4 million copies, making it one of the best selling PlayStation games. As was the case with its predecessors, DQ7 wasn't released in Europe.
Since it was highly anticipated only in Japan, the vast majority of its sales came from there. It went a bit under the radar in the US and became sort of a cult classic. There were many factors that led to this game not doing well in America. Part of the reason is that there was a nine-year gap between releases. Dragon Warrior IV was the last game released in America before Enix stopped releasing games in America. This game also was a late PlayStation release and was not only released after the PlayStation 2, but also after Final Fantasy X. Since this game was stuck in development hell for awhile, the graphics look significantly dated for a late release.
Like all of the previous games in the series, Dragon Quest VII was finally remade for the 3DS, and due to the growing success of the series in the West from the DS remakes, the remake was released outside of Japan. This review is only going to touch on the original release. Also worth noting, is that many of the names were changed in the remake, including the name being reverted back to Dragon Quest VII. After Enix merged with Square, the franchise was finally released outside of Japan as Dragon Quest.
Story:DQ7 is the first standalone game in the series as the first 6 consisted of two trilogies, though the games in the second trilogy barely have any connections to each other.
The game takes place on an island, the only island in the entire world, while the rest is the wide open sea. In keeping with the tradition of Dragon Quest games, the silent hero has no default name. This time you play as the son of the fisherman Borkano in the small fishing village blandly named Fishbel. You have two childhood friends: Maribel, the bitchy and bossy charming daughter of the mayor of Fishbel, and Keifer, prince of the neighboring city of Estard (the only other settlement in the world)
The game begins with you and Keifer exploring the forbidden ruins to the east of town with Keifer wanting to figure out the secrets of the ruins. The two of you finally reach a strange set of rooms with several mysterious pedestals. You realize one of the pedestals has a stone slab in the middle of it, and you piece it back together with some of the pieces lying around. Sadly it’s missing a piece and you walk back home empty handed. The following day, you magically come across the final piece, and Maribel talks you into letting her join you on your trip to the ruins. When you finally complete the tablet a strange flash of light engulfs the trio. The three of you wake up in a strange forest and discover you’re in a foreign village in the past; finally, the quest begins.
When Enix boasted that this game takes about 100 hours to beat, they weren’t joking around. That was the entire opening sequence and that takes 2 hours and then you finally run into your first battle and the actual quest begins. In most Dragon Quest games (hell RPG’s in general), your first battle takes place the instant you leave town. This is one of the biggest gripes that American gaming critics had with the game, as they claimed you had to have the patience of a rock to go through the beginning of the game.
Enix sort of “cheats” with the story by not making it a continuous story. The game is largely episodic with the main story interspersed between the episodes. The main goal of the first disc is to go back in time and restore the various villages by stopping the problem that has plagued the past, and then the landmass around the village will be restored in the present. After it’s been restored, you must visit it in the present and stalk it for more shards to complete the pedestals to allow access to the other villages. That’s the entire first disc in a nutshell, and that’s the first 60 hours of the game.
Disc 2 itself takes another 40 hours of the game. While I would have been satisfied with the game just being disc 1, disc 2 is a nice addition and adds more to the story.
The story itself is largely depressing and can get pretty dark at times. While you venture through the game, you’re going to run into stuff like racism, natural disasters, towns ravaged by warfare, multiple acts of genocide, and slavery. So if you’re someone who cries easily, get your tissues ready for this game.
Gameplay:The game is very similar to other Dragon Quest games by sticking to the traditional RPG mechanics, so there isn’t much to explain that would be unfamiliar.
While largely untouched from the previous entries, they do introduce a diverse class system to create some variety and aid your strategies in battle. While the class system was first introduced in DQ3, you were sort of stuck in that class, until you "promote" a character, meaning they go straight to level 1 and lose all of their skills. The class system reappeared in DQ6 but was more akin to Final Fantasy III and V where your class is a separate level from your character. Unlike those games, the skills you learn are bound to your character. The only downside to certain classes is that your stats will be heavily affected. So going from warrior to priest will be a huge jump in stats.
While your characters' individual levels will level up very slowly, your classes will level up much faster. This is because once you max out the level of two classes, you can unlock a hybrid class to gain much stronger abilities. The slight downfall for some people is that only certain combinations unlock hybrid classes. One aspect of the class system some might find tedious, is that you can only change your classes at the Dharma Shrine, and there are only two locations in the game, but one of them involves going into a portal. So in reality, there's only one. So every time you want to change your classes, you must head back to it. Even though you gain the ability to warp at this point, when you're in the past, you have to trudge back to the present to change.
For such a large game, the gameplay is a very standard RPG, doing nothing special or new. So if you want a unique experience, it does so only through its storytelling, not through the gameplay.
Visuals:Although the graphics themselves are decent, it suffered in development hell for several years. While it would probably have been impressive as an early PS1 title, its development struggles made it a late release which makes the graphics feel really dated when compared to late PS1 games like Final Fantasy IX, and even Persona 2. Like I mentioned above, it also looked really poor considering that the PS2 was already out and, in the US, Final Fantasy X was light years ahead in the technical department. While it does seem poor as a late PS1 title, it’s not to say the graphics are bad, they get the job done for the most part.
Like every other Dragon Quest game, the monsters and characters are designed by Dragon Ball artist Akira Toriyama. The graphics engine became the template for the DS remakes, so if you've played those, the graphics will look very familiar. The only major difference is that the overhead view is at an angle than the DS games.
A common complaint regarding the series is how cookie-cutter it is in the graphics department. There is a diverse pool of monsters to fight, but the franchise loves color-swapping monsters. If you've played other games in the franchise, you'll also see a handful of the monsters being reused. Another staple of the series is the towns feeling cookie-cutter. All of the NPC sprites will be reused in practically every town and village. The towns themselves also have a very samey feel to them. Sure the layout and architectures differ, but the overall look of many of the buildings will feel the same. Some might argue that this is because of how many towns there are, but it's something that's in every Dragon Quest game.
Even though the graphics get the job done while being a bit dated, the game does have some awkward cutscenes. It seems like Enix wanted to catch up to Square’s PS1 RPG’s by having cutscenes to show off the PlayStation’s prowess. They look so out of place when you compare the cutscene to the graphics from the rest of the game. It’s even more drastic than Final Fantasy VII where at least the characters in battle resembled the cutscene depictions, albeit deformed. The cutscenes in this game look nothing like Akira Toriyama’s artwork. It’s pretty much like playing Final Fantasy VI and throwing in Final Fantasy 7 cutscenes.
Though luckily if you exclude the opening and ending cutscenes, there are only about 2 cutscenes at most, so DW7 at least spares you the misery.
Music:Veteran Koichi Sugiyama returns to compose the music of the game. His compositions always have an orchestrated feel to it. While it's not my favorite soundtrack in the series, it still gets the job done and helps set the depressing mood of the game. Like every other Dragon Quest game, there is a fully orchestrated version of the soundtrack available. Also keeping with the cookie-cutter feel, the music will be heavily reused in every town and village.
Here's a comparison between the OST and orchestrated version:
Playlist to OST
Verdict:Despite its dated graphics and monstrous size, it’s one of the stronger titles in the series, but this game isn’t for the faint of heart. So while it’s not a very recommendable title for casual RPG fans, or people becoming interested in RPG’s, it’s still a very solid game that’s a definite must have for RPG fans who want a very deep and engaging game. Especially for those who are looking for a game, it will last them awhile.
Visuals (Or Graphics): 6/10.
Dragon Quest VII
Grungie looks at Enix's classic role-playing game Dragon Quest VII, originally released on August 26th, 2000, exclusively for Sony's PlayStation.
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