Ever since the original Dragon Quest (called Dragon Warrior in North America due to copyright issues) game made its way Stateside back in 1989, I’ve been hooked on Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs). That game is extremely archaic by today’s standards, but it laid very solid groundwork for a series that is still going strong. I’ve enjoyed and conquered almost every Dragon Quest game released in the U.S., except part VII. It was originally a PlayStation game that came out back in 2001. At the time, the graphics were severely lacking and the PlayStation 2 had already been out for about a year. On top of that, the GameCube and Xbox were releasing in a few short weeks, so you can imagine my attention was spread rather thin across a multitude of new consoles and games. That’s most likely why I never managed to finish the game; putting in around 20 hours or so before calling it quits. It’s always bothered me that I never got to experience the entire story, so that’s why I was so excited when Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past was finally announced for release on the Nintendo 3DS in the West. If you enjoy turn-based JRPGs and have about 100 hours to invest into an excellent and addicting adventure, this game should already be in your 3DS card slot.
It seems that one of the things that Dragon Quest VII is known for is its slow start. The 3DS version does streamline some of the events at the very beginning of the game, but it still took me about 1.5 hours to get into my first battle. This is very much by design, and something I applaud the developers for taking a risk on. The game begins with your main character, the son of a fisherman, wondering what awaits in the rest of the world. The small island is purported to be the only one in existence. The land has been peaceful for as long as anyone can remember, thus the explanation as to why it takes so long to battle your first enemy. As you join forces with Prince Kiefer and a local girl, Maribel, you soon discover that ancient tablets scattered about the land have a secret power that allows you to travel to another land in the distant past. Inevitably these inhabitants have a problem on their hands that requires your assistance. These lands are infested with monsters that stand between you and your quest at hand. By stepping in and righting the wrongs of the past, the civilization will overcome its hurdle and the landmass will suddenly appear in the present time period. These bite-sized stories lend themselves well to the portable 3DS, since many of them only take between an hour or two to solve. The game progresses in this manner, with the heroes effectively changing the past to fill in the missing pieces in the present.
One of the reasons Dragon Quest VII had such a difficult time in finding its way across the Pacific is the sheer amount of time and money it would take to localize the remastered game. This game has a ton of text, so going in you should expect to be reading quite a bit. Most of the story is revealed through talking to townsfolk when you explore a new town or castle. After you’ve spoken to everyone of interest, you’ll often venture out and complete a task. Upon returning, most of the inhabitants will have something completely new to speak about. While it’s often not required to talk to each and every person, I found that much of the game’s charm comes from revisiting these people and hearing what new things they have to say. The only off-putting aspect of this is that the game reuses the same art for the characters over and over again, so the boy you talk with in one town looks identical to the boy in another one. It’s not that big of a deal, but it does reduce the immersion factor a bit.
If you’ve ever played a Dragon Quest game, you’ll know how many of the game’s mechanics work already. It’s often a series that doesn’t stray too far from its roots, and the same is true here. That’s not to say there aren’t any current-day improvements here. One of the biggest is the ability to see monsters roaming the world, effectively eliminating random battles. This is a fantastic change as the overworld and the dungeons are often crawling with the baddies. However, when in dungeons, caves, and towers, the enemies often take up such a large portion of the passageways that it’s impossible not to run into them. This can be slightly annoying, but luckily the battles are often quick. You can also repel lower leveled enemies for a limited time with the right items and spells.
Speaking of combat, if you’re familiar with the first six entries in the series, you’ll remember that the battles always took place with a first-person viewpoint. Each battle still starts off this way, with all of the enemies lined up waiting for you to create your combat plan. Once the commands are issued, the game pans out to see your characters actually fighting the monsters. I really like this mix of nostalgic battling with the new dynamic camera, which makes combat more exciting to watch than before. It also helps that each enemy is wonderfully drawn and animated. They look absolutely fantastic, with tons of detail. Gone are the old days of static images on a black background.
In fact, the graphics throughout the game are some of the best on the Nintendo 3DS. All of the NPCs animate really well and you can often tell their moods just by looking at their demeanors. The ability to rotate the camera to view different areas of the town and overworld is fast and a great addition. It’s a small touch, but I also am really grateful that after you open a door on a building it stays open, so you know you’ve already visited. This resets once you leave the area, but it’s a helpful way to know where you’ve been and whom you’ve spoken with. I only have two small quibbles with the visuals. First up is the overworld’s awful pop-in. As you wander about the land, trees and other items simply pop onto the screen right in front of you. It’s disjoining and really detracts from the experience. The other issue is the 3D effect. Unfortunately this game’s 3D makes the graphics look somewhat worse because it removes the anti-aliasing. The game looks really jagged and although the sense of depth is nice, I found myself playing the majority of the game with the 3D off because of the smoother graphics.
Dragon Quest VII’s soundtrack is, as usual, fantastic. It maintains its classical music style that it has famously used throughout its inception. Some of the music will be familiar to those who have played prior games, but much of it is brand new. Apparently the Japanese version featured orchestrated versions of the tracks, whereas the western markets received the original midi files. I have to say that the music sounds fantastic as is, so it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for anyone concerned about this change. I do agree that it seems like an odd change, but the soundtrack easily stands on its own without the orchestrated music. Unfortunately the game doesn’t feature any voice acting, like part VIII did. It would have been nice to see some major characters find a voice this time around, but again, it’s not a major issue that should prevent you from enjoying the experience.
As I mentioned earlier, Dragon Quest VII is a lengthy game. One of the game’s core aspects doesn’t even open up until around the fifteen to twenty hour mark: vocations. Similar to the Job system in Dragon Quest III and IX, your character can train in new vocations to learn new abilities and spells. Learning the beginning ones will allow the characters to eventually max out and then move on to another. Certain advanced vocations can only be learned once a specific set of prior ones have been mastered. There are over 30 different vocations to explore, each with its own set of unique skills that your character can obtain. This makes the game exciting and gives the player a reason to really dive in and try out new things.
New to the 3DS version of the game is the ability for gamers to use StreetPass and connect to Wi-Fi to exchange special tablets. These will open up unique dungeons that will often have special rewards. One that I liked to play was littered with Metal Slimes. Longtime players will instantly know that these enemies are amazing because they offer up a ton of experience if successfully killed. This was my go-to place if I wanted to try and level up my characters faster. With over 100 different dungeons to explore, there’s a ton to discover and many hours can just be spent playing them.
When it comes right down to it, Dragon Quest VII is one of the best JRPGs available on the 3DS. It’s got an intriguing plot with charming characters and amazing visuals. The combat system continues to evolve and get more complex as you make your way through the adventure. It doesn’t feature some of the combat enhancements that were later introduced in Dragon Quest IX, but there’s more than enough here to satisfy players. Don’t let the idea of a long game turn you away from playing this – it’s portable nature and bite-sized stories really make it a game that can be played in small bursts. We’ve had our fair share of RPGs hit the 3DS this year, but this one is definitely my favorite of the bunch!
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past Review
- Graphics - 9.5/109.5/10
- Sound - 9.5/109.5/10
- Gameplay - 9.5/109.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 10/1010/10
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
Oozing with charm, Dragon Quest VII is one of the most beautiful games to grace the 3DS. With tons of stuff to do, vast continents to explore, and a delightful story, there’s something here for all RPG fans out there. Don’t miss out!