By William Haderlie / October 10th, 2016
|Title||Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past|
|Developer||Square Enix, ArtePiazza|
|Release Date||September 16, 2016|
|Genre||Japanese Role-Playing Game|
|Age Rating||ESRB E for Everyone 10+|
I am simultaneously the best sort of person to review the new 3DS version of Dragon Quest VII, and I’m also the worst person to do so. As you will read, that is for the same reason; it’s because I am a very old school fan of this game and this series. Yes, I am inclined to love this game, because I have always loved this series. But I also have certain expectations of what my Dragon Quest experience is supposed to entail. Not only that, but I still own my original copy of the game and have played through it more than once. No small feat, considering the original PlayStation game takes 100-200 hours to complete (and it always takes me closer to 200).
The more literal translation of the game’s name when it was released in Japan is Dragon Quest VII: Warriors of Eden, which was released back in 2000 and marked one of the last games that Enix ever published as a sovereign entity. Worrying about the brand recognition, they dropped the subtitle entirely and changed the name back to Dragon Warrior when they released the game in North America. Two things were working against the game when it was released on our shores. The first is that there was little brand recognition; no matter what the title was going to be, their last title released here was Dragon Warrior IV for the NES. We missed the entire (wonderful) Super Famicom generation of these games. The second factor against it was that it took until 2001 for us to receive this game and by then, it was time for the PlayStation 2. So this release tanked rather spectacularly and contributed mightily to Enix being bought out by Squaresoft, which was flush with cash after an extremely prominent PlayStation 1 era.
That being said, even during the high point of RPG sales, this one still would have been considered niche. For better or worse, Dragon Quest is very much an old school Japanese RPG game series. And the more Square Enix tries to modernize this series, the less it will feel like an actual Dragon Quest, but more on that later. Part of its charm, and a lot of its appeal, is actually in knowing how hardcore and bare bones these games are. Something this publisher is still struggling with is that this is a difficult and time consuming series of games to make, but it will never be more than a niche series outside of Japan. But, for fans of the actual series, this was a very prominent game. This felt almost like the culmination of all the old school principles that made this series great, before they went and drastically (well, drastically for a Dragon Quest game) changed for the next game in the series. Not counting the MMO, Dragon Quest X, this remains the largest Dragon Quest game of all time.
Like every other game in this series, your hero can be named anything you want, but you cannot choose the gender. This is a little disappointing, but there is enough story that makes use of the fact that he is the son of specific people that it’s excusable. It would have been nice to have the gender choice and then just do the simple pronoun change in text; it’s not like there is any voice acting (even in this modern remake). He is a teenager that starts out as a fisherman’s son, although you eventually learn that they are not his biological parents. The mystery of who his real parents are is far too important of a spoiler for me to review here, though. That’s a very classic story arc that is well realized: the lost child trying to discover who they really are. In his basic form he almost looks like Akira Toriyama’s version of Link, but his look will change drastically when you change his class.
His best friend is Kiefer, who happens to be the erstwhile Prince of the nearest kingdom, a title that he wants nothing to do with. Not only does he chafe with the responsibility, but he does not really see himself becoming a monarch at all. He would much rather spend his time as an adventurer with his friend. The castle walls feel much more like a prison. So much to the chagrin of his father, he ends up constantly sneaking out of the castle. One interesting change with this new version is that with the graphics upgrade he looks much more princely and less like a squat and fat spoiled princeling. He is also written a bit more heroic with this translation, and much less like a spoiled brat.
Meribel, however, is even more of a spoiled brat than she was in the original translation. It would be difficult to call her the friend of either the hero or Kiefer. She mostly just hangs around insisting that she tag along and annoys them. Frankly she was my least favorite character in the original game, and she is even worse in this version. She is the epitome of a shrew, and as annoying as it is during the story when she leaves your party, I enjoyed myself more with her gone. At the end of the game you are given the choice between having her or Sir Mervyn in your party. I always choose Mervyn. Unfortunately there is basically no character growth for her, even in the victory lap at the end of the game, she proves that she has not changed at all.
For many hours you will only have these three characters, but you will often have a guest character along which you cannot control and will not gain any levels. Eventually you will meet up with Ruff, originally named Gabo, who was originally a wolf before he was changed into a human. Now he rides around on the wolf that raised him and they together make one character. As a result, many of his most powerful weapons are teeth and claw types; he can’t use most bladed weapons or staves. I frankly hate pets, and dogs in general even in the wild, so he has never been a favorite character of mine in the Dragon Quest pantheon. But he’s much more cute in this modern art style, and he isn’t annoying like Meribel. I do prefer his original name, though.
You will only have those 4 characters together for a fairly short time, especially in this new version of the game, before one of your old friends leaves your party for good. After that you will spend a significant number of hours searching for a 4th party member to join your group. Eventually you are surprised to find that the next person to join your crew is, in fact, the Almighty’s right hand man, Sir Mervyn. He has been basically preserved in amber to keep him alive until he is needed again. That being said, he is still extremely old compared to the rest of the party. Even though he looks like a warrior, he’s actually a slightly better caster than he is fighter. He had a slight name change, his original name was Melvin, but I consider the name change to be a good one, if only for the fact that it didn’t keep on reminding me of the rock group.
The final character that you see in the 6 character view above joins you very late into the game, and by that time your other original “friend” leaves the fold. Aishe is a special kind of dancer from the Roamers. She also chafes against this lifestyle, much like Kiefer, but only in the ways in which it restricts her independence. She is comfortable with the responsibility of the role, and she wants to revive the Almighty just as much, if not more, than anyone else in her tribe does. In a refreshing move, she is actually a really great fighter and not just a caster, unlike many other female characters in classic RPGs. She also happens to be a really cool character, not a shrew like the other female in this cast, and her modern character design is rather sexy. So she was my waifu in the original game and she is even more so in the modern incarnation. She also had a name change, from Aira, and it took me a while to get used to because of how fond I was of her original character. But both names are rather cute, so I became comfortable with it.
I mention their particular battle strengths only as a guide. Because you can change any of the characters to any class that you want. So even though Ruff is best as a physical attacker, you can make him a Sage if it suits you. The class system is very fascinating in this game. It actually plays a larger role in the game than in any other Dragon Quest, with only Dragon Quest IX coming close to it. Surprisingly, even though the class system is so important, it actually takes you dozens of hours before you reach the point in the game that you can change the classes. Granted, that does give you time to master all your non-class skills, but you will typically master all of them well before you reach Alltrades Abby. There are over a dozen human type classes that you can master, but if you include all the monster classes it pushes the class number over 30.
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