Dragon Quest has personally had a bit of a unique niche for me, almost like comfort food, as far as RPGs go. It’s familiar aesthetic, the recurring, iconic enemies and classic music that permeate every entry make each game feel comfortable and familiar, even as the games themselves can be pretty different. A classic turn-based RPG, with attacks, spells and a standard 4-party romp through towns and dungeons, like many who came before it. The classic Final Fantasy formula.
The game starts with you waking up on a small island. The only island in the world, as far as anyone alive knows. Not satisfied with that, our hero and his friends set out to see if there’s more to life beyond their tiny landmass, and stumble upon powers much greater than themselves.
With the seventh entry being remade for the 3DS, I thought it was a good time to dive into one of the few classic entries I’d never played before. The original game on the PS1 was infamously lengthy, taking up to 100 hours for a first playthrough. How does the remake stand up? Does it fix any of the problems with the original, or does it fall for the same pitfalls as its predecessor?
If you have played a Dragon Quest game before, or really seen anything by the series’ character designer, Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame, then nothing should feel too out of place for you. Nice detailed 3D models for the large cast of characters and colorful environments litter the islands you’ll be exploring, and everything is enjoyable to look at. In combat the enemies are memorable, easily identifiable, and incredibly expressive in their animations to keep fighting visually interesting.
The music is a mix of classic tunes and newer compositions that for sure feel like they belong in the same soundtrack, that fit the mood of whatever’s going on when they play. It’s nothing super exciting, and not really anything I’d put on any playlists, but they get the job done and contribute to the overall feel of the game.
The in-game cutscenes are pretty basic, just as they were in the original. You have your characters move, change direction, basic emoting, and a lot of text boxes. It gets the job done in communicating the story, which is better than you’d expect, but it is a bit old fashioned.
Dragon Quest VII, like numbers I-VI, is a turn based RPG. And a bit of a slow one, at that. But if you’re familiar with the classics, then there’s not much that needs to be explained. Encounters aren’t random, and can be seen in the overworld, but they still slow down the pacing of exploring dungeons.
The main pull to this game specifically is its job system, which are one of my favorites in any RPG. You can customize your character by giving them specializations that alter their stats and give them new skills and spells, with more advanced jobs that are unlocked upon mastering the easier ones. This adds a lot of depth to the combat as you can really plan out who is capable of what to handle whatever the game throws at you.
On the other hand… you don’t actually unlock the job system until about 30-35 hours into the game, and it might get a bit of a slog right before that point, as your characters have learned all of their innate skills by that point.
The game’s combat is good, it allows for strategy and tactics without being frustratingly difficult, but it is for sure on the slow side, and it started to remind me exactly why games of this manner have kind of fallen out of favor in recent years.
On the surface, Dragon Quest VII’s progression can seem a bit formulamatic. Unlock a new island by collecting tablet fragments from throughout the areas you’re able to explore, and head to a new, isolated land far into the past. Explore. Discover the story and give them the boost they need to break evil’s hold on the island, and restore it to the world proper. Then, go back to the new island in the present day, and see how the island has progressed after several generations, beyond your heroics, forgotten in the sands of time.
While on paper that sounds like it’ll get pretty boring pretty quickly, I had yet to really find that to be the case. The smaller characters and stories you meet on each island are interesting and well fleshed out, and you’ll never need to check a FAQ to find a missing fragment as there’s a handy “where’s the tablet fragment I missed” button in the menu, so it’s never felt like a drag, in that regard.
There’s plenty of backtracking to previous areas in the present day, so it does feel like it’s an interconnected world, not just a series of completely disconnected, episodic bits of content and nothing else. And I have to give the writing real credit, as it does work to keep the game interesting and can be pretty heartbreaking at times. I know I was personally caught off-guard a few times, even in more subtle ways.
As cool as it is to visit previous locations after a large time skip and see exactly what changed, and more importantly what didn’t, it can be a bother to retread ground you were just in, especially if you have to go back to a dungeon you already cleared in the past, which does happen a few times. That can really kill your motivation to continue.
The game is long. Long long. If you pick this title up, which I do suggest to fans of the genre, expect to be kept entertained for a lot of man hours.
The game has very little in the way of multiplayer, but it seems to be the only really new additions in the 3DS version of the game. Like the DS version of Dragon Quest IX, VII has a streetpass feature that allows you to access special, randomly generated dungeons by recruiting monsters and having them go out and look for things for you. Being able to pass around particularly beneficial/amusing dungeons to other players for them to explore is a really neat concept! But, unfortunately one that I haven’t gotten the chance to try myself.
Dragon Quest VII for the 3DS is what you expect it to be, a solid remake of a classic RPG. It’s everything you like about old timey RPGs and everything you may not remember that bothered you, too. I, personally, love this sort of thing, but I realize I might just be in the minority here, as more action-y RPGs are for sure in style, if the FFVII remake and Final Fantasy XV are any indication.
If you enjoy turn based RPGs with a lot of love in them, and a lot to explore, then I highly suggest you pick up DQVII. For some, it’ll be the kind of game you can just kick back, relax, and just soak in. For some, it might just be boring.