Adventure Rules Reviews: Dragon Quest 7 – Fragments of the Forgotten Past

As a pretty big Dragon Quest fan, I’ve been driven for quite some time to beat every main series title I could get my hands on. Up to this point I had crossed off 1, 4-6, and 8-9. A few years ago, I picked up Dragon Warrior 7 for the PS1 to attempt and add another game to that list. I immediately encountered a number of barriers. Even considering the age of the game, the visuals were rather poor. The pacing seemed terrible, with the first battle not occurring until after 3 hours of play time and the job system not unlocking until after 30. Still, I gritted my teeth and made my way through, until one fateful day I made a mistake: I took a break.

I don’t remember how long my break was exactly. All I remember for sure is that when I came back, I had no idea how to pick up where I left off. And at that point I admitted defeat – there was no way I was going to beat Dragon Warrior 7. Now, thanks to this 3DS remake, I have been able to go back and overcome this most ancient of foes. And having finished the game, I’m ready now to express my final thoughts.

If you’re not familiar with the structure of an Adventure Rules Review, here’s what you can expect. I rate the game on five categories: Graphics, Audio, Story, Gameplay, and Time. The scale runs like this:
0 – This aspect of the game has no redeeming qualities – Awful
.5 – This aspect of the game was bad, but had something positive about it – Poor
1 – This aspect of the game performed as expected, no more, no less – Average
1.5 – This aspect of the game excelled but had minor flaws or one glaring flaw – Good
2 – This aspect of the game was nearly perfect, with only the most minor of flaws – Great
The scores for each category add up to a Raw Score, which then might be adjusted by anywhere from -1 to +1. This adjustment could occur in situations where it seems like one factor might need to be weighted heavier than the others, or if something that cannot quite be quantified affected my overall opinion of the game. This adjustment is then added or subtracted from the raw score to obtain the Final Score for the game.

So without further ado, here it is, my review of Dragon Quest 7: Fragments of the Forgotten Past!

OVERVIEW
Dragon Quest 7: Fragments of the Forgotten Past is an updated remake of Dragon Warrior 7 for the Playstation. It tells the story of a fisherman’s son living on a small island in the middle of an empty ocean. He and his friend, the prince, have a strong belief that there is more to the world than this, so they delve into the history of the kingdom and get into tons of trouble in the process. Their hope is to someday discover something beyond their dinky island, and their research causes them to stumble upon a way to do just that. This is a tale of adventure across time, of friendship, and of coming-of-age.

GRAPHICS
Graphics were an aspect of the original Dragon Warrior 7 that were much maligned. In an era featuring fully-3D titles, the graphics of the original Dragon Warrior were somewhere in the territory of the Super Nintendo. And while it could be argued that those 2D graphics aged more gracefully than the now-blocky and stitled 3D of that day, it’s hard to ignore that Dragon Warrior was behind the times.
When remade on the 3DS, those graphical decisions were turned around and the game was updated to a fully 3D style. The character models look pretty good and fit well into the environments of the game world. If you have a lot of experience with handheld Dragon Quest titles, nothing here is going to surprise you. You can rotate the camera in most areas to look at the environment from different angles, an important feature as sometimes a change of perspective reveals a hidden path or a treasure chest you otherwise couldn’t perceive.
There are two main screens you’ll interact with in Dragon Quest: the overworld and combat. The transition from the former to the latter simply involves fading to a black screen and then the battle scene begins. Battles start out in a first-person perspective, looking at the monsters staring you down while you navigate the menu. Once you’ve chosen your actions, the camera backs off so you can see your party leaping forward to strike or slinging spells at the enemy. Battles look good and things get particularly interesting visually when spells are flung, as the magical effects are somewhat varied and look pretty good. The biggest issue is that there’s not really a way to expedite battle scenes, so if you’re grinding for a long period of time, the pacing of individual battles and their repetitive visuals can wear you down after awhile.
The art style here is that of Akira Toriyama, the famed creator of Dragon Ball. He has a very recognizable and quirky style that gives a lot of personality to his work. Enemies have strong designs that make them lovable even as you’re bashing their faces in. Where the enemy design shines, though, the player character design is somewhat lacking here. This is particularly true where costumes are concerned, as whenever you change jobs your attire changes to fit your new job. This can put the characters into some pretty ridiculous outfits that do not in any way seem appropriate for them.
My biggest complaint graphic-wise is pretty minor, and a common problem for RPGs: model recycling. The game only has so many character models to work with, meaning that sometimes even important characters get stuck with a generic NPC model that you’ll see on more characters throughout the game. Enemy designs are strong, but you can only recolor the same enemy so many times before it gets boring. Occasionally, you’ll have stronger versions of a weak enemy you have faced before look completely identical to that weak opponent, only to be totally devastating on the battlefield. The model re-usage particularly bothered me because each island in the game has its own distinct culture, complete with accents and unique customs. Seeing the same six characters running around in the “new” and “mysterious” towns kind of took me out of the idea that each civilization was unique and special.
Overall, this new take on the seventh Dragon Quest really does justice to the series when it comes to graphics. While the player characters designs (particularly their costumes) aren’t incredible, the enemy design is great. Reused models for enemies and NPCs can make things feel a little same-y after awhile, but overall this game looks really solid. Particularly fun are the games’ various magical effects, so be sure to play around with those as much as possible.
SCORE: 1.5 – GOOD

AUDIO
The Dragon Quest series has pretty iconic sound design, particularly as many of the sounds from the original titles are still hanging around even know. This is awesome for those who, like me, played the original Dragon Warrior back in the day. It’s a subtle touch that doesn’t detract from the game for new fans but really adds something to it for folks who have been around for a day or two.
DQ7 ccertainly isn’t doing anything new with the formula, here. You’ve got a track or two for the overworld, a track for a sad town and a happy town, tracks for standard battles and boss battles, and two or three different dungeon tracks. There’s more music than that, of course, but my point is that this isn’t going to revolutionize the RPG formula and nothing here sound-wise is going to surprise you. Like the reused character models I mentioned above, this does make everything feel kind of same-y at some point.
That’s not to say that there aren’t points in the game where strong sound design is utilized. Silence can be just as effective as music when wielded properly, and DQ7 does a really good job of being quiet at moments where it works. This enhances the feeling of the corresponding scenes appropriately, and I found myself really appreciating those moments despite their subtlety.
Incidental sound effects are where a lot of the aforementioned iconic sounds from Dragon Quests past come into play, and they are quite delightful. Just as the game’s magical effects are solid visually, many of them have a really pleasing sound to them that feels appropriate and gives the attacks a sort of bite. There’s a particular fire ability called Scorch where the roar of the flames really made me feel powerful whenever using it, while the whistle of an enemy’s Wind Sickle attack made me nervous as I watched my HP bar drop.
Overall, the sound design of DQ7 does what it needs to do. There’s nothing particularly outstanding here about the music (particularly as you get deeper and deeper into the game), but strong use of silence and great sound effects do make the game worth listening to. If you’re grinding for levels or gold, feel free to have a Let’s Play or some music videos going in the background.
SCORE: 1.5 – GOOD

STORY
Story is a huge factor for me in games in general, but particularly in RPG titles like this one. The concept for DQ7 is one of my favorites in the series: traveling to past islands in order to save them from darkness and restore them to the present, where you can then revisit things to see how they have changed over the years. The story of this game is incredibly episodic, making the name FRAGMENTS of the Forgotten Past very appropriate.
While for the most part the stories of each island do stand alone, there are some cool details that connect different places together. Sometimes a plot device that catches you by surprise and gets the best of your party on one island will reappear on another island, giving you a chance to change things. Other times you may meet a character on one island and then learn their backstory on another. Even though the islands are separate due to the powers of darkness, they still know about each other and when you restore them they can connect in interesting ways. I often found myself saying “oh, this place was right next to there the whole time? Cool!” Sticking through to the end allows all of these great connections to happen, which is a really nice payoff.
Now just because the fragments are – well, fragmented – doesn’t mean that there is no overall narrative to experience here. There is a story being told, and compared to other titles in the Dragon Quest series, it actually takes some unexpected turns. Whereas most things about DQ7 are “par for the course,” so to speak, the story takes some particularly interesting deviations at the end. Don’t get lost in the puns and the goofy enemies – this game has a point to make. Whether you end up agreeing with the philosophy of the game or not, this isn’t just a cutesy romp through time to save some islands so everyone can be happy. While this might be a turn-off for some, I’d say most players will appreciate that this story isn’t what you expect from the very beginning.
Where most aspects of Dragon Quest 7 met expectations without doing anything particularly unique, the story really challenged my expectations. Wanting to find out the ending is really what kept me determined to see this game through, even when other aspects of the game weren’t necessarily driving me anymore (more on that later). Overall, the story of DQ7 is very strong and in my opinion, the biggest draw of the game.
SCORE: 2 – GREAT

GAMEPLAY
If you’ve played one Dragon Quest game, it can definitely feel as if you have played them all. DQ7 is a turn-based RPG using a four-character party system. You explore an overworld map, talking to NPCs and maybe solving a puzzle or two. While exploring, you’ll see monsters running around the map, and walking into a monster initiates a battle sequence with that creature and its buddies. You’re then navigating menus and choosing actions to take against those enemies, each fighter in battle taking turns at swinging or spelling until all the bad guys are defeated, or you are.
Of course, there are elements here that keep the gameplay somewhat fresh. The game has an extensive job system featuring 20 different jobs to explore – and that’s not counting the monster jobs you can play as. Each job has different spells or abilities it can learn and some kind of special quality like “increased strength,” “may distract enemies,” or “reduced MP cost.” Ten of the jobs are basic jobs that anyone can do right out the gate, and the spells and abilities from these jobs stay with you no matter what you become. The other ten jobs are advanced jobs, though I personally like to consider seven of them intermediate jobs and the other three advanced jobs. To get the three most powerful jobs, you have to utilize certain combinations of intermediate jobs. None of these jobs carry over their abilities, so moving between intermediate jobs or starting an advanced job can feel a bit like starting over. But all three advanced jobs are basically huge collections of abilities from the jobs you trained as to unlock them, so it won’t take long to get back everything you worked for plus some. I wanted kind of a “pure” experience my first time through, so I didn’t mess with monster jobs during the main game. But they add a level of variety to the experience that you’re otherwise gonna miss out on – with only three advanced jobs to choose from in a four character party, you’re going to end up with repeats, particularly since towards the very end of the game you have the ability to rotate a fifth character in if you so choose.
That brings me to a daring feature of this game: the party construction. I don’t want to spoil any parts of the game, but I will tell it like it is. People leave you in this game. Sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. But the only character you can really count on to be with you through everything is the main player character. This is great for storytelling and really forces you to utilize every character in the game at some time, rather than allowing you to just permanently bench someone you’re determined not to use. However, this can cost you useful equipment, as characters keep whatever items they have equipped when they leave you. You get back the consumables and whatnot they are holding, but if you have your strongest weapon to someone who’s about to leave the party, it can be rather frustrating. It can also get annoying because losing someone you’ve put a lot of effort in to in exchange for a much weaker character with little to no job experience generally means grinding.
I guess I probably should have pointed this out earlier since I’ve used the term grinding a lot and not everyone might be familiar with it: “grinding” refers to the act of battling repetitively in order to farm for something. Generally this will be experience points, gold pieces, or job levels. Grinding is something you’ll probably be doing quite a bit of in this game, particularly at times where a new character joins the party ten levels lower than the rest of your members. Or when you change between intermediate jobs, or start an advanced job. This leads to weird difficulty spikes in the game – if you don’t grind up new characters, they’ll be a serious liability to the party. If you catch them up to everyone, you might end up too strong and breeze through the bosses. This is what happened to me. Even the final boss proved to be a joke by the time I had my job levels capped out, which certainly took some momentum out of the end of the game.
When you get tired of battling enemies, there are some distractions to be found in this game. There are collectible objects called mini medals scattered throughout the world, and you’ll be smashing every pot and diving down every well if you want to discover them all. There are two casinos in the game where you can play different games like cards or slots in order to earn casino tokens. These can be exchanged for some of the most powerful items in the game later on, so while it feels like a distraction it certainly has a practical in-game payoff. You can also hunt down and gather up monster villagers for a community called The Haven, or explore the randomly-generated dungeons within Traveler’s Tablets to earn monster stamps and then exchange those stamps for goodies. There’s plenty to do in this game, if you really want to sink the time into it – again, more on that later.
Overall, Dragon Quest 7 has fun – if rather predictable – gameplay. The job system gives you a variety of combinations to experiment with, helping to make battles more varied and interesting. This’ll be important as battling will be a huge part of the game for you. But whenever you get exasperated with that, there are other distractions you can enjoy such as gambling and collecting.
SCORE: 1.5 – GOOD

TIME
Along with the graphics, the sheer amount of time it took to play this game was a big negative for the original. When I first played Dragon Warrior 7 on the PS1, it took me three hours to get through the exposition to my first battle. THREE. HOURS. OF EXPOSITION. One goal that the developers had for this game was to trim the extra fluff out of the game and really tighten up the pacing. I don’t know exactly what was cut, but the rumor I’ve heard is that something like 20 hours of content was cut from the original for this remake.
Unfortunately, those cuts didn’t cut it. The pacing and sheer length of this game still hugely detract from the experience. Throughout this review I’ve mentioned that different aspects of the game performed “as expected,” or that they felt like other Dragon Quest titles. There’s not a lot fresh to offer here. And by the time I finished the game, I had experienced nearly 100 hours of that lack of freshness. The only thing that pushed me through it was the desire to experience the rest of the story, and even that ended up being a bit disappointing. After beating the final boss, you spend twenty to thirty minutes of wrap-up after a game that’s already been WAY too long, and the wrap up focuses on all the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the characters I really cared about – the ones in the party – it focused on NPC randoms from different communities you explore throughout the game. It’s a really disappointing ending and just feels like more artificial extension of a game that already feels artificially extended.
And the 100-ish hours I spent on this game? Those were dedicated almost solely to completion of the story, with a bit of time spent in the casino as well. I didn’t mess with traveler’s tablets, monster jobs, building up The Haven, or trying to collect all of the mini medals. For me, doing so wouldn’t have helped me feel like the game was better-paced. However, I understand that for some players utilizing features like these would help the problem of pacing, so I’m not going to detract from my overall score for that. If you’re the kind of person for whom collectibles will enhance the experience, I fully recommend you take advantage of opportunities to collect in order to take a break from this massive undertaking.
Oh, I guess I should mention that if you somehow still aren’t tired of this game by the end of it, there is post-game content. So there’s definitely a replayability factor if you really want to subject yourself to it.
Ultimately, the trap of the game is this: because it is so fragmented and episodic, it is designed to be played that way. You cannot, CANNOT run through this game in a few sittings the way you might another RPG. There’s just so much content, so much battling, and so much sameness, that you’re not gonna be driven to complete the whole thing. I took one big break roughly halfway through the game to play and beat Zero Time Dilemma, at which point I picked this up again and played through it the rest of the way. One break was not enough. This game is paced in such a way that if you don’t experience it in a fragmented, episodic way, it will feel like too much and you will likely get tired of it.
Overall, the time this game takes and the way it is paced are a huge detriment to the experience. It does offer distractions and multiple ways to play in order to make the experience feel more varied and fresh, but collection and minigames can only do so much before you’re back to more of the same. If you don’t play this game as it was intended – in an episodic fashion filled with breaks to do other things – it’s very easy to get burnt out.
SCORE: 0.5 – POOR

Now let’s look at our totals so far…
Graphics: 1.5 – Good
Audio: 1.5 – Good
Story: 2 – Great
Gameplay: 1.5 – Good
Time: 0.5 – Poor
Raw Score: 7 – AVERAGE

FINAL THOUGHTS
While I generally offer a mild score adjustment in some way or other for the games that I review, I feel like this game really is a sum of its parts and nothing more or less than that. While the gameplay was decent enough to keep me interested for awhile, only the great story being told here really led me to finish the game. After hour 75 or so, I was more than ready for this title to be over, and when the ending just kept dragging me to all these little towns I had long since stopped caring about, I knew it would be a long time before I wanted to experience Dragon Quest 7 again.

OVERALL
I feel like because the game’s Time score is the last thing I reviewed, this is coming off more negative than I really intended for it to be. Dragon Quest 7 is not a BAD game. It is a GOOD game held back by issues with pacing and how long it takes to tell its story. With some more of the game’s fluff cut out, it could be really stellar. Sadly, this is already the second attempt at making the pacing of this game work, and it simply does not. If you love Dragon Quest, you’ll love this game, and if you’re a fan of absolutely MASSIVE games with a ton of stuff to explore and features to try, you’ll get a lot out of this game. Just be sure you pace yourself. Take breaks after every few islands, jump to another game, and then come back when you really have a hankering for this game again. The game doesn’t pace itself, but if you pace yourself, you can have a really positive experience with this game, which truly does have a lot to offer.
In my mind, a rating of AVERAGE can signify a title with a lot of potential that is held back by some glaring flaws. Dragon Quest 7 definitely falls into this category. There’s not enough fresh to keep you engaged for the full length of the game’s story, but until I got burnt out by the sheer length of the game I was having a ton of fun with it. Pace yourself, explore what the game has to offer, and drink in the great storytelling, and there is an experience here to be enjoyed.
FINAL SCORE: 7 – AVERAGE

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: