I never got into Dragon Quest until it moved to the DS and Nintendo began to handle publishing duties in the west. I remember playing Dragon Quest VII round my mate house who had it on import back on the PS1, enjoying VIII on PS2 and loved last year’s Dragon Quest Heroes. But it’s never occupied the same place in my emotions as Final Fantasy always had (probably because half of them never got to Europe)
If you’ve always wanted to get into the series though, like Final Fantasy, VII is a great place to start.
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on 3Ds isn’t some half-assed port of the 2000 PS1 cult classic, soon to be released on mobile, and then probably steam with the bare minimum of effort put in. No instead it’s a proper remake, a lovingly crafted reimagining, that eclipses the original in many ways.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the game is now fully rendered in 3D; all characters, monsters NPS, the world map- everything. The odd isometric 3D backgrounds mixed with 2D sprites of the original are gone. Though it looked nice at the time, it’s certainly the right decision as the game looked dated even in 2000. The new fully rendered world makes the game feel fresh again, even if it is in fact 16 years old.
When it was first released Dragon Quest VII was, like Shen Mue, way ahead of its time, and remains one of the most ambitious, and unconventional JRPGs ever made. Rather than simply having one giant arching narrative to save the world, like most conventional JRPGs do, Dragon Quest VII tasks players with saving the world piece by piece. Presenting players with a cyclical narrative and an unconventional gameplay loop that few games have even attempted to replicate since. After discovering that their peaceful island nation wasn’t always the only landmass left on the planet, the player and his party go on an adventure to the past to save the future, resurrecting the world one land mass at a time.
In game terms this revolves around the player hunting for fragments of special plates, being transported to a new location several hundred years in the past. Killing a boss monster or resolving a dispute, then getting sent back home, then returning to the place you just came from in the present day, and the whole cycle begins again. Repeat for 100(ish) hours, then add in a final climatic boss fight, and you have one huge game to tackle.
If you like your narratives grand and complex, Dragon Quest VII is likely to disappoint. But if you like your stories more intimate and relationship focused you’ll love Dragon Quest VII. You can tlk to your party whenever you like at the press of a button and they usually have an opinion on what’s going on and occasionally this can help to find a new way to resolve situations. Likewise, each island you come to has its own culture, problems, and numerous NPCs to talk to and help.
When it comes to battles, Dragon Quest VII’s job based class system remains one of the best ever created. Just about every role, and playstyle you can think of is catered for. Starting off with simple classes like such as clerics, warriors and bards, you move on to be able to unlock more unorthodox jobs like pirates and teen idols (an intermediate version of the bard) by mastering several base classes, before progressing to the highest tier by doing the same again by mastering several intermediate classes. Getting to the highest point takes a great deal of time and effort, but ultimately worthwhile as you end up with a powerful party which acts in just the way you want it to. if that isn’t enough you can even unlock classes based on the monsters you fight as well. While it is tempting to look up how to unlock all the classes, there’s a lot of fun to be had finding the combinations required to unlock em’ all.
Fights themselves are old-school turn-based, a typical Dragon Quest. Switching between a first-person perspective with each enemy in view, while you decide your next move, to a zoomed-out camera as attacks land. Meanwhile, the original’s random encounters have been nixed, replaced with enemies you can see (and avoid if you want to) on-screen. It’s easily the best upgrade, yet it still feels in keeping with the games old school charms (Probably because the Tales of games have had this system for years).
There’s also been few tweaks and minor changes to cut out some of the games more tedious parts and make it more enjoyable and streamlined (though it’s still bloody massive) for example the opening puzzles have been reworked to make them simpler and with it the once quite slow opening, far more enjoyable and engaging. While it appears there’s also been a slight decrease in the overall difficulty of enemy encounters.
If you’re the kind of person that likes to explore and enjoys a good side quest, optional dungeon or distraction, Dragon Quest VII has tons; There’s a casino, a recruitment minigame (which was reworked for 3DS), and many more optional activities. I still haven’t found the new endgame dungeon that was created specifically for the remake and I’ve been playing it solidly for just over a month.
Nearly every Dragon Quest has attempted to add something significant or unique to the JRPG genre. Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past is the most inventive game in the series, and a landmark game in both the series and genre that should be in every fans collection. What’s more, the 3DS remake is the best (and if you’re in Europe the only) way to play this cult classic.