Review by I J
"Patience and anticipation hath served thee well, classic RPGer"
Yo! Fellow gamers! I have for you a buried treasure of an old-school role-playing game for PSOne.
It's Dragon Warrior VII by Enix ( JUST before Square-Enix was born ). This was one of the last games to be released for the venerable 32-bit titan, and in my humble opinon, one of the best.
This is the triumphant return of the legendary Dragon Warrior series to american shores, following an agonizing eight year hiatus. See, long ago, on a console called the Nintendo Entertainment system (am I being condescending?I'll stop now), the Dragon Warrior series was pretty much the only game in town for RPGers, and for many, like myself, the first stepping stone into the
In America, it was a cult hit, which was so underappreciated in it's time,
several unsold copies were given away as a Nintendo Power Magazine promotion (and anyone who can remember that on their own is, like me, "really flippin' old") Still, it's (for the time) extensive gameplay paved the way for the first Final Fantasy, as well as three superior sequels for the same system. All of these games would later be ported to the Game Boy Color, but that's a story for another day.
Anyway, to continue, after Dragon Warrior IV in 1992, plans to bring out Dragon Warrior V for the new SNES were underway, but were canned repeatedly. You see, in it's native Japan, Dragon Warrior (or rather, Dragon Quest as it is originally called) games are so popular, a law was passed that no Dragon Quest game can be released during the work/school week, lest it cause massive absenteeism. However, that level of fervor never arrived in the states, causing the two DQ chapters for SNES to be lost to legend.
However, in the winter of 2000, Enix finally took up the slack, and atoned for it's absence quite adequately, by releasing the latest and by far deepest chapter of the series to date.
But why is this game being relegated to the bargain bins? Alas, Dragon Warrior has been dethroned by it's adoptive heir, the beloved-especially by me- Final Fantasy. The game whose American release was precipitated by this series is probably most responsible for it's current obscurity. this, plus the generation gap, as it is, after all, a late PSOne release, and hence subject to abandonement to begin with. The game has a few flaws which make it easy to ignore, which is a shame. After all, Dragon Warrior built it's city not on high-end graphics, but on...
The key to Dragon Warrior's success, it's main draw-and the reason why I sometimes prefer it to Final Fantasy- is it's gameplay. In the latest Final Fantasy games, you take on the role of an actor in an interactive fantasy movie. Your characters have their own names, their own personalities, and interact with each other in ways you can certainly enjoy, but cannot control.
Dragon Warrior, however, begins every game with a naming screen, where you
personalize your hero in a way Final fantasy allows only as a throwback. They have your names, but are not truly your characters. Cloud is cloud, no matter what you name him in the beginning.
Final Fantasy is an excellent game, where sprawling dungeons teem with beautifully hideous monsters. Dragon Warrior offers much the same.
However, Final Fantasy makes these dungeons a little easier to find. Here, everyone gives you specific directions that generally apply to the specific area you're in. In Dragon Warrior, however, The game is slightly more non-linear. Sometimes, the clue you need, or the key item you lack is in a totally different place: usually a place you visited several hours ago. those unwilling to do a little detective work (assisted by handy teleport spells) will miss out on vital clues which, unlike Final Fantasy, are not always neccesarily
given away in dialogues with key characters. Sure, the King or General may know you need to go to the forbidden fortress of doom, but only the daughter of the merchant down the street knows where her brother buried the key. This decective work takes up about a full third of the game as you meander through the town, looking for clues. Hitting blind alleys and red herrings, is unavoidable, and sometimes maddening, but there's always a way. This searching doesn't get as boring as you might expect it to, mostly thanks to the writing. It won't win any awards for prose, but characters who don't have important clues are always good for a laugh or two.
Another thing about this game is this: it is LONG. If you think Xenogears was far too long, at about 75 hours with it's half hour long cutscenes you can save halfway through, forget about playing this game. For Dragon Warrior VII has over 90 hours of gameplay. And NO cutscenes longer than five minutes. And THAT's being generous. What makes this Dragon Warrior stand out among all others is the job system. Once you get about 10 hours of play under your belt, you can assign a job to your character. The usual warrior, Mage, Cleric, as well as Fighters-bare-handed brawlers- and even Jesters who can distract eneimes. these branch out into other job classes such as Paladins and Sages. To best understand how this is any different from FFV or FFT, consult the Job FAQs on this very site. It is a welcome addition, however, and building your job skills an be a rewarding,if sometimes tedious, addition to classic Dragon Warrior gameplay.
Lastly, a word on combat, possibly one of the most important aspects of a console RPG, as a full third of your time will be spent in battle. Battles generally do not take too long, as long as your job skills are progressing well. Equipment is difficult to afford in this game, as most monsters don't drop a lot of money. However, the skills you earn though job classes help overcome our hardware
deficiencies. the only time this does not hold true is the boss battles. If you're
not fighting nearly every monster in your path and building your levels, the bosses can and WILL kill you. This has always been the way with Dragon Warrior: not many boss battles, but what is there will likely kill you unless you are fully prepared.
Nevertheless, battles are kept simple by the series' classic (I even dare to say
standard setting) turn based menu driven combat. Your allies can be assigned specific AI strategies, such as Attack only, heal primarily, or go all out with the strongest available skills and spells. You can also opt to do manual input for all members.
I give this game props for being the best, and most unique story in a Dragon warrior game yet. You begin as a humble son of a fisherman on an idyllic island
country...which is, in fact, the only island left in the entire world. No one even
remembers there being another island ever, in the whole history of the world. Now, how a functional economy is supposed to exist on a single island that consists of only one castle, one fishing village, and a mysterious ruined temple, is beyond me, but that's not what makes things interesting.
You see, your hero, and his friends, the young prince, and the spoiled daughter of the richest man in the village, explore the temple (which no one else has thought to do) and find a set of altar onto which they find a stone tablet. On it appears to be a map of a foreign landmass.
These stone tablet maps open portals to a time long ago, when an evil befell the
depicted land, causing it to be separated in space and time from the rest of the
It is your job to travel to each land, find the evil, right the wrong, and restore
each land to it's proper place one by one. Eventually you'll ferret out the clues
that point to the true cause of the world's separation, but I'm not telling you
nothing else. to do so would be to kill what makes this game so interesting. Suffice to say, though, that restoring the shape of the world is only half the battle.
If the game has one key failing, it's the graphics. Viewed without a nostalgic eye the player will see only that the game is built on a dying 32-bit graphics engine, and peopled by squat, flat looking sprites drawn onto a pixelated 3d background. Now, take another great sprite based RPG for the same system- Lunar 2: Eternal Blue. Look at the beautiful (to the old-schooler's eye) sprites for this game, and the flat, subdued looking sprites of DW7, and you can probably guess that today's FF veteran would not be impressed. Even I, full of love for this game fueled by 8-bit era zealotry, have come to expect more of the PSOne, simply because it's been done so successfully before.
Even the battle scenes, which for many make or break an RPG, where you spend a full third or even half of your playtime, are flat and bland looking in comparison to even other sprite based RPGs for this system. when the battle screen appears, it projects your flat looking enemy sprites against a polygonal 1-st person background. This background pans and zooms dramatically with certain magic spells, but most battle actions involve your party members weapons, represented by floating slashmarks, striking the flat looking enemies. They look especially laughable when the cameran tilts, pans and zooms with certain magic spells. Thus invoking the image of watching
a theatrical play where invisible actors fight cardboard cutout monsters with cheap pyrotechnics. the monsters attack are actually animated, though, making one wonder why they didn't add little sprites of your heroes to animate ther attacks. See Phantasy Star IV for Genesis-an archaic 16-bit system with not even half the storage capacity of the game's 2 C.D.s- to see how this is accomplished. Furthermore, the blurriness of the sprites, even under PS2's loving texture smoothing hands, mangle the game's otherwise appealing monster designs. Drawn by Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball and the famed Dragon Ball Z, these monster designs are not given the chance to save the game, because they are just made to look flat and drab, by a combination of poor color choices and blurriness. for crisp sprite graphics that do an old-schooler proud, look at the Lunar Remakes or Final Fantasy Tactics.
On the positive side, Dragon Warrior games are known for showing little in the way of battle scenes. Static Monsters have been the norm for years, but at least now, the enemies are animated-a much needed touch that I, as a veteran of the series, heartily welcome.
Another reeason this game could have been passed over could be the sound. The game opens with the majestic return of the classic Dragon Warrior theme, in a full-orchestra sound that, if it does not bring a tear to the eyes of you fellow classic gamers, you simply have no soul. Unfortunately, however, very little music in the game ever approaches that quality again.The sound for the rest of the game is pretty generic. A tranquil, pastoral town theme, a delightful march in the overworld, ominous droning music for the caves and towers. Then there are dark town and overworld musics, for areas beset with disaster (which is nearly every one...you'll see in the story section). The battle music is
passable and dramatic, but too slow paced for my personal taste. If you ever played Dragon Warrior III or IV, then you know what really good DW battle music sounds like. The boss music, on the other hand, is very frantic and quick paced. It is in fact my favorite piece in the game, aside from the classic intro.
The sound effects are mostly non-descript, and simply do their job of making sure the music does not exist in an aural vacuum. The game revives the ancient sound effects of old. The "squeals" and "chuffs" of the old DW games in the battle scenes, the beeping of menu selections, the classic six-note jingle as a spell is cast. For a veteran like me, it's a much needed touch of nostalgia, but for those whose RPG careers began at Final Fantasy VII, it will sound like the sound guys took their vacation early. Explosions from lighting and fire spells sound like explosions and lightning (or at least what gamers think they sound like), hard hits deliver satisfying crunching sounds, and the music does do it's job.
Now as I mentioned before, this game is very very long. I haven't even finished the game completely. For this reason, and this reason only, I give the game a
replayability of 3. Not because the game is bad in anyway, but rather I don't think it's possible to play this game any more than once and still have time in life for other things. Like writing about how cool it is. The game owes a lot of it's time to genuine exploration and clue gathering, so it never feels like you're wasting your time. The battles pass by fairly quickly, if you're making effective use of skills
you learn through the job system, so you can continue on through the many paths of the dungeons, and make good headway. Most dungeons can be cleared in about an hour or two, so it won't eat up too much of your time unless you want it to.
Overall---8.5 (10 for old fans, 6 or lower for the new-school crowd)
So there you have it: this game does honor to it's pedigree, and upholds a long
forgotten name in video gaming history. It's appeal may be limited to those raised on the old standard, as it offers little in the way of technological competition to Final Fantasy's current incarnations, or even to the same number in the series. However, the game's ability to infuse the gameplay values and spirit of the original series with 3d technology cannot be denied. This game should be in the library of any gamer who loved the series from it's origin. All others, rent or borrow it from a friend who feels the same way as I do, if you can, and see how it fares in your mind.
'til next time, fellow Dragon Warriors.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 09/13/04
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