Review by Xythar
"A good analogy would be a few diamonds towards the bottom of a truckload of dirt."
Dragon Warrior VII is one of the most eagerly awaited RPGs of recent times, and also possesses one of the longest development times ever. After its initial release in Japan, it quickly became the best selling PSX game of all time, selling over four million copies after the Japanese release alone. With these kind of sales, the game must be fantastic.. or is it? Well, the answer is ''not necessarily''.
Dragon Warrior VII isn't a terrible RPG, but it's certainly not as good as what would be expected. While there are many high points in the game, there is also a seeming necessity for endless amounts of boring ''padding'', painfully slow storyline pacing, and a slavish adherence to many of the customs established by some of the first NES Dragon Warrior games perhaps past the point of good sense drag it down from excellence to near mediocrity.
The graphics of DW7, while not stellar, aren't too bad. Perhaps the best aspect of the game's graphics are the well-crafted 3D landscapes your characters will explore. While perhaps slightly grainy, the environments are built nicely (probably on par with Xenogears) and fully free 360 degree rotation of the camera (as opposed to being locked into, say, eight directions) is a great feature. Some dungeons and areas in particular stand out as looking very good. About my only gripe with this aspect of the graphics is that in some locations, you cannot rotate the camera all the way around, and are sometimes limited to practically not being able to move it at all. While in some areas the need for this is clear, in others it seems arbitrary and very irritating, as there will be situations where you simply cannot see your characters and will have to move blindly around. Many of the environments particularly in town are interesting in that they are faithful three-dimensional representations of tiled old-school SNES landscapes, down to three-step stairs and foot-high walls, an interesting nostalgia trip.
The character sprites, on the other hand, are not as well crafted as the environments they explore. In general, they are small, possess little detail, and look pretty bad especially from the front, as well as possessing few frames of animation which they continually cycle through even when standing still. Those expecting sprites that show actions or change facial expressions, etc based on the situation will be disappointed - your characters in DW7 basically have two animations, walking or standing still. Even when lying on the floor or bed, the game simply rotates the sprite so that it lays sideways on the ground. This is a poor effort as even many RPGs on the SNES manage to add more animation to their character sprites than this. Again, this was probably done deliberately to maintain the series ''feel'', but there are some traditions that should be abandoned with the availability of new technology. While the NES could only handle those few frames of animation for the characters, the PSX can certainly handle more, and this should not be wasted.
In battle, the graphics are again not perfect and deliberately less than they could be. Battle backgrounds are on the whole poor-looking and lifeless, with one or two exceptions. Spell effects, at least those of the more powerful magic later in the game, are excellent examples of 2D graphical effects and suitably pyrotechnic, while not having annoyingly long animations. The enemy design, done by Akira Toriyama, is fantastic, and enemies possess incredibly fluid cel-quality animation - when they attack. Otherwise, they are represented by a static image. This was my #1 complaint with the graphics in DW7 - still enemy images are simply unacceptable on the PSX. Even some games on the SNES didn't use them. I don't think it would detract at all from the DW ''feel'' to have the enemies continually animate, nor lengthen battles or increase load times, but the reason they are kept cannot be attributed to anything other than laziness and the ability to get away with it, in my opinion. As an enemy is hit, it flashes, and when it is killed it simply disappears, without even a fade effect like most SNES RPGs used. And if you don't know, your characters are not shown in battle at all. This is the DW7 ''style'', but I don't really like it as all it does is save the animators from having to draw battle sprites of the characters, adding precisely nothing at all to the gameplay. At least the low-tech battle graphics bring with them low load times.
The game possesses a few FMVs, although to be honest they are of such shocking quality I would have preferred that they were done away with altogether and replaced by in-game cutscenes. In particular, in two FMVs that mainly feature characters, the characters look hideous, with facial expressions that make it look like they had been run over by a car or something. If Enix wasn't willing to up the FMV budget past the point where the characters looked like deformed mockeries of anime that put the footage of Link in the new Gamecube Zelda game to shame, they shouldn't have bothered at all.
A large proportion of the sound effects in DW7 are decidedly 8-bit, again carried over in a senseless adherence to tradition. While the field-screen sound effects aren't too bad, when you get into battle and start hearing NES quality bleeps and bloops as your characters slice up the enemy it really ruins any kind of coolness some of the battle attacks might have had, and in that respect I think that Enix went much too far. When you win, don't expect any kind of victory fanfare, just some BOOIIING noise that gets pretty irritating 2000 encounters down the track. Music, on the other hand, is pretty good... what there is of it. While the pieces are well written, instrumented, and also mostly quiet, low-key music that rarely grates on the ears, there simply isn't enough of it.. I would estimate not more than 20 tracks in the entire game, of which about 10 is used 75% of the time. For example, there are basically three town pieces. ''Happy'' town, a second ''Happy'' town music, and a ''Sad'' town music. One of the ''happy'' musics is used considerably more than the other, and it's also the weaker of the two and gets pretty annoying over time considering the amount of time you spend in towns. Other than that, the music is all right. Nothing really fantastic that you'll be ordering the soundtrack for, but nothing really terrible that will force you to mute the sound, other than the repetition.
DW7 possesses the traditional DW ''job system'', and while it's perhaps not as in-depth as the job system used in several FF games, it's still well implemented and interesting. Once you're about 20-25 (!) hours into the game, you'll be able to change your character's jobs (or ''classes'') to several basic jobs. Master those, and depending on which you mastered, ''advanced'' jobs may open up. And mastering certain combinations of advanced jobs will open up the three ''third-tier'' jobs, the most powerful in DW7. Jobs are leveled up by winning fights, basically. In addition, each area of the game has a ''job level cap'' which dictates the maximum level you can be to still gain job credit for winning battles there, which I would imagine was implemented to prevent the player from leveling up their jobs on very easy battles, although there's an area towards the end of the game with some of the game's weakest enemies that somehow give you job credit. Each job has 8 levels and generally grants the player 6-10 abilities in total, which are kept permanently even after switching to another job and can be used at any time - but on the other hand, all abilities are ''action'' abilities cast in or out of combat, no ''passive'' or ''support'' abilities that enhance your stats or provide other always-functioning effects, which is disappointing. Changing jobs does not impose any restrictions on equipment, but it does modify your stats depending on the base job - however, this is only temporary and stat changes, say, from leveling up affect your base stats instead. As well as the ''human'' jobs, DW7 introduces ''monster'' jobs. Monster jobs are similar to human jobs except that they cannot be accessed automatically - instead, you need a ''heart'' of the monster whose job you wish to assume. Hearts are dropped by monsters very rarely, and finding a specific one has been heard to take hours that can pass double digit numbers in some cases. Fortunately, they can be also found during the game and won from side quests, and mastery of monster jobs is not necessary to win.
DW7's battle system does not utilise any sort of ATB system. Rather, you give orders to all your allies at the start of each round, and then they and the enemy carry out their actions in order of speed (with a randomness factor also). This turn order mechanism is similar to that seen in RPGs such as Lunar, Super Mario RPG and Lufia 2. Whether it's better than ATB or not is questionable, as it can be pretty annoying not knowing what order your commands are going to come out in. While to its credit DW7 has solid battle mechanics, I can't help but criticise the number of ''cheap'' enemy tactics that make it more irritating than challenging. A lot of monsters will use attacks that attempt (and often succeed) to cause the Sleep status on your entire party, and when you consider that sleeping characters do not always wake when hit and the enemies will generally get in 2-3 attacks while you're snoozing it can be very aggravating at times. However in general, DW7's battles are well done and challenging if you don't level up, although throughout the game they tend to get less and less dependent on strategy.
DW7's dungeons fall into one of two categories. There are the fantastically designed ''puzzle'' dungeons, one of which is one of the best dungeons I have seen in any RPG to date, and there are the drab, boring, mazelike ''filler'' dungeons where you wander around branching passageways in caves and yawn. The first dungeon and some others are excellent, but it's a pity that the majority of boring dungeons can't keep up the standard set by the well designed minority. At least the encounter rate is pretty low, avoiding much frustration. However, a huge design flaw with every dungeon in the game other than the first is the lack of in-dungeon save points. Nothing is more frustrating than spending half an hour working through a dungeon (some are that long), dying on the boss, and having to do it again. Fortunately, dying does not lead to ''Game Over'' as such but rather sends you back to the nearest temple or some other place nearby with everyone but the hero dead (ie, expensive resurrection costs) and half your money but you keep everything else, but it still doesn't save you from having to trudge all the way through the dungeon again, which doesn't add any challenge, just frustration. Even worse, there isn't even a way to save in the final dungeon, which means that if you want to keep ANY of the treasure you find there, you have to cast a spell to escape from the dungeon before you reach the final boss, save, and go all the way through the dungeon again, which is needlessly tedious and annoying. Also throughout the game, there is one dungeon you will need to go through no less than FIVE times for various reasons... and you'll be getting very, very sick of it by the end.
But all of these are really minor annoyances compared to the key flaw in DW7. In two words: It's boring. The game, in total, took me about 97 hours to beat. About 80 hours of that was pure tedium. Most of the game is like a colossal chore that you have to slog through in order to get to the good parts, and those without patience, those with a short attention span, and those without much free time are advised to stay well, well away from this game. Most of Disc 1 deals with you bringing back the islands, and while some of the islands have good backstories, most are just boring drivel and most are completely irrelevant to the main storyline. Of the 18-20 islands in the game, you could probably cut out more than half and not affect the endgame at all, which is NOT good. The number of times I'd had to run around a city and talk to all the villagers multiple times was not at all healthy. I prefer for non-stop action, plot twists, and an always developing main storyline, not sitting there for ages listening to villagers yak on about how their town has fallen into ruins ever since monsters started attacking it out of Bad Place X, and then for variety doing a boring dungeon, talking some more, doing boring subquests with very little action often involving working out just who in the world you need to talk to next to advance the plot, then hunting for Shards to access the next island and doing it all over again. Sure, not the whole game is like this - the third island has an excellent, slowly pieced together storyline for example and the endgame is great because it follows the main storyline instead of being bland filler to pad out the game length, but after slogging your way through the first disc (if you ever manage to) it's still kind of an anticlimax to all that hard work - I was expecting the scenes that I had to suffer through 80 hours to reach to be excellent and worth the work, and instead I saw the only major plot twist coming a mile away. Still, the later game is not bad at all, except there is way too little of it and way too much of all the irrelevant tedium before it. While I wish some games like Xenogears were longer, I wish DW7 was shorter.. a lot shorter. And the ending is quite frankly terrible and disappointing, leaving several things unexplained and basically being an insult to all the time I invested in the game to reach it.
DW7's replay value is, in my opinion, practically nil. While there are a lot of cool extras such as the monster farm and monster manual to assemble, building your own town, finding all 120 TinyMedals and the two bonus dungeons accessible after beating the game, they're all completable on the first playthrough. Replay value implies beating the game again, and there's really no reason to - and on top of that, there is absolutely zero chance that I would consider playing through it again even with motivation, it's simply too long and contains too many tedious episodes for me to want to beat all 90+ hours of it for a second time.
So, should you get this game? Well, if you haven't already beaten the multitude of better RPGs available, go get those first. If, on the other hand, you have little or nothing left to play and need to kill time, DW7's fine. It, as I said, contains a lot of tedium, but it is not without high points and isn't so bad as to be unplayable - just don't expect too much.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/29/01, Updated 11/29/01
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