Review by IKelley
"It's finally here...but how good is it?"
Call me an old-timer, but I think most RPGs nowadays stink. I'm sick and tired of flashy yak-a-thons, where you're spoon-fed plots and solutions to problems, and victory is handed to you on a silver platter. Sure, these RPGs may look great, and often have nice stories, but playing them is about as fun as scrubbing the soap scum out of your bathtub. It seems a lot of developers nowadays are so focused on implementing new technology that gameplay and system is tacked on as an afterthought, if anything.
And then along comes Dragon Quest VII. The RPG series that started the console RPG craze back in 1984 releases its latest installment. DQ has always been famous for sticking to its tried-and-true system, setting, and style. But has the ''new style RPG'' craze infected this series as well?
Thankfully, the answer is ''no.'' The world of DQ has gone from a 2D to a 3D one, and while it takes a bit of getting used to, all the elements of the series that have made it great are still there. You still have a four-person party, and combat is still from a first-person perspective, with enemies breaking down into groups as before. Levels, item managment, magic, and job levels all work the same way they used to in DQVI. Rather than rebuilding the engine from scratch, it is simply built upon and fleshed out a bit. The game doesn't subject you to long, drawling conversations and soliloquies, nor does it ever ''control your characters for you'' for long periods of time either--it feels like you're actually playing the game. Most importantly, that familiar ''Dragon Quest atmosphere'' that makes the series what it is is still present, alive and kicking.
So what's new? Most notable is the ''Tablet'' system, which ties in closely to the plot of the game. You start out the game as the son of a fisherman who lives in a town on an island nation--the only continent in the world. However, you discover an ancient underground palace with rooms full of stands with large square holes in them. By finding pieces of Tablets, you can put them in the corresponding holes to create full tablets. When you create a full tablet, you are teleported to a new island in the past. Solve the problem that is occuring on that island, and it will ''appear'' in the present day. This is the primary premise behind most of the game--exploring as much area as you can to find tablets and solve problems to uncover the true form of the world. Along the way you'll find out exactly how the world got that way in the first place. Overall, DQVII is much more story-oriented than previous installments, though it's more like a series of small stories under a larger umbrella of the ''main'' story, rather than just one large story.
DQVII also features a revamped job system. As opposed to the 16 jobs of DQVI, there are a whopping 54 different jobs in DQVII, 39 of them brand new. The majority of these new jobs are ''Monster jobs''--by defeating certain monsters and getting their ''spirits,'' you can enter their ''job'' and learn their techniques. Like DQVI, there are also ''advanced'' jobs, special jobs that require mastery of several ''basic'' jobs to enter. There also some new ''third-tier'' jobs that require mastery of several advanced jobs as well.
Combat has been slightly revamped as well. The AI system has been tweaked so that you can assign different battle plans to different members of your party. (as opposed to assigning the same plan to the whole party) There's also a new option to talk to your party members between rounds to get their advice or comments. And of course, there are a slew of new Abilities and Spells to use as well.
One of the game's main focuses is exploration, and it doesn't fail to offer in that department. Put quite simply, the DQVII world is massive. It's easily the largest world I've seen in any PSX RPG to date, and will take a very long time to explore. When I finally finished disk 1, I had clocked in nearly 80 hours on the game. (Granted, I did spend a fair amount of time with the mini-games and taking notes, but that probably would cut 20 hours off that figure at the absolute most)
Despite the transition to 3D graphics, the audio and visuals in DQVII manage to make it ''feel'' like a DQ game. You can tell that Enix put a lot of effort into ensuring that the atmosphere of the series was left intact. Every last detail is there, down to the sprites ''moving in place.'' The only problem is that the few FMV clips that are there feel very out of place--IMO, they should have been taken out entirely, or at least replaced with anime cutscenes. Those who call the graphics ''outdated'' or think that Enix should ''get with the times'' need a quick reality check--this was done very deliberately.
However, despite all the good points in the game, DQVII does have several failings. To start with, and most importantly, your party is far too small. You can no longer get monsters to join your party, (instead, they go to a ''Monster Park,'' which is neat, but not the same) nor is there any sort of ''horse cart'' like there was in the last few installments. You have three or four characters and can't start swapping people around until very very late in the game. There are more than four party members, though, and the game handles this by having characters leave and join your party and certain points in the story. This can be very problematic when you've customized your characters via the job system--it is not fun when the story decides to kick the character you've developed to get that essential technique out of the party.
The tablets can also be a problem as well. It's easy to overlook a fragment or two, then get stuck because you forgot to search in a certain treasure box six hours ago. Fortunately there's a fortune teller who will tell you the location of fragments you need, but it's irritating nonetheless.
When you get right down to it though, these are only minor irritations in the grand scheme of things. DQVII is easily the best PSX RPG I've played to date. I probably wouldn't give it a perfect 10, but I can't give fractions here--but it's pretty darn close. DQVII's fantastic sales in Japan aren't just a fluke--this game is good! Don't miss out!
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 09/26/00, Updated 09/26/00
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