Review by RavenDaFox

"Dragon Warrior VII is like the ugly duckling that matured into a beautiful swan."

Okay, first of all, if you're a more recent RPG fan (say, someone whose first RPG was Final Fantasy VII), then don't buy this game. It wasn't meant for you. Don't even read this review. Dragon Warrior VII is a hardcore ''old skool'' RPG and will most likely turn off people who have never played a Dragon Warrior game before.

If you HAVE played a Dragon Warrior game, or if you're a newcomer to the RPG world who wants to know how RPGs used to be made, then by all means, read this review. Dragon Warrior VII is, in truth, one of the better RPGs to come along in a long while, and not something that should be overlooked. As the first original domestic Dragon Warrior since Dragon Warrior IV in 1991, the series hasn't gained as much exposure in the United States as Final Fantasy has, and because of that many gamers won't quite know what to make of it. The patient and persistent type who spend time with it, however, will find the game to be a pleasant surprise.

The story opens very differently from your standard RPG.. The world is not at war with a rival kingdom, a demon king, or anything like that. In fact, the world is downright peaceful, with no monsters anywhere in sight. You are the son of a fisherman who lives on Estard Island, a tiny island that is alone in the world with nothing else but endless ocean surrounding it. Your and your best friends, the fiery Prince of Estard Keifer, and Maribel, the daughter of the richest man in the village, explore the forbidden ruins almost daily. But one day you discover that at one time Estard Island was NOT alone in the world, and that whole continents had been sealed off from the world. When you learn about the secret of the ruins, you go back in time to distant lands to put right what once went wrong, and your actions in the past cause changes in the present.

Sound familiar? Yeah, it's similar to Chrono Trigger, but it manages to create its own storyline. Each of the islands that must be saved has its own calamities that you must undo. In addition, many of these subplots weave together to form a deeper, more complex main plot. It's like a bunch of threads that weave themselves into a rug.

The one thing about Dragon Warrior VII that has been maligned more than anything is the graphics, with certain magazines (who will remain nameless) even going so far as to say the game's presentation is such a hindrance that you won't even want to play the game. Personally, I don't feel that the graphics are THAT bad (no worse than Grandia or Xenogears, in my opinion), but I'd be lying if I told you they were good. The thing about the graphics is the fact that despite the 3D worlds with full rotation, this is still, in its heart, a 2D game. The world map, towns, and dungeons all look like they could have been done in 2D. In fact, with the exception of one dungeon, the 3D graphics are never really used to their fullest. Had Enix gone with a traditional 2D approach, the graphics probably would have fared better (hey, it worked for Lunar and Suikoden). Another thing that could have been improved upon was the FMV. The 3D models don't look BAD, but they are far outdated by what you see in games like Chrono Cross. I don't see why they didn't just get Akira Toriyama to do hand drawn animation for the FMV sequences. However, FMV sequences are few and far between, so it's not as much of a factor. The one good thing about the graphics comes from the monsters. The monsters are drawn by the aforementioned Toriyama (of Dragon Ball Z fame), and in battle they animate beautifully when attacking, casting a spell, or whatever.

The game's interface is still very much Dragon Warrior, so much so that people complain about having to go to a menu to talk to people or look at something on the ground (these people probably haven't read the instruction manual or they'd know that the triangle button works as an all-purpose action button, not unlike in Final Fantasy). In fact, everything is still very much Dragon Warrior, from the constant animation of the sprites, to the opening music when you first turn on the game, to the sound effects that occur when going up stairs, casting a spell, or attacking, to the victory music and the fanfare that occurs when gaining a level. It's all very nostalgic, which can be good or bad. Long-time Dragon Warrior fans will love it, but newcomers could be turned off by the old-skool sound effects and interface. The music is pretty good, composed by Koichi Sugiyama. There's nothing that will really stick to your head, but there's nothing that will get on your nerves either.

The gameplay is, as I've said before, still Dragon Warrior. The game is a bit more linear than most Dragon Warrior games I've played, but it still has a lot of room for expoloration. They don't drop you off in the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead, like Richard Garriot seems to be fond of doing in his Ultima games, but you won't be playing ''follow-the-path-to-Nibelheim'' either. In fact, exploration plays a big part in the game. I'll tell you right now that if you blindly try to run through the game, you'll get nowhere. It can be easy to miss an important clue that could be key to clearing a certain puzzle or room. Speaking of puzzles, there's quite a few of them here. Especially in the beginning of the game. There's nothing really difficult that I haven't figured out, and nothing that can't be solved by thinking, but they do test you. However, there is the problem of the shards that you need to unlock new worlds. If you're missing a shard, you could find yourself looking all over the world just to find it. Fortunately, there's a helpful fortunteller who can point you in the right direction if you get lost.

Then there's combat. Battles are first person as always, which means you don't see your character (and I've never understood why some people find that annoying). Battles are also turn-based, and your actions are explained with text that appears at the bottom of the screen for each action. Despite the simplicity of it all, the battle system can be quite complex, given the huge amount of abilities you can learn, as well as the tactics system. If you don't feel like controlling your teammates yourself, you can assign them individual tactics. It's much more complex than your standard ''auto-battle'' because you have limited control over what your characters do when controlled by AI. Don't want them to use magic? No problem. Want them to back you up and increase your stats? No problem. Want them to heal your every wound? No problem. Of course, if you don't like this idea, you can always control your teammates manually.

At the heart of the game, however, is easily the most complex and deep job system ever seen in ANY RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics included. When you get to the Dharma Shrine (about 20 hours into the game), you'll have the ability to change the classes of your characters to anything from a mighty Warrior to a sexy Dancer. The job you're using not only changes your statistics to match that job, but as you advance in your class, you gain special abilities. In addition there are more advanced jobs that require mastery of previous jobs. These advanced jobs can give you some of the best techniques in the game. Further adding to the compelxity is the introduction of ''monster jobs'' where you can gain the techniques of different monsters from a lowly Slime to an awe-inspiring Esterk. There are over 50 different jobs to choose from, so the possibilities are endless.

There are many other different tidbits that add to the overall appeal of the game. Like in the Game Boy Dragon Warrior III, there are TinyMedals that you can collect and give to the Medal King in exchange for prizes. There are many different casinos as well, if you're into gambling your money away. There's an immigrant town that you get early on in the game, and you have the ability to recruit many different types of people to the town. And one of my personal favorites is the Monster Park. When you find this place, you can tame almost any monster you fight and send them to the park, where you can see them and talk to them (and some of the monsters say some very funny things). There's so much to see and do in this game. And with over 70 hours at a bare minimum (this is not hyperbole), this game can very easily kill your social life.

And finally, we get to the translation. Considering the mountains of text that had to be translated for this game, the localization is pretty good, although someone really needs to fire Enix's proofreaders, as there are typos galore in this game. But on the bright side, at least no one ''has a good feeling''.

All in all, Dragon Warrior VII is like the ugly duckling who grew into a beautiful swan. Many casual gamers will scoff at the game at first glance, but after playing it and delving deeply into it, you'll find it to be one of the greatest RPG experiences ever. Long time Dragon Warrior fans should buy this game immediately. The rest of you might want to rent first, and be sure to spend some time with it. This game requires patience to get into, but the rewards are very great.

Presentation: It's Dragon Warrior. I probably shouldn't say anymore than that. It keeps up with the tradition of Dragon Warrior games, which can be good or bad depending on if you're a Dragon Warrior fan. And look ma! No load times! (7)

Graphics: While not terribly atrocious, they could have been better. Personally, I think it should have been a full 2D game, but no one listens to me anyway, sooooo..... (5)

Sound: The music score is excellent, though nothing really stands out. But you won't find yourself hitting that mute button, believe me. (7)

Control: Almost flawless. Everything feels very intuitive. (9)

Replay: How do you replay a game that can last over 100 hours? On the bright side, there's quite a bit to do after you beat the game (hint hint). (7)

Lasting Appeal: This game rocks. You can spend hours with the job system alone. There's so much you can do, like catching monsters, finding that last TinyMedal, and looking for the bonus dungeons at the end. (10)

Overall: Can't give it the full 10 in good conscience, due to the fact that it's not flawless, but this has got to be the deepest and most rewarding RPG I've ever played. Ever. It's a shame this game won't get the recognition it deserves due to the lack of ''SUPER LEET GRAPHIX!'', but it's definitely worth a look.

Final Rating (not an average): 9

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/13/01, Updated 11/13/01

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