Review by mobiusclimber

"Same great taste but way too filling"

In a time long long ago, there was but one actual roleplaying game for us nerdy gamers: Dragon Quest. It was incredibly popular... in Japan. One struggling game company was, to put it politely, inspired by this game. So much so that they, to put it not so politely, ripped it off in order to create the equally popular game Final Fantasy. Maybe you've heard of it? That company, Squaresoft, went on to become a major videogame developer, selling millions of each new title in the Final Fantasy series. Enix, the makers of the Dragon Quest game, went on to release many very popular games, including several in the Dragon Quest series. The first Dragon Quest game was released in English in 1986 as Dragon Warrior, and it did fairly well. Each successive game, however, did worse and worse. After releasing Dragon Warrior 4, Enix's North American branch closed up shop completely. We didn't receive another Dragon Warrior game until 2000 when Enix decided to start releasing compilations for the Game Boy Color of their old NES Dragon Warrior games. Yet the newer games for the SNES have still not been translated and released for English-speaking gamers. We haven't gotten to play a new DW game until 2001 when Enix finally decided to throw us a bone and translate Dragon Quest 7, renaming it Dragon Warrior 7.

So should we all rejoice? Well, yes and no. In its own right, DW7 is a fine game. Not a mind blowing game like Final Fantasy 6 or Phantasy Star 4, but a fun game nonetheless. Yet one must question Enix's decision to release this particular game when the last two games are still considered the pinnacle of the series. Could the fate of DW7 have been changed if Enix had released the last two games first? It would be mere speculation, But the fact is, not many English-speaking gamers even realized that DW7 had been released, let alone went out and bought it. However, there were many other strikes against this game, not least of which were the old school graphics that DW7 seems to revel in (there's almost no fmv in the whole game and it's nowhere near the level of graphics that every other game released in 2001 boasts). Enix had decided, obviously, to let the story and gameplay carry the game, a decidedly old school approach to making videogames. And as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, one where you don't even have to replay some old game to experience it, DW7 succeeds quite well. However, the storyline is nowhere near as good as the previous Dragon Quest games (at least the recent ones), and the gameplay is so old school it could turn off even people who LIKE older games. It almost seems as though Enix set out to shackle this game. And unfortunately, it didn't do very well in any other country besides Japan. This is actually a shame because not only does it give Enix proof that releasing their games in other countries would be a waste of money, but also because DW7 is in fact a very fun, enjoyable game that many gamers have completely missed out on.

Yet, again, this is not a game for everyone. Many would probably feel that the first three hours of the game are just plain boring. Unless you really enjoy walking around and talking to people, you could get bored quickly. There isn't a single random encounter or battle of any kind for at least three hours at the start of the game. You start off as the Hero (you get to give him a name), who's two friends, Kyle and Maribel, decide to join him on his quest. Eventually, your friends come and go, and you end up with three other people at different points in the game: Gabo, Melvin and Aira. The problem with this is that in two different places, you lose incredibly important members of your party, simply to make room for new members. This is frustrating, to say the least. The second time it happens, it doesn't even make that much sense to the storyline. It does add some depth to the character, but it's still painful to let go of someone who's such a powerful member of your team. But there's plenty of problems with the storyline, even without counting the way they dismiss party members. For one thing, there's not an over-riding sense of urgency or suspense in this game. That's because the main objective of the game (defeating the demon lord and resurrecting god) isn't really explored too much until almost the end of disc one. Yes, once in awhile through the course of the game, someone will mention the demon lord, or the battle between him and god. But we're talking about someone in a bar telling you a story. It has very little to do with the main game, it seems. What you spend all your time doing is finding ''shards'' that when put together transport you back in time to different towns that have been ''sealed'' by the demon lord. Once you solve the problem of the town, it appears in the future. But the problems of the town seem to always be ''monsters'' or something of the sort, so it's easy to completely forget about the demon lord and just go around freeing towns. The individual stories in these towns can be quite interesting, though. Others can be rather boring. It's pretty much a crap shoot. There IS some suspense in solving the problems of the individual towns. And thankfully, Enix doesn't shy away from the ugly side of humanity. In one town, the prefect (something similar to a mayor) decides that it's better to tell the villagers a lie then reveal their actual town history, to the point of destroying any evidence that still exists. In another town, the queen is such a spoiled brat that she wants to destroy a legendary musical instrument (that can be used to resurrect god) just because no one can play it properly. She's also decided that no other arts besides music and dancing should be allowed in her kingdom. Why? Because she isn't good at the other arts, like painting. What a benevolent ruler! Another good thing about the story is the amount of humor in it. It's not overpowering, or incredibly obvious, like you might find in a Working Design game, but there's still plenty of dry humor scattered throughout. Most of it, certainly the funniest parts, are when Enix skewers or makes fun of just how old school this game feels. For instance, at one point, villagers battle against monsters. This consists of a small villager sprite pumping his arms and legs and running at a small monster sprite who's also pumping his arms and legs. They collide and move back, then rush forward to collide again. One of the townspeople actually refers to what he's doing as ''flailing my arms and bashing into the monster'' or words to that effect. It's just funny to hear Enix pointing out how ridiculous this really looks. But for the most part, the story in DW7 is just so-so. Character development is mostly handled through the ''talk'' command, and even then, the dialogue is mostly interchangeable. Only in a few places in the game do you get more development then the tiny bit you receive when the person joins. Still, you'll come to love (or hate) a couple of these characters, Maribel in particular. She has the most dialogue and story out of any of the characters, and certainly contributes to the overall feeling of the game: slightly humorous and steeped in human behavior and psychology. Really, one of DW7's strengths is in how people's reactions are accurately displayed. The good and bad of people are revealed, sometimes far too obviously, through story and dialogue. This gives the game a feeling of its own reality even in the most unreal situations. Eighty hours into the game, the relatives of one of the characters who leaves your party are still heartbroken over it, and have new dialogue displaying their feelings after every few towns you liberate. But for all the good points of the character development, there are just as many bad points. The worst problem is that the main character is completely silent. There are only a few points in the game where you can even give a yes or no answer, and of course, your decision affects very little, most of the time. One town, however, can be destroyed or saved depending on what you decide to do about a ''monster.'' Mostly, though, the Hero says nothing and makes no decisions, unless you count going ahead with the story as making a decision. This is just another hold over from the days of the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), but it's almost completely unacceptable for a Playstation game, especially one released AFTER the release of the PS2. One more thing that is wrong with the script: most of the townspeople are complete and utter morons. And they will continue to say the same thing at times when the reality contradicts it. (A good example of this is in Fishbel after the ship on disc two shows up. Everyone is still afraid of it even after the sailors from the town have boarded it and know what it is!)

But the storyline isn't the only downright ancient thing about this game. The entire battle and overworld menus are so old school, many gamers might think it's a new way of doing things since they won't remember the days when this was the norm! For one thing, the only place where you can save your game, remove cursed equipment, or even find out how much more experience you need to level up, is inside of a town. You have to talk to a priest if you want to do any of these things. And if you die, the priest can resurrect your party members, for a fee. There's no game over screen; you simply lose gold and wake up in front of the priest! The battle system is just as old (and tired): you have to set each member of your party to ''manual'' if you want to control what they do, otherwise they'll do whatever they like in battle. When enemies are grouped in twos (or more), the computer decides which one you attack. You cannot make that choice. This leads to many problems in deciding on strategies, because for one thing, you have to just hope that the character will attack the enemy that you want it to in the order you want it to. If an enemy only needs to be hit for 20 hit points, you don't want a character to attack it for 100 points of damage when another character will hit it for 40 points. But there's no way of choosing an enemy within an enemy group, so you just have to cross your fingers that it happens the way you want it to. Unfortunately, the game doesn't even let your characters go in any order! In one round, Maribel might go first, then Kyle, then the enemy, then the hero. In the next round, Kyle might go first, or the enemy, or the hero! The other problem with this system is that it's possible to put some enemies to sleep, or to make them dance, or to make them paralyzed. But if one enemy in a group is affected by a status change, you can't just tell your characters to attack a different enemy first. It can be frustrating and, at times, ruin your strategy altogether. This wouldn't even be a big deal if the game gave some indication of what order your characters go in. Unfortunately, even the characters' stats don't give you any indication of what order they'll attack in. This is even worse than old NES roleplaying games! At least you could get SOME idea of who will attack when. Not in this game. The same sort of problem arises when your characters are attacked. No matter what you do, some characters will take more magic damage then others. You can load a character up with all the magic-reducing armor you want AND cast spells on him or her that lessen magic damage, yet that character will STILL take the most magic damage... for no apparent reason. This is just shoddy game development, not an attempt at making a nostalgic old school type game. Another problem arises when you're finally able to give your characters ''classes,'' similar to the job systems of Final Fantasy V and Tactics. It's a nice addition to the game, and a good way of deciding how you want your characters' skills to develop. However, the implementation is nothing short of horrendous. For starters, there's very little explanation of how to get the highest levels of job classes, such as Godhand, Summoner, and Hero. But the worst part is how many battles you have to engage in so that you can max out that job class. You have to max out a minimum of two low level job classes in order to start on a second-tier job class. Even the lowest level job class takes over a hundred battles to max out. Second-tier job classes take even more battles, besides the two to four hundred battles you need in two low level jobs just to get that job class to show up! So you'd better plan out exactly what you want each character to master, a task that can only properly be accomplished with a guidebook or online walkthrough. Did I mention that you can't fight weaker enemies in order to level up your class? Well you can't. Just another restriction to make it that much harder to master any class. So Enix has, in effect, made it impossible for gamers who like to get everything and max out everything to ever be able to do that. Why? Did they think that this game needed an even longer play time? It's impossible to complete this game in less than 100 hours, no matter how quickly you attempt to get through it. So what exactly is the point in making such a ridiculously difficult job system? The only thing you can do is go find a list of jobs, the skills they teach, and what jobs you need in order to get them, then decide what you want each character to learn and set them down the road. Eventually you'll wind up with at least two characters learning the highest level jobs, but generally it will be just one third-tier job per character, since getting there takes so many other lower level jobs. The entire gameplay system in DW7 is just plain bad. Some of it is passable, but there's nothing groundbreaking here at all, and at it's worst, it's frustrating and works counter to the player's strategies. And I haven't even mentioned how confusing the default button configuration is! But points go to Enix for packing the game with miniquests and hidden items that the player must ferret out. There are Tiny Medals to collect and exchange for goodies, casinos to go broke at and possibly win prizes in, and monsters to... well... capture and put in your theme park. Ok so that last one is probably the lamest minigame I've ever played, but all the other ones are great. You can even build your own town! Enix has taken the best and worst of old school gameplay and stuffed DW7 full of it.

And you can tell that the gameplay is going to be old school, and prepare yourself for it, just by looking at the graphics. Small sprites with a limited color palate populate the world, moving their little arms and legs back and forth as they walk the same tiny space of ground over and over. Battles are in first person perspective with slash marks to indicate when a character attacks an enemy. There is only a few fmvs in the entire game. Now, if DW7 simply had SNES-style graphics, it would have gotten a higher score, since that's obviously what the developers were going for. Unfortunately, some of the graphics are just plain unacceptable. For instance, many dungeons are thoroughly boring because of how repetitive the graphics for it are. Underground caves generally consist of wavy brown walls that repeat over and over again (think really long, misshapen turds). This sort of level design might have been ok for an NES game, but it doesn't add charm, it adds boredom. Would it have been so difficult to add a little variety here? Water running down a wall once in awhile would seem mind blowing in this game, and certainly would have helped break up the monotony. Even changing the color in places or adding stalagmites to some of the floors would have been nice. There's very little of this in the game at all. This aspect is even worse then many NES games! However, there is plenty of charm in the graphics, even if some of the dungeons get to be repetitive. For instance, the towns are all distictive and vibrant, giving each place it's own look and feel. And of course the monster designs are all ingenious and ... well... downright cute in many instances! That's because famed anime artist Akira Toriyama (creator of Dragonball and Dragonball Z) designed the monsters and characters. He consistently creates some of the best, most colorful characters for the Dragon Quest/Warrior series, and this game is no different. It's just a shame that more effort wasn't put into dungeon design and the overall graphics as was placed on creating memorably characters and monsters. Again, some of it is Enix's attempt at recreating the look of a ''classic'' roleplaying game, but some of it is just plain bad design. For how long this one was in development, there's just no excuse for this.

As bad as some of the graphics are, the sound is even worse. Enix just went out of their way to make this game as ''old'' as they possibly could. Why oh why did they have to extend this to the sound?! Needless to say, I played most of this game with the sound off. By all means, if you enjoy midi tracks that get very repetitive very quickly, then turn the volume up and go buy the soundtrack when you're done playing the game. This is one thing, though, that I've never liked about older games. And, sadly, Koichi Sugiyama (the composer) never rises above the shackles that Enix placed upon him to create midi music that doesn't bore, irritate or disgust the player. The songs themselves are repetitive to the extreme. Most are fairly non-offensive, but that's the best that can be said about them. There's very little melody to many songs, possibly because Sugiyama had to create so many different tunes, a new one for every city or dungeon the player comes across (and the world of DW7 is huge). Now I don't want to sound too harsh here. Maybe if i actually enjoyed midi music, I'd get more enjoyment out of the songs in this game. But I can only think of a few places where I even thought the music was passable. Most are either strident (and annoying) or wispish and barely there. The battle music will be the first to annoy the player, as it doesn't change for the entire 100+ hours of gameplay. It's of the strident and annoying category. Other songs are ok in small doses. But just listen to the music in Coastal Castle, for instance. There's a melody there somewhere but it's played so slowly you might miss it! The sound effects are even worse than the music. Remember what sound effects used to consist of? (Enix does!) The slashing sound of swords, the crackling noise of thunder, the ... downright STRANGE sound a slime makes when it attacks. Oh it's all here! Perfect if this was 1989. But come on! This is taking nostalgia a little far. Couldn't we have been treated to better music (actual musical instruments would have been REALLY nice) and some better sound effects? Again, there were SNES games that had better sound than this. It isn't exactly horrible, but it's not going to win any awards either. And if you insist on making a game old school, you'd better at least make sure it pushes the limit. Phantasy Star II, for instance, had better music and similar sound effects, and it was released in 1988! But the sound, to me, is the least important aspect of a game. The music and sound contained in DW7 is passable. Some might even enjoy the old style that Enix used. I just don't care for it myself.

So is there any reason to replay this game after you've beaten it? Well it depends on what you mean by that. It's going to be a long time before I start a new DW7 game. That's only because it takes such an incredibly long amount of time to complete it. But when the game is over, there is still more things to do. There are two secret dungeons that you can find and explore after you've beaten the game. In this way, there's actually quite a bit of replay value. This isn't starting a new game at the beginning, though, only continuing to play the game after you've beaten it. It was nice of Enix to include this. It would have been nicer if they'd made the job system a bit easier to master, however, so there would be even more incentive to play the game after you've beaten it. Still, the fact that you can play the game after the credits have rolled is a great addition to an already long and involving game. Besides that, the game itself boasts tons of secrets, hidden items, and subquests to keep gamers searching throughout the incredibly vast lands that comprise the DW7 worldmap.

So was Dragon Warrior 7 passed over for a reason? Yes and no. This is a flawed game, an attempt to recreate a type of game that hasn't been seen since 1994, one which doesn't even completely succeed at doing that. It's too old school for it's own good. But underneath the rough surface lies a very involving and at most times fun little game, especially if you love building up characters from weaklings into powerhouses, raising stats, and maxing out job classes. While there are plenty of off-putting, annoying or just plain bad features, there's also a lot here to love. Most gamers outside of Japan didn't even give it a chance. This is truly a shame because even though a lot of this game feels really old (they were going for ''classic'' I'm sure) some of it is refreshing, a nice change of pace from the games of today. The very fact that Enix had the balls to let the story dictate where and when there would be random battles is indication enough that this game isn't just a retread of tired ideas. If only they'd let go of every tired rpg cliche, this game would have been near perfect. As it stands, it's merely enjoyable. But for a 100+ hour game, that's more then enough.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/18/03

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