Released in Japan in 2000 and in the US the following year as Dragon Warrior VII (keeping with the naming of the previous titles in the US, also keeping with tradition, it wasn’t released in Europe), it was the highly anticipated addition to the legendary role-playing series Dragon Quest and went on to selling over 4 million copies making it one of the best selling Playstation games. Especially when it’s boasting that the main story takes at least 100 hours to beat.
Well, it was only highly anticipated in Japan and the vast majority of those sales were from Japan. It went a bit under the radar in the US and became sort of a cult classic.
Are the Japanese and US audience that widely different?
To explain how this happened, we should start with a quick history lesson. Dragon Warrior IV was the last title released in the US before Enix decided to stop releasing games outside of Japan. So while Enix released 2 new games, and remade the first 3 for the SNES, the rest of the world was left out of the blue. It wasn’t until 2000 when Enix finally decided to release games in the US.
So while Enix started with releasing remakes of the first three games on the Gameboy Color and were critical successes, commercially they weren’t impressive. So by the time Dragon Warrior VII came out, there wasn’t a massive hype like the latest Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda title, because we missed out on 5 releases, and there’s a nine year gap between DW4 and DW7. So a possibly successful series was made more or less forgotten by the general gaming community.
Dragon Warrior VII also had two more things working against it: the Playstation 2 was already out, and so was one of the biggest titles in the entire library, Final Fantasy X. So not only was the rival series already on the next generation console, Dragon Warrior VII’s graphics were also pretty lackluster for a late PS1 release, so in presentation alone, it couldn’t compete against even the previous Final Fantasy title which was released the year before and looks several times better.
So enough on the history lesson, let’s actually review the game:
DQ7 is the first standalone game in the series as the first 6 consisted of two trilogies, though the second trilogy barely has anything to do with each other.
The game takes place on an island, the only island in the entire world while the rest is wide open sea. In keeping to the tradition of Dragon Quest games, the silent hero has no default name. This time you play as the son of the fisherman Borkano in the small fishing village blandly named Fishbel. You have two childhood friends: Maribel, the
bitchy and bossy charming daughter of the mayor of Fishbel, and Keifer, prince of the neighboring city of Estard, well the only other town in the world.
The game begins with you and Keifer exploring the forbidden ruins to the east of town with Keifer wanting to figure out the secrets of the ruins. The two of you finally reach a strange set of rooms with several mysterious pedestals. You realize one of the pedestals has a stone slab in the middle of it and you piece it back together with some of the pieces lying around. Sadly it’s missing a piece and you walk back home empty handed. The following day, shit happens you guys come across the final piece and Maribel talks you into letting her join you into the ruins. When you guys finally completed the tablet a strange flash of light engulfs the trio. The three of you wake up in a strange forest and discover you’re in a foreign village in the past, so finally the quest begins.
So when Enix is boasting that this game takes about 100 hours to beat, they weren’t fucking around. That was the entire opening sequence and that takes 2 hours and then you finally run into your first battle and the actual quest begins. Most other Dragon Quest games (hell RPG’s in general) your first battle takes place the instant you leave town. This is one of the biggest gripes that American gaming critics had with the game.
Enix sort of “cheats” with the story by not making it a continuous story. The game is largely episodic with the main story interspersed between the episodes. The main goal of the first disc is to go back in time and restore the various villages by stopping the problem that has plagued the past, and then the landmass around the village will be restored in the present. After it’s been restored, you must visit it in the present and stalk it for more shards to complete the pedestals to allow access to the other villages. That’s the entire first disc in a nutshell, and that’s the first 60 hours of the game.
Disc 2 itself takes another 40 hours of the game. While I would have been satisfied with the game just being disc 1, disc 2 is a nice addition and adds more to the story.
The story itself is largely depressing, and can get pretty dark at times. While you venture through the game, you’re going to run into stuff like racism, natural disasters, towns ravaged from warfare, multiple acts of genocide, and slavery. So if you’re someone who cries easily, get your tissues ready for this game.
The game is very similar to other Dragon Quest games by keeping to the traditional RPG mechanics, so there isn’t much to explain that would be unfamiliar.
While largely untouched from the previous entrees, they do introduce a diverse class system to create some variety to aid your strategies in battle. While the class system was first introduced and only used in DQ3, 7 has made many improvements to it. Unlike in 3, your class levels up separately, and at a faster rate. This is because once you max out the level of two classes, you can unlock a hybrid class to gain much stronger abilities. The slight downfall for some people is that only certain combinations unlock hybrid classes. A plus side to the class system is that once you change your class, all of your abilities transfer over, thus increasing your movepool which comes in handy the farther you get in the game. One aspect of the class system some might find tedious, is that you can only change your classes at the Dharma Shrine, and there is only one in the game. So every time you want to change your classes, you must treck back to it. Luckily by this point you have the Zoom spell which you can warp travel.
So for such a large game, the gameplay is a very standard RPG with the gameplay doing nothing special or new, so if you want a very unique experience, it only does so through its storytelling, not through the gameplay.
While the graphics themselves are decent, it suffered in development hell for several years, so while it would probably have been impressive as an early PS1 title, its development struggles made it a late release which makes the graphics feel really dated when compared to late PS1 games like Final Fantasy IX, and even Persona 2. Like I also mentioned above, it also looked really poor considering that the PS2 was already out and, in the US, Final Fantasy X was lightyears ahead in the technical department. So while it does seem poor as a late PS1 title, it’s not to say the graphics are bad, they get the job done for the most part.
Like every other Dragon Quest game, the monsters and characters are designed by Dragon Ball artist Akira Toriyama. The graphics engine is also the template for the DS remakes, so there isn’t much to discuss that hasn’t. Though the game’s view is more isometric, instead of top-down like the DS games, and the graphics aren’t as good as the DS has better graphics than the Playstation.
Though while the graphics are a bit dated, but get the job done, the game does have some very awkward cutscenes. It seems like Enix wanted to catch up to Square’s PS1 RPG’s by having cutscenes to show off the Playstation’s prowess, they look so out of place when you compare the cutscene to the graphics from the rest of the game. It’s even more drastic than Final Fantasy VII where at least the characters in battle resembled the custscene depictions. The cutscenes in this game look nothing like Akira Toriyama’s artwork. It’s pretty much like playing Final Fantasy VI and throwing in Final Fantasy 7 cutscenes.
Though luckily if you exclude the opening and ending cutscenes, there’s only about 2 cutscenes at most, so DW7 at least spares you the misery.
Returning to the series, series veteran Koichi Sugiyama returns to compose the music to the game. If you’re familiar with his music in the other games, there isn’t much to talk about as the soundtrack doesn’t disappoint. While not my favorite soundtrack in the series, it still gets the job done, and the music does help set the depressing mood of the game. Like every other Dragon Quest game, there is a fully orchestrated version of the soundtrack available.
Despite its dated graphics and monstrous size, it’s one of the stronger titles in the series, but this game isn’t for the faint of heart. So while it’s not a very recommendable title for casual RPG fans, or people becoming interested in RPG’s, it’s still a very solid game that’s a definite must have for RPG fans who want a very deep and engaging game. Especially for those who are looking for a game that will last them awhile.
Visuals (Or Graphics): 6/10.