Review: Dragon Quest VII – Fragments of the Forgotten Past

At long last, my review for Dragon Quest VII is here! Up to this point, my opinion on the various games in the Dragon Quest series have been all over the place. Some titles have been stellar, while others felt a bit lackluster. With this in mind, I was excited to see what the seventh entry in this series had to offer. This chapter ushered in a number of changes to the series. For starters, it moved Dragon Quest from Nintendo platforms to the Sony Playstation. With that change came an opportunity to point the series in an entirely new direction. I was very excited to see what this next generation of Dragon Quest was going to be like. Well, I’ve spent the last two months exploring everything that this game has to offer and I’m ready to share my thoughts.

Unlike Dragon Quest V and VI, which were initially only available in Japan, Dragon Quest VII did make its way to the west as Dragon Warrior VII for the Sony Playstation in 2001. In keeping with the western “Dragon Warrior” name but retaining the Japanese chapter number, I can only imagine how confused some fans in the west might have been upon the game’s initial release. After all, the last “Dragon Warrior” game that US audiences saw was Dragon Warrior IV. Confusion or not, this oddity didn’t seem to have a big impact on sales. Dragon Warrior VII ended up being pretty successful in the US. In 2016, an updated version of the game was released for the Nintendo 3DS. This new version reverted back to the “Dragon Quest” branding and introduced a slew of gameplay changes and even online connectivity. These changes have been met with considerable controversy over the years. So, before I begin my review, I’ll take a moment to discuss the differences between the PS version and the 3DS version.

In many ways, the 3DS release of the Dragon Quest VII offers a number of quality of life improvements over the original version. Most notable is an improved translation, adjustments to the game’s vocation system (more on this later), and a number of gameplay tweaks that reduce backtracking and grind. On the other hand, there are some pretty significant changes that really affect the way some core elements of the game are handled. In the original PS release, enemy encounters were random. In the 3DS version, players can see the enemies on the map and can attempt to avoid them. Characters also level up much faster in the 3DS version and the introductory chapter to the game has been shortened dramatically. This does help players get into the meat of the game faster, but it also ends up making certain plot points feel rushed and not so important.

This is one of the rare examples where there’s really no clear answer as to which version of the game could be considered “definitive”. The original release looks dated but has arguably more content. The remaster has been streamlined and has major changes to the gameplay mechanics, but it also features a ton of QoL improvements. In the end, I really don’t think the differences will matter to anyone but old school gamers who remember the original release with fondness. Someone experiencing this game for the first time is likely to develop nostalgia for whichever version they encountered first. Personally, I had some brief encounters with this game back when it was originally released, but I never really sat down to play it until I was preparing to do this review. After a few days of going back and forth, I ultimately decided to go with the 3DS version simply because I played that last few Dragon Quest games on the Nintendo DS.

The storyline for this game is one my favorites in the series thus far.  You play a young hero that lives in a small island village. It is believed that this island is the only habitable land in a world that is comprised of just one vast ocean. However, early in the game, players discover part of a map that shows other islands and continents. Eventually, the hero and his friends find a mysterious stone that transports them to a strange land. They learn that they have been sent back in time to another continent. Here, they must correct the wrongs of history. Once they’ve done so, the long-forgotten landmass will be restored to the modern world.  But it is just one of many. From here, the hero and his companions must work to restore the lost fragments of the world. What they don’t know, is that by doing so, they are also awakening an ancient threat.

Fans of the Dragon Quest series should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this game. The jump from SNES to Sony Playstation didn’t really affect the core gameplay elements too much. The overall design of the game is still presented in a semi birds-eye view and combat is still turn-based. The biggest changes that players are likely to notice are the graphics and audio quality, which are leaps and bounds better than what has come before.

Now that doesn’t mean that Dragon Quest VII feels like the previous games in the series. In fact, the overall tone and pacing of the game is quite unique. At the beginning, things feel very “on-rails”, but as you progress through the game and unlock more areas to explore, the game opens up quite significantly. By around the midpoint in the game, players have lots of freedom and there’s plenty of sidequests and optional areas to explore.

A big part of the game revolves around the Vocation (or class) system. Being able to master and switch between classes in a Dragon Quest game isn’t exactly a new concept, but the execution in this game feels very polished. Players start off with a base class. But as they level up, they can unlock Intermediate and Advanced classes. Most of the classes from Dragon Quest VI are present in this game. There’s a few new options this time around also (Troubadour, Pirate, Shepherd, Druid, and Champion). The big addition in DQVII is the introduction of Monster Classes. Occasionally, players will find hearts for various monsters that they have defeated. Once in possession of a monster heart, players can switch to a class that imitate that monster’s main abilities. Monster classes can also be mastered. Once a player has mastered multiples monster classes, they may find that new Intermediate and Advanced monster classes are available. For me, one of the fun parts of this game is building up your characters by mastering various classes and then mixing and matching abilities.

Dragon Quest VII is infamous for its exceptionally long length. The original PS version is considerably longer than the 3DS remake, but don’t be mistaken, both versions of the game are filled with plenty of content. If you plan to see it all, you’ll be spending well over one-hundred hours exploring everything this game has to offer. Outside of the main storyline and grinding away at the game’s class system, there’s also plenty of mini-games and side quests to tackle.

One of the more popular side quests/mini-games is the so-called “immigrant town”. Once unlocked, players are tasked with finding various individuals who want to move to this new town. The ultimate goal is to build a thriving community made up of immigrants. In the original PS version of the game, this was done by simply finding various NPCs in different parts of the game and talking to them. As the community grows, players will be able to determine what type of community it turns into. This will affect the various items and services that become available to the player. The 3DS version of the game works essentially the same way, with a few exceptions. For starters, the town is called “The Haven” in the 3DS remake. Once you’ve managed to recruit enough villagers to The Haven, you gain access to the Download Bar. The Download Bar version uses online connectivity to provide players with free DLC in the form of quests and exclusive dungeons. At the time of this writing Square Enix seems to still be offering this DLC for download, but since the 3DS has reached end-of-life, it’s possible that this could go offline at any time.

Compared to other games in the Dragon Quest series, Dragon Quest VII is an excellent evolution of what has come before. However, when pitted against other JRPGs of the time (like Final Fantasy X), it does seem to be stuck in the past. The QoL updates made in the 3DS version are a welcome change, but the online connectivity seems gimmicky and it runs the risk of eventually becoming unobtainable. All that aside, Dragon Quest VII is a classic JRPG title and one that fans of the genre should definitely check out regardless of which platform you choose. I hope that SE provides a definitive remake for modern consoles in the future. As it stands now, the game is only available on legacy systems and it should really be preserved for generations to come. 

Version Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS

Difficulty: Medium –  For players who push through the game at a normal pace, the challenge that is presented should feel just about right. Of course, being an RPG there’s always the option to grind and get ahead of the curve. For this game in particular, a little grinding goes a long way. Just a few hours of powerleveling drops the difficulty of the title down significantly.

Multiplayer:  N/A

Story: The concept behind the main story is original and intriguing. The tale continues to unfold at a steady pace and with all of the flourishes and quirks that make Dragon Quest games so unique.

Originality: The core gameplay ideas in this title follow a tried and true formula. Some unique twists are found in the way of Monster-themed classes and through some of the DLC options in the 3DS version. But aside from this, most of what makes this title original comes from the storyline and presentation.

Soundtrack: As always in the Dragon Quest series, this game contains some amazing classical-style compositions. The Japanese 3DS version features actual recordings from a symphony orchestra. These tunes are a delight to listen to. Sadly, the western 3DS version is a step down in quality, but still just as good as the original release.

Fun: Dragon Quest fans are the primary audience for this game. All of the classic JRPG gameplay that fans expect is present here. The biggest drag for this game is also one of its best draws; the length. While it’s always great to have lots of content in an RPG, some of the back and forth in this game feels excessive at times. The 3DS version doesn’t suffer from this quite as much as the original release, but after a while even it seems to drag on a bit.

Graphics: This game continues the tradition of featuring Akira Toriyama’s art. The PS1 does a fantastic job of making the artwork look better than ever and the 3DS only improves it more. The 3DS release does feature optional 3D graphics and this is handled pretty well. But like many 3DS games, it can be a little rough on the eyes after a while. Regardless of the version you play, this is best looking game in the series thus far.

Playcontrol: No real complaints. This is a turn-based game that doesn’t rely too heavily of precise controls.

Downloadable Content: Free DLC quests/dungeons available in the 3DS version.

Mature Content: N/A

Value: Getting your hands on a copy of this game is going to set you back a bit. Used copies of the Playstation version often sell anywhere from $60-$100. Sealed copies are almost unheard of. The 3DS version is also out of print and typically goes for $60-$90 brand new. With these prices in mind, it’s difficult to recommend this game to anyone but Dragon Quest fans. Even with the vast amount of content this game has to offer, collectors prices are hard to digest for anyone but the most serious fans. Hopefully, we will see an affordable digital release of the game on a proper system at some point in the future.

Overall score (1-100): 85 – Dragon Quest VII is a classic JRPG with plenty of content for fans to enjoy. Its complexity and repetitive nature may be a turn off for more casual fans, but these aspects are also part of its charm. I enjoyed my time with the game immensely, but I was also ready for it to end. I base my score on the 3DS release. Which, even despite the loss of the symphonic soundtrack does include enough enhancements and updates to make it the version I’d be most likely to recommend.

Original System: Sony Playstation

Available today on:  Currently unavailable  – (Updated as of Fall 2023)

Best Experience: 3DS  – (Updated as of Fall 2023)

Other Reviews In This Series:

Dragon Quest    –    Dragon Quest II    –    Dragon Quest III    –    Dragon Quest IV    –    Dragon Quest V    –    Dragon Quest VI    –    Dragon Quest VII    –    Dragon Quest VIII    –    Dragon Quest IX    –    Dragon Quest X    –    Dragon Quest XI

Dragon Quest Swords    –    Dragon Quest Heroes    –    Dragon Quest Heroes II

Dragon Quest Builders     –    Dragon Quest Builders II

 

Old Game Hermit

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2 Responses

  1. Oh, nice. I’m a big fan of Dragon Quest, and DQ 7 is the only one I haven’t played yet.
    One small correction: the PlayStation version did *not* have a symphonic soundtrack. You might have listened to a symphonic release and thought it was in the original game, but the PS1 release uses digitized instruments like most other contemporary RPGs of the time. The series didn’t have symphonic music in-game until the USA release of DQ 8 on the PlayStation 2.
    The Japanese version of the 3DS remake does have symphonic music, so maybe the confusion came from there.

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