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CONSOLE: PlayStation DEVELOPER: Heartbeat PUBLISHER: Enix
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 31, 2001 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

An unexciting game of repartee.

I like the Dragon Warrior (now known as Dragon Quest) series, I really do. Ever since I first lay my hands on the original Dragon Warrior for the NES, I knew there was something special about this franchise. It is noted as, arguably, the origin of the modern-style RPG, bringing about such RPG staples as random battles; an overworld to wander upon; level grinding; and purchasing/equipping oneself with powerful weaponry, armor, and potent healing herbs. Granted, I'm sure that other games may have accomplished these feats first, but it was Dragon Warrior that popularized them and made such actions more accessible to the casual gamer. You could play for ten minutes or you could play for ten hours. It was up to you; it required no major time commitments or constraints. The series continues to be popular to this day. Dragon Quest IX, released in 2009 (and 2010 overseas) for the Nintendo DS has sold over 5 million copies to date, making it the highest-selling game of the series yet. So there must be lots of love for Dragon Warrior out there.

But we're talking about Dragon Warrior VII. It had been the first Dragon Warrior game in five years and the first for any console more powerful than a SNES, so there was definitely high demand for it. Fans across Japan loved this game and bought it in droves. It, too, was successful in the end with more than 4.26 million copies sold worldwide, more than 4 million of those copies sold in Japan alone. All the sales figures in the world, however, cannot disguise or distract from my disappointment with Dragon Warrior VII. It is, quite frankly, a dull adventure, and perhaps proof that 4 million Japanese can be wrong.

Before I explain why I did not enjoy this title, let's talk about what it actually did right. As a Dragon Warrior game, there are certain natural expectations to be had; in this regard, the Dragon Warrior fanatic will be fulfilled by what they discover. One would anticipate artwork courtesy of Akira Toriyama, well known for his work on Dragon Ball Z; he has indeed designed new enemies and characters for the game, and they are definitely appreciated. His designs are cute and approachable, yet I feel little remorse when slicing through a classic Slime or a pesky Wyvern. The music of Koichi Sugiyama, which had been prominently featured in every main Dragon Warrior game prior, is here in full effect. As well, players can look forward to an expansive world with many little quaint towns to visit while they play around with their inventory. The class system (introduced in Dragon Warrior III) allows party members to practice in certain areas of mastery and gain new abilities to help them survive the harsh roads ahead. Lastly, the menu Dragon Warrior has come to be known for, the one featuring a Talk option, an Item option, et cetera, has remained intact in a similar form to what was featured way back in 1986 on the Famicom.

Therein lies the first problem: everything in Dragon Warrior VII has been done before. You're beating a dead horse with another dead horse. With the advent of new technologies, ease of access becomes an important issue. I'm not entirely sure why the developers have chosen to stick with such an archaic design. It was original put in place because of technical limitations in the 1980s. In the year 2000, those limitations have been exiled, especially on a relatively higher-functioning system like the PlayStation. Now, when I reviewed the remake of Dragon Quest IV for the Nintendo DS, which was released many years later, I was lenient on the menu system, mostly because the original Dragon Warrior IV (circa 1990 on the Famicom) also had it. But Dragon Warrior VII is supposed to be most modern; a cumbersome menu system (outside of battle, mind you -- I will still gladly use the in-battle menus) is ridiculous.

If this was the only flaw, I would probably overlook it in favour of the bright side. Dragon Warrior VII's bright side isn't so sunny, though. The story, though somewhat innovative in its approach, is actually a bit painful to endure. You are playing the role of the Hero, a young lad from a small fishing village on a desolate continent. Rumour has it, however, that other continents, islands, and kingdoms once existed within the vast seas that surround you. But where did they go? Using your powerful exploration skills, you and your local friends discover lost ruins with pedestals that each lead to a new land in a past era. Through your actions, you eventually save each small kingdom from ruin and dissolution, usually by destroying a powerful monster. After saving each area, you can return back to the present and see that it has, in fact, been resurrected. Repeat ad nauseum for about twenty different lands. Each one has its separate sob story, and they start to get old after a while. It's difficult to feel emotion for everybody once you've heard it all. "Oh, there's a dark fog surrounding your town, eh? Uh... go build a giant defroster; I'm headed to the tavern." And even when you return in the present, they often have MORE problems that need to be solved by you. Everyone in the game is pitifully helpless except for you.


These are the highlights of Dragon Warrior VII. Make way for Lipsy!

So how does this affect the game? I'll tell you how: it forces you to visit every single town, castle, cliffside, and all else at least twice, thus basically stretching out the game unnecessarily for practically double its needed length. It was advantageous of the developers to create a game in such a way; they only needed to design half of it, then cut and paste at will. What makes things worse is the way that each little mini-journey takes place: more time is spent on either a fetch quest or having to talk to specific people than battling. I bought Dragon Warrior VII, not Dragon Conversationalist VII. Just to illustrate, upon starting a new game, it took almost two and a half hours before my first battle. And even then, it was unimpressively brief. I was wandering between towns, delivering messages or just looking for people. Some puzzle-solving was in play, yes, but throughout the entire game, I used up too many hours talking to people when I should have been out chopping heads. And unfortunately, because you're talking to everyone on a regular basis, there isn't much time left for character development within your own party. I know more about the life and history of NPCs than I do of my own Hero. It's also unfortunate that every location looks more or less the same; there's so little variety in the environments that you really feel like you're visiting similar places over and over again.

Dragon Warrior VII forces you to talk to people. It's a given fact. And you're going to need to talk to every person because otherwise, you'll be confused about where to go next. Sometimes, even that doesn't seem to be adequate. I can't count the number of times where I was completely lost and needed to seek the advice of a walkthrough. Maybe that's why there was a strategy guide advertisement in the manual. They do expect you to remember specific people or places from 20, maybe 30 hours earlier. I obviously didn't pay close enough attention or make a list of paper of everyone I met and where. If it wasn't for a helpful guide, I would have completely missed picking up a new party member, thus making my quest all the more difficult.

To make matters worse, to activate those pedestals in the ruins to visit new lands, you need to place Shards on them, stone tablets that form a map. Along your travels, you'll find new Shards, for accessing new areas. Herein lies the problem: not all Shards are simply handed to you when you beat a boss or save a town. Some of them are in somewhat obscure places that I never remembered to visit again. You need to search EVERYWHERE for those things. If you miss even one, you can't finish the game. That's pretty much the bottom line: if you are not incredibly thorough to the point of potential madness, you will not succeed. That, I find to be a disturbing aspect of Dragon Warrior VII's design, one which may very well turn off players. And if you miss a Shard, there's no indication of where it might be. You may have to revisit every single location on the overworld to find it. And that's beyond both belief and reason.

Sadly, experience and money don't come easily, either, especially the latter. You can battle in the fields or in the dungeons all you want, but you will always level up slowly. It's been that way since the beginning of the series, and I would have thought that players would have started to become restless and annoyed by the sluggish nature of improving one's character. Enix didn't pick up on that. Cash flow is another serious issue. In many other RPGs, I feel like money rolls in rather easily over time. This is not the case in Dragon Warrior VII; instead, I am constantly broke. Monsters don't leave nearly enough gold behind, and visiting the game's few casinos usually ends up in a bust (much like casinos in real life). I rarely was able to buy everything I wanted, resulting in a less well-protected party than I'd prefer. This makes battling more difficult overall than it ought to be.

For those who believe everything is in the presentation, you'll be disappointed here as well. For a later-generation PlayStation game, this is a high-school art project gone awry. I can understand the interest of using sprites instead of polygonal figures because they generally don't look great on the PlayStation. But the visuals are still beastly, with its blend of sprites and 3D surroundings. Dragon Warrior VII often uses a fair amount of scaling, making the game often look too pixelated. Even the FMVs are impressively low-quality (and probably were low-quality even before they were compressed on a disc). For a series of such high status in Japan, I would have expected Enix to put more effort into presentation, but alas, it was not to be. The music leaves a similar taste in my mouth. Though it is quaint at the beginning, the fact that there are but a mere few songs in the game that repeat themselves over and over for the 100+ hours the game claims to have, I grew weary of them quickly. Hearing the same calm, uneventful town theme for the fiftieth time made me yearn for something different. Luckily, an iPod appeared.

In short, Dragon Warrior VII is missing a pull factor. RPGs can be fun, rewarding experiences with strong characters that draw you into their adventure and make you want to help them succeed and a storyline that keeps you gripped every step of the way. Dragon Warrior VII lacks many of these things, and its flaws actually detract from a potentially positive experience. Granted, spending time in the dungeons can be fun, but the remainder of the game is more drudgery than delight. Its production values are also quite low, especially for a game at that point in the PlayStation's life cycle. Dragon Warrior VII should have been a landmark in the next generation of video games, but instead it refused to advance and remained firmly planted in the days of olde, both in gameplay and in presentation. Dragon Warrior VII has been remade for the Nintendo 3DS; I hope that many of the issues I have listed have been resolved.

As a Dragon Warrior fan, I am sorely disappointed in what I have experienced; I am thankful, however, that subsequent games in the series actually showed stark improvement. Still, whether it be on PlayStation or 3DS, I cannot recommend Dragon Warrior VII unless you are deadly serious about RPGs and can handle its dry gameplay. The game is far from the worst I have ever played, but in the gaming universe, being monotonous is just as dangerous as being downright terrible. Approach Dragon Warrior VII with extreme caution.


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