Dragon Warrior VII...a game that has developed an almost mythical status in the last few years. It's no wonder, either, given that it took well over 5 years to develop and yet another 6 months for it to hit American soil. Adding to the intense mythos surrounding the game, it sold over 4.4 million copies in Japan during the 6-month localization process alone.
The Dragon Warrior series has always been a staple of the RPG genre and is widely regarded as even more popular than the Final Fantasy series in Japan. But, of course, when it comes down to the wire, the question is, "does the game live up to the mystique?"
Do you want to begin your journey? Yes/No
The plot of Dragon Warrior VII will win no awards for originality, however it is a charming story of a boy and his friends who set out the save the world. As the Hero, you start out in a sleepy fishing town on the lone island of the world, engaging in a few minor adventures with your friends Maribel and Keifer. A few hours into your adventures on the small island, you run across a temple filled with mysterious pedestals. After running across a few "Shards," all of which seem to fit into one of the pedestals, the adventuring team finishes the face of a pedestal and finds themselves in a strange, new location.
It is slowly revealed toward the beginning of the game that, at various times in the past, the Demon Lord has managed to orchestrate some sort of calamity that eventually destroyed the island. The general premise behind the game remains mostly stable throughout the entire adventure: one-by-one, you and your friends travel back in time to save the many lost islands of the world--eventually making the world whole again. With each new island comes a brand-new problem to solve, and after each island is saved there is yet another place to explore once you warp back to present-day.
Since the majority of the game is spent experiencing a vast array of small mini-stories, it is hard to judge the game's plot as a whole. The true interest comes as the dramas experienced on each island begin to slowly intertwine and complete a whole picture of the world's history. Unfortunately, most of the individual stories are rather uninspired--generally composed of one standard RPG cliché or another. Overall, the complete picture, while nothing special, is decent and intriguing--after all, the game is more about adventuring than anything else.
Sadly, the last section of the game's story (of which I will not reveal for spoiler reasons) seems slightly rushed and tacked on to the end. After such a long and epic journey, I would have expected the last few hours to be a bit more compelling. The fact that the "false ending" felt more like a true climax to the story does even more to highlight the weak conclusion.
Would you want a pretty world? Yes/No
One of Dragon Warrior VII's biggest weak-points is obviously its poor graphics. While slightly understandable, given that the game originally was designed for the SNES, the fact remains that the environments are some of the worst seen on the PSX in quite some time. The 3D-engine which powers most of the game (and also the upcoming Dragon Warrior IV remake) is lackluster at best, unable to even correctly render a straight line. The 2D elements involved are similarly disappointing, highlighted by boring textures and flat, unimaginative sprites.
Battle graphics are even more "classic," with nothing other than bad polygonal background, enemy sprites, and menu boxes that represent the party. The only plus to the rather boring battles is that the enemy sprites are large and colorful, not to mention very smoothly animated. However, given that most of the enemies are palette-swapped over and over again throughout the course of the game, and that random encounters are quite common, this is one area of the game's graphics that could have used some serious work.
The silver lining to this dark cloud is that, toward the latter half of the game, the 3D-environments eventually become a bit more interesting and detailed. Of course, after 50 hours of staring at them, perhaps it was just my eyes acclimating to the overall lack of detail in the majority of areas.
Can you play me a sweet song? Yes/No
Very much like the graphics department, the sound in Dragon Warrior VII is nothing to write home about. While most of the music is nicely composed and in no way "bad" work, the big problem becomes the severe lack of variety. Unfortunately, there are fewer than 10 "common" songs, which you will end up hearing over, and over, and over, and over again for hours on end. The lack of variety is a real sticking point for a game this long, and it leaves me with a poor impression of the music as a whole.
Sound effects are a similar story, with the same 16-bit blips being repeated ad nauseum throughout the entirety of the game. Unlike the music, however, most of the sounds are annoying from the get-go, making me wish that Enix had re-sampled some of the common sounds after the move to 32-bit.
Could you travel to the last area you were in and back just for fun? Yes/No
Despite the simplicity of a story or the flaws in graphics and sound, gameplay is the make-or-break element in just about any situation. It is unfortunate, then, that this is where Dragon Warrior VII experiences its greatest failure.
Most notable in the list of things wrong with the game's execution is the lack of work put into the battle system. While I realize that many people still cling to the turn-based battles of yore, it still feels as if Enix has made no effort to advance or improve the system whatsoever in the last 10 years. While a turn-based system will always be a slight guessing-game, the sheer lack of any normalcy really throws a wrench in the works of planning. While turn-order is often the same, there is no guarantee as to the order of execution at all, especially during boss-battles when timing is key. Often, my fastest character would randomly get the 2nd, or even 3rd turn in my party.
The solution to all this, of course, is to use the computer AI to control your team. Since the AI chooses its attack (this goes for the enemies as well, of course) at the time of attack and not in advance, it can act in such a way that would otherwise require clairvoyance on your part. The AI is, however, one of the best parts of the battle system, and it really is quite good at controlling character in a sensible manner. Of course, this has the side effect of the many battles becoming quite boring, as you have one of two choices: do it yourself and have a hard time, or sit back and watch the AI do exactly what needs to be done.
Aside from the battle system, there are a few nagging flaws that haunt almost the entire game. The game often feels the need to require one to trek back and forth between locations, performing very boring and uneventful fetch-quests--usually without a single battle or interesting happenstance. Also presenting a large hindrance to the flow of the story, the translation is severely lacking. Filled with spelling errors, grammatical missteps, and such wonderful phrases as, "Friendship is like a plant and must be returned to grow," it is a wonder that the localization passed through QA at all.
The saving grace of the game is the much-heralded class-system. While you do not get to start playing with it until around 20 hours into the game, it is enough to add an incentive to fighting the many random battles throughout. The system gives an initial selection of 8 classes which, after being mastered, can branch into more advanced classes. For example, after mastering the Thief and Mariner, one can become a Pirate. Each class has its own special abilities and statistical modifiers, so it pays to master as many classes as possible. Once a character learns an ability, they keep it for good, so spending some time mastering a wide array of classes will make for a much more well-rounded character.
Another facet to the class system is the addition of "Monster Classes". Throughout the adventure, you may find or win "Monster Hearts," which will allow characters to "change into" that monster in place of learning a class. This system works almost identically to the normal class system, with the added bonus that, upon mastering a class, the character's on-map sprite will change into that of the monster itself. Of the complete list of available classes, Monster Classes compose about 80% of them, so this is definitely something that you should look into experimenting with. The one hitch to this is that, given the rarity of the base Monster Hearts, it is sometimes very hard to gather the needed Hearts to unlock the 2nd or 3rd-tier Monster Classes. If you do manage to find the appropriate items, however, Monster Classes can be quite entertaining.
The one flaw with the class systems is the means by which one actually progresses. Each class has 8 levels of proficiency, and each level requires you to fight a certain number of battles to achieve it. Battles are not weighted, so a boss battle would still count as one battle. Given that there are no bonuses for fighting harder enemies, the game prevents one from leveling solely on slimes by requiring you to fight "challenging enemies."
Unfortunately, at no point is there any indicator as to what a "challenging enemy" is, and the only way to tell is to notice that you may or may not be gaining any class levels. Of course, you cannot check your progression on a level without returning to the temple and asking someone, so it is much safer simply to fight in the newest dungeon available to you. This can become rather tedious, and if it weren't for a glitch in the game that allows you to level classes in a certain dungeon indefinitely despite the ease, I probably would not have bothered with classes nearly as much as I did.
In addition to the primary gameplay, the game is filled with exploring towns, crawling for treasure, and many other enjoyable staples of RPGing. Generally speaking, these game-mechanics are pulled off in a standard, solid Dragon Warrior fashion and will not disappoint. There are many towns, dungeons, castles, and temples to explore and keep one busy for hours on end. The game's length is rather extraordinary as well, with the average play length being around 100 hours. Personally, I was able to beat the game with almost everything optional completed in 63, so your completion time may vary.
Will you love the game anyway? Yes/No
While the game certainly has its flaws, it is up in the air as to whether or not it is something you will want to invest up to 100 hours in. If you are a die-hard Dragon Warrior fan, you will most likely be able to look past the somewhat tedious elements and enjoy the game anyway. However, if you have not sworn your allegiance to this series of games, it may be a good idea to steer clear and save yourself some frustration.
Overall, Dragon Warrior VII is a generally mediocre game that thrives on its misguided sense of "old-school". Unless you are willing to pull out the rose-tinted glasses and play it with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, its poor execution and clunky interface will probably ruin whatever experience Enix had in mind for you.