Written by: Ryan Thomas
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past (The 3DS Remake)
Mild Spoilers, because honestly we’re all adults here
First off, let me just say that I love the Dragon Quest series. I played the games when I was younger, but being a dang ole kid that didn’t know any better, I didn’t really appreciate them as the genre-defining JRPGS they were until I played through Dragon Quest VIII for the first time (several years later). That was when I went back and got to know the series for what it was, and let me tell you, I was in love.
Now, the series is largely known for two things:
1.) Level grinding i mean come on
2.) Dragon Quest VIII, which breathed new life back into the series
But for the most part, the series is known for focusing on the adventure. Most JRPGS nowadays try to insert philosophical and existential questions into their games, and not much else. Sure, we’ve gotten games that try to reinvent the genre and some of them have actually succeeded, but what I love about the Dragon Quest series is that it’s always been about the adventure. It always sets you up with these ragtag adventurers, who for the most part just kind of go along with everything, on their way to stop or prevent a great evil. It doesn’t really shy away from that story model, but it doesn’t really need to because it’s always been about the trials and tribulations that the heroes encounter along the way, and that’s what makes it so engaging.
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past does the same thing that its predecessors do, but as mentioned before, what happens in between is more than enough to make this a memorable title.
Like I said before (again), the story line in every game is roughly the same: adventurers band together in order to stop and/or prevent a great evil. This has always been Dragon Quest’s go-to method of storytelling, but what it does that makes it a great series (isn’t repetition fun) is what happens in between setting out and the eventual defeat of the Demon King/Dragon King/Evil Sephiroth Clone that Turns Into Demon King (fucking IX)
The story starts off with the Hero (like always, you can name him whatever; i.e. Dickbutt, The Savior of Humanity) and his family on what seems to be the only (small as fuck) island in the entire world. However, the Hero, his smug ass friend Prince Kiefer, and local nag Maribel eventually find out that this is because of an ancient battle between the Demon King and the Almighty (see atheists there is a god he’s for real) and the rest of islands were sealed away in darkness by the Demon King, and it’s up to our increasingly unlikely band of heroes (one such member is a dog that inhabits a human body riding another dog) to collect fragments of the past in order to travel back and return these islands to their rightful state.
This is where the main story is put on the back burner, as story constantly shifts focus to what is going on in these islands. Each island has their own evil to fight and their own story. The problems you face usually ranges from “oh here’s a bad guy kill him oh yey you did it now get the fuck out of here” to some really depressing stuff. This is actually what Dragon Quest VII does really well; it veers away from the clichéd JRPG stories really early on, and your heroes are more often than not nothing more than bystanders being forced to experience tragedies happen with little or no ability to intervene. Without spoiling too much, there’s a late-game island you go to where the town is constantly suffering from some sort of hardship, and every time you save (or “save”, which is basically the game telling you that you’re done here now get the fuck out) an island you can visit it in the present-day and see how everything turned out. Now every time you save the island, you go back to it in the present and find that it’s still in ruins, so you keep going back to this islands because for the love of god if I have to save you guys from your own hubris one more time i’m personally dropkicking you into the beyond realm because THIS PART IS REALLY STUPID WHY AM I HERE I JUST WANT TO LEVEL UP MY SHEEPMEN FOR ROYAL RAM-BLE
The last time you go back to this island (for good this time) you find that this rich man befriends one of the monsters from the last disaster, and the villagers, given their track record, *really* aren’t okay with that. So they send you into his house into the middle of the night to basically murder his pet in cold blood, and this sets off a chain reaction which ultimately results in the kindly old rich man being the only survivor on the entire island, by your own hand.
Ouch! And this is far from the first sobering experience you have in this game.
Unfortunately, as far as the main story goes, that’s where it starts to get kind of dry. The main story in of itself, aside from an unexpected twist or two, falls a little short, and major events aren’t treated with the kind of gravitas as they should be (i.e. most main story events fall under “and all of a sudden you’re here now” and not much else). That isn’t to say that the characters are boring; on the contrary, nearly every major character is given plenty of depth and character development, so when you like or hate a character, it’s usually really damn clear that it’s because the writers did such a good job writing them.
Story-wise, it’s the interactions on the islands you go to that’ll be the most engaging, and what are considered to be the bread and butter of Dragon Quest VII, as opposed to the Quantum Leap narrative that this game is attempting to convey.
You’re going to hear me saying this a few more times before this review is over (for emphasis and not because i’m a little rusty at this writing thing okay), but the Dragon Quest series has always been known for the adventure, and a lot of this due to the breathtaking soundtrack (provided by one Big Boss of video game music, Koichi Sugiyama). The soundtrack in the Dragon Quest series, especially in Dragon Quest VIII, is very adventure-focused; each individual piece was meticulously created to make you feel a sense of nostalgia and wonder, and fits the mood of each story extremely well. A dramatic moment in a Dragon Quest game is always directly confirmed by the music that accompanies it; you only really know what you’re getting into when the music that plays during the encounter starts playing, and as the music picks up, you slowly realize just what exactly you’re getting into. Dragon Quest VIII in particular did an excellent job of setting the mood through its music, and with Dragon Quest VII having such an interesting premise, I hoped that the music would help better convey that.
While the game has a lot of interesting little songs, they are used extremely repetitively to the point that I had my 3DS (New Nintendo 3DS XL to be exact, because I’m bragging and there’s nothing you can do about it) on mute more than half of my time playing this game. That isn’t to say this game doesn’t have interesting music, and in fact this game tickles the nostalgia bone constantly with little throwback jingles here and there.
But you hear the same songs SO. MUCH.
And the music does very little to convey mood or atmosphere; true, there’s sad music to accompany sad moments, and so on, but it’s so repetitive that you just end up either muting it or tuning it out completely, and that kind of mitigates the kind of effect it has on the story.
It’s kind of shame, really; music has the power to inject so much raw emotion into anything and make it a truly memorable experience, so when the soundtrack for a game becomes mindlessly repetitive and forgettable, it inadvertently makes the story that much more forgettable.
What creates a memorable experience for the gamer is always going to be subjective, but I feel that graphics go a long way in that endeavor. In an adventure-focused series like Dragon Quest, graphics are instrumental and go a long way towards giving the player a sense of wonder and making the world as exciting and lifelike as technologically possible.
It feels weird giving a 5 on this, because Dragon Quest VII does, and doesn’t, convey that sense of wonder and adventure. On one hand, everything looks great and detailed, and there are moments where you’re going through a dungeon or fighting some badniks and you really get a sense of where you are and it looks pretty nice.
On the other hand, the game insists on doing some pretty weird stuff with the camera. You either:
A.) Have some stupid eagle eye view where the game centers the camera above you, which means in most dungeons you can only see within a short radius of the character
B.) You’re out in the field, and literally 40% of the screen is you and your party because the camera decided “hey due to the hardware/software limitations of the 3ds we really can’t show you all of this environment so here stare at your party for most of the game DON’T THEY LOOK GREAT THEY LITERALLY STAY LOOKING THE SAME WAY FOR 30 HOURS OF THIS 100+ HOUR GAME SO ENJOY THAT”
I know this game prefers storytelling over sights, and that’s fine, but images go a long way in games like these, and much like its music, a lot of things (such as NPCs, especially major NPCs for some reason) are used repetitively, which (again, much like its music) severely mitigates the gravitas of the stories this game tries to tell. This creates a problem where you’re given every reason to care about the minor characters in this game, since the majority of these characters are oftentimes under the boot of suffering and misfortune, but since everyone always looks like more of a placeholder than an actual character you start to care increasingly little about them until THE BIG THING happens and things get really sad.
Aside from that, apart from things looking pretty nice sometimes, graphics do very little to help convey a sense of adventure in this game.
As far as gameplay goes, Dragon Quest does very little to innovate or reinvent the JRPG genre, instead choosing to stay rooted in the same kind of simplistic-but-surprisingly-strategic JRPG gameplay it’s always stuck to since the very first Dragon Quest game.
The adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” certainly applies here, but every so often it’ll change things up a bit; starting with Dragon Quest III, you had access to both a custom-made party (it’s entirely possible to solo the game with just the Hero, if you’re a sadist) and upgradeable vocations, which allowed you to create your own ideal Adventuring Squad(trademark).
In VII, the vocations return in force, and are an integral part of gameplay, so of course you get them about 30 (!?) hours in. This is actually a good move gameplay-wise, because by the time you get access to the vocations you generally know what vocations are better suited to certain party members stat-wise (Maribel had a high Wisdom stat by the time I got to this point, so she was immediately made into a Mage), which makes things easier because from this point the game takes a considerable leap in difficulty to accommodate all of the skills you can learn. The game gives you so many vocations, each which their own strengths and weaknesses, and these vocations give way to advanced, and later expert, vocations, which require you to master multiple vocations in order to unlock them.
This actually gives you room to experiment and nail down what kind of party you want to play with, and they come with their own costume changes and skills, which helps keep things fresh.
The bad thing about the vocation system is that party members are constantly switched out (only one of the original four stays with you through most of the game), making all the effort you put into said party members seemingly pointless. However, each member stays with you long enough to where investing time in mastering vocations with them is extremely valuable (nearly every member takes part in several boss battles, making it more of a necessity). None of the characters are just a waste of party space, so putting in the effort to make them a valuable part of your team is never a waste of time and ensures that your party is constantly improving.
That aside, Dragon Quest VII doesn’t really go out of its way to make things all that engaging; it does really well at doing the same things it’s always done, but it doesn’t add anything new to keep things fresh, and oftentimes you’re usually grinding to get some new piece of equipment or rank up your characters’ vocations, so you’re not really missing out of much. Not to mention, there are too many parts in the game where it just kicks you out in the middle of nowhere and you’re often left wondering where to go (and the game is no fucking hurry to actually tell you), so you’re left wandering around until the game decides you’re ready to move on to the rest of the story.
Or until, you know, you pull up GameFAQs and find out that lots of other people were lost in the exact same spots you were.
get it because dragon quest 7 haha
I was somewhat disappointed when I beat this game; after all, this was the game that led into the supremely sublime Dragon Quest VIII four years later, so I was kind of hoping that VII would be the great game that VIII expanded on to make itself an even greater game. But sadly, VII feels extremely lacking in that kind of “oomph” and sense of limitless adventure that made VIII so grVIII.
On the other hand, it more than makes up for that with the lovable characters, the miniature stories that keep you so engrossed in these villagers’ lives that when things go south, you hope to find a resolution (or at least another interesting story) in another venture to the past. I suppose in that way, Dragon Quest VII does provide a sense of adventure in that respect; when I got to the last of the islands I could explore, I was disappointed that I couldn’t have another love story, a story of fatal hubris, or even another classic good vs. evil story. I was left wanting, true, but I was also left wanting more.
So if small, episodic, engrossing stories leading to a good ol’ final battle with the Demon King are your cup of tea, I would definitely try this game out.
And if that doesn’t float your boat, just make everyone in your party Sheep Men and see if you don’t at least have a good time. You’ll thank me later.
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