I’ve reviewed exactly one game before this, Nintendo’s Miitopia. I was less than impressed with it. To end December’s bonus reviews, I thought I’d go with a game franchise that’s near and dear to my heart, Dragon Quest. We’ll be basing our review on the 3DS remake and not just because it’s the version I was able to buy legally since the Playstation version wasn’t released here. We’re also doing that one because it’ll probably be the easiest for you all to find at a reasonable price.
We open on the small island of Estard. Our protagonist, I named him Lulu, is the son of a fisherman. One day, his father brings home a mysterious map fragment. This leads him and his childhood friend, Prince Kiefer, on a quest to open up the door to a strange shrine. They’re quickly joined by their friend Maribel. The three activate an ancient pedestal that leads them through time and space to an island they’ve never seen. They quickly discover that the world was once populated by a great many islands that were, through various machinations of the demon lord, lost. They also discover that through travelling back to pivotal moments they can restore the islands and reshape the world itself. Which may eventually earn them the strength necessary to defeat the demon king himself.
I have two issues with the story, neither of which is a major deal. They’re more of small annoyances. The first is the lack of player agency on the ending. Throughout the game, they ask Lulu questions about things like his plans for the future and how he feels about Maribel (if you’re me you always answer positively because Maribel is amazing) but, ultimately, your answers don’t matter in the slightest. Honestly, this game would have benefited from multiple endings based on your answers. You see the same basic issue with Sir Lysalot, a fraud who you have no real choice but to cover for because the game won’t let you expose him and believe me, I tried. The second issue is also with the ending. So, you get to the end and your party goes through a long victory tour where you stop at various places and find the people you need to talk to to move on to the next place. It gets pretty tedious and, honestly, this part really doesn’t need to be interactive. It actually gains nothing from having you play through it. They could’ve made it quicker and cleaner by just showing the important conversations and then automatically moving you to the next spot.
In a strange way, this narrative reminds me of Doctor Who back when Doctor Who was good. I suppose it’s the journeying through time and space aspect. Plus there’s always some new problem to face our heroes. I actually really like that story set up. I also appreciate that the various islands you go to provide different kinds of obstacles. It’s not always going through dungeons and fighting the big bad. Sometimes it’s more about information gathering or puzzle solving. Which leads to some nice variety. I also like the way the reborn islands differ. In some, you’ll find that your party has become heroes of lore. In others, you’ll be forgotten. In one case, you’re even vilified. And in all the cases the response tells you something about the culture of the island’s people. It’s actually a really effective way to do some world building.
Lulu is pretty much like every silent Dragon Quest protagonist. He’s there as the character you project onto. The antagonist is the same kind of thing. He’s the bad guy who wants to exterminate the Almighty and rule. It’s the other playable characters who keep things compelling. Maribel, Aira, Gabo, Melvin & Kiefer all have a strong sense of personality and some interesting arcs. Even some of the more minor characters like Estard’s king or Sefana have a nicely built sense of character.
Honestly, it’s like a lot of other games in the franchise. Provide the kind of blank slate protagonist you get to make decisions for and the big bad who’s just evil while putting effort into making the rest of the party and a bunch of side characters interesting to compensate.
if you’ve ever played a Dragon Quest title, you know the basics of how the controls work. You’ve got the usual turn-based combat with the usual interface and menus. It also uses the mechanic that the newer games are fond of where monsters appear on the world map and you get into battle by running into them. There are two things that separate VII from a lot of the other games in the franchise. The first is the mechanic of travelling to the past. Which is used to great effect and there are several instances where you need to go back to a specific place in order to find something or get help from a particular person. The second is the job system.
VII isn’t the only game to give you vocations, but it does execute them in an interesting way. Each vocation has levels of mastery where you earn new abilities, some of which carry over. And you gain that in addition to ordinary levels. So, you don’t have to significantly weaken yourself to start a new path. It also features prestige classes, which require certain conditions to change to. Mastering certain classes or gaining specific skills. Perhaps most interesting are the monster vocations. Throughout the game you find monster heart items that enable your characters to take on the aspects of that monster and these come with their own levels of mastery.
In terms of difficulty, VII is pretty challenging. There are times when you may want to pause in your quest to grind up some levels or just go out exploring and gain some more experience in the process. This game does have a massive map with a lot to do in it.
The designs are what you expect from Toriyama. They look pretty damn good. The 3DS version also updates the sprites when moving across the world map so that they look considerably better than the old school PS versions. One unfortunate side effect of that, however, is that the map itself and the boats you encounter look a bit blocky. The special attacks are also a bit lacklustre. Overall, though, the game does use the 3DS hardware pretty effectively.
You’ve gotta give Sugiyama Koichi credit. He’s pretty much done the musical score for every Dragon Quest game and they’ve always been excellent at complementing the atmosphere and just being really good. The sound effects are pretty standard fare.
Dragon Quest VII isn’t the best game in the franchise. It has some things that could definitely be done better. That being said, it’s still an excellent game. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPGs, like I am, then you’ll probably enjoy it quite a bit. The mechanic of going through time and space is really good. The characters have strong senses of personality. The soundtrack and designs are oh so good. My final rating is an enthusiastic 9/10.