Dragon Quest VII first launched on the PS1 on 31 October 2001 in North America. This remake for the 3DS, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past, came out in Japan in 2013. After a long wait, it’s finally being localised in the West, a first for both Europe and Australia. But has it been worth the wait?
The game revolves around the protagonist – who has no official name – and his two friends, Maribel and Kiefer. Essentially the world is made up of one island in an endless ocean and things are rather peaceful. Upon discovering a set of fragments, the three heroes are sucked into a map to an unknown world filled with monsters. Turns out something catastrophic happened in the past that removed these islands and any memory of them in the present. It then falls to the trio to collect these fragments, travel back to the past, and solve each island’s dilemmas in order to restore the land.
Each island is its own vignette, sort of like a procedural TV show, with a larger narrative taking the back burner until much later in the game. You’ll encounter a village where everyone has been turned to stone, one where monsters have kidnapped their women, and so on. While each mystery has its moments, the pace overall is bitterly slow thanks to some odd design choices. RPGs, especially Dragon Quest games, are known for grinding as well as backtracking, but Dragon Quest VII is one of the worst offenders I’ve played in quite some time. This muddied progression didn’t engage me in the plot whatsoever.
It takes a little over an hour before you encounter your first battle, and if you’ve played one Dragon Quest, you’ve played them all. Your three beginning party members have all the basics in term of moves from attacking, defending, magic, and weapon skills. Every once in a while you’ll gain an A.I. controlled party member for the story, but these are terribly controlled and offer little help. Your max amount of members is four, but heroes leave and come in and out sporadically, which comes back to the pacing. The group lacks a sense of camaraderie and balance with the drop ins and outs throughout the game.
As simplistic as the combat begins, it expands greatly around 18 hours into Dragon Quest VII. Yes, I wrote that correctly: eighteen. Once you complete the Alltrade Abbey story arc, which is the hardest and longest in the game to that point, characters can then choose a class. Heroes keep all their spells learned up to this point, but gaining a job will boost or detract certain aspects while in turn granting powers to then pass on. For example, a Warrior has great attack and defensive stats, but detracts from Magic abilities. Job skills mastered can then be passed over to another job, infinitely stacking power until you’re a god among men. It takes a lot of time though if that’s your end goal, but brute or not, experimenting with class combinations is excellent. Balancing a good party with said jobs is a bit complicated at first, but given time, it’ll sink in.
Everything from the PS1 version has been vastly improved for the better. I love me some pixel art, but Dragon Quest VII was ugly as all hell. This 3DS remake is gorgeous for the portable and I actually think it’s worth noting the 3D options are phenomenal. Aside from visuals, it feels easier in terms of combat plus there’s no random encounters anymore. Instead enemies roam the maps, or dungeons, which is great, but not perfect as cramped corridors make some areas feel like heavy random encounters. Again, everything has been retooled to make it feel like a more put together experience – even though a lot of it is still tedious. It takes a long time for everything to sort of meld together, and even after this there are times when it still drags. Still, despite a long list of small gripes, it’s hard not to see the majesty in this game.
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past is a great remake and a terrific portable RPG. The main issue is its slow, uneven pace in terms of story along with the absent-minded direction with certain gameplay elements, but if you’re able to look past that, then Dragon Quest VII has a lot to offer. Putting it simply, there may be a lot of fat on this beast, but the meat at hand is so delicious that’s it’s hard not to recommend. There are better Dragon Quest games to start with for beginners, but fans of both the series and to those looking for the next great 3DS adventure will surely get some love out of this remake. The game demands your time, but if you stick with it, you’re in for a treat.