Dragon Quest VII Impressions

If I had to pick one word to describe Dragon Quest VII, it would probably be that much-overused adjective, "classic". While DQVII has little to offer eye-candy seekers, it will undoubtedly satisfy fans of the earlier Dragon Quest games, as it has retained most of the features that make Dragon Quest unique, and even made some improvements (at least in the eyes of this reviewer).

The story--and DQVII does indeed have a story, more so than some of its predecessors--starts out on a solitary island, with the teenage son of a fisherman, the daughter of a rich family (with attitude to match), and a prince with an adventurous spirit. The boy and the prince often play around near a ruined temple in the center of the island, until one day they find their way inside. As they descend, they come across some oddly-shaped stone slabs; fitting these together causes a bright flash of light and leads the party to--ah, but that would be telling.

DQVII's primary "new system" is the Map Collection System. By finding stone slabs like the ones mentioned above, the player can add to the map; the ones mentioned above create a new island just north of the first one. These slabs come in varying sizes and shapes, but all fit together like puzzle pieces, and the challenge is find all of the pieces for each new section of map. (You also have to fit them together, of course, but since you only need 3-5 pieces in most cases, it's not very difficult.)

DQVII also incorporates a fairly complex job system. All three characters start out without a job, but after finding a certain location, you can assign jobs to each, such as Fighter, Thief, or Mage. The characters will learn skills, such as attack techniques and spells, appropriate to each job, and these skills will remain usable even if you later decide to switch to another job. Moreover, the jobs have skill levels, which increase as you hold the job longer; "mastering" a job (raising it to the highest level) will open up a new job class, and raising multiple jobs to high levels can open up "combination" job classes, such as Mage Fighter. And finally, the instruction booklet drops a hint that you may forget jobs and skills if you don't use them for long periods of time--a genre first to the best of my knowledge, and a feature which should help balance the ability to keep skills from previous jobs.

Another interesting feature of DQVII is that it lets you talk to your own party members, both on the map (where they may, for example, tell you where you're supposed to be going) and in battle (where they might offer suggestions on defeating the enemies). Unfortunately, DQVII does not seem to make too much use of this feature--at least as far as I've gotten--although I did once get chided by the prince for forgetting to equip him with a weapon.

DQVII's menu system harks back to the days of Dragon Quest II, which itself only differed from DQI by the removal of the "Stairs" and "Take" menu items. However, one addition that makes DQVII much more playable than its predecessors is the use of the triangle button as a "handy button", much like the action button in Final Fantasy and many other RPGs: in front of a person it will automatically talk to them, in front of a treasure chest it will automatically open the chest, and so on, as if you had selected the appropriate item from the menu. Another handy addition is the "item bag", which lets you store as many items as you want--no more worrying about how many items people in your party can carry (although each character's carrying ability has also been expanded).

Battles, too, use the same front-on turn-based menu system as earlier games in the series. This time, however, there are numerous animations for the enemies (which can be very amusing at times) and spells, and reasonably nice backgrounds instead of the black screen from DQII-IV. (Actually, DQV and DQVI, Super Famicom games which were never released in the US, also had background images for the battle sequences.) DQIV's AI system has returned for this installment, but thankfully it is also possible to choose to give commands directly to all party members. And the battle sound effects are the same ones that have been used in every DQ game so far.

As might be expected of any Playstation RPG, DQVII has a 3D environment; you can tell, though, that the developers are still firmly rooted in 2D. The rotation is usable, if clunky, but many details, and even the characters at times, inadvertently get hidden behind walls when viewed from the wrong angle. Although treasure chests, pots, and such are all solid objects, many of the decorations, such as torches or flowers, are just painted onto the wall--they disappear when turned sideways. The game does make use of the 3D environment in a few cases, such as hiding treasure chests behind houses, but overall I think I would have been happier with a flat map view like earlier DQ games.

The graphics themselves, when not being distorted by the 3D view, are reasonably well-done, if not spectacular; good use is made of lighting as well. The music is likewise good but not great; it does suffer, however, from over-complexity, something I have seen in a lot of Playstation games. While the music does (more or less) do its job of setting the mood, I would have liked a nice simple melody or two that stuck in my head, like some of the old DQ games had.

While I am somewhat disappointed that the Dragon Quest team couldn't have produced a better game given the time they had to do it in--or released a game of this level sooner--there is one other fact that bears mentioning: A note on Enix's web site says that completing the game can take "in excess of 100 hours," suggesting that DQVII will be keeping people entertained for a good while.

Overall, while Dragon Quest VII may not attract too many Quake fans, it provides a solid "traditional RPG" experience and makes a fine addition to the Dragon Quest series.

by Jake Alley    
Source: Andy Church
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