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Wolf Kanno's Crazy Ramblings and Incoherent Statements

My Top 100's Lost but not Forgotten: Dragon Quest VII

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I feel like the year 2001 was an odd year in gaming. One of the first time where you really felt like the end of an era and the beginning of a new one was coming. Sony was gearing up to release the successor to the smash hit PlayStation and if you looked around the gaming scene, it seemed like every company was jumping ship to get on board what the PS2 could do. Square had released their PS1 swan song FFIX even though they would still support the PS1 with ports like FF Origins a few years later, but most fans were feverishly waiting for Final Fantasy X. It's interesting how one of the bigger releases of this year was more of an anomaly than anything. Enix was finally going to release their long sought after Dragon Quest VII and for some of us Westerners, we were finally going to get the chance to play a numbered entry after nearly a decade.
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Some background info is in order then. VII was announced in 96, and was originally going to be released on the N64 peripheral system, but a few days later, Enix decided to switch to the PS1 due to easier and cheaper development costs and the larger install base. Like many of the stories surrounding the N64, the move to stick to cartridge based medium prompted most of it's third party support to jump to the competition. DQVII was expected to come out not long after it's release but due to Horii's perfectionism and the game's meager staff of 35 people, VII ended up being delayed quite a bit. It was meant to come out around the time FFVII was released but instead released the same year as FFIX in Japan. Despite the game looking like an early PS1 title, Square was so afraid of the game crushing their own efforts that they pushed back FFIX's release which was probably for the best because DQVII sold over four million copies in Japan within the first year and is still the best selling PS1 game in Japan. To put this in perspective, it took FFVII one year to make it to million copies including world wide sales and being released in most regions. DQVII did four times as much business in Japan alone.
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Course the game got a release in the West as well cause Enix decided to jump in on the RPG craze VII made but by the time the game was released in 2001, DQVII not only looked and played incredibly dated, but was also a brand that had little of a following in the U.S. thanks to skipping the 16-bit era and largely existing with the Pokemon spin-off series DQ Monsters on the Gameboy. It's not a surprise to anyone that VII tanked here. It's also interesting to see how FF really influenced Western tastes as you read reviews of the game at the time. The game nearly got a perfect score in Famitsu back when that meant something but largely got middling reviews from Western gaming sites who often complained about the dated gameplay and graphics as well as the game's incredibly slow pace. Despite all of this, since I was in my hardcore RPG phase at the time and was unlikely to get a PS2 for awhile (I ended up being wrong about that) I took the chance to play a new DQ entry.
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DQVII takes place on the small island nation of Estard. It is a peaceful kingdom that has existed as long as people remember and has never experienced any real problems. The people are mostly agreeable and the royal family is competent. Suffice to say, it's an incredibly boring place to be. At least that's what the Hero, his best friend the crowned prince Kiefer, and the mayor's daughter Maribel feel about it. So of course the kids break the one taboo of the island and explore the mysterious temple on the far end of the island. They eventually discover a chamber with several pedestals with strange broken tablets within that show a map. Intrigued, the trio of misfits scourer the island until they find the pieces to complete one of the maps and they are soon enveloped in light and transported to a dark kingdom overrun by monsters. Intrigued, the kids help the villagers to fight off the monsters that are ruling over them and have a grand adventure, even finding a few more of the mysterious tablets in this strange land. When they return through the portal to their home land, they discover the whole island is in a strange uproar. Apparently a new island appears not far from Estard. When the kids explore, they discover it's the strange dark kingdom they helped save. Thus there journey begins to find the tablets and restore the destroyed world that was nearly conquered by the Demon Lord during his climatic battle against God centuries ago.
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I feel VII wins the award for having one of the most inventive stories in the series, and an interesting look at Horii's own take on a time travel story when he doesn't have to deal with Masato Kato's meddling. What makes the story so engaging for this title is how well it fits with the episodic story formula the series has utilized since DQIII combined with how well the stories wind up being interconnected as locations from late game have subtle and not-so-subtle callbacks to events from the early locations in the game. VII also has quite possibly the darkest tales in the franchise, which isn't terribly surprising when you remember the lands you're saving were completely destroyed by their troubles. In fact, I kind of blame playing VII before V hurting the major player punch from that game because VII took the concept into a much more horrifying direction.
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The other thing I love about VII is the eclectic cast it contains. I mentioned in another thread how VII's cast feels like some NPC's from other games finally getting the chance to star in their own game. The hero is a dopey looking fisherman's son, Maribel is a bratty and bossy red head, Gabo is a wolf turned into a human and barely talks being a more animal like Dragon Ball era Son Goku whose story ends as soon as it begins, and Melvin is the Legendary Hero, who turns out to be a senile old man. Kiefer and Aria are the lone exceptions with Kiefer being a "jump to the call" adventure seeking prince, but he winds up being a temporary NPC. Aria remains as the lone exception but it's surprising how she's often the most overlooked cast member in the game in more recent years. This odd bunch of heroes actually makes the adventure feel a bit more amusing since you're not stuck with typical hero teams which was probably one of the best parts of the game because it made them feel fresh after a smorgasbord of dealing with samey RPG casts from the flood of RPGs on the PS1. In fact, I feel this makes the game more appealing even today as the trend of using stock archetypes has never really changed much.
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On the gameplay front, DQVII largely worked as a huge expansion of DQVI's mechanics. At this point it should be noted that the DS/3DS remakes of these two games took some serious liberties from these mechanics. VII utilizes a job class system, but unlike typcial Job Systems, a characters equipment isn't restricted by the class, instead it's the character. Gabo can never equip Staves while Maribel can never use swords or axes. This sort of adds focus to character building but it doesn't necessarily mean the characters are bad in classes that don't utilize their equipment strength. For instance, Maribel's staffs work well with the magic/warrior hybrid classes just as Gabo being a beefier hitting mage isn't a bad thing. VII added a few new classes such as Shepherd and Summoner/Druid as well. You start with basic classes like Fighter, Warrior, Bard, Cleric, and Mage until you master them and unlock advanced classes such as Pirate, Sage, and Paladin, mastering these classes unlocks the prestige classes Hero, Summoner, and Godhand (Champion? Seriously Remake?). In the original VI, you could recruit monsters on your team like in DQV, VII dropped this mechanics and instead changed it so your party members could learn Monster Classes of which there were 34 to choose from. The monster classes them selves also work in a tier system that can be unlocked as you master the proper jobs, but in addition to the slow method, it's possible for monsters to drop their Monster Heart's which would allow you to directly jump to that class, but I'll warn you that the drop rate is painfully low.
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One of the coolest features, which I don't understand why more games haven't incorporated this into it is the idea of Hybrid Abilities. Basically the order of classes you level can unlock a unique skill that combines the best of both classes. The in-game example is by mastering Warrior and Thief in any order, you would also learn Thief Hit which is basically DQ's version of the Mug skill. If you mastered Mage instead of Warrior, you would learn Rob Magic (MP Drain) instead. This made planning your classes more interesting, but sadly it mostly pertained to the the beginner classes. Mastering classes also granted a stat bonus whenever your character was that class.
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Where VII goes wrong here is how unbalanced the jobs can be. Unlike FFs job systems, in DQ, your character retains all their abilities as they jump through the classes, this creates some obvious balancing issues as well as some tedious menu searching for the right ability. Some of the skills are also pretty broken as I will tell you now that if you're playing the original, you should definitely have at least two people master Teen Idol and Dragoon to get access to Hustle (No Mp cost group heal) and Quad Hits (what it says on the tin) but on the other hand, I appreciate that most of the classes are pretty useful and sometimes being broken isn't a bad thing because VII can be downright brutal in places.
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Other features is the return of the Fashion Show minigame from VI where you can equip your party in themed items to win prestige and items in a fashion show, as well as a monster park where your Monster Tamer class can fill with monsters you beat in battle. New to the series is the Town building mini-game, inspired partially by DQIII's story event but expanded into a fun mini-game. Once you agree to help the town grow, you can talk to certain NPCs you meet around the world and tell them to move to the town. As the population grows, the town gets bigger and more features get added like better shops and churches to save. What is uniquely different from similar games is that you can build themed towns by recruiting only people who fall into a certain niche. If you recruit purely farmers and livestock, the town becomes a Farm Ranch that sells rare healing items. Only Clerics and Nuns? You get a Grand Cathedral that sells Holy/Religion themed items. If you recruit criminals and bunny girls, you build a massive slum with the game's biggest casino with the rarest of items as the prize. It's a pretty neat feature and the original even allowed you to trade citizens with friends via memory card.
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Now let's jump into why this game didn't quite make it to the list. For the most part, it's a one-two punch of pacing and density. DQVII is also game at points, not because the story arcs aren't interesting but due to the game's obscene amount of backtracking to fulfill the main quest of finding all the map shards to unlock a new region. It's not uncommon for you to spend a few hours finishing a new story chapter where you might find one or two new shard pieces, only to then finish the plot, talk to all the NPCs a second time to see if any of them may know where a new shard piece is, travel back to the current time and then proceed to chat with all the new inhabitants of the world you saved and revisit a few dungeons and locations just to find the other shard pieces needed to continue. These interlude's between chapters are momentum killers and a large part of why I feel it's best to approach this game with a guide handy just to shave off some of the down time. Speaking of which, the game is huge and has a lot of things to kill time with such as the mini-games mentioned above and classic casinos. There is so much to do, and a lot of it is time consuming that it's easy to pour an excessive amount of time into this game. When I finished the first disc, I had already clocked in over a 100 hours and by the time I finished the game, I had put in another thirty hours. In the time it took me to beat DQVII classic, I could have played through all three of the PS1 FFs. Hell, I could have probably beaten the first six DQ games. That time sink has largely been the reason why I've never really picked the game up again. Hell I'm just exhausted typing about it. Thankfully the 3DS remake has allegedly fixed some of these issues with Job Classes having lower battle requirements to level up, a helper character to make tracking down the shards easier, and the usual buff to XP/Gold gains to make grinding less important. Another strike against the game is that the CGI FMVs are hilariously bad. As I said, anyone playing DQVII classic would be dumbstruck to learn that it was a late arrival on the console as opposed to a year one title like it looks.
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If none of this has scared you off, then definitely check this game out, despite never really wanting to dive back in, my experience with the game was still phenomenal.


  1. Fynn's Avatar
    I loved DQVII (3DS) but yes, exhausting is definitely a good word to describe it. But itís also not like itís the longest game I ever played - Iíve played open world JRPGs and stuff like Persona that took me longer but felt like less. I think that may be because thereís pnly so much you can do with this particular format to extend gameplay in a meaningful fashion