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Dragon Warrior VII (PlayStation) artwork

Dragon Warrior VII (PlayStation) review

"If there's a long-running series, there's a curious misstep somewhere. And here we are!"

JRPGs went through a bizarre transition during the PlayStation era. They initially were considered a niche genre, and a large percentage of them never made it from Japan to North America. Then Final Fantasy VII released on the PlayStation to an ungodly amount of fanfare, complete with commercials that showed off how much prettier it was than the older games within the genre. Everything about its presentation screamed "THIS IS EPIC!!!" and, before we knew it, JRPGs were viable money-makers. More and more of them found their way to our shores, with most of them endeavoring to appear every bit as epic.

This trend led to longer games that tried to tell more mature stories, often with questionable results. Wild Arms 2 was a fairly entertaining game marred by constant conversations about what it means to be a hero and whether being one is even desirable. Chrono Cross got bogged down by repeated warnings about the consequences of not taking care of our planet. Xenogears was simply a glorious mess, mixing religious symbolism with psychological breakdowns to craft a story that's virtually impossible to truly comprehend. And with Dragon Warrior VII, Enix put together an extremely long game that, while easily recognizable to fans of the series, managed to completely botch many of its best attributes.

As a fan of the series since I played the original Dragon Warrior on the NES, I've always loved being quickly thrown into the mix. I like running around outside the initial town to fight monsters and earn cash so I can purchase superior equipment and take down hardier foes. Even more recent titles in the series, such as the eighth (PlayStation 2) and ninth (DS) installments waste very little time before tossing cannon fodder in front of you. So, how does this game start?

You're the son of a fisherman, living in a small village on a small island country that seems to be the only land mass in the entire world. While your dad supports your family by fishing, you spend your time hanging with your two best friends: Maribel, the somewhat bratty daughter of your town's mayor, and Kiefer, the impetuous son of the king. Other than two towns and a castle, some strange ruins are your island home's primary attraction. Through a series of events, your trio of budding adventurers finds an item that allows them to locate a secret entrance underneath those ruins. After solving some puzzles down there and running back and forth between the ruins and the two towns a few times, you collect enough strange shards to fill one of many pedestals located in the heart of the ruins. This creates a vortex that whisks you to a strange land. As you realize you have no idea where you are, a group of Slimes attack!

Reaching this point in the campaign takes an hour or two, if you know what you're doing. It's an eternity spent talking to people and solving puzzles in the ruins. Having a step-by-step walkthrough for this part of the game open on your computer is almost mandatory, so you can just get through it and start doing something that at least can pretend to be even remotely fun.

Sadly, "remotely fun" is the key part of that last sentence. When I think back to the good times I've had with this series, world exploration has always played a huge role. You start out in your country and either take a portal or cross a bridge to new lands. Eventually you get a ship and maybe even a flying vehicle, and the world opens up more and more until you can reach virtually every location in the globe. Sometimes, you might not even be quite sure where you're supposed to go, causing you to utilize trial and error, checking out each island and country to see if you have what it takes to handle the local monsters.

Dragon Warrior VII does its own thing and, to its detriment, does so with gusto. After you are transported to this new land, you hear a story of monsters besieging a small town. You traverse a pair of short dungeons in an effort to solve the problem. When it's resolved and you return through the portal to your own world, you find that a new island has just mysteriously surfaced in a location where nothing had previously existed. Taking a small boat, your team investigates and finds it's the same place you just visited on the other side of the portal, except many years in the future. Your two trips to this island result in you obtaining enough shards to fill yet another pedestal, and you're soon able to hit up another new land in order to solve its problems... so it can appear in your world.

This recurring setup leads to a number of problems. Most notably, the game is linear as hell. Instead of exploring a world, you're creating it country by country, with no sense of actual exploration. You go to a new land, endure some exposition and clear one or two dungeons. Few of them are even remotely complex, until you've advanced quite far into the campaign. That's if you're lucky, mind you. One early location contains only a small town where nearly everyone was turned to stone a long time ago. Your mission: talk to the one person remaining and then "talk" to all the statues when night falls in order to piece together what happened. Later, in a different land, you find a village where everyone was petrified more recently. This time, you're able to fight the monster responsible, as well as save the townsfolk. Which leads into a sleep-inducing amount of conversation. The entire remainder of your time in the location is spent talking to various people repeatedly, to slowly progress an insipid love quadrangle that was essentially lifted from Dragon Quest VI. And this sordid affair rears its ugly head one or two more times, as it extends through multiple decades of these peoples' lives. I won't spoil this forgettable arc by saying whether any of these star-crossed lovers find happiness in their preferred partner's arms. I will say I received no joy from the tedious filler, though.

I also wasn't pleased with how repetitive the game was in general. You journey through each land first when you're warped to the past and have to set things right. After returning to your own time, you have to return to the place you've revealed, exploring the same towns and (sometimes) dungeons again to collect more shards so you can complete more pedestals. You also occasionally have to backtrack to a previously-cleared area to grab an item necessary for completing your quest in the place you're currently exploring. Let's be real here: you won't just use that guide to get through the opening stuff quickly. You'll keep it within arm's reach for the duration of the campaign, all to keep all the repetition and tedium halfway manageable.

That's assuming you don't go completely bonkers over how slowly nearly everything progresses. You'll likely be perversely amazed at how long it takes to finally reach Dharma Shrine and gain the ability to choose new classes for your party members, for instance. You'll notice how it takes a LOT of fighting to gain levels, as well as to master those new classes. You'll realize you acquire so little cash from most fights that only the most devoted grinders will ever be equipped with the best stuff available from local shops. And you'll be completely floored by how many different places there are that need to be brought back to the real world. All the stuff I've been mentioning? You endure it nearly 20 times before you've finally brought back the entire collection of continents and islands -- and you still won't be ready to move onto the second disc of this comically massive game.

And yet, none of these instances of tedium were my least favorite part of Dragon Warrior VII. That dubious distinction is reserved for this game's fondness for adding and removing your party's characters with little to no warning. The first time it happens isn't that big of a deal, as you haven't accessed Dharma yet and everyone is pretty interchangeable. However, once you gain access to all those fancy classes, you start to sculpt your party into a well-oiled force in battle. You pick a character to be the designated mage, another to handle the heavy-hitting classes and so forth. Then, two separate instances take one character or another out of your party for an extended period of time, replacing him or her with either a new person you have to mold, or someone who hasn't been with you in a while and needs substantial training just to get up to speed. There's nothing like having to stop everything to grind classes for a few hours because you lost your very useful mage and the plot replaced her with a character who isn't nearly as handy in battle. I don't know that I ever had to grind because I was under-leveled or needed better equipment. I did, however, spend hours grinding in order to master classes and turn liabilities into worthwhile additions.

When it comes to positives, this game can be summed up succinctly: I love this series and, under all the filler and tedium, Dragon Warrior VII is still obviously a part of it. The monster designs are instantly recognizable. A dedicated shrine that gives you the opportunity to learn all sorts of new skills and spells via a multitude of classes is familiar and welcome, too. And despite itself, the game brings back good memories for fans of the series, with all those little details (such as tiny medals to redeem for prizes, casinos and so forth). Some of the additions to the formula are actually pretty neat, such as the ability to acquire hearts and gain an entire collection of monster classes from which to choose. With one character essentially being a wolf transformed into a human, it only seems appropriate to give him such a capability. Fortunately, he never leaves the party. I was able to assign him a ton of abilities during the course of mastering eight or nine classes!

But I can't be too positive about a game when I'm basically saying that any joy I got from it was solely due to its existence as part of a series with separate installments that contain some of my favorite console RPG experiences of all time. With the advent of longer, more story-driven RPGs in the PlayStation era, Enix took a franchise notable for its fast pace and tweaked it so it moves glacially, is horribly bloated and progresses along a painfully linear path. Dragon Warrior VII provided me with some enjoyment, but it's hard for me to consider it much more than a forgettable installment. It's more a curious misstep than it is a game worth recommending.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 09, 2018)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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