Console: PSOne Company: Enix Release Date: October 2001 Genre: RPG Number of Players: One Save Feature? Yes indeed!
This game is for the diehard old-school gamers who want to relive the glorious 80s and 90s one last time. Although the graphics and gameplay are almost primitive to a fault, the seventh Dragon Warrior epic is yet another classic in a truly remarkable series. Nostalgia springs eternal and the magic that has pervaded this wonderful series since the days of video game antiquity resonates loud and clear.
Overview: Before I dig in, allow me to get this off my chest. This game is so LLLLLLOOOOOONNNNNNGGGGGG!!! Whew! That feels great! Holy cow; what this game lacks in the visual department it more than makes up for in content...loads and loads of content mind you. Seriously, this game took me an eternity to beat; 191 game hours in fact! And considering that my previous record was around 110 hours or so to conquer Final Fantasy X, that's saying something! Man, this game is a fun play but still, after playing for that long, any game would get stale. Good golly; it makes Chrono Trigger look miniscule!
With that being said, let's get onto the game shall we? In case you're new to RPGs or spent the 80s and early 90s under a rock of epic proportions, you should at least be familiar with the "Dragon Warrior" name (or "Dragon Quest" as the series is dubbed in Japan). In a nutshell, the Dragon Warrior series was the foundation for RPG gaming as we know it. Yes, even the beloved Final Fantasy series owes a lot to the slightly older Dragon Warrior/Quest series.
I could go on about the beginnings of Dragon Quest and the Cedar Point-like lines that each new release would spawn in Japan, but I'll save that for an NES Dragon Warrior review. Let me begin by saying that the North American release of Dragon Warrior VII was the end of a very, very long hiatus. You see, for reasons I will never understand, the fifth and sixth Dragon Warrior games never made it to our shores which is so strange considering that the first four games in the series sold just fine over here! Of course, when you consider that games such as Gradius II and Gradius Gaiden never made it to the states either, this becomes quite believable. Whatever the case, the 2001 release of DWVII came a whopping nine years (yes, NINE years!) after the release of DWIV.
Needless to say, Dragon Warrior VII was welcomed with open arms by the diehard fans remembering the glory days. However, you also have to keep in mind that there was a large segment of the gaming community that didn't have a clue about the Dragon Warrior series! As a result, DWVII ended up being one of those unfortunate games that hovered just under the radar screen. You just didn't hear a whole lot about it and what you did hear didn't exactly encourage you to go out of your way to purchase the thing. I could just hear your typical video game reviewer saying something like, "The graphics in this game are a terrible mess! I'll take my Final Fantasy VII thank you very much!" Naturally, that didn't encourage your video game layman to rush out on a cold November day to snag a copy of DWVII...which wasn't exactly the easiest game to find to begin with. You see? This game actually had a lot going against it.
However, there were the old-school gamers such as myself who decided to give a chance and you know what? This game really isn't all that bad! In fact, it was quite fun and had a lot of meat in terms of gameplay. Sure, the graphics are very Super NES-esque, the battle system can grow stale after a while, and the game doesn't really grab you like a Final Fantasy X or Chrono Cross. Still, there's something about DWVII that I really liked.
In terms of the actual game itself, you shouldn't have any problems picking it up if you have any previous Dragon Warrior experience. Seriously, it plays almost exactly like earlier games in the series save for the unique 3D perspective. From the simple, first-person battle engine to the slot machines (i.e. one-armed bandits!) and poker tables, you'll feel like you're back in the NES/SNES days!
Instead of boring you with every little detail, however, I'll just briefly touch on some of the new features in DWVII compared with the previous US release, Dragon Warrior IV. The first thing that you will notice upon firing up a new game is that you can interact with your environment to a greater degree. If you see pots or barrels lying around, don't just admire them; pick 'em up and toss 'em! Countless treasures such as gold, medicine, and Tiny Metals (share the same purpose as the Small Metals in DWIV) are often hidden inside! If you happen upon a bookcase, search it! You never know what important information you might come across. If you see a well, take a look inside!
Another nice feature in DWVII is the ability to talk with your companions! Although the Hero (I named mine "Tigmo"...strikes fear into your heart doesn't it?) is the typical silent protagonist, his companions are anything but! If you ever get stuck or just want to see what your friends think about the current situation/conversation, don't hesitate to talk to them! Every once in a while, they will give you important clues about what to do next. At the very least, you might hear something really hilarious!
The class system, although nothing terribly unique or original, is still a lot of fun to learn. Basically, it's like Dragon Warrior III meets Final Fantasy Tactics. You are able to choose an initial class such as Warrior or Mage, learn new abilities within that class such as Whirlpool (Pirate class) or the magic spell Blizzard (Sage class), and gradually "unlock" better classes! For example, if you master the Cleric (similar to the Priest class in FFT) and Mage classes, the powerful Sage class will become available! What I like about this system is the endless variety of options as your disposal. Stats such as HP, Strength, and Intelligence (i.e. Magic Power) are affected depending on your class so it is very important to allocate classes wisely. Having a Warrior, Fighter, Cleric, and Mage is a pretty safe way to allocate classes at first. It achieves a nice balance between Strength, Magic Power, and Agility. One person fights, another casts offensive magic, one heals the party, and another can fight or heal depending on the situation at hand. Of course, you can really make things interesting by adding a Jester or Teen Idol! ;)
Granted, I felt that the class system was heavily influenced by Final Fantasy Tactics but still, it worked nicely. Heck, you can even learn monster classes like Slime and Berserker which was a nice touch. The interesting thing about monster classes is that once you master one, your character will actually take on the likeness of the monster! When Tigmo mastered Berserker and was walking around like a crazed man in red and orange, I was thrown for a loop!
There are still a plethora of other things that I could discuss but I do have a life so I'll just leave that to the gurus at gamefaqs.com. ;) Let's just say that there is a lot more to Dragon Warrior VII than what meets the eye and leave it at that.
Graphics: Okay, let me try to explain this as delicately as possible before moving on. For a Dragon Warrior game, the graphics are very nice and colorful with impressive 3D effects implemented. However, for a late-release PSOne game being compared to the likes of Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VIII, the graphics are simply not up to par. Does that help? I hate to be critical because there is something about the graphics/rotating effects that I really liked about this game (call me a sentimental fool) but as an objective reviewer, I've gotta say it like it is! If Dragon Warrior VII had been released a few years earlier, the graphics would have actually been rather impressive. However, the fact is that this game was released very late in the PSOne's life pretty much puts that argument to rest.
First, let's discuss the positives. In terms of color and attention to detail, I was very impressed. The DW games for the NES were similar in this aspect and it was nice to see that some things hadn't changed. The homes and shops in towns have a nice homey touch to them and the castles are magnificent! There is a definite "polish" about things that I appreciated. Despite some primitive features, you can tell that this game was not rushed.
Some of the enemy sprites and various animations were surprisingly good as well. A few animations like the Mimic (evil treasure chest) chomping on your character and Metal Slimes attacking (if you want to call it attacking) were cute effects. And I've got to say that I was impressed with Monster Park. It was just too cool seeing little sprites of virtually every enemy in the game. You would be surprised at how much work goes into something like that.
Unfortunately, all things are not bright and beautiful about this game's graphics. There is just a blocky "feel" if you will of the game's graphics that really got to me after a while. Some of the trees, mountains, and other surrounding scenary just looked distorted somehow. And the characters somehow lack the polish that I have come to expect in a PSOne game. It was kind of like Xenogears although DWVII didn't feature those awful "zoom-ins" that were more pixelized than Pong. I don't know; it just didn't feel aerodynamically smooth. This was especially obvious in battle. While the enemies looked okay, some of the backgrounds were extremely blocky! Yikes! It's just hard to truly respect the graphics when Super NES games such as Chrono Trigger and Donkey Kong Country were far better in this area.
However, I have to say that the rotating 3D effects were a very nice touch and quite intuitive actually. It would be cool walking up to a house and simply pushing the L1 or R1 button to rotate the screen 45 degrees and so on and so forth to completely search around the house for hidden treasures and whatnot. This feature was truly a saving grace for this game as it added an element missing in the older NES epics. Dragon Warrior VII wasn't 2D like previous hits yet it was not completely in 3D; it achieved a nice compromise between the two.
Lastly, I have to voice my disappointment at the lack of FMVs in this game! The opening movie was actually quite good and set a nice tone but in the 191 hours I played this game, I only came across like 4 or 5 FMVs!! Not only that but the in-game FMV's I came across were sorely lacking in quality. Man, I guess I can understand why they didn't include more movies!
Music: Believe it or not, I actually purchased the Dragon Warrior VII soundtrack before even playing the game! Since Koichi Sugiyama (the composer of every other DW soundtrack) was the main man again, I figured I had nothing to lose. And right my premonition was! Although I can't quite put Sugiyama on the same plain as Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono series, Xenogears), he is still a very talented composer! While all of his music exuberates spirit and warmth, it lacks the complexity and flow of his collogues. Still, for some reason I can't explain, his music just seems to fit the Dragon Warrior series like a glove.
Needless to say, I found the DWVII soundtrack to be quite enjoyable. The town themes are friendly or sorrowful depending on the mood, the overworld/battle themes are pretty much your standard fanfare, and the casino theme is "razzly" as ever! The castle theme is grand, the Ruins track contains beautiful undertones of mystery and suspense, and the dungeon/tower tracks, while nothing out of the ordinary, were at least fitting.
One of my favorite tracks in the game has to be the one that plays at Zebbot's rustic home in the kingdom of Falrod along with some of the other sentimental areas in the game. It's just so thought-provoking and pleasant; I actually wish that it would have been featured a little more. Another beautiful melody is the theme of the Dejan tribe. It actually reminded me of Chapter 4 in DWIV with Mara and Nara with its catchy Arabian/Asian feel. The Sky Stone track is also impressive with its connotation of grandeur and purpose.
Lastly, I felt that the game's Ending Theme was impressive enough to give the game a nice sense of closure. Nothing too bombastic or overblown yet grand enough to end things right!
Although I enjoyed some of the tunes in DWVII, let me clarify that this is not in the same class as some of the more modern, diverse soundtracks like Chrono Cross or Xenogears. It is a much more simple form of music that reaches more to the 80s generation than the modern gamer yet it has enough "umph" to impress the London Symphony Orchestra (Disc 1 of the DWVII soundtrack contains virtually the entire soundtrack played by the LSO...it's awesome!)
Play Control: With the exception of navigating through some of the long menus in the battle screen, I was very pleased with the game's play control. I absolutely loved that you could now talk with someone, pick up an item, or simply check an object with the single push of a button (that being the triangle button). Remember the days of having to bring up a menu and make selections to do ridiculously simple tasks such as opening doors and going up/down stairs? As sentimental as I am, there are some things in the past that need to stay in the past. Equipping your characters, checking status/classes, and some of the more mundane operations are easy to use in DWVII...as they darned well should be.
Rotating the screen is simple as well. As long as you know the location of the L1 and R1 buttons on your Playstation controller, you're all set to go! :) This is actually one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game's controls and was quite intuitive and user-friendly...a winning combination indeed.
Challenge: Without a walkthrough and/or an almost godly amount of patience, this game is tough! DWVII is definitely the old-school gamers game when it comes to challenge. Playing through DWVII for the first time brought back memories of playing DWII and III with Explorer's Handbooks, posters, Nintendo Powers by my side. Unfortunately for me, I stupidly vowed to beat the game without any help and it nearly drove me to insanity! I will admit that I had to look online for help finding a shard about 1/3 through the game but besides that, I beat the game solo (Yay!) Seriously, beating this game was one of my better video game accomplishments. I can't tell you how elated I was when I finally saw the credits rolling down the screen with majestic music flowing in the background. It had been a while since I felt that satisfied with finishing a game.
So what makes Dragon Warrior VII so challenging for a video game veteran like myself you ask? Well, for one thing, it is not always obvious what you should do next; especially early in the game when you are journeying around a peaceful world with hardly any clues leading you on (and no battles allowing you to vent). Just getting through the Ruins and solving the many mysteries within (e.g. mazes, placing statues in different places causing water to rise and fall, etc...) is quite a daunting challenge for the game's first area.
The sheer size of this epic is another reason for DWVII's difficulty. As you progress through the different areas of the game, you'll see the world grow before your very eyes. This is all fine and good but should you miss something critical like a Shard or a special item early on, it could really come back to bite you later on. By missing a Shard hidden in a shop early in the game, I added on like five hours of gameplay before I finally had to check online to discover its location. Although I never thought about just giving up, I could just see a more impatient gamer throwing down the controller, yelling really loud, and calling it quits.
Lastly, building experience is not as easy as you would think and can become very time-consuming. Combine that with trying to master enough jobs to become a Godhand (which I haven't even been able to unlock...sob!) and you can see why 200 hours of gameplay are possible! Although I am sure that many gamers have managed to beat this game without spending too much time running around fighting enemies, it seems almost necessary at times. This isn't like your typical Final Fantasy game where you usually earn enough experience along the way to make it by. That probably isn't enough in DWVII. Some bosses like the Time Mage and the Twin Terrors of that one cave where you can't use magic are brutal beyond reason! And the final area and especially the game's final villain...holy cow.
I'm not about to crown this game the Playstation's "Battletoads" (the hardest game I have ever played...bar none) but it is certainly one of the more taxing RPGs out there. Thankfully, DWVII has enough sidequests to give you the needed breathers. The Casino is a great place to have fun and just relax (unless you're losing all of your hard-earned money...arg!) and the Monster Park where you can visit all of the monsters that you've tamed (this ability is given to you late in the game) is actually quite entertaining and features some pretty funny conversations ("Okay, who painted this target on my chest?!") The Metal King's castle is a nice place to visit from time to time as well (this comes highly recommended as some of the best items in the game are found here). There's even a secret dungeon that becomes available once you complete the game and a second secret pedestal hidden in the core of the Ruins. Simply put, this game has a lot to offer in terms of challenges if you're a perfectionist!
Storyline: I have mixed feelings about the game's story. Even though the main plot was quite predictable and comes across as old hat (heroes fighting demon lord...blah blah), I thought that the time-travel aspect was executed soundly. It was just too cool going back in time to save unknown continents then visiting the exact same lands during the present day. You never knew what the future towns/castles would be like and that added to the game's intrigue. While that is the good stuff, some of the game's story just didn't seem all that original. Gathering the elemental spirits was kind of cool but reminded me too much of Chrono Cross. And the game's final villain...same old...same old.
Regarding the main story itself, it all begins with the Hero, his best friend Kiefer, and the high-maintenance Maribel exploring their home island of Estard. Sounds pretty harmless right? However, you have to keep in mind that for some unknown reason, the island of Estard is the only known island in the world. Ships have gone out in search of other islands but have come back with stories of nothing but endless waves of ocean.
As you've probably guessed, the status quo does not stay the same for very long. Against the wishes of many, the Hero (I'll refer to him as Tigmo.) and company decide to venture into a mysterious cemetery which in actuality is an ancient ruins of sorts. After much research and experimentation, Tigmo and friends delve deeper and deeper into the heart of these ruins and stumble upon an area full of mysterious pedestals and a stone hinting towards the existence of other lands. The discovery of some mysterious shards only adds to the excitement and before you can say "Metabble," Tigmo & Co. are whisked away to a place long forgotten. By completing a pedestal with shard fragments, a gateway to the land as it once was is created. Pretty cool huh?
I've got to take a moment to say that whoever came up with this idea was a genius! Although the story has its issues, the time-travel theme is so much fun! Basically, the game involves you going back in time to a whole plethora of continents and saving the people there from an untimely demise. The cool thing is that you never know what to expect. The citizens might have been turned to stone, time may repeat (ala Groundhog Day), or fierce monsters might be planning to attack! Some of these plot twists were actually quite intuitive and I like the fact that once saved, you could now visit these mysterious areas in Tigmo's day! You would then search for more shards and eventually be able to visit a new area.
Although it's kind of in the shadows for the majority of the game, there is the main backstory involving God, the Demon Lord, and the legendary hero Melvin to consider. It all culminates with not one but two incredible battles with the game's main foe. The cool thing is that one fight takes place in the distant past with the final confrontation occurring in Tigmo's time. It's not the best story ever yet it doesn't totally let you down.
Funfactor: After everything that I have said about this game both good and bad, you probably don't know what to expect do you? Well, let me put it this way. Dragon Warrior VII is like an enormous buffet packed with all kinds of different entrees. There are the familiar favorites like the Casino and the sumptuous Class System, tasty surprises such as the Style Ranking Contest, Tiny Metals/Metal King Palace sidequest, and Monster Park, and sweet desserts like the bonus dungeons that can be accessed after beating the game!
However, like in just about any buffet, there are a few unpleasant surprises as well. The stale rolls, unrecognizable green beans; the occasional zucchini sticks evilly masquerading as mouth-watering mozzarella sticks (this actually happened to me once!). While the aforementioned gameplay is solid in DWVII, please do not confuse gameplay with simply fighting enemies and gaining experience because that is not the case at all. Although the battle system as a whole was nicely done, it does grow stale rather quickly. You just get tired of jamming on the "Fight" option or worse; having to navigate through the endless menus just to have Tigmo "Evilslash" an opponent. And while the option to have the computer control your allies during battle is definitely a plus, it's not recommended late in the game.
Although the time-travel aspect is a lot of fun at first, you do begin to grow weary after saving the umpteenth town from certain doom. Maybe I'm just picky.
The main point that I'm trying to nail home is that, while Dragon Warrior VII has plenty of flaws, there seems to be just enough "meat" to offset these problems. Like in my buffet analogy, DWVII features so many entrees that you should be able to find something you like. Tired of battling enemies? Hang out at the Casino and play the addictive slot machines and card games! Unable to defeat a tough boss or solve a mind-boggling puzzle? Tame a bunch of monsters and visit them in Monster Park for a few laughs or try your hand at creating your very own town! That, my friend, is the beauty of this game. It's the only way I made it to the end some 190 hours after being introduced to the small village of Fishbel. If you can see past the average graphics and simplistic soundtrack and get into that good old school gameplay, you just might find yourself digging this game. Just don't blame me if you find your social life going to the pits. ;)
Negatives: I could see a lot of gamers just not being able to see past the lackluster graphics. Granted, this game would have sparkled as a Super NES pak but unfortunately, the most likely candidates for this game would probably have already played Final Fantasy VIII and/or Chrono Cross (i.e. games with near-perfect graphics). My sister absolutely refuses to play DWVII for this reason.
While the enemy sketches and animations were impressive in my book, the battle view as a whole is long overdue for a change. I had no problem whatsoever with the first four Dragon Warrior games featuring that first-person view but that was back in the NES days! This is a 2001 release we are talking about! I want to see my characters actually fight okay?!
While I hate to say anything negative about the game's soundtrack, I just felt that it was too simplistic as a whole. Nothing really had that ebb and flow that I love...the music felt like something from the NES/Super NES era actually. While this in itself isn't bad (I happen to love a lot of music from this era.), it just didn't do what the top-tier RPGs like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger did for me. A wider variety of tunes would have been nice as well. By game's end, some of the cheery town themes and battle themes were more stale that the aforementioned buffet rolls. Also, I thought that the sound effects sounded way too much like their NES counterparts; almost as if they were directly ripped from DWIV.
And while several aspects of the game's story are intuitive and fun (how can you beat going into a time vortex to fight a Time Mage?), I thought that it got too predictable towards the end. The final boss is evil and menacing but just didn't quite do it for me. I don't know...call me spoiled by Final Fantasy VII-IX.
Ratings: Graphics: 3.0 Music: 3.6 Play Control: 4.3 Challenge: 4.0 Storyline: 4.0 Funfactor: 4.0 Overall Score: 22.9 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Unsung Hero
Back to Playstation PowerLast Updated: November 19, 2005