For fans of Japanese RPGs, there’s all too often a difficult long wait for a game to make its way to the West. A lot of that comes down to the fact that a game that’s a big hit in Japan might only have this niche appeal in the rest of the world, the rest comes down to the time and effort required to translate and localised for other audiences. So those looking forward to the next Persona, Yakuza, Monster Hunter, even Yo-Kai Watch, all have to wait.
That’s in the modern context of the internet and a more global gaming audience. Back in the 80s and 90s, there were more than a few instances of games simply not seeing a release outside of Japan, or of being confusingly renumbered. Final Fantasy III in North America was actually the sixth game in the series, with II, III and V not released outside of Japan until Square Enix saw fit to remake the games for Nintendo DS a decade and a half later. The Dragon Quest series has often found itself in a similar position, and while Dragon Quest VII did release on PlayStation in the US, its remake for 3DS – amusingly enough, already out in Japan since 2013 – will finally fill one of those long standing gaps in the series for the EU.
Considered a classic of the series, one of the most notable things about Dragon Quest VII was how the developers decided to make use of the PlayStation hardware. Even just sticking to the main path of the story and eschewing side quests in the game, you can easily brush past the 100 hour mark before completing this story. To achieve that, while others embraced 3D to a greater extent, Heartbeat and Enix saw the CD-ROM as an opportunity to pack the game with a truly staggering amount of content, sticking with sprite-based characters within the 3D world. More than 15 years later, ArtePiazza’s remake for Nintendo 3DS has completely overhauled with remade 3D graphics throughout and even a fully controllable camera.
Each Dragon Quest game features its own story. Subtitled ‘Fragments of the Forgotten Past’, this is a fantasy tale of time travel that permanently changes the world in which you initially find yourself. The story begins as the main hero’s father returns with a fragment of an old map, suggesting that, while there is now just a single small island of Estard on this planet, there used to be many, many more. Always eager to go on adventures, your protagonist and his two friends Kiefer, a prince of Estard, and Maribel, the daughter of the mayor of Fishbel, find themselves jumping back and forth in time.
Collecting magical stone shards and placing them in a particular pedestal, you’re transported back in time to a different part of the world and with the opportunity to change things for the better, like Quantum Leap but without becoming a different person. The first of these leaps back in time take you to a village filled with forlorn Scottish accented men, after all of the women have been kidnapped.
It’s up to you to rescue this village, eventually heading to a nearby tower and battling through the dungeon and the monsters to blame for the village’s peril. It’s a traditional turn-based RPG battle system, but even here, quite major changes have been made from the original release. For one thing, the game is no longer reliant on random encounters, but features enemies in the world for you to potentially avoid fighting. Additionally, you can now automate your party in battle, if you don’t feel like taking full control all of the time.
With so many hours of gameplay, you’d expect the game to back this up with depth to the RPG system, and there are over 30 job classes of character for you to customise your characters with, from Warrior and Mage, to Pirate, Shepherd, Martial Artist and many more. These have all been rebalanced for the remake, but there’s also nice touches, like characters now changing outfits when you switch their class. Levelling up and mastering a class goes faster, as well, in one of a number of changes designed to cut down on the amount of grinding needed, which is perhaps a little better suited to modern gaming attitudes.
Having rescued the village from its predicament, you head back to the modern day and, lo and behold, that village appears as a new island in the world map. It’s a new place that you can venture to and visit, learning some of what has occurred there in the intervening time. Over the course of the game, the places you rescue grow and build into a whole continent that was hidden away under the water.
Over the past decade, Square Enix have sought to restore and update some of their classic Japanese RPGs and bring them to Nintendo’s handhelds, sometimes bringing them to the West for the first time in the process. Dragon Quest VII is one of the last pieces of the puzzle, and I think it’s a nice way to see this as ArtePiazza having journeyed back and rescued the game from the vestiges of time, bringing it back to sit alongside the rest of this hugely popular JRPG series.