Few game franchises have held onto their prestige in my eyes as well as Dragon Quest. Lauded as one the first console RPGs, my first exposure came after a friend lent me Dragon Quest Monsters during a visit to hospital. Ever since completing the spinoff, I wanted to discover the main series. Releasing on Nintendo 3DS this week, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past replaces the dated PlayStation visuals to have more of a 3D look, but really this remaster is much more than that.
Unlike many other Dragon Quest sagas where the villain’s plot to take over the world is being enacted, Dragon Quest VII shows one island at peace, but with mysterious ruins. The protagonist, along with Prince Kiefer and the mayor’s daughter Maribel, discover that the ruins have shrines dedicated to lost islands.
Coming at this from the unique perspective I have, having imported the original game, while the main story follows the same progression as the PSX original, the translation effort is far more in keeping with ArtePiazza’s more appealing standards. With regional dialects, puns in monster and skill names, and a more flowing script, these unsung heroes have nailed exactly what makes Dragon Quest games a joy to play.
However, not even a stunning translation effort can save the horribly boring first hour. Many RPGs start you off with a few lesser things to fight, but Dragon Quest VII has none at all. Instead it’s a dull fetch quest as you must journey back and forth. It makes for a terrible first impression and, sadly, this is a sign of things to come as the needless busywork rears its head multiple times, making the 100+ hour campaign feel somewhat bloated.
Still, when you’re exploring the sealed islands, there are some genuinely compelling situations, occasionally hindering your abilities. Features in Dragon Quest VII are tied to areas that have been liberated. For example, the island containing Alltrades Abbey is the home of the vocation system which is a key combat mechanic. Far from overwhelming in things to do, there are moments that feel drawn out, leaving you itching to get to the next major bit of plot.
Speaking of Vocations, they act like classes in most JRPGs. Instead of being tied to experience, they’re tied to the number of battles fought, with stars earned granting new abilities. Once a vocation is mastered, a character can take on a new vocation, with certain job masteries being required for more advanced vocations. This enables characters to learn a wide range of abilities and spells which is great for party customisation, even if the grind is tedious at times.
Combat is a relatively basic turn-based affair, mostly mirroring the series’ previous DS remakes. This is because the wonderful Tension mechanic wasn’t included until the eighth game in the series. That said, the range of skills, combined with the fact that enemies can hit like a truck at times, keeps the combat somewhat compelling. It’s a tried and tested formula that just works. Even the Monster Classes, which change the character’s appearance into a Monster, bring new abilities to play with.
Unlike the DS remakes, which somewhat ironically mirrored the style found within the PlayStation version of Dragon Quest VII, this remake opts to have a brand new fully 3D engine that looks brilliant on 3DS hardware. Some of the towns have their own little details, such as the Spanish town drawing influences from the work of Barcelona’s famed architect Gaudi. The music also sounds fantastic, giving the game a more polished feel, though tracks are heavily reused.
However this compliment comes with a huge caveat: the camera is atrocious at times. When exploring the Overworld by foot, the viewing angle seems to have issues whenever the main character is near walled area. While one could eventually get used to this, the camera controls don’t exploit the New 3DS’ stick, which can be attributed to the fact this is a translation of a game released in Japan in 2013. Still, in 2016, this is a small disappointment.
Much like later renditions of Dragon Quest, the encounters are no longer random, instead adopting the “run into monsters” manner of triggering battles. This is a welcome change, as the original was known to have more random battles than is at all reasonable, and it also allows you to try and avoid battles when heading back to heal your party or until a specific monster appears on screen.
At over 100 hours to reasonably explore the whole game, this is a massive undertaking for a 3DS JRPG. Padding is certainly a major flaw, but there are also a wide variety of side quests to undertake, such as finding former monsters to populate a Monster village. All the while, you are exploring a vast quantity of dungeons full of hazards, as well as fighting a wide variety of collectables and diversions on offer.
With the enhanced remake, there are some big changes. For example, finding island puzzle pieces is now easier thanks to a radar device that emits a larger glow in the top left corner of the touch screen. Randomly befriended Monsters are now sent to the Monster Haven, who can then uncover Tablets to generate random dungeons featuring those Monsters. Items are also rewarded for completing these semi-randomised dungeons.
This is relevant because there is now 3DS functionality in Monster Tablets, which are able to be swapped using Streetpass, turning what was originally a single player to one with a hint of asynchronous play for those on the road. Monsters level up per shared tablet, so sharing is heavily encouraged. You can also share them online, but are limited to one tablet per day.
With the big push that Nintendo has given to Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past, it’s a shame that this is the black sheep of the main series. It’s not that it’s bad, far from it, and ArtePiazza have exceeded the original version in every way. Yet as much as I love the work they’ve done, the plodding nature of the game makes this the longest game in the series, for not necessarily the most compelling of reasons. A lovingly crafted game, and a dramatic improvement on the original, but not the best entry point to the franchise.