Marred by delay after delay, Enix's Dragon Warrior VII was one title that I had genuinely been wanting to play ever since it was first announced a couple of years ago. Many of us had first experienced this great series when Nintendo Power first gave away the game with a subscription to their magazine, and to say that it had a resounding effect on the RPG genre is a massive understatement. It literally introduced the entire world to how great this once-niche genre could be. While we were never introduced to Dragon Warrior V and VI and the subsequent remakes on the Super Famicom, Dragon Warrior VII is a heartfelt and awesome marriage of old school gameplay coupled with (admittedly outdated) next-generation technology.
Dragon Warrior VII pits you as the nameless hero, born and raised in a small fishing village called Fishbel. Fishbel resides on a small island called Estard, and is thought to be the only landmass in the entire world. However, through some adventures that you pursue in the local ancient ruins, you and your partners Kiefer and Maribel are transported to some unfamiliar territory. You'll soon find out that by fnding many of the stone tablets scattered throughout the world, you'll be able to explore the rest of the world and in the process uncover what really happened in the world. It seems that God and the Demon King had a bit of a fight, which resulted in the Demon King sealing away all of the worlds except for Estard before they both vanished from the world. Now it is up to you and your friends to go back into time and set things right once again.
Much like its predecessors, DW7 is strictly old school; if you love the flash and pizazz of Final Fantasy, you might not like this game, because it is definitely not flashy, and it certainly doesn't have any pizazz. In fact, I can honestly say that Dragon Warrior VII is by far the ugliest game I have ever enjoyed. It's akin to asking out the ugliest girl you know to the prom because of her vivid personality. While some games try to go for the retro/simplistic look (such as Vib Ribbon), Dragon Warrior VII just looks like it tried to be part of the next generation, but failed miserably. All of the characters are the sort of pudgy, sprite-based characters that we know and loved during the 16-bit era, and the environments themselves are rather simple in architecture. Sure, there may be some CG movies here and there, but this game definitely won't be winning any awards for graphical excellence anytime soon.
However, what Dragon Warrior VIII lacks in graphics it more than makes up for in gameplay, and that's the only thing that counts, right? Dragon Warrior VII is dungeon-crawling at its best, witih some extremely well-designed dungeons to explore, with some little puzzle elements thrown in for good measure. Discovering and unearthing the forgotten continents is a neat little task, and really gives the game an air of epic struggle, as you and your party seeks to right what was wrong in the past. With each new continent that you bring into the present, it becomes filled with some great side quests and mini-games to explore (such as casinos and monster-gathering), not to mention that sense of cheating the deities that always feels just right. What I really liked about the game are the controls. Not only are they silky smooth, but they added a great Action button that you can use for general purposes. In earlier Dragon Warrior games, it was a pain in the butt to even talk to someone, much less talk to everyone in a village to find out information. Now it's extremely easy to do so, and I couldn't be happier. However, it is unfortunate that everything else from equipping your characters to checking their status is still maintained by the clunky, age-old interface that dates back to the NES days.
Combat in Dragon Warrior VII is done through a rather archaic menu of options and stills of your enemies in battle (you don't even get to see yourself, much like in the NES games), but the beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the battle system in Dragon Wawrrior 7 is definitely something else. While the battle system is a refinement of past installments, fights are over relatively quickly (unless you're facing a boss), and really compliment what the real showcase of the gameplay is about, and that's in the phenomenal job system.
Once you get to a certain point in the game, you are free to change each character's class to any of the ten different beginning classes. Later on, you'll be able to find items called Monster Hearts, which allow you to gain the ability of the monster that you took it from. Each class offers various states and abilities as they level up. As you start to master multiple beginner classes, you open up the way to more powerful classes to tinker around in. Each class level is obtained by fighting a set number of battles against enemies, as opposed to the traditional experience point hunting that's found in most RPGs. What's great about the class system in Dragon Warrior VII is that it perfectly suits how the battles are drawn out. The battles are quick and timely, never boring you to death with 10-minute marathons. This allows you to focus on actually mastering all of the beginner classes so you can open up even more possibilities for your party. And because the battles are so quick, the task doesn't actually seem to be a repetitive task at all: it actually becomes fun to wander around to gain levels for your classes, something that's really missing from many modern games, such as Final Fantasy VIII.
In fact, you may spend so much time that you might become obsessed with attaining all of the classes in the game… like I have. Although I haven't even finished the game yet, the timer on my game says that I've played close to 97 hours in total. Dragon Warrior VII is really one of those games that promises to give you over 80 hours of gameplay, but actually delivers on that promise as well. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who's finished this game in less than 80 hours, because I don't think it's possible given the amount of gameplay that's been packed into the game. The fact is that even though I've logged close to 97 hours in the game, I'm in absolutely no rush to finish this game, and I know that there are so many mini-games that I've ignored in order to gain all of the class levels that it could easily take me 200 hours to fully complete everything in the game.
The musical score and the sound effects also feel old hat, with many of the tracks giving off a light-hearted, innocent feel to them. While it can get dark and brooding at times, it still rings true of an adventure that gamers of all ages could get into. While it doesn't stand up graphically to the flash of the Final Fantasy series (or even the Suikoden series for that matter), Dragon Warrior VII is a game that takes everything that was right with past RPGs and thrusts them forward for an entirely new generation of gamers to enjoy. Any gamer who hasn't had the pleasure of experiencing the Dragon Warrior series would do well to start with Dragon Warrior VII.
· · · Bahn