Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past gets a hyped revival on the Nintendo 3DS. Fifteen years after the original, is it worth revisiting?
Developers: Heartbeat, ArtePiazza
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: September 16, 2016
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past comes from a long lineage of RPG titles particularly famous in Japan, but with their own notoriety in North America, too. Though never reaching the soaring heights of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest games are traditionally solid RPG titles with engaging combat, interesting characters, and playtimes nearing the hundred hour mark.
This 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII doesn’t mess with the systems and story that won the title fame in the first place. It’s mostly a graphical update: Slimes now bounce about in shiny 3D, the characters all have detailed models, and the world has been overhauled to look…well, like it was made in 2016 rather than 2000. There are some significant textual updates, too, and a few minor monster ability tweaks. Outside of the polish though, this is the same Dragon Quest VII fans of the original will remember.
Estard is the only island in the whole world, at least when you start the game. It has two towns, a mountain apparently infested with bears and a lot of boring people who don’t believe in anything outside of their tiny island. It takes the efforts of the rebellious Prince Kiefer, the sassy Maribel, and you–a silent, pushover protagonist–to uncover the truth about the world. Apparently, there were once many islands. Each one succumbed to some horrible tragedy at some point in the past, disappearing from existence and memory.
Restoring the islands requires traveling to the past via special tablet fragments brought to a strange temple known as the Assembly Room. Each ancient island is represented by a pillar in the room. Collect all the fragments of a pillar, and you’ll be transported to the represented island in the past, at about the time things went awry. Once you solve the problems of the island in the past, it will be restored in the future.
Such is the rhythm of most of the game. You’ll gain new tablet fragments in both the past and present versions of each island that will lead you to assemble the pillar that follows. And there are a lot of pillars to assemble–you’re looking at 100+ hours of gameplay, here. The storylines of the islands range from absolutely tragic to rather banal, and you’ll find yourself alternating between excitement and wishing you could just get a move on.
The island hopping rhythm would be tedious as all get out if a plot didn’t suddenly pop out of the woodwork about halfway through the game. Dragon Quest VII does have something bigger at work, but it’ll take you several long hours to reach it. In the meantime, you’re stuck jumping from story to story with three of the duller characters imaginable: a rebellious prince who really isn’t all that rebellious, one of the rudest, most obnoxious young women I have ever encountered in a video game, and a silent protagonist who does whatever they say. It all gets better eventually, I promise, but Lord if it doesn’t take forever to get there.
The story isn’t the only thing that takes far too long to get where it’s going. Combat, for some reason, doesn’t fully flesh itself out until a short games-worth of time has already gone by. It’s typical turn-based fare, with each character learning their own personal abilities as they level up. But eventually, you’ll reach a point where they can’t learn anything else–it’s around then that you reach an NPC who teaches you about Classes, and true battle strategy opens up.
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Dragon Quest VII’s Class system reminded me of Bravely Default’s, so I can see where the latter gets its inspiration. You have multiple classes to select from for each character, with more unlockable via monster classes later on. Leveling up a class unlocks new abilities until it reaches the point where the class is “mastered” and you can swap to work on another one. Mastering lower tier classes will unlock higher tier ones with better abilities. It’s a fun system to play with–one that makes the turn-based battles infinitely more interesting. Again, it just takes too long to unlock: about fifteen hours of play or so.
That said, let’s talk about the remake itself. We’ve got graphics updates, changes to encounters, and textual updates to discuss. On the graphics side of things, the result is hit or miss. The 3D monster and character models look nice enough on the 3DS–certainly an enormous improvement from the old-school sprites. Everything else, though? Not so much. Trees pop in and out of existence. I can run through objects it doesn’t seem like I should be able to run through. And everything just seems…barren. And flat. And blocky. I’m not expecting console-level beauty here, but if they were going to go through the effort to redo all this, something comparable with other RPGs on the system wouldn’t go amiss.
There’s nothing inherently bad about Dragon Quest VII, but I just couldn’t get as excited as I perhaps should have gotten about what is apparently a staple of the RPG genre.
The encounter system changes are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, being able to see all monsters on the map (with contact starting encounters) means it’s easier to avoid unwanted fights or pick your battles somewhat when you’re under-leveled. On the other hand, oh my God, there are so many monsters. Like, they’re everywhere. I can barely walk a step without running into more! This led to confusion on my part: how many should I fight per area to stay adequately leveled? Is it okay to avoid fights when I’m weak? Overall, the spirit of the change was good, but the monster population could have been toned down to compensate.
Finally, while I can’t comment on the textual updates as a whole (being mostly unfamiliar with the original game), I’ll say this: while some questlines certainly needed the refinement of the remake to remove unnecessary fluff, others (I’m looking at you, Regenstein) were gutted to the point of being totally obtuse.
There’s nothing inherently bad about Dragon Quest VII, but I just couldn’t get as excited as I perhaps should have gotten about what is apparently a staple of the RPG genre. I’m a busy person. If a video game takes upwards of fifteen to twenty hours to hook me in for the remaining eighty, it’s already lost me. An excellent latter two-thirds does nothing for me if the intro is a plotless slog. Perhaps these are faults better corrected sixteen plus years ago. But if that’s the case, maybe it wasn’t worth a remake in the first place.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.