Drag on, warrior.
Hawaii rocks! Sun, surf, all the poi you can eat – what more could you ask for? Island life is the way to go, unless you’re Tom Hanks. But what if Hawaii was the last land mass on Earth, surrounded by endless water? Would paradise still seem so great?
The island of Estard in Dragon Warrior VII exists in such a waterworld reality, though it isn’t truly alone. Hidden in the past are islands long forgotten, lost to tragedies and darker deeds. Locked within broken tablets are the keys to traveling back in time and the chance to right the wrongs and restore the missing islands.
Dragon Warrior VII marks the returns of Dragon Warrior to America after a long drought last quenched by Dragon Warrior 4 for the NES. Quite a trip back in time, Dragon Warrior VII continues the Dragon Warrior tradition to an almost severe degree, ironically locking itself in the past like the islands you rescue. Nonetheless, there are some genuinely fun qualities of old-school RPG gaming in here that make for a long and involving quest.
The Dragon Warrior series has always prioritized stat-centered gameplay over a direct story-driven approach. Progression involves gradually leveling up your characters, making your way through dungeons, and in the end, fighting the ultimate evil.
Dragon Warrior VII has an especially episodic quality, more so than any other RPG in recent memory. The different islands you search and discover are like individual episodes of some TV series. Each new island brings with it another adventure with brand new friends and townsfolk. The Dragon Warrior games work well in short playing stints, well suited for the second life the series has found on the Game Boy.
Yet unlike a TV show, the supporting cast gets top billing. The townsfolk take center stage as the different disasters in their lives become your problems to fix. By traveling between the past and the present time frames, you can bear witness to interesting chronological changes. Save a town in the past and hear the whispered legends of your party in the present. Experiencing the flux and growth of these towns is the heart of Dragon Warrior VII.
The main characters are basic archetypes with minimal personality and descriptions. You play the aptly named Hero, who follows a long line of mute game characters. At the very least, I wish the other main characters extended beyond "snobby high maintenance girl" and "vain adventuring prince" stereotypes.
Blame it on the writing. The translation lacks character and punch. The style of prose is reflective of the earlier Dragon Warriors‘ utilitarian manners; it’s very dry and bland. Plus, there are a few typos and errors in the translation, which is a sign of shoddy workmanship.
For a game that can take over 100 hours to complete, the first 20 suffer from poor pacing. The very first fight takes an excruciating 2 hours to reach. Up until then, you work through some uncharacteristic puzzles and searching errands.
After more than 20 hours, you can choose a job for your characters, enabling them to level up to different power and abilities. I wish the character classes were introduced a little earlier in the game. The fights had long since begun to stagnate by the time they added in this feature.
The battles recall the classic setup, with a lineup of monsters and play-by-play details of the turn-based fight spelled out textually. Characters in your party can be set up manually or automatically, allowing the AI to make their choices.
The graphics are a throwback to the original Dragon Warrior. Bright colors and dated designs mark little in graphical evolution. Despite having 3D polygonal backgrounds, the environments still have the look and feel of their 2D forefathers. When you’ve got a guy like Akira "Dragon Ball" Toriyama running the character designs, filtering his artwork into tiny little bitmaps seems like such a waste. It’s like going to a museum and just looking at the gift shop postcard reproductions.
These character sprites keep getting reused. I can only stand the same cookie cutter old man, young boy, and pirate guy for so long. Are more detailed and varied character sprites too much to ask for?
If you listen closely, the first several notes of the overworld theme sounds like a slow rendition of the opening to Sesame Street. The rest of the sound effects are ubiquitous RPG fare.
For the most part, Dragon Warrior VII captures the fun of old-school role-playing. It’s not particularly complicated and the general gameplay will appeal to most RPG fans. Still, this latest incarnation pays almost too much of a tribute to past Dragon Warrior games, offering sound, graphics, and writing that seem like a step backwards in their simplicity. If you are looking for a classic console RPG to spend lots of time working your way through, this game will fits the bill. It’s just too bad that ‘classic’ also can mean ‘dated.’ At least it’s cheaper than tickets to Hawaii.