Dragon Quest VII: Fragments Of The Forgotten Past is huge. Like, crazy huge. If we had one of those old school review methods in which we individually scored a games’ longevity, you can bet your ass that this mostly fantastic remake would get a perfect 10. With over 100 hours of content, this decidedly old fashioned JRPG is one of the biggest games of all time and a brilliant throw-back to the kind of unending JRPGs that used to be relatively common back on the PS1.
Of course, there’s a good reason why it feels so similar to those PS1 era JRPGs, because, well, that’s what it is……ok, what it was. Released at the tail end of the PS1’s lifespan, Dragon Quest VII (or Dragon Warrior as it was known is the States), was basically the last hurrah for the large scale 32-bit JRPG. With its relatively traditional battle mechanics, charming but undeniably quaint story and seemingly unending content, this was arguably old fashioned when it was released back in 2001 (a time when the rest of the world was shifting gears for the recently arrived PS2).
So yeah, it was old fashioned then and, for the most part, it’s old fashioned now, but then, that’s half the fun. I’ve always been a big fan of more traditional JRPG mechanics, and while I’ll admit that many of the changes to the genre over the past 15 years or so have been for the best, it does feel like some of the that old magic has been lost along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I am one of the few that loved Final Fantasy XIII and its more streamlined approach, but equally, it’s nice to have the option to return to the warm embrace of something a little more….nostalgic.
Of course, that’s not to say that this is some effort-free port of an old PS1 game – far from it. If anything, this carefully upgraded version of a criminally overlooked classic (overlooked in the West at least – this, like all Dragon Quest games was massive in Japan), is a perfect combination of old and new. It still plays much as the original did back in 2000, but by removing random battles, improving the visuals and streamlining the notoriously slow introduction (something Nintendo might have considered *cough* Twilight Princess HD *cough*), Dragon Quest VII: Fragments Of The Forgotten Past represents a splendid middle ground that will play as well to newcomers as it does to genre veterans.
The first thing that will strike you upon starting up your adventure is just how good the game looks. Considering this is based on a PS1 game, this really does look fantastic and certainly doesn’t look out of place next to many of the more visually impressive games on the 3DS. It’s unlikely to blow your socks off from a technical perspective, but with its fantastic use of 3D, gorgeously colourful world and utterly charming art design, you’d never guess that this was based upon a 16 year old video game. There is a bit too much in the way of repeated character design and some it might be considered a tad twee, but for the most part, this is a technically exemplary update.
As good as it might look though, it’s the fundamental changes to the core design that really make the difference. The battle system is still unapologetically old fashioned with classic turn-based battles at the very heart of the experience, but with the once brutally relentless random battles replaced by visible enemies and planned encounters, it’s much easier to enjoy the games’ distinctly old school charms at your own pace. Even back then, the enemy encounter rate was through the roof, turning what is an otherwise rather pleasant experience into something of an unnecessary grind. With that issue wisely ironed out for the remake, Dragon Quest VII now feels like a much more welcoming and decidedly more accommodating adventure.
This obviously wouldn’t work if the game was home to the kind of difficulty spikes that demand additional grinding, but for the most part, this is a relatively forgiving JRPG. It’s not without challenge of course, but equally, you don’t have to worry about getting into a scrap with every enemy that you encounter to ensure that you’re not woefully underpowered later in the game. Saying that, if you do fancy pushing yourself, there are all new high difficulty dungeons that can be unlocked via StreetPass, but for those looking to enjoy the story and take a more relaxing path through this decidedly mammoth adventure, most of the games’ epic collection of battles can be overcome as long as you don’t take an overtly passive approach to enemy encounters.
With the battle system competent rather than exceptional and the amount of challenge proving relatively gentle throughout, the importance of story becomes increasingly important. Luckily, this tale of exploration, lost islands and time travel is consistently charming and surprisingly well-written. The delivery can be a bit clunky, but with a host of likeable characters and world-spanning adventure, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments Of The Forgotten Past manages to tell an undeniably memorable story. You could argue that the core story can be lost amidst the myriad of side stories and the games’ incredibly long running time, but for the most part, it all comes together to tell a tale that feels both grandiose and personal.
Some might argue that Dragon Quest VII: Fragments Of The Forgotten Past is too long and decidedly too old-fashioned for its own good, but with its streamlined introduction, removal of random encounters and much improved visuals, this throw-back manages to find that perfect middle ground between nostalgia and modernity. The battle system might be too simplistic for some, but the enjoyable story, memorable cast of characters and host of smartly implemented improvements ensure that this overlooked classic is will worth revisiting.
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