If Dragon Quest
is your thing, the announcement of the ports of Dragon Quest VII
to Nintendo's 3DS handheld have to be very exciting. They were for me, but for different reasons. For part VIII
it is a curiosity, since coming from the more powerful PS2, some sort of compromise or trickery was surely needed to squeeze it on a humble 3DS cartridge. However, for part VII
, it was to be a large, graphical upgrade from the PSX original, whose blocky and pixelated look caused it to sell so abysmially outside of it's native Japan, according to many publications. Could a remake, based almost entirely on graphical fidelity, fare any differently outside of it's native country (where it is one of the best selling games of all time)?
To start off, I almost didn't write this article because it is so easy to spoil good parts of the game just talking about the mechanics. In the end, I decided to go ahead and write it, but also be 100% spoiler free. I know that technically this game is sixteen years old, but the chance that even one person who didn't play it before would be interested in getting the new game is enough of a reason to review it.
For years, I've watched the 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
languish in Japan, wondering if we would ever see it in the West. I wasn't against importing it and blundering through the Japanese, but since the 3DS isn't region free, the cost was pretty prohibitive, especially for a game a game that has a ton of story (all of which would end up being missed). But against all odds, the game would be published in the West, not by Sqeenix, but Nintendo, who announced the North American re-release in late 2015 in a Nintendo Direct. It was a great moment for DQ
fans, and I dug out and dusted off the 3DS my son game me last year. It had some screen damage as well a one broken speaker, but there was nothing that I couldn't look past, especially for a Dragon Quest
game. Turn off the 3D, use a pair of headphones (the better to hear that great orchestration with), and in an hour I figured that I wouldn't even notice.
When I finally ripped through the plastic surrounding the game, I was pretty ecstatic. I even chuckled a bit when I noticed the absence of a paper manual (it is digital, but can be accessed from within the 3DS without closing the game). However, when I started the game -- it was pure nostalgia. I'm sure that some of you experience the same thing, when hearing the familiar tunes from a long running series. Dragon Quest
is pretty much built entirely upon that feeling. When I heard the DQ
main theme, I sighed; it's so comforting to know that some things never change. When I heard the character creation music, I couldn't help but to grin ear-to-ear, and I feel like a little kid again. I've heard it for so long now across so many games and game platforms that this might be my favorite part of the series.
To those that have played the entire DQ
series until now, it will take just a few minutes to see that DQ VII
looks a lot like DQ IX
, just with a bit more graphical wow (such as the facial animations on the characters). They don't look bad, just not as good as they could look (especially taking into account the 3DS port of DQ VIII
). But considering that the original Japanese release game was back in late 2013, this kind of makes sense; Taking that into account, it doesn't look too bad. While walking around the overworld, the camera pans behind you, much like in DQ VIII
, and exposes a lot of pop-in. Again, not a deal breaker, especially when the landscape isn't just a flat plain, but rather feels quite natural with rocky outcroppings and rolling hills. And when you can see your ship parked on the coast in the distance and run right up and board, it just feels wonderful, and really brings that feeling of scale to the game.
Suddenly, amongst my nostalgia and joy, I noticed the music. The aural enhancements of DQ VII
was one of the greatest draws to the game back in the PSX days. It was one of the first (if not the first) of the DQ
games to feature a fully orchestrated soundtrack, and it was glorious. It worked so well, that it was repeated with the release of Dragon Quest VIII
only four years later on the PS2. There's just one problem with this: I didn't hear one real instrument from my 3DS!
The DQVII Overture, uploaded from my 3DS
Amongst all my nostalgia, I had forgotten one of the heaviest criticisms against the translation from Japanese - the loss of the original orchestration in favor of pure MIDI! Why, I have no idea. The rumor mill (aka, Dragon's Den
) suggests that it was down to either size limitations given the amount of localizations on each cartridge. The Japanese release of DQVII
featured not full tracks, but rather looping bites of the originals, due to the size limits of the media. I don't know the reasons, but it is missed. However, the MIDI compositions are very high quality, and quite a bit louder than the orchestration. The battle theme is a great example, as when I play, it simply screams
, "It's time to kick that Metal Slimes's butt!" While simply an opinion, the orchestration of the battle theme really drops when the strings kick in (about three or four seconds in), where the Western release just keeps going through the whole fight.
The original orchestration of the DQVII Overture *Video from gooieooie*
Lets talk about numbers for a minute, specifically the unit of measurement called "hours." Remember back in the day when the length of an RPG was slapped proudly on the back of the retail box? I seem to remember about 40 hours for the main quest and some side missions being a good amount of time for an RPG during the nineties (before kids and responsibilities). If there were side missions, maybe they would add another five to ten hours to the overhead, but that was mainly for completionists. Dragon Quest VII
bucks the trend by requiring seventy hours (at a minimum) if you plan on finishing the game, and well over a hundred if you plan on seeing everything. And according to aggregate data on the website How Long To Beat
this is about half the amount of time it took for the PSX original! Also, when I first read about the game, I heard that it would take about two hours just to see a battle. I can now confirm that this is true. It's not like you spend that time watching cut scenes or anything, but it is about two hours. Truth be told, I was dreading this part quite a bit, but it passed by in a blink, which I think speaks to the quality of the writing.
Pretty much all encounters can be avoided! *Image from Sqeenix*
Overall, I really dig Dragon Quest VII for the 3DS. It has a ton of content, pulls the rug out from underneath you at least once with its story, and contains enough nostalgia to get a DQ fan through the hundred hour mark. The missing OST orchestrations aside, it manages to improve on the PSX original in every area, while still retaining the charm. It somehow feels like it was made to be on the 3DS platform all along. It's not my favorite DQ game, but it will be the one I will spend most of my time with over the next year. If you have the platform, I highly recommend it. In my opinion, the $40 USD cost is worth every penny.
Thanks for reading RFGen members, and thank you for a great year!