Game Description: An fantasy adventure game of epic proportions, Dragon Warrior VII follows the adventures of the hero, his mischievous friend Prince Kiefer, and the feisty Maribel. The trio learns that the peace and tranquility of their island home is soon to be disrupted. Solving time-traveling puzzles transports them back in time, where they discover lost continents. Once in the past, they must solve the mysteries of the continents in order to save the future. If they accomplish this task, the world will be complete; if they fail, the lost lands and their inhabitants will be forever doomed.
Videogames have come under heavy criticism in recent years for conventions they refuse to retire, conventions that, the argument goes, are rendered absurd by the graphical realism and sophisticated 3D environments that have become commonplace. The RPG genre in particular has been the target of much of this criticism, but the reason is fairly complicated. Unlike most other videogame genres it actually predates the medium, finding its roots in the pure abstraction of pen & paper role-playing games. In these games events of the story were created by combining the players imaginations with a set of governing rules that were designed to represent or approximate the experience of being at the center of a mythic scenario. Since many of these rules were simply borrowed by video role-playing games they have had an uneasy relationship with the growing standards of realism that evolving technology has made possible. Games like Final Fantasy X have been criticized for adhering to conventions like random combat when many feel that the impressive sense of reality suggested by its visuals is only undermined by such techniques, since the limitations that made them necessary no longer exist.
Such arguments are on-going, and I wont dwell on them in this review. However, a basic comprehension of them is important to understand just what is special about Dragon Warrior VII (DW7), Enixs old-school-style RPG recently released for the PlayStation. DW7 is a game that not only employs but revels in practically every convention that console RPGs have used since their birth in the mid-80s, and it is an excellent example of how, when matched with the appropriate sense of style, these conventions still work beautifully.
Although the Dragon Warrior series does maintain a linear fiction of sorts, DW7 is an independent story that should not be mistaken for a continuation of Dragon Warrior IV, the last game of the cardinal series that actually came out here. (Incidentally, IVs story was resolved in V and VI which never saw American release.) DW7 opens in a small fishing village on the coast of an island, or I should say the island since it is the only island in the world. In this bright and tranquil setting you are introduced to three friends: Keifer, a prince of the only castle on the island; Maribel, the daughter of a wealthy shipwright, and a third character, the son of a local fisherman, whom you play and get to name. Thats really it. The game begins with no expository momentum, but it isnt long before some spooky business about magic ruins, time travel, and saving the world turns up. From then on its all about exploration, combat, and dialogue in the grand tradition of classic console RPGs.
DW7 is a balanced game. Virtually every aspect of it works together smoothly making it a comfortable experience that is devoid of redundancy.
DW7 uses extremely simple graphics, offering old-style iconic characters in a modestly detailed 3D world. At first glace it seems primitive, but prolonged play will reveal that it is economical. The graphics are only as detailed as they need to be since they are complimented by a rich dialogue system. This succeeds in giving the world a personality that needs little visual assistance. Conversation can be initiated any time (even in battle) with party members, and they have something to say about practically every conceivable situation. The result is a potent one, an experience where you really feel like you are traveling with people, not simply leading a graphic around who only speaks up when a dramatic event takes place. The arbitrary nature of 90% of the dialogue in DW7 is why it succeeds so well in drawing you into the game, and this wouldnt have been possible without favoring text over graphics as heavily as it does.
Random combat also benefits from the minimalist graphics. Because they are so abstracti.e. because the visuals are obviously meant as representations of reality rather than reality itselfevents like switching to a different perspective for combat seems like a logical extension of this rather than an odd hold-over like in Final Fantasy. Of course, it also helps that, because the graphics are so simple, DW7 enjoys noand I mean noloadtimes. This (along with the fact that they are visually pleasing and reward strategy) makes the random battles in DW7 not the chore they have become in recent RPGs but the concise and fun experience they were originally designed to be in order to support countless hours of play.
DW7 is arguably one of the longest console RPGs ever made (topping out at a whopping 100 hours, give or take 20) and, unlike many other long RPGs, it is designed to be played at a comfortable pace. The plot has been cleverly divided into simple episodes that are neither time-consuming nor over-demanding of the players memory. In other words, the designers actually went out of their way to make a time-management-friendly game, something that can easily be picked up or put down without fear of losing interest. I find this refreshing after suffering through RPGs that expected me to remember details from hour 5 to comprehend the fourth plot-twist in hour 37.
The balance between graphics, dialogue, combat, and overall pacing wouldnt be enough to make DW7 a great game. Even the best craftsmanship must be tempered with a sort of inspiration if it wants to be considered something more. Thats why the tone of DW7s story is the finishing touch that makes the experience worth while. In a market where convoluted narrative and epic melodrama have become the norm DW7 provides a nice contrast. Like the previous games of the series, it depends on understated dramatics that gradually build an emotional investment rather than shocking the player at every turn. The melancholy tone of the various episodes offers refreshing unpredictability. Although the overall plot is rudimentary for RPGs, most of the individual stories that make it up along the way are original and involve resolutions that seem both natural and sad. This may not seem like a big deal, but the fact that it dodges clichs with such ease is one of the reasons DW7 works for a game of its length. Its a world worth coming back to since you honestly never know what youll find.
This isnt to say that the game is flawless. Although it practically has no impact on overall quality, I feel it should be pointed out that the few instances where this game uses CG are an embarrassing mistake. I dont think I have seen uglier computer graphics in my life, and it seems puzzling that Enix would bother to keep these sequences when their simple but effective combination of text and sprites was perfectly adequate for all their story-telling needs. Also, the game begins extremely slow, and although I wouldnt call this technically a flaw it does encourage the possibly that players could grow impatient and quit before the strengths of the game have a chance to reveal themselves. I almost did, to be honest.
It may seem strange that I focused on some of the more general elements of the game in this review. I didnt even discuss the class system or weapon/item management, but thats because I think those aspects are self-evident in their balanced design once you get into the game. Because DW7 is so understated in todays overstated RPG market, I feel its true virtue lies in the near perfect balancing of its basic, simple elements. It is an extremely refreshing example of how the abstract nature of traditional RPG conventions are not necessarily outdated, but only become so when they are awkwardly paired newer design elements. By understanding how delicate a balance this is, DW7 achieves elegance. Unlike some of the more ambitious and experimental RPGs of our time, it knows exactly what it wants to be and evenly distributes its classic design concepts so that they form a harmonious whole. It is a comfortable and manageable game playing experiencethe videogame equivalent of a long, dense novel that is best read over a series of weeks and best enjoyed with a cup of hot chocolate in front of the fire every night.
We've all lost people we love. I'm not referring to the spectacular cataclysms of Hollywood fare, but to the more typical losses caused by errors of the heart—mistakes that we were too vain to foresee and too proud to atone. If you could revisit that moment of your past, try to win back that person's trust, would you go?
This is the guiding question of Dragon Warrior VII, the latest installment of an old-school role-playing game (RPG) series which debuted in America in the mid-1980's. In a changed landscape populated by newer RPG series that reek of gorgeous graphics and operatic showdowns between good and evil, Dragon Warrior VII engrosses the player with understated visuals and nuanced characters. There is a "Demon Lord" and even a "God" involved here, but they are not really the point. Matt's observation about story in this game is crucial to understanding why. The main plot, as such, is strictly generic; the real soul of the game lies in the remarkable variety of subplots. Lovers of short fiction anthologies will appreciate how addictive it becomes to enter each forgotten land and piece together how one or another human pettiness doomed it to oblivion. Not all the subquests exude such melancholy, but many do, including the very first one, which skillfully sets the overall tone.
Thus the game is permeated by a down-to-earth sensibility, showing that "good" and "evil" are merely comforting notions upon which to couch our unspoken acknowledgement that suffering is ultimately caused by human follies. Because of this wisdom and humanism, so rare in videogames, I wholeheartedly agree with Matt's recommendation. Dragon Warrior VII is a charming and engrossing experience.
It is also solid as a technical accomplishment. The old-school graphic style has predictably taken some heat, but honestly, the rendered 3D models which are so widespread these days just can't exude quirkiness and personality like the hand-drawn monsters of this game. And then, when the monsters suddenly attack, their animations are both amusing and smooth. I even managed to enjoy the CGI cutscenes more than Matt did. The simple combination of guitar music and graceful dissolves in one particular cinema carries a haunting power that is absent in many of the more flashy-looking cinemas crammed onto demo discs in Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine.
Another subtle graphical advantage, which wouldn't hit you from the screenshots, is dungeon design. Because you can rotate and zoom out the view, the environments feel convincing, especially compared to the baroque wallpaper backgrounds of a lot of the current Final Fantasy games, which can remind one of playing Myst (or worse, simply viewing a Dali exhibit). A couple of mind-boggling dungeons exploit the simple ability to rotate views by messing with your very conceptualization of space, requiring you to maintain your sense of direction while you range buglike all over the outer and inner surfaces of a 3D "maze" (as opposed to simply navigating 2D planes connected by staircases).
Dragon Warrior VII does have its disappointments though. The music themes, while beautiful and plaintive, are noticeably scant in number. The job system could have had some fat trimmed. And the dialogue system, so innovative in principle, is lackluster in execution. The sheer amount of commentary is huge you can "talk" to your party members anytime, even while stopping in front of mirrors to stare at their reflections. But (with a couple of prominent exceptions), they are not fundamentally changed through their adventures; their outlook on the world remains unaltered at the end. It's consistent with the modest courage of these characters for them to deliver detached and sometimes pithy commentary on the action, rather than become irretrievably involved in it. But at times their remarks are so banal that it's hard to tell their characters apart, especially in the in-battle dialogues (though not in the wonderful mirror-staring dialogues).
The battles themselves are quick, tight, and very entertaining, filled with plenty of funny details. But they are also a step down in strategy from the last American installment, Dragon Warrior IV, which I remember a much bigger choice of party members and a greater concentration of skills per job. That, of course, was ten years ago, and nostalgia is far from the main reason to play through this terrific game. But I guess my heart is still in the past, in my memory of how the world looked before I knew it needed saving. Like one of Dragon Warrior VII's central characters, I might be happier if I could just return there for good.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes
Parents should not be fooled by the cartoonish look of Dragon Warrior VII. The game contains numerous references to alcohol, sex, and violence due to the frank nature of the dialogue and serious nature of the story. Its nothing that rises above a PG-13 level, so I dont think it should be a problem for most younger players, but parents should still be aware. Also, religion is a major aspect of the plot that, while fairly generic, some might find discomforting because of their faith.
Fans of popular RPGs such as Final Fantasy X will probably shriek in horror at the simplicity of the graphics at first, but if they can manage to get into the game they will likely discover that it is a compelling narrative experience in its own unique way.
Fans of the Dragon Warrior will probably like the game since they are already familiar with its style. In addition, fans of Dragon Warrior IV specifically should enjoy the similar tone of DW7's series story and the subtlety of its plot.