Alright, so Dragon Warrior VII was an ugly looking game. The main character looked like a goof-ball and Akira Toriyama’s style is too kamehameha for you. I get that, I really do. But Dragon Quest games have a lot more going for them then simply their look, gameplay, or story. While all Dragon Quest games lead to the destruction of some ultimate evil, the games are never about their conclusion or even the personal growth of your party members. They’ve been about falling in love with the world, enjoying the journey.
You see, Dragon Warrior VII didn’t have grandeur cut-scenes that felt avant-garde like with Final Fantasy’s PSX installments, it didn’t have story twists that made you think the main character was seriously insane, nor did it have bad ass summoning sequences. What it did have, or should I say, what it has, is charm.
Dragon Warrior VII Hero: Arus
It’s difficult to talk about Dragon Quest without comparing it to that other flagship series, you know the one I’ve already mentioned. It’s difficult because so much of what Dragon Quest does well it does to a degree better then it’s rival and let’s be honest, that’s saying a lot. In the PlayStation era every RPG wanted to be like Final Fantasy VII (even VIII) and every PS2 RPG wanted to be Final Fantasy X. While Square focused on upping the anti visually, Dragon Warrior VII was great although it was ugly.
Dragon Warrior VII worked because it didn’t need any visual improvements, the setting worked fine because Dragon Quest games are always in this strange medieval time where people live in castles and shacks, but occasionally fight robots. Wut?! Dragon Warrior VII would have worked with Super Nintendo graphics, hell, it’d probably look better too, my point is that Dragon Quest’s focus is always on the world and it’s denizens. Enix/Heartbeat didn’t need to invest in a development team that could make a cyberpunk reality real, they just needed artists to make sprites and 3D textures into things we’re already familiar with – castles, farm animals, peasants, bunny girls, royalty, etc. Once they had the basic foundation, it’s simply a matter of using the setting to tell interesting stories. And that’s what Dragon Quest VII is, an epic journey packed with stories.
You travel the world in the past and present and solve the problems of a variety of villagers. From people turned to animals, to preventing human sacrifices, and exploring a kingdom filled with robots, this games has it all. Then after you save the village you unlock it’s entrapment in the past and can access it in the present. It’s rewarding to see what time has done to your legendary feats, have they been remembered, transformed, or completely forgotten?
Before I go on though, I should share a secret with you, the secret to enjoying Dragon Quest. It’s really simple, but some people have this trait and others don’t, it’s that you have to like exploring, you have to be the kind of person that sees an NPC and actually wants to talk to them. Not for an item or for an achievement, but because you genuinely have an interest in what that NPC has to say.
I’m not sure if it’s true, but it’s said that Yuji Horii must approve the dialogue of every NPC in every main Dragon Quest entry and I believe it. Unlike most RPGs where the NPCs give the impression as though they were added to fill up space, or to force the feeling that a town is real, Dragon Quest NPCs have this weird sense of belonging. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the NPCs in Dragon Quest games because they always help weave the fabric in which each town is built. They’re strangely memorable.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
A) Tavern – Drunkard sitting at the bar in a typical RPG:
Waitress walking around: If you’re looking for a drink, head over to the bar, but you look a little young.
Man sitting at a table close to the bar: The man at the bar is here every night, what a poor sight.
Man at the bar: Hic – Hic – Hic, What do you want?
This example isn’t lifted from any game specifically, but I imagine most people can recall some RPG they played that plays out like this. If you noticed though, the NPCs are providing the player with information not about the drunkard, but about the fact that there is a drunkard. I guess it helps the Tavern feel like a bar. Look a drunk, obviously you’re in a bar.
B) Tavern – Drunkard sitting at the bar in a Dragon Quest game:
Waitress walking around: I wish that man wouldn’t always be here, doesn’t he have anywhere else to go?
Man sitting at a table close to the bar: Ugh, last time I tried to pull that man away from the bar he hit me pretty hard. I bet he could take down a Gold Golem.
Man at the bar: Hic – Hic – What do you want? – Hic
The 2nd example is Dragon Quest revised. It does everything the first example does, but gets some extra mileage out of the dialog. For one, the NPCs refer to one another, adding a level of believability, the 2nd is that the dialog uses something from the universe to help illustrate the scenario. Hint: The man is too strong to kick out. This is cool because the world feels more cohesive as a result. You can envision the waitress being frustrated with the man long after you’ve left.
I left the last NPC practically the same in example B to illustrate that while in example A the NPC may come across as a typical drunk, the NPC in example B comes across as stubborn, but possibly threatening since the other NPC has filled us in about his strength. Dragon Quest NPCs add color and dimensions to the typically one dimensional settings. Hopefully my example was decent enough to get that across.
The battles are fluffed in a similar way. While the first person perspective may bore some people because they can’t see their party members, Dragon Quest combat has always been capable of a bit more then your typical Final Fantasy fair. I believe that’s possible because the game can simply write out what’s happening to your characters at the bottom of the screen vs having to show it.
Most RPGs have basic status effects: poison, paralysis, confusion, sleep, etc. Some games, like the Shin Megami Tensei series, add something like charm to the mix, but that’s generally nothing more then a variation of confusion, but Dragon Quest goes the extra mile adding, laughter, tripping, dancing, etc, to the mix. Unnecessary as it may seem, since those are basically 1 turn stuns, it certainly adds to the personality of the game while increasing your party’s arsenal giving you more strategic options.
The cool thing about Dragon Quest is that while Final Fantasy may feel comfortable giving their bosses immunity to the quirkier skills, Dragon Quest doesn’t. This allows players to choose a variety of methods to take down any boss. The Jester in your party that just learned the ability, Quick Joke, may actually use it successfully on the Dragon boss just down the road.
Unfortunately, Dragon Warrior VII’s biggest weakness was also it’s strength. While the game rewarded you for exploration, it also punished you for not exploring enough. The benefits of exploring was the possibility of obtaining monster hearts (randomly dropped enemy loot), leveling up your characters and their job classes, finding treasure chests, tiny medals, and getting monsters for your monster park, the penalty for not exploring, was however, a little ridiculous. You couldn’t progress. Like, at all.
Dragon Warrior VII was unusual in that it had a main world that got larger as you played the game, unlocking continents through a central hub world (dungeon). To unlock new areas you needed to collect magic shards, the problem was that some of these shards were completely miss-able and found in random chests. So if you didn’t explore one fork in a forest two dungeons ago, you may have missed the shard you need to unlock the next continent. And since the game identifies all magic shards as simply “magic shard,” in your inventory, it’s difficult even using a guide to figure out where you need to go to find the shard you missed. With my personal experience, I only had to use GameFaqs once, but I could easily see others needing it more or simply never completing the game.
I love Dragon Quest games espically the 7th because they drive you from one point to the next, but not with some hyper serious plot, but with a care-free attitude the rewards you and encourages you to spend your time enjoying the battles, talking to townsfolk, and exploring every inch of every dungeon. If you can’t enjoy stunning a giant minotaur by provoking a fit of laughter from him, then maybe this series just isn’t for you. I however find the people, battles, locales, and the enemy puns, charming as hell.