Dragon Quest VII: Eden no Senshitachi
(aka Dragon Warrior VII)
PlayStation (2000, Japan / 2001, North America)
At the beginning of the game, the world of Dragon Warrior VII is a lonely, dismal place. Our heroes inhabit a lone island in the middle of a vast ocean, wondering if there's any other life on the planet. That is, until they stumble upon some ancient ruins that transport them back in time. By traveling to the past, you'll find different societies under all kinds of turmoil. After saving them, these rescued islands will appear in the present. One by one, you'll reassemble the pieces of a broken world, and battle the evil force responsible for it all. And "Eden no Senshitachi"? That's "Warriors of Eden".
The main character -- known as "Arus" in the official manga -- is the son of fisherman in the town of Fishbel. All of his artwork portrays him with a look of perpetual befuddlement, which doesn't exactly make him look like a proper hero. The developers seemed to have been going for a more "everyday" kind of person, rather than an actual warrior. Your companion Kiefer looks like someone who'd be better with a weapon. He's the prince of the only kingdom in the world. Being a teenager, he's not one to listen to his father, and rather takes off from his royal duties to hang out, womanize, and go on adventures with the heroes. He's your primary physical attacker in the early stages of the game. Then there's Maribel, a young lass from Fishbel. Like most video game heroines, she's has something of a love/hate relationship with the hero. Mostly, though, she's a bit of a brat though. Naturally, she's focused on magic.
Gabo used to be a wolf cub, until a curse turned him into a human child. Eventually through some crazy magic, he obtained the power of speech, although he's still not very good at it. Melvin is an old knight once fought beside God himself. Too bad he was encased in stone afterward. Once you awaken him, Melvin will once again join your party to fight for the greater good. Aira is a dancer in the Deja Tribe, who perform various rituals to awaken God. You encounter the Deja pretty early in the game, but you don't meet Aira until much, much later. She's also a pretty accomplished swordswoman.
Dragon Warrior VII was developed by a studio called Heartbeat and is the first title in the series to use 3D graphics in its original edition. All of the backgrounds consist of polygons, allowing you to rotate the camera in most instances, while all of the characters still consist of 2D sprites, similar to Xenogears. Given how long this game was in development, it looked pretty dated even when it came out in Japan in 2001. The characters actually look worse than Dragon Quest VI, and the landscapes -- especially in the battle scenes -- are pixellated and generally pretty ugly. The package comes with two discs, but the computer rendered cutscenes -- also extremely ugly -- are pretty rare, and it's a bit hard to tell exactly what's filling up on that space, because the music is sequenced, and there are no voices at all. The Dragon Quest games have never been about fancy graphics or sound, but it would've been nice if the developers took some advantage of the larger medium or more powerful hardware, especially considering it came out very late in the PSOne's lifespan.
The glacial pacing probably won't win over many gamers either. The first segment of Dragon Warrior VII is spent running fetch quests and exploring one long, very boring dungeon. You won't even get into a fight until at least two hours in. The plot doesn't even start properly even several hours further in, and you won't even get to mess around with the class system until roughly fifteen hours in. And even once the plot has kicked into gear, there's still lots of senseless backtracking, because Dragon Warrior VII probably has the highest proportion of fetch quests of any JRPG in the history of JRPGs. Every chapter works like this -- in order to warp through time, you'll need to hike through several screens to get into the lower chambers of the ruins. After teleporting and discovering the crumbled society you need to save, you'll need to figure out some kind of resolution. Many times, this involves transporting back to the present, hiking back to the overworld, finding some object or person to help you out, hike into the depths of the shrine, transport back to the past, and then proceed.
And that's only half of it. Once you've saved a land in the past, you need to revisit it in the present. In order to open up new lands, you need to search for broken elemental shards. In some instances, this involves scrounging through the same dungeons you've already conquered, or obsessively rummaging through every bookshelf, dresser and treasure chest. Even with the transportation spells and other shortcuts that the game gives you, there's really no reason for all of this running around, except to maybe pad out the game's length. Dragon Warrior VII is one of the longest of the series, and certainly the largest of any PSone era RPG.
However, one of the strengths of Dragon Warrior has always been the scenarios and the townspeople that you save, and this installment plays on this aspect heavily. Each chapter plays out like a mini-tragedy, a minor cataclysm that only you can prevent, and seeing how your actions affect the present day can be very rewarding, and sometimes kinda humorous.
For instance, one scenario in the past involves a village where the humans have turned into animals, and the animals turned into humans. As expected, you find the evil villain responsible for the curse, and seal him away in a tomb. Come back in the present, and you'll find that the villagers put on animal costumes during a festival in remembrance of their ancestor's tribulations. In other words, by saving a group of people, you've essentially turned their descendants into furries. (On the other hand, if you never saved them, then their descendants wouldn't exist at all, so it's better than nothing.) You can also revisit the tomb of the sealed monster, who's reverted into a powerless human during his imprisonment, and jokes with your heroes about how pathetic he's become.
In another one, you'll travel to the past and meet up with a secluded inventor, who's so distraught over the loss of his lover that he builds a robot and names it after her, in hopes that he would have a companion that would live forever. When you visit them in the present, you find this distraught robot trying to give nurse her master back to health, unaware that he's long dead and is little more than a pile of bones.
The plot eventually blossoms into an old story about God and the Demon Lord, who destroyed themselves in their conflict. It turns out God isn't dead, He's just resting. You can choose to fight God at the end of one of the bonus dungeons at the game, but it's not the whole silly "God is evil" thing that afflicted a number of other 32-bit RPGs like Xenogears of Final Fantasy Tactics. Rather, it's just a friendly challenge from the Almighty -- and he even looks like a pretty lovable chap.
Most of the stories are unrelated to one another, although a few are connected in small ways. It is pretty cool to see the overworld grow from a tiny piece of land, to a small cluster of islands, to a huge series of continents as large as any of the previous games. By and large, it's not as involving as Chrono Trigger for one main reason -- there's no real visual distinction across time periods. The past often looks just like the present, except the past is usually encased in perpetual night or something similar (like DQVI, there's no day/night cycle -- time just changes depending on the plot.)
Dragon Warrior VII utilizes a class system similar to Dragon Quest VI. Once you reach the Dharma shrine, you can assign jobs to any of the characters, and they level up in pretty much the same manner. However, there are more job classes than its predecessor, with skills spread pretty thinly across them, resulting in even more bloat. On the plus side, there are now "hybrid skills", unique abilities which are obtained by mastering two different classes. For instance, mastering the fighting class and the dancer class will grant you the powerful SwordDance ability.
There are also three third-tier classes, compared to the single Hero class of DQVI, and these require the mastery of multiple advanced classes. It takes a lot of effort, but the powers of the God Hand and Summoner can be pretty devastating. Additionally, certain monsters leave "hearts", allowing you to equip them as jobs and level them up. Like the standard classes, if you level up enough monster classes, you can eventually unlock more classes without having to find more hearts. When you master a monster, that character changes appearances into that creature. This replaces the monster collecting system of DQV and VI. There are only a total of six characters in the game, and they come and leave as the plot dictates, so the caravan has been removed.
There's also a brand-new subquest called the "Immigrant Town". Early in the game, you come across a deserted island. As you speak to various people throughout the game, you can convince them to move and join your village. It's somewhat similar to the castle building in the Suikoden games. However, the type of people you collect will drastically change the town itself. Also new in DWVII is the "Talk" option, which allows you to converse amongst your party members to discover your next goal. However, they aren't exactly a chatty bunch, and most of the time are just "lost in thought". The fashion contest is back too, although it takes other stats into account, rather than just your "style". Also new is the Monster Book, which basically just acts as a bestiary of all the bad guys you've fought.
Dragon Quest VII became the highest selling RPG on the PSone when it came out in Japan, but it didn't quite meet with the same success when it was released in America over a year later. Although RPGs had become more popular with the release of Final Fantasy VII five years earlier, Dragon Warrior VII's dated visuals and gameplay did little attract an audience, beyond those who were familiar with the game back in the NES days. The translation is relatively consistent with the spell names, including the likes of "Healmore" and "Hurtmore", although most of the writing is pretty bland, and the English font is incredibly ugly.