Review: Dragon Warrior VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past (Playstation)

In this review, we travel through time in the Playstation game Dragon Warrior VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past. We find out how well this RPG game plays.

This game was released in 2001 and is the seventh game in the series.

We are very familiar with this particular series at this point. First, we played the original Dragon Warrior. That game was OK, but nothing spectacular. Next up is Dragon Warrior II. That game wound up being a flop for us. From there, we tried Dragon Warrior III. That one wound up being barely passable for us. Next up is Dragon Warrior VI. It wound up being an alright game, but nothing to get excited over. Moving on, we tried Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. That game showed that the series is improving, but still garnered a mere decent score. Finally, we tried Dragon Quest VI: Realm of Revelation. That game wound up being a bit disappointing as it only got a barely passable score. So, we forge ahead and decided to try the next game in the series.

Like the other Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior games, you start the adventure off as the hero. In this case, you are the son of a fisherman. Just before the festival, you find yourself checking out the ruins with prince Keifer. You and the prince are trying to unlock the secrets of the ruins even though the location is forbidden. Maribel, a daughter of a fisherman, is becoming suspicious of these outings and eventually discovers what you’ve been hiding from her. She promises to keep this a secret if you let her in on it.

Eventually, you unlock the secret of the ruins. As it turns out, it houses four major pedestal rooms with empty or near empty tops. You discover that there are some shards on this island you’ve been living on. Eventually, you place those shards on the pedestal only to get sucked into an unknown world. Eventually, you figure out that you’ve been sucked into the past. Your goal is to make your way back to the present, but the location is a big mystery. After all, you’ve lived on the only island on the entire planet, yet here you are on an island that is in no way familiar to you. So, you venture forth to try and solve the many mysteries that have unfolded before you.

If you’ve played previous Dragon Quest or Dragon Warrior games, a large portion of this game is no doubt familiar to you. Your characters have a limited number of empty spaces in your inventory to carry things. However, you have a bag that has unlimited space save for the fact that you can only carry 50 (not 99?) of each item.

Battles have remained largely unchanged. You can either target an individual monster or a whole group of monsters. All monsters are split into groups. Sometimes, the group is merely one monster, but other times, there are multiple monsters. What make this critical is if you target a group of monsters in a battle, you basically attack a random monster in that group if you have a single monster hit.

What you may also note is the fact that companions in your party automatically fight. Through the plan function, you can determine whether or not you want to conserve MP or attack with whatever the companion has at their disposal. As you try and fiddle with the options, you’ll most likely realize that the automated attacks are very poorly designed and sensibly switch to manual. Why is it not that great to use? For example, you will eventually get to cast Blaze with Maribel. If you leave her attacks as normal, she will constantly cast blaze on mostly the weakest enemy in the encounter. She’ll consume MP as quickly as possible, leaving her with the weakest physical attack. You can fiddle with other attack options, but you’ll definitely want to switch to manual if you want to play sensibly.

Another thing you’ll notice about the game is the length. In fact, this game boasts 100 hours of gameplay. For those who have stuck around Freezenet for a while now know that bigger doesn’t always translate into better. We’ve seen great games that are large and we’ve seen really poor performing games that were large. So, size doesn’t really mean anything around here.

Like many other games in this series, there are a number of different shops. This hasn’t changed much. You have item shops, armour shops, weapon shops, and the occasional general store. Again, nothing that hasn’t already been seen in the series. All these shops are quite self-explanatory. To go with these shops are banks and inns. Again, very self-explanatory.

Items themselves also have remained largely unchanged if you’re looking at basic items. Herbs restores HP. Antidote’s cure poison. Other items have different curative or restorative abilities as well. In addition to this are various keys that are used to unlock things. Most of them are doors, but some are chests. There isn’t really much in the way of one-time use keys. If you have one key, it can be used an unlimited number of times.

Weapons and armour are where you can boost a characters chances of survival. Some weapons will hit one enemy while others will hit multiple enemies. Whips will hit whole groups. Boomerangs will hit every enemy on the field. Just know that they won’t hit with the same damage as it weakens with each consecutive hit. Armour can reduce damage taken from enemy hits. Some armour can offer additional bonuses as well.

A more unique item is the shard. As mentioned, shards can be placed in the pedestal room. There are four rooms, but they are all colour coded. You have land, wind, fire, and water as the four main rooms. As you complete an area, you’ll obtain a shard or two. This will help you unlock the next world you need to visit. Really, the concept is very similar to the key system found in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. The only real twist is that if you complete a world, that island will appear in the present day. This compels players to visit the island not just to collect additional treasure, but also the various shards that will only appear in the present.

If you’ve played previous Dragon Quest games, you’ll likely remember the vocation system. That system does make a return here if you make it far enough into the game. Like previous games, you can take up a vocation that adjusts your stats. As a result of taking up that vocation, you’ll eventually learn new skills, abilities, and spells. If you switch vocations, you keep what you’ve learned and be able to further improve your character. Also like previous games, mastering the vocation requires a certain number of battles. The catch is, of course, that it can’t be one-sided weak enemies in order for it to count towards the total. Master the vocation and you can get a bonus and be one step closer to accessing vocations found in higher tiers.

One thing I do like is the core concept. The core concept of collecting shards and visiting areas in both past and present is actually a pretty solid idea. The problem here is execution. At first, accessing new worlds can be exciting and interesting. After a while, you’ll gradually realize that this eventually becomes very routine. Some worlds do provide a rather large story arch. Others, you just need to find the right item or fight the area boss to restore daylight and advance to the next area. So, while the core concept is actually a very sound one, this game simply gets rather repetitive after a while on this front.

Another problem that has plagued previous games in the series is balance. It’s certainly not the worst I’ve ever seen it, but it is far from the best implementation. To see where the balance is in this game, one only needs to visit the first weapon and/or armour shop in the game. You might think the value of a gold piece is quite high when you can only collect all of 1-5 gold pieces per discovery. Unfortunately, when you hit those shops, you’ll likely go into sticker shock on what is being required to purchase a simple sword or a piece of armour.

You might think that simply fighting monsters a few times will eventually do the trick, but the amount of gold dropped is surprisingly low. You’re talking about dozens of monster fights just to get one piece of equipment in a party of typically three. Equipment generally winds up being prohibitively expensive – especially early on in the game. Now, you can easily sell equipment you no longer need. This does help shoulder the cost of expensive buys, but it only serves to soften the blow of needing to grind for a while.

While you might think you can simply absorb the damage of enemies or just grind levels, you’ll quickly realize just how tough regular monsters are in the first place. It takes a while to take down even the lowly slime at first. After a fight or two, you’ll realize that you’ll also sink a fair chunk of change just to heal up at the inns after. While the challenge can be overcome, it can be quite annoying.

So, with that in mind, you might just think that when you jump into the game, you’ll just fight monsters right away. Nope, you’re not getting away that easily. In the first island, there are no monsters. None. Zip, zilch, nothing. Nothing in the dungeons. Nothing in the overworld. In fact, I personally spent two and a half hours trying to work out the various triggers to advance the plot enough that I could even see my first monster fight.

Now, you might think that, hey, this is something different being put on the players. While I can agree with the sentiment, I also believe that a game generally needs to make a positive first impression on players for them to get into the game. A lot of the writing and plot can be confusing. You’ll randomly go to bed. Sometimes, you need hints to find the hints needed for you to speak to the right person or collect the right item. So, if you intend on tackling this game, just get a guide to follow along. While you might fear spoilers, you’ll probably be far more frustrated with how convoluted and poorly conceived some of the plot points are even in the beginning of the game.

Some area’s later in the game are certainly playable, but you’ll definitely find yourself continually running into the problem of “what do I do now?”

On a side note, there are plenty of typo’s in the text boxes. Some errors are more obvious then others, but it does make for some pretty cringe-worthy moments.

to be fair, the game does offer methods for you to collect hints. One method is the talk command. Sometimes, your party will offer a hint or two. Unfortunately, most of the time, you’ll be stuck with the ever helpful hint of one of your characters being lost in thought.

After beating a few worlds, you’ll also gain access to an oracle or two. These oracles will offer you hints on what you need to do next. The hints are a bit vague and they only point to the next shard location. So, they can be mildly helpful hints, but other times, they border on useless.

In addition to all of this, the menu system can be quite archaic at times. One button can back out of a single menu while another will basically exit the menu’s completely. Other options are pretty poorly worded. While you can eventually learn what exactly each function does, it steepens the learning curve for new players.

Now, some may defend this game saying that it is old and that is what you can expect from an older game. The big problem with that argument while discussing this game is the fact that this was released in 2001. This is the era that saw the launch of the Nintendo GameCube, Playstation 2, and XBox. So, think about almost every game released on the SNES, NES, Sega Genesis, N64, most of Playstation, and earlier. That is a lot to go from. There are plenty of RPG games that are much more user friendly then this. Even Breath of Fire was much more user-friendly and it shortened the names of everything.

My personal experience of this game is this: Had I been playing this just for fun and not for the sake of a review, I would have quit before I ever saw my first enemy encounter. For the sake of the review, I had to give this game a couple of chances. After the initial stages, the game does mildly improve, but it doesn’t get that much better. It became a question of how much punishment I could personally take before I finally had enough. I did make it quite far, collecting the dune charm, but it was only a matter of time before I finally just tossed the controller aside and hit the power button. Having seen so many positive reviews, I find myself seriously wondering what people even see in this game.

Generally speaking, this game winds up being a punishing experience from the very beginning and doesn’t relent munch after that. You’ll spend more than two hours trying to figure out how to even get to the first enemy encounter. A guide is pretty much a requirement for you to not get frustrated enough to quit early on. The menu and writing is pretty archaic and broken at times. The balancing is pretty painful. At the end of the day, I tried to make myself like this game and that endeavour just ended in failure.

Graphically, this game is pretty brutal. It focuses largely on 2D sprites in a very basic 3D world. The effects could almost be pulled off on previous generation consoles. What’s worse is that this was released when the next generation consoles were being released. Look at gameplay video’s of this game and try comparing it to games like Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, SSX Tricky, Max Payne, or even Paper Mario. There’s just no comparison. It’s as if developers ignored nearly 5 years of gaming progress and passed off very similar graphics, hoping no one would notice. This game would have been better served on the handheld. At least then, the graphics could be explained. As it stands now, the graphics are just awful.

Meanwhile, audio tells a very similar story. The music could very well have been played out on a Super Nintendo chip. Same with the sound effects. Audio is where the Playstation can get an advantage over the N64 because it’s basically a CD that can play lossless compositions. This game utterly fails to even take full advantage of this technological advantage and assumes that if it’s good on the Super Nintendo, it’s good on the Playstation. There’s no voice work either.

Overall, this game is a disappointment for me. I could see this series going places two games ago, but it seems to look at technological advances, curl up into a ball and whimper. The plot points, writing, and overall flow of the game is painful. The introductory island is just as bad, leaving players with a negative first impression. For those that stick around, the game only gets mildly better and it becomes a question of just how much players can take before just quitting altogether. The graphics are practically two console generations behind and the audio takes no advantage of the Playstation capabilities. I could just keep going and going with all the flaws this game has, but I can sum up my thoughts to this: this is a game to avoid.

Furthest point in game: Obtained the DuneCharm and simply had enough figuring out what I needed to do next.

General gameplay: 12/25
Replay value: 3/10
Graphics: 3/10
Audio: 1/5

Overall rating: 38%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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