When the first Dragon Warrior was released for the NES in 1989, it was many gamers' first introduction to the RPG genre. It also served as the blueprint for the modern console RPG. Fans of the game managed to get their hands on the three sequels that followed on the NES, but missed out on Dragon Warrior V and VI, which were not released in the U.S. In Japan, however, where the game went by the name Dragon Quest, the series grew in popularity with each sequel and eventually amassed such a devoted following that when Enix announced it would bring Dragon Quest VII to the PlayStation, hardware sales increased in spite of the fact that a release date had not been given. When the game did finally hit Japan last year, it turned heads by selling more than 4 million copies--not bad for a game whose last installment came out eight years prior. Given the game's massive success, fans hoped, as they had with the release of Dragon Quest V and VI, that the game might actually make it stateside. Fortunately, Enix listened--no doubt buoyed by continued interest in the series, as evidenced by the popularity of the Game Boy Color versions of the first two installments of the series--and officially announced that the game would hit the US. Judging from our time with a preview build of the game, Dragon Warrior VII looks set to please fans of the series.
The seventh installment in the series marks both a return and departure from its roots. Developed by Heartbeat this time out, the game's approach is a bit different from its predecessors' approach. Fortunately, the "holy trinity" of the series--story and game designer Yuji Horii, character and monster designer Akira Toriyama, and composer Koichi Sugiyama--is on hand to provide the touch of style native to it, which fans have been responding to since the first game hit. While such a mixture of old and new could potentially result in an uneven game, DWVII seems to benefit from the collaboration, winding up feeling fresh.
The game follows Aluse, the son of a fisherman, his best friend Kiefer, a young prince, and Maribel, Aluse's friend from his town of Fishbel. The three live on Estard Island, a peaceful land that floats in an immense sea-- and the only world they know. Over the course of exploring forbidden ruins, the trio will come to discover that the world they live in had been very different from what they know it to be. Throw in time travel, plot twists, exploration, and puzzles, and you have the ingredients for the kind of meaty adventure you'd expect from a Dragon Warrior game.
The gameplay in Dragon Warrior 7 is classic DW, but the flow of the game is distinctly different from previous installments. While difficult to explain without spoiling it, the beginning of the game makes a pretty bold choice in terms of pacing. The deliberate pace of the opening may put some off, but the different approach is somewhat refreshing. Once things pick up, the game handles like old-school DW. Combat is turn based and easy to get a handle on. Menus and items will look familiar to fans of the series. A job system adds depth to character development, as you'll be choosing professions for every member of your party. As each character gains experience in his or her job, new professions will become available. An "immigration" feature lets you build your own city with NPCs that you come across during the game. You'll also be able to tame and collect monsters over the course of the game and make habitats for them in a monster park.
Dragon Warrior VII's graphics are very faithful to the look of earlier installments of the game--some would say too faithful, given the nearly five years in development the title has endured. But considering all the changes the title went through during that time, it's definitely to be expected. All the characters in the game retain the superdeformed sprite look of old and are a bit light on animation. However, during combat, enemies show off some nice moves when attacking, thanks to solid animation. The environments fare better than the main characters in the looks department, as they represent one of the game's only nods toward today's RPGs. Polygonal environments, which can be viewed by rotating the view via the shoulder buttons, keep the game from looking too flat and keep you on your toes. You'll find yourself rotating the view quite a bit in search of items or characters to talk to.
So far Dragon Warrior VII is looking good, as it offers pretty much what fans would want: an involving story, puzzles to solve, worlds to explore, and of course, evil to defeat. While the graphics may not top the standard that gamers have become accustomed to, they unarguably work for the game. Fans of the series or gamers just curious to find out what all this Dragon Warrior fuss is about should look for the game when it's released this November.