As video game systems age, developers usually get better at coming up with new graphical tricks or cranking the last little bit of performance out of the hardware. So it's surprising to find a game like Dragon Warrior VII being released now, at the very end of the PlayStation's life as a viable mainstream console. There's no nice way to say this: Dragon Warrior VII looks like it was released in 1995. Die-hard RPG fans will already be screaming, "It's not the graphics, it's the gameplay!" and really, they're right. Only a true connoisseur of the genre, however, will be able to quickly overlook such lackluster visuals to see if there's really meat under there; everyone else will snort and walk away. And ultimately, that will probably determine the fate of Dragon Warrior VII in America. For serious RPG fans who couldn't care less about the Final Fantasy brand of flash, though, it's hard to envision a more appropriate game.
Like all the games in the series, Dragon Warrior VII casts you as a nameless hero--this time, you're a 16-year-old boy who lives in a tiny fishing village with his parents. The small island that your character calls home is thought by its inhabitants to be the solitary landmass in a wide ocean, but through a series of nighttime shenanigans at the local ancient ruins, the young hero and his friends are warped to another unfamiliar island. They soon discover that by finding a large number of old stone tablets scattered throughout the land, they can restore the continents that make up the rest of their world's geography. As each new island is recovered, of course, the plot grows to more and more epic proportions until, as in any good RPG, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
Now we can get the graphics part over with: They're not good. The look of Dragon Warrior VII is composed of very sparsely detailed 3D town and dungeon environments on which small, sparingly animated sprite-based characters are superimposed. Here's your first clue that the game recalls the really old days of RPGs, back when graphics were mere placeholders for ideas like "hero" or "treasure chest." Dragon Warrior VII's images aren't nearly that bad, of course--you can certainly tell what's what. But if the most rewarding things you got out of Final Fantasy VII were the full-motion video interludes, you definitely won't be wowed by anything you see in Dragon Warrior VII.
Fortunately for people who mean to play the game instead of just look at it, Dragon Warrior VII has an RPG core so dense that few current examples of the genre can rival it. How many RPGs--ones that you've played lately--make you fight slimes with your bare hands for half an hour before you can afford a single sword? Indeed, Dragon Warrior VII sometimes seems so hard core that it will test even those who get off on self-applying that term. The game is so deeply rooted in the old pre-cinematic style of RPGs that it refuses some of the technical innovations that have allowed other long running series in the genre to evolve into their current forms. The interface of the game seems needlessly complicated in general, making things such as item management and battle operations slightly laborious. Likewise, things like saving are complicated by excess button pressing and menu navigation more than they should be. These problems certainly aren't serious enough to daunt true RPG devotees, but it may drive off those who would otherwise give the game a chance.