Dragon Quest 7: Fragments of the Forgotten Past Review in Progress
Patience is a virtue.
Dragon Quest 7 was first released on the original PlayStation in North America in 2001, more than a year after the launch of PlayStation 2. I was focused on next-generation consoles and overlooked the oft-delayed RPG all those years ago, but fast forward to today, and I've got a fresh, revamped Dragon Quest 7 on 3DS in Fragments of the Forgotten Past. The presentation has been overhauled, and the adventure streamlined. This is important to note, given that Dragon Quest 7 is a long RPG--the original version took most players over 100 hours to beat with little-to-no sidetracking. A complete run-through of all optional content could take as long as 300 hours.
I'm about 50 hours into the new version, and I can tell I have a long way to go yet. It's too early for a full review given how much I have left to play. As unlikely as it sounds, Dragon Quest 7 is only now beginning to deliver important mechanics and focus on its main quest. This is an example of a game that "gets good" after a considerable amount of time, so even though I can't issue a final verdict, I can tell you that it requires patience and dedication to get to the good stuff.
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For example: it takes almost two hours before you jump into your first battle. Prior to that, you are sent on a series of simple fetch quests as you grow accustomed to your sidekicks and the island of Estard. Its inhabitants believe that Estard is a unique snowflake--the only land and civilization in existence. Thanks to the curious Prince Keifer, you soon play a part in proving them wrong by uncovering a nearby island that's been trapped in another time and place.
The process of unlocking this island--and the others that follow--requires you to collect tablet fragments and return them to a shrine. Fragments can be located with a homing device and are usually rewarded to you for completing small quests, though you occasionally find them out in the open. Once complete, a tablet acts as a teleporter crossed with a time machine, sending you to a new location in the past. For every new island you unlock, you can expect to complete one questline in the past and one in the present. By the time you finish both, you usually have enough fragments to complete a new tablet and open a new island.
For the first 40 hours, you travel from island to island, fighting bad guys and solving simple puzzles in dungeons until you've found enough fragments to move on. It's tedious, but tolerable thanks to colorful and charming art from Dragon Ball creator--and longtime Dragon Quest contributor--Akira Toriyama, as well as remarkable NPC dialogue that changes based on recent events. It's incredible how much text there is in Dragon Quest 7, and that it all reads as though it was handled with care. People have a lot to say, and there are numerous accents represented in the game that lend distinct personalities to different communities.
While it's easy to fall for Dragon Quest 7's colorful world and characters at first, you begin to see the same NPC models appear in one location after the next. Given the scale of the game, this could be forgiven if some quests didn't treat generic NPCs as special characters--but it does. Most often, your first encounter with a particular type of NPC comes during a quest where they are assigned a unique name and role in the story at hand. When you see them in another town, you're actually seeing a redundant character that shares their likeness.
Nearly 30 hours into the game, I had unlocked a handful of islands, but I didn't have a good sense of Dragon Quest 7's main conflict. Most quests are like vignettes that inform you life on a specific island, and it's not until you unlock jobs that you begin to tap into the larger conflict at hand. That's right: Dragon Quest 7 features job classes for characters, and you don't get to play with them until you've put dozens of hours into the game.
There's nothing wrong with saving a game-changing feature for a while--it worked in Xenoblade Chronicles X's favor, with the late-game delivery of mechs augmenting an already robust and varied game--but for the first 30 hours, Dragon Quest 7's combat is very basic. You only have access to restorative items, a standard attack, a defensive stance, and a few abilities that you learn when a character hits a specific level. Now that I have access to jobs, I'm beginning to see how there's room for the combat system to grow and reward strategic party builds. But it's taken a long time to get to this point.
Almost 50 hours in, I finally feel like I'm playing Dragon Quest 7 proper; I have access to job classes, the main story is kicking into gear, and I've located a casino where I can try my luck at a few mini games while I continue my adventure. I'm wary after so many hours of repetitive questing and simple combat, but it's motivating to see signs of good things to come.