Dragon Quest VII – The Journey Begins (Early Impressions)

Normally I will get pretty far into a game before doing a write-up, but I thought I’d share some of my excitement for Dragon Quest right now while it’s in the air. It’s better than holding it in for weeks, right? I’m a few hours into Dragon Quest VII on 3DS and absolutely loving it. The world has already captivated me with charming presentation and an interesting story. Coming from Dragon Quest VI, it feels like a full generation leap with a massive upgrade to the environments. I’m getting so excited by the smallest things because it feels new. Even before the title screen I was amazed by the intro, as seagulls flew across an island in full 3D over the triumphant roar of the Dragon Quest theme song.

This game is AMAZING.

viihouselight Look at those graphics, so detailed and expressive. I’ve taken a bunch of screenshots for my Miiverse folder already, an exciting new thing for Dragon Quest. I know lots of people don’t use the Miiverse, but it’s just an example of how “new” this game feels. Full 3D graphics, fast loading, camera control (rotation like the DS games, but without the screen melting), and movement in all directions.

This game reeks of effort which is something I didn’t associate with Square-Enix anymore. It’s a full-blown remake with bells and whistles in every room. Rather than creating a stiff “mobile ready” port with the lowest graphics and controls possible, it takes full advantage of the glorious 3DS. It feels generations ahead of the original Playstation, shedding its imperfections and slotting into the 3DS library with ease. It looks and runs even better than DQVIII on PS2 with a more expressive use of colour and finer details.

The Dragon Quest team to their credit have never made a bad game, staying isolated from all the shit that happened to Square-Enix in the last decade. Just allowing such a high quality single player Dragon Quest game to exist however, is a miracle in the current gaming climate. Dragon Quest VII being in my 3DS is a miracle. The DQ team has not stopped doing good work, but there has always been a catch sabotaging their recent efforts. Online-only, Japan-only, subscription service, mobile ports, side-games, random PS4 localisation, 3 year delay. We finally got a proper Dragon Quest game on a good gaming system and what a fucken surprise, it’s amazing.

The music took me by surprise having never played DQVII before on PS1. All the DS games sound the same to me, but this is noticeably different. I can tell this is where they really took a step back from the franchise and took music in Dragon Quest more seriously. It keeps that classy DQ feel but adds a lot more emotion to it. It’s not just because they have better hardware, but because they finally changed the compositions and wrote some new stuff. All the different types of music I’ve heard so far, from uplifting to sad, sound like new songs and they hit pretty hard. It’s a bit like 3D Zelda music with some busy arrangements, but a few notes that will stick out and resonate. Not since playing DQVIII on PS2 many years ago have I been this impressed by Dragon Quest music. It’s just great to have new stuff to listen to from these mega-talented musicians.

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No Maribel, I can’t do that. I am a gamer. We have to go the WRONG WAY at every chance possible, or we might miss a crucial item like the Medicinal Herb or Plain Clothes.

There is a lot of running back and forth at the start of DQVII, but I didn’t see this as a bad thing. The intro’s pacing is something I’ve heard a lot of talk about. There’s no battling for at least an hour, as you live in a peaceful land that would not even contemplate trouble or prepare for danger. You are given the impression that only one island exists in the entire world, and the rest of existence is just dangerous sea. Everyone lives happily in their bubble with no fighting. All they do is catch fish. It’s uncanny but refreshing. Being a Dragon Quest game, you know there’s going to be hundreds of hours of battling waiting for you later, so why not enjoy the peaceful atmosphere while you can.

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I am loving the pacing of this game so far. With so much mystery about what lies beyond this little island, the world is extremely interesting from the start. The writing is high quality, and I’ve noticed the characters have more personality than VI already. You and your friend Prince Kiefer run about town excitedly trying to collect clues about the outside world, while Maribel acts like a bitch and tries to get you into trouble unless she can come along too. All 3 of you have drastically different personalities, but a common interest in mischief. You talk in secret, so none of the adults catch on to what you’re doing. It’s a pretty exciting feeling, and classic Dragon Quest in the way it builds up that feeling of adventure.

There are a few townsfolk who seem to have knowledge about things outside the island, but they are coy about sharing it. So while the intro is “slow” it felt like fun gameplay to me, with a lot of exploring, moving about and info gathering. As I mentioned in my DQVI writeup, Dragon Quest is more strongly defined by the adventure than the battling. The innocent scenario constructed in DQVII makes the battling feel extra scary and exciting when it does take off.

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That’s where I’m at now, battles have taken off and now I’m getting a good feel for the gameplay systems. I’ve found the first town that I can use as a “base” to heal and save, every DQ seems to have this. My weapons and armour are crap, but there’s some slightly better ones being sold in town. I am saving up gold and going back there as soon as I have enough for some new equipment. Just going back and forth, using up every last bit of HP and gold to make each trip worthwhile. I just love that core Dragon Quest spirit and this game has dressed it up beautifully with its surreal graphics and fun movement.

Moving is another thing that’s been improved. Instead of the grid-like “robotic” movement of the DS games, the main character actually has knees and moves in full 3D. He has a tangible weight to him but is extremely responsive at the same time, a bit like Link in Zelda: A Link Between Worlds or the trainer in Pokemon Sun & Moon. You can SEE them changing direction but there is zero input lag, like magic. It’s just fun to run around and look at things.

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You can’t see it in this 2D screenshot, but the Nightcrawlers are poking their heads into the screen with the 3D slider up and it feels quite intrusive and terrifying. 3D is not really something that’s necessary for a good game, but it’s another cool example of the game’s personality. On the bottom screen you’ve got the stats of the 3 people in the party, and their current tactics. It’s a clean and friendly interface for a comfy game.

I know this is a somewhat biased perspective, because at 4 hours I have probably seen 4% of this game and I am on a gaming high after beating Dragon Quest VI and Pokemon Sun & Moon. From everything I’ve heard about DQVII (and every Dragon Quest I’ve played) it’s going to be a HUGE game I probably won’t finish for weeks or months. There’s a lot I can’t talk about, like difficulty and overall structure. I’ll do another write-up then, but I hope this write-up was worth it just to express how good the game feels. Dragon Quest VII is a quality RPG I can safely recommend to everyone, and I’m shocked how good the graphics and controls are. It’s just fun to play. I’ve just finished Pokemon Sun & Moon and DQVII feels just as exciting, but with a drastically different tone. It’s such a great period for the 3DS right now, and I hope everyone has something fun to play.

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