Ah, Dragon Quest or Dragon Warior as it was called in the US for a while, one of the most popular RPGs of all time in Japan to the point that I’ve always heard that any entry in the series cannot be released on a work day. Even at an early age, I stumbled upon this delightful series with its now iconic set of characters, sound effects, and music. Initially, I played Dragon Warrior 1 & 2 on the Gameboy, only to find out later that it was a franchise that I would grow to love. One of the highlights of this series’ legacy is Dragon Quest VII, one of the last hurrahs for the PSOne. Just as Square Enix have been known to do with Final Fantasy, there have been considerable efforts to keep the Dragon Quest franchise alive with several remakes. Fragments of the Forgotten Past on the 3DS is one of these preservation attempts, bringing the classic to the modern era with all sorts of improvements.
Immediately the charm of Akira Toriyama’s art style permeates this game. All of the characters look great in the new 3D engine. Being that the original game was built on 2D sprites, with Dragon Quest VIII on the PS2 being the first to jump to fully 3D worlds, it’s great to see Dragon Quest VII in this style. It fits the game so well. Even though I never played the original PSOne title, the differences are astounding after a bit of research. Tracking down the original game in English could be an expensive pursuit though, so a 3DS remake is a great way to try a classic without breaking the bank. It is a shame the original game isn’t available on the Vita digital marketplace or something.
Much of the game’s translations have been reworked as well, renaming characters and items into something a little more palatable. Note that while this means that old walkthroughs and guides can give the player of Fragments of the Forgotten Past a good idea of what to do, it is rarely exact as the game’s script and events have been greatly improved. It’s also handy that the player can talk to the other party members for hints on what to do next, alongside there being a few hints in the Info section of the main menu. Speaking of scripts, the game’s story is surprisingly one of its strong points, even in though usually traditional RPGs such as Dragon Quest often lack in that area.
Our journey starts in a humble fishing port in a world that peacefully lives its days. Most of the people encountered claim that there is nothing beyond the ocean, with the island being the only landmass in the whole world. Of course, the adventure truly starts as an unruly prince finds an old book full of ancient secrets and plots with his friend our hero to explore the world on a repaired ship. Together, the hero, a childhood friend Maribel, and the Prince of Estard Keifer, set out to prove the world wrong, refusing to believe it’s so small.
The basic plot line definitely has some interesting themes about society, mostly involving blissful ignorance. However, society begins to question their very existence as the party uncovers a temple that allows them to travel to the past. In the past, the heroes will unwind the various problems of each island they visit, usually helping a society go against what it has always believed in, which draws parallels to the main story. By saving each island from destruction, the islands reappear on the world map, immediately throwing the King of Estard into a panic on what this means.
This back and forth between the past and present is not only interesting from many literature stand points, but it also drives the player. Each island has its own miniature problems to solve and doing so doesn’t seem like such a daunting task compared to the problems of convincing the Kingdom of Estard that everything they have ever known is not true.
Through the beginning sections of the game, I really struggled to get into the story, as there is no combat to be had in the first couple hours. If the player doesn’t know the quickest way to finish the intro section of the game, it can be extremely dull. However, once I finished that first story line and started the next, I found myself caring about the characters much more. I became interested in the themes of each story, and was genuinely surprised at a few moments. So much is done with so little, considering the game is doing this with rudimentary character animations and text. For anyone interested in literature in gaming, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past is a wild ride.
As far as the gameplay goes, Dragon Quest veterans will feel right at home. Battles occur after running into a monster that spawns on the map, taking place in turns like many RPGs. Being that Dragon Quest was one of the inventors of the genre, the battles are fairly simple, but can be challenging. Several of the bosses forced me to think a bit outside the box, relying on my character’s abilities to decrease the enemy’s defenses instead of the usual “throw the best spells at it” technique I often default to in these kind of games. For those new to the series, fear not, as the game does not throw a lot of complex elements at the player all at once. Battles start off incredibly simple, unlocking new complexities as the game goes, which teaches the player to be better at the game, a fundamental principle of good game design.
The 3DS does seem to struggle with the game’s battle animations at times. Several times, I found myself flying through menus, only to have the game sluggishly try to keep up, resulting in a lower framerate. This is a shame, as I have been playing the game on the “New” 3DS. Of course this sort of graphical blemish can be patched, but I did notice it happening quite often.
It is important to know that Dragon Quest VII is not an RPG to be finished in a weekend or two. There is a ton of content to be had here with finding the tablets to access more worlds, maxing out character classes to learn new skills, monsters to tame, and much more. Players are also able to share content via street pass, but in my time with the game I have yet to see exactly how it works. There is just so much to the game, well warranting its humble forty dollar price tag. Definitely a game that’ll keep me busy until Dragon Quest VIII comes to the 3DS next.
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past is a charming re-imagining of an RPG classic lost to the annals of time that is full of clever surprises in its complex themes and solid gameplay. I highly recommend giving it a go, as it will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best games in the 3DS’ expansive library. Just remember to keep an open mind during that opening section.