Dragon Quest VII's incredibly long and winding road
Is Dragon Quest VII worth finishing in its ideal form?
I finally finished the 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII after eight months and 113 hours—a feat I consider so significant that I've decided to write about it.
Okay, I'm mostly kidding. Though I bet if you could somehow find out how many people who purchased Dragon Quest VII and actually finished it, that number couldn't possibly be higher than 10%. And if I wasn't finishing the game almost entirely out of spite, I probably would have given up long ago, too. I first encountered Dragon Quest VII when it was released for the PlayStation as Dragon Warrior VII back in 2001, and sunk 120 hours of my life into it before losing to the final boss and immediately forfeiting any desire to give it a second go. I kept that saved game on a memory card I still have today, laboring under the delusion that I'd return to VII one day for the sake of closure.
So, with these painful memories behind me, of course I had to buy the 3DS remake when it eventually made its way to America nearly four years after the Japanese release. Even if I never played it, my purchase could exist simply to tell Square-Enix "thank you for supporting Dragon Quest once again in a way that will inevitably lose you money." But, by the time January rolled around, I couldn't resist tearing open that package to see if I could commit myself to giving Dragon Quest VII a second try. Even if I couldn't finish it this time, starting a new game would probably rank relatively low on my list of deathbed regrets.
You likely know this by now, but yes, the 3DS version polishes the turd that was Dragon Quest VII's original release into an entirely new, non-turdlike object. And not only does this version look better, it's also been giving a proper localization—you can read about the hell the Dragon Warrior VII localization team went through in a feature I wrote for USgamer last year. In fact, I'd say the 3DS version has the best localization I've ever seen, simply because it has the most localization I've ever seen. NPCs spout volumes of text that change after small events, and certain big changes that happen late in the game give everyone in the entire world something new to say (and I think this happens more than once). The fact that I couldn't spot a single typo in this inestimable amount of text speaks volumes to how much the localization team killed themselves to make it happen.
Dragon Quest VII also happens to contain my favorite premise in the entire series. The game begins on a planet that contains one small island, and gradually, you start going to the past, eliminating the issues that took out these towns and kingdoms, until the world regains its former glory. All of this plays out though a nice little series of loops, undoubtedly influenced by Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii's work on games like Dragon Quest VI and Chrono Trigger (both released in 1995). While the concept of alternate realities feels a bit half-baked in VI, Chrono Trigger contains one of the best uses of time travel as a storytelling and game mechanic, and VII definitely gives off vibes of the latter.
What makes judging Dragon Quest VII a bit difficult can be chalked up to how a lot of its issues are tied directly to the context of its release. Japanese players had to wait five ever-lovin' years to play VII when most Dragon Quest games stewed in development for only two years. Dragon Quest games always run long, but there's a lack of editing present in VII that feels like an overcompensation for release date delays. At first, the scenarios you're given have distinct and interesting ideas behind them (townspeople turning into animals, a robot apocalypse), but soon you're forced to suffer through long and uninspired stories that feel so much lesser than the ones around them. All told, you could probably carve out 60% of Dragon Quest VII for a much better game, but, in 2000, Enix clearly wanted to give patient fans the most Dragon Quest they'd ever seen.
To be honest, I can handle Dragon Quest VII's length—I've played more than enough 100-plus-hour games in my lifetime. What started to get to me, though, was the last 40-or-so hours, which features some of the worst event flagging I've ever seen in and RPG. To compound this, Dragon Quest VII doesn't have a whole lot of character models, and several significant characters all take the same form (and many locations have very similar appearances). Frankly, a lot of characters faded from my memory, so I didn't always think "Oh, I should go back and talk to that guy now" when I should have.
And sometimes in the latter part of the game, Dragon Quest VII is dishonest to the point of cruelty. Allow me to explain: I arrive at a new town, and most of the people there are telling me a person of interest just climbed to the top of a nearby tower. I head to that specific spot—which involves heading through a fairly long dungeon—and no one is there. I go back to town, talk to everyone again, and still nothing at the top of the tower. Scouring the Internet for help—and in the hopes I didn't run into a game-ruining bug—I found out the asinine thing I needed to do. In order for the fabled tower man to appear, I had to talk to a prescribed group of people in town in a specific order (breaking the order means you have to start over) and without leaving town. Keep in mind I had to visit GameFAQs' message board to figure this out because the actual FAQ writers gave up long before the point I'd reached in the game. Even VII's multiple in-game hint systems could only nudge me so far in the right direction.
Ultimately, I can only recommend Dragon Quest VII to Dragon Quest completionists. In what is undeniably a ridiculous sentence, I loved the first 70 hours, but found the last 40 to be Sunk Cost Fallacy: The Game. I kind of consider Dragon Quest VII the Gravity's Rainbow of video games: it's long, sometimes tedious, but if you make it to the end, people may respect you upwards of two percent more.