Title  : Dragon Warrior VII
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation
Publisher  : Enix
ESRB Rating  : Teen
Game Rating  : 8.4
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Enix has not released a new Dragon Warrior game in America for nine years. The series has changed so little with Dragon Warrior VII for the PlayStation that it seems a much shorter time. 

This role-playing game (RPG)'s story begins innocuously, and develops slowly. Our hero is the son of a fisherman on the world's only island, who discovers that other continents once inhabited the oceans. Accompanied by his friends Maribel (who is not named after a prize cow) and Prince Kiefer (who isn't a Sutherland), the young lad ventures back in time to reunite the broken world. Yes, these are humble beginnings, and it will be a few hours before players battle their first Blue Slime. 

Dragon Warrior VII is akin to a chain of adventuring vignettes. Our heroes venture from island to solitary island, where they will solve a riddle or overthrow a monster and, in doing so, bring the island into synch with the rest of the world. Their rewards come as puzzle pieces necessary to access the next island. 

Experience with previous games in the series is unnecessary; Dragon Warrior tales are told in trilogies, with the seventh installment marking the beginning of a new epic. Veterans of the series will recognize familiar spells, monsters, and the modus operandi for staples such as item management and game saving. 

The battle system does not employ any gimmicks found in more modern RPGs. Players input commands using a menu system, then watch as heroes and monsters exchange blows turn-by-turn. General strategies can be automatically assigned to characters, helping novice players make wise battle decisions and saving time for veterans. 

Players will quickly become familiar with this battle system, as the ancient process of "levelling up" is required here. The game is paced such that you can't walk into a dungeon and expect to come out alive on your first try. Only by orbiting towns and clearing fields of minor enemies can enough gold be earned to outfit your party with the expensive equipment necessary to survive the next onslaught. This practice adds many hours to the game's length. 

It sounds simple so far, but there are some fun gameplay enhancements. Characters can learn classes, such as thief, mage, or shepherd, in which they acquire both magic spells and innate skills. Players can also build their own town and populate it with unique citizens, record a monster compendium, even collect creatures into a zoo! These unique additions help elevate what otherwise may be a mundane quest. 

As part of that quest, gamers encounter many townspeople and other figures. Their is no voice acting, but text-based conversations in which typos are rare yet glaring. Some characters have totally mismatched vocabularies, which I believe is intended to be humorous. It succeeds. 

The soundtrack has not evolved as much as one might expect. It is perfectly appropriate for an RPG, at times reminiscent of Final Fantasy II — a great game, but one released a decade ago. And unlike that series, Dragon Warrior lacks many variations on previous tunes, updating familiar themes for the 32-bit system. 

The graphics also recall simpler days. The characters are colorful, as are their enemies, who are swiftly animated in their attacks. Yet it's hard to explain the presence of occasionally pixelated backgrounds or blocky lighting effects that the PlayStation overcame years ago. The towns' and dungeons' 3D environments can also be cause for concern. By being fully rotatable, players are expected to view everything from many angles to find all doors, treasure chests, and people. 

Enix may add to or subtract from their basic formula, but the core never changes. With so much experience behind this premise, Enix has mastered what has become the Dragon Warrior series. Nobody does this kind of RPG better, but there are better, more innovative kinds of RPGs. Gamers looking to explore one of the most finely-executed, most familiar RPGs ever can set sail with Dragon Warrior VII.


This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 12-Nov-01