From my understanding, each release of a new Dragon Quest in Japan marks a national fervour. Sick days, skipped school, and other such occurrences usually happen around the launch of a new title. Remember 2008’s “GTA flu?” It’s basically like that. For good reason, too—the series has been reliably turning out stellar games since the 80s, perpetually eclipsing even the massive Final Fantasy franchise, and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Despite a lackluster presence in America, Square Enix’s series has been going strong for three decades.
Picking up Dragon Quest VII will show newcomers why, too. The last entry before the series went truly next-gen with Dragon Quest VIII, Fragments of the Forgotten Past is a stellar slice of old-school JRPG goodness. Everything about the game, from its narrative to its gameplay, feels like a product of the 90s in the best way imaginable. There’s a familiar reliability and comfort here—a charming romp filled with just enough danger and intrigue to keep the plot fresh.
Players take on the role of a young boy who, for all intents and purposes, is a little delinquent. His best friends are Maribel, a mischievous little girl, and Kiefer (no relation to Sutherland,) a bratty prince. The three live around a fishing village, and have been told their whole lives that nothing exists outside of their sleepy existences. This being an RPG, of course, they quickly discover their home island of Estard is not alone. That is, it wasn’t alone in the past. An evil force destroyed all of the continents ages ago, and only this scrappy group of misfits can fix it. How? By travelling through time, of course!
Dragon Quest VII’s plot might not have confusing technobabble, edgy character development, or grimdark scenarios, but I honestly think it’s one of the better narratives I’ve experienced in a role-playing game. The central conceit of a group of little punks getting together, travelling through time, and rebuilding the entire world is whimsical in a way I can get behind. It’s easy enough to grasp for kids, but feels substantial enough for adults to take something away from. My time with the game reminded me of a bygone era of JRPGs, one that I miss in today’s world of fan service and angst. It’s no Chrono Trigger, sure, but it’s a charming, arresting frolic that holds your interest and refuses to let go.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, Fragments of the Forgotten Past is in the same boat as the original PlayStation 1 version. That is to say, this game is overwhelmingly huge. The original is famous (and perhaps infamous) for being around 100 hours long, even without counting any of the numerous side quests or messing around with the class system a whole lot. That’s still the case here. While, obviously, I haven’t sank over a hundred hours into a game in less than a week, I can definitely see it being that long from the several, several hours I’ve put into it. The overworld is huge, the dungeons sprawling, and some enemy encounters fairly unforgiving. Honestly, this might be the largest game I’ve seen squeezed onto a 3DS cartridge, and that’s saying a lot.
All of that content is fun to explore and experience, too, as the visuals, sound design, and gameplay all blend to form a reliable, engrossing title. Fragments of the Forgotten Past’s basic, turn-based combat is as reliable as ever, and the class system ensures a wealth of different party types to mess around with. The art direction is vibrant and colourful, especially on smaller New 3DS screen, with Akira Toriyama’s lively aesthetic rendered about as well as it can be on this platform. A chipper, charming score punctuates the entire package, creating an encouraging and whimsical soundscape that makes you want to keep playing.
Frankly, I adore Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past. While people who aren’t really into this genre of game might not like some of the trappings still present (artificial difficulty, turn-based battles, incredibly long playtime, etc.,) fans will undoubtedly find something to love here. This release shows that, as far as JRPGs are concerned, Dragon Quest is one of the standard-bearers for a reason.