Dragon Warrior VII
Possibly the best entry in a generally solid series of RPGs, Dragon Warrior VII was an anomaly for an RPG released as late as 2001 in that it featured no voice acting and almost no cinematics.
What's that I say? Almost no cinematics? 'Struth! The density of prerendered cutscenes is so low, in fact, that I was periodically startled when I ran into one, having forgotten that the game contained any. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, depends. If you play video games for the gameplay, any reduction in the amount of time you spend not playing is welcome. If you play video games because they're more expensive than movies and generally not as good, however, you may be disappointed. So if you're in this category, steer clear.
The rest of us, meanwhile, are treated to a genuinely fun RPG experience that was, in fact, what reminded me, after so many years of blah, why I liked RPGs to begin with. Combat is deep but not complex, the world is full of interesting things to do and interesting people to talk to and interesting monsters to fight, and the class system is... well, more about that later. The biggest achievement in Dragon Warrior VII, however, is the position that it puts the hero in. To explain: in the beginning, there was one RPG storyline. Period. And it was "OH NOES the evil wizard/dragon/demon is plotting something horrible! Get there in the nick of time and thwart him!" A bit later, a second story was spawned, and that was "The evil wizard/dragon/demon may be up to something horrible. We'd better stop it... OH NOES we played right into his hands and unwittingly helped him achieve his goals! Now we better REALLY thwart his ass." Almost every single RPG in gaming history uses one or the other of these storylines. Dragon Warrior VII, however, comes up with something rather new. The evil wizard/dragon/demon (sort of all three, in this case) accomplished his evil plan many years ago. And now we're playing time-travel archaeologists to try to figure out what happened and fix it! Hey, it's fresh. And in this business, you take what you can get.
The other praise I have to lavish upon the storyline of Dragon Warrior VII is that it revolves basically around a (spoiler, probably) theological struggle - the world was sorta messed up in the aftermath of a battle between the Demon Lord (who goes by the unlikely name of Orgodemir) and God (who's just plain ol' God). Our heroes - siding, as all heroes should, with God - have to try to Put Things Right. This has, of course, been done a zillion times before. What makes this one refreshing, though, is that it manages to deal with these situations without becoming theologically embarassing.
It's time for the promised discussion of the class system! The class system sucks. The end. Well, okay, that's not fair. The class system doesn't exactly suck so much as it's badly in need of refinement; some classes are vastly stronger than others, some classes are very important early on and almost useless later in the game, and in order to do well in the endgame one must possess a knowledge of the mechanics that the game itself is unwilling to provide. Basically, there are three "tiers" of classes, but the game only admits to two. And if you don't figure out how to get to the third-tier classes, the endgame (and the final battle in particular) is going to be really hard. This problem is compounded by the long development times of many classes; reaching a third-tier class basically requires that you spend no time whatsoever not developing toward it, so random stabbing is highly unlikely to work.
That complaint aside, the game is a lot of fun, and even grizzled old veterans are likely to squeeze no less than eighty hours of play time out of the thing. If they can get started, that is; the game begins with an introdutory sequence wherein you wander around a tiny island trying to find the right order to talk to the NPCs in. This isn't terribly uncommon. What's unusual about it is that it runs for three damn hours. If you have the willpower to make it through that, then, believe it or not, there's an actual game on the other side!
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