Nostalgia knows no boundaries when it comes to Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past. Playing as a love letter to its original version, an anthology of classic fairy tale storytelling unfolds in this splendid drama. But its exorbitant length with endless looping and backtracking, not to mention the lack of some key RPG elements, makes it a mountainous climb for the modern age.
In the golden years of remakes, reboots and tales of the reimagining, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past fits perfectly. Developed by Heartbeat and ArtePiazza for the PlayStation back in 2001, it was notorious for its gargantuan size as one of the largest JRPGs created, with gamers often logging more than 100 hours of play. And while it’s taken a great deal of patience to localise the Dragon Quest games for the 3DS, fans will soon have not one but two to play through in due time.
Telling the tale of the unnamed Hero, Fragments of the Forgotten Past centres around the island of Estard. Prince Kiefer is restless. Born into a role he doesn’t want to fill, his duties are seemingly set in stone. But on his adventures with the Hero and the Mayor’s daughter Maribel, they discover coloured puzzle pieces – otherwise known as fragments – that take them into forgotten islands of the past when popped into a pedestal at the Shrine of Mysteries. Acting like the Scooby gang, particularly with the arrival of Aishe and Mervyn later, the characters must solve each of the island’s problems in the past before it can be restored in the present.
Since Dragon Quest VII’s original release fifteen years ago, many things have changed for the better on the 3DS remake. But a sense of duty requires me to come clean on one thing: I have never played a Dragon Quest game. Going into the world completely blind, on game seven nonetheless, was an odd experience but an enjoyable one. Struck by the simplicity of the game and confused by the lack of some key elements – such as an HP gauge for enemies, or an experience bar for characters – it was akin to being stuck in a time loop; or perhaps just one of the game’s whimsical towns, En Circlo. The endless backtracking, the swarms of enemies in svelte passageways that you simply cannot avoid, and the weird swooping camera angles on the 3DS that encourages vertigo, lead to much frustration throughout the game.
It was near my own personal breaking point at Alltrades Abbey after the characters’ abilities and healing spells had been rudely stripped away when I discovered job classes. Those first 20 hours were a horrible, mundane slog to the top of a mountain, but it was immediately remedied by the glorious views on top. Quickly turning from a cheap sparkling drink into a finely aged wine, job classes in Fragments of the Forgotten Past are a real game changer. By selecting from typical RPG jobs, players can choose up to 10 standard classes including the warrior, mage and thief. Much like many other RPGs, players can switch jobs at any point without much hindrance, as well as master a combination in order to elevate to a higher ranked class.
And while there’s no levelling bar, characters will have to win a select number of battles so they can achieve the next ranking. Not only does it give players a benchmark for progression, it also enables the use of much different techniques when in battle. They become fluid, interesting and unpredictable; revealing a much more intuitive and complex turn-based system in comparison to the earlier hours of gameplay with its straight-laced attack and defend approach. Boss fights also have an additional layer of flexibility and challenge to them, with some using overtly offensive tactics to keep you on your guard, while others rely on heavy-hitting magic.
In true RPG style, players can equip a good selection of armour and weaponry which is available to purchase with in-game gold earned from defeating enemies. Gold can also be stored in banks to save monsters from looting it should your party be wiped out, while save points are located at Churches. There is an additional option to quick save, but it cannot be used while adventuring through a dungeon.
Fans of the game will relish in some additional improvements, such as a Fragment Finder which glows when the player is in the vicinity of a piece, and pulsates when in the same room as one, the ability to physically see enemies on the field or in a dungeon, as well as StreetPass functionality in the form of Traveller’s Tablets. Players can also switch the party line-up allowing you to have a different lead character and you can engage in conversation with them at any time; personally Maribel’s wit and amusingly blunt comments are much more entertaining than Ruff’s child-like remarks.
Aside from the core battle system, Dragon Quest VII and its islands each unfold as a miniature tableau. Plagued by issues with monsters, robots, animals, or weather ailments, the script and translations are handled with such a delicate touch it breathes life into this fantasy-rich landscape. While some are predictable, cue humans turning into animals, most of the storylines are played out with such melodrama it’s hard to refrain from getting into the spirit of the land. With inspiration taken from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Japanese and American folklore and European cultural influences, such as the Spanish Catalonian Architect Gaudi, the expertly woven stories gives it an authentic fairy tale feel not to be missed.
Yet even though there’s an air of mystery and longing when playing Dragon Quest VII, the dungeons are designed simply with little room to manoeuvre within. A blessing for grinding but an utter hindrance when trying to move quickly through rooms to the boss, you’ll encounter more enemies than a zombie breakout. Some of the less linear dungeons require players to use levers, press switches and traverse through mazes or solve puzzles. One of the highlights appears around 35 hours into the game in En Circlo where an architect has developed traps and trick rooms to thwart the standard adventurer. It’s in these moments that provide the most enjoyment for players, alerting them to the unexpected rather than the mundane.
Perhaps the most frustrating element with Fragments of the Forgotten Past is the length it takes to open up the game to its full potential. While beginners are helped more so than fans of the original version, in the modern age where electronic entertainment is wired into almost every room of the household, the necessary commitment is an arduous one. Couple those first impressions with awkward camera angles and unavoidable monsters in linear dungeons, the flaws are unfortunately quite clear. Yet with all that said, and despite the deeper, richer and more complex JRPGs flooding the market today, sometimes it’s nice to bring back the classics. After all, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past is storytelling at its best.