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Dragon Warrior VII
Score: 93%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Enix
Developer: Enix
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Let's get this out of the way, because it seems to be most people's number one gripe about the game--Dragon Warrior VII is not particularly pretty. Indeed, the maps are downright ugly--the polygonal structures aren't that bad, but the character sprites are darn near unforgivable in their lack of visual quality. The battle graphics, on the other hand, are definitely near the good end of the spectrum, especially the various animations. It's still decidedly old-school, and those gamers who've been weaned on Chrono Cross and Vagrant Story and the recent Final Fantasy games will find themselves shocked by the lack of visual acuity in the game.

The sound in the game is considerably more solid. The music is excellent, with the right cheery tones when necessary and thumping beats when those are needed as well. It's a nice soundtrack, and one that may well have you tapping your toes before you're done. The sound effects are considerably weaker, sounding much more harsh and unrefined, but it's not that much of a detriment for the game. You can tell that the emphasis in Dragon Warrior VII was not the presentation, but in the actual gameplay.

And what a game it is. Dragon Warrior VII offers more gameplay than almost any other RPG out on the market; indeed, three modern day RPGs might not touch the amount of stuff that you can do in Dragon Warrior VII. Its plodding pace and old-style sensibilities may turn off some gamers, but those who stick around for the long haul will find themselves entranced with the deep gameplay and intriguing occurances in the game.

The game starts out rather oddly. You are a young boy in Fishbel, a small fishing community. The strange part is that it seems that your island is the only place in the entire world; the rest is a vast ocean. Through the course of your adventure, you'll go time-skipping in an attempt to rescue various lands from the past and pull them into the future, repopulating the world as it should have been. In true Dragon Warrior style, Dragon Warrior VII doesn't shoehorn you into doing things one at a time. The world is so massive and so densely populated with things to do that you can be sidetracked for many, many hours while you run off and do various sidequests.

A sense of the game's scale isn't fully appreciated until you get into your first battle--well over an hour into the game. Dragon Warrior VII also has the revered class system, where you can train your characters in a number of different classes and have them learn new abiltiies, along with adjusting their stats; this won't come into play for even longer. This sort of slow, lingering pace may seem a bit gratuitous at times, but there's never a time that you can't run off and do something interesting instead of following the story's plotline, not counting the smattering of times that the game blocks you off for plot purposes.

For those who have never played a Dragon Warrior game, the core of the title is the super-refined battle engine. It's a 2D, first-person engine, turn based and menu-driven. This may sound decidedly ancient, but it ends up working fantastically. Battles zip by quickly, and you never feel like you were burdened down incontrollably by the encounters. It may be old, but it's been tweaked for six iterations (plus remakes and sidestories) now, and they've gotten it pretty much down pat. The same goes for the rather cumbersome item management system--it has its roots in the original game, but it's been refined to the point where, even though it's still a little clunky, it's more than usable.

There's a lot more to say about the game, because it's simply so huge. The sense of opening up new areas in a world gives you much more of a sense of accomplishment than typical fetch quests--you feel like you're recreating the universe piece-by-piece, which is a nice thing. And the downright silly amount of stuff you can do on the side, like gambling and running your own town, is sure to add many, many hours of gameplay to the already lengthy title for those people who enjoy doing everything and seeing it all.

In a classic way, Dragon Warrior VII is a challenging game. Some of the boss fights are quite difficult, and you'll find yourself occasionally relying on luck in a battle, hoping that the enemies don't throw powerful spells at you. That's just the way that these old-style games were, and it ends up working nicely. It's a pleasant change from many recent RPG's, which were basically cakewalks; if you don't manage your levels (and later classes) properly, you'll have a difficult time making your way through the game. Leveling is necessary, but it's not nearly as painful as it used to be. Experienced gamers should be able to tough their way through the game, and first-timers to the series will have a gentle-enough introduction that they can barrel through as well. Some of the boss battles are quite challenging, though, and something like the Bradygames strategy guide can be a boon to help you with strategies for defeating them, along with a general walkthrough that can help you if the game's nonlinear format has thrown you for a loop.

Game Mechanics:
Dragon Warrior VII uses a fairly simple control scheme. You move around with the pad or stick, rotate the 3D environments with the shoulder buttons, and call up the menu with another button. The menus are easy enough to navigate, and the 'Search/Talk' options are actually combined into one button to make your life easier. The menus are a little clunky at times, especially when you want to do item manipulation, but they're certainly easy enough to get used to. The battle system is rock solid and entertaining to boot, and the various character classes all have their strengths and weaknesses. This is one game that spent a lot of time being tweaked and honed, and it shows in the experience.

PS2: Dragon Warrior VII doesn't really benefit from either of the enhanced options on the PS2. The graphics are strongly sprite-based, which discounts using the Smooth graphics options, and load times are already so minimal as to make the Fast disc option more trouble than it's worth.

Dragon Warrior VII is an excellent game, hearkening back to an older, simpler day of gaming while simultaneously putting more adventure on the table than most RPG's could dream of. It does move a little slow, and the graphics may be off-putting for many people, but those who are capable of looking past the dated look and who don't mind spending hours and hours (and hours . . .) on a game will find a truly entrancing experience in Dragon Warrior VII, one that is sure to bring back memories of simpler times and classic games. It's an extremely enjoyable romp, and one that any RPG fan has no excuse to miss.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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