Video Games Review: Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past (3DS, 2016)

It took a few years for gamers outside of Japan to finally see the modern remake of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past, a reverent update of one of the longest, most in-depth, and sadly underrated JRPGs of the 21st century. It was originally released for PlayStation in the year 2000, a huge success in the land of the rising sun but a relative (commercial) disappointment everywhere else, despite great reviews. Noted for the length and depth it brought to a series already famous for its simply beautiful and inventive stories, Fragments reiterated the Dragon Quest series as one of the greatest RPG franchises ever made (often it’d completely trump Final Fantasy, both in terms of quality and popularity) and with this particular installment being a series highlight it’s a no-brainer that Nintendo would want to reintroduce it into the world, at a time when traditional RPGs are making a huge comeback.

Yes, the game is a big commitment. If you’re determined to finish Fragments you’re looking at a little over 100 hours of playtime. Such a large amount of content is often a godsend for those that really get stuck into their RPGs, for others it’s a daunting time sink, those are the ones who will give up when they realise that after a few hours of running back and forth with little tasks, they haven’t even entered their first battle. Just as well that the rather simple, straight forward story and script is charming enough that many wouldn’t see this as a chore.

You start the game as a young villager on an island called Estard, a cut-off piece of the world with everyone convinced that they are the only civilisation in existence – a happy, ignorant life full of fishing trips and not much else. The character you play is best mates with the prince of the island, a mischievous forward-thinker who, like you, believes that there is life beyond Estard. Turns out he’s right, and traveling back in time via puzzle-like pieces of fragment begin to shape your adventurous party’s path. It’s nice and clean, classic JRPG, a deeply involving game that takes it back to the days of cute monsters and turn-based combat: a formula Dragon Quest has stuck to for I don’t even know how long.

Each island that pops not only expands the map and brings you face to face with new, challenging monsters, but the script is clever enough that you get a sense of these characters’ eyes opening to the world for the very first time. There’s a message here: about embracing other cultures and making meaningful connections; it’s quite beautiful in it’s own modest way, particularly in a world full of elaborate games trying to do too many things at once.

There’s also many — almost too many — self-contained stories throughout the game, side-quests if you will. This brings a kind of episodic structure to the game and helps break it down a bit more, making it more easily digestible since you’re basically playing through something that’s smartly segmented into chapters, only a small few of which drag and feel a bit torturous.

Small differences help spring this game to life for a 2016 audience. You can actually avoid monster battles this time, with the enemies appearing on screen rather than attacking without your knowledge, although they do pop up far too frequently and getting even a tad close to one – often unavoidable – leads them to chase you. Graphics are another obvious, very significant change, fleshing out the 3D world but not going overboard, resulting in a nice, fluid feeling game that has the additional charm of using the easily-spun camera to help discover certain things on screen.

One thing that surprisingly hasn’t changed is the archaic interface with items. Yes, sticking to the old school way of doing things is admirable, but in this day and age the steps taken to equip, use items, heal (etc) should be fewer (like what Pokemon did with the most recent generations). It’s a little niggle if you aren’t used to older JRPGs and impatience defines your playing style, but it still would have been nice to completely modernise the UI seeing as so much appreciated effort has gone into retouching everything else.

Score: 7.5/10
Highlights: fantastic script; meaty content; charming nostalgic experience; streamlined remake makes for more engaging gameplay; very accessible.
Lowlights: Same old recycled character model trick; some stories do drag; archaic item menu.
Developer: Heartbeat, ArtePiazza
Publisher: Enix
Release Date: September 17, 2016
Platform: Nintendo 3DS