Dragon Quest has been a huge series for around 30 years and so it came as a surprise when, in 2001, Square Enix decided not to import the seventh instalment of the saga to Europe. Dragon Quest VII is considered by many as one of the best RPGs in history, so the decision was questionable to say the least. This year, though, the game came out on the Nintendo 3DS and gave Western audiences the chance to enjoy this chapter in the saga. Of course, the European version is nothing more than the translation of the remake that came out in 2013, subtitled "Fragments of a Forgotten Past"; a remake that, in addition to the obvious graphical upgrades, changed some aspects of the game to make it more alligned to contemporary tastes. Regardless, we were excited to try this classic RPG again and see how it fared in 2016.
Following the tradition of old-school JRPGs, this adventure guarantees dozens of hours of gameplay while trying to get rid of the repetitiveness via some elegant solutions. For example, the random encounters that characterised the game in its original version give way to a system that shows enemies on the map, allowing players to avoid most of the fights if desired. Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past seems to push the player to continue the adventure, avoiding repetitive fights with the only purpose of accumulating experience points. Talking about XP, in order to balance the rarefaction of the fights the speed with which the characters gain levels has been increased. The approach is, therefore, very different from the one taken during the golden era of Square Enix JRPGs and closer to modern ideals, a choice that could dumbfound those seeking the thrills and the unforgiving difficulty of the original game, but that will certainly make the game more playable for its contemporary audience. We therefore applaud the job done by the developers, who did not limit themselves just to improving the graphics but also have rethought the game just enough to get rid of some of aspects that haven't aged well.
Regarding graphics, the changes are, once again, radical. Characters and environments have been totally remodelled, with a style closer to that of today's Dragon Quest games, letting you enjoy the famous character design by Akira Toriyama. All the locations have been redesigned and placed in a 3D environment that can be rotated at any time, which allows for a greater sense of immersion. We had fun exploring the mysteries of some places, and we tried more than once to rotate the camera just to discover some hidden secrets. We very much appreciated the presence of a hand-drawn map on the bottom screen, represented on a yellowed, crumpled sheet of paper which allows you at any time to get an idea of where you are, without the need to interrupt the flow of game as you explore dungeons and the like. Finally, this version introduced a radar that allows you to find the titular "fragments" more easily, avoiding a long and fruitless searches that at one time forced us to read endless discussion forums. Again, the developers seem to have done everything possible to speed up the pace of Dragon Quest VII with small and big tricks that, in the end, work really well.
We must also mention the soundtrack too. The Japanese release of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past had orchestrated music, but now this has disappeared from the European edition in favour of a set of MIDI tracks. Many fans will feel their skin crawling at this, but in reality it is an acceptable choice. For reasons of space, the orchestrated songs of the Japanese version were significantly reduced versions of the original songs and so for the European version it was decided to re-introduce the original soundtrack, which, although certainly less glamorous than the orchestrated alternative, is complete and presumably much less repetitive.
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on the whole doesn't fail to honour a game released sixteen years ago, presenting it to a new generation of players without debasing it. It is certainly not easy to make changes for a demanding contemporary audience when it comes to such an old game, but the developers have been able to find a balanced formula that rejuvenates the title just enough without destroying the aspects that made it a classic in the first place. In other words, since there's a good chance that you may have missed this game the first time around, and since this seventh chapter deserves to be played, this version for Nintendo 3DS is to be taken into serious consideration. Older fans of the saga certainly will appreciate this opportunity, and a new generation will discover a franchise that has forever marked the history of the JRPG genre.