When Dragon Quest VII was first released in 2000, it was the first of the series to be placed on a CD as opposed to a cartridge. Because of this move, the game’s creators needed to brainstorm what could be used to fill up the sudden vast increase in space. Writers would send in stacks of hundreds of pages of script and ideas a day for series creator, Yuuji Horii, to read and edit.
However, rather than settle for more of the same, Horii wanted to try something a little different. Horii shares in a recent Iwata Asks interview that he had always enjoyed the MYST games. At the time, he had been wondering if players had gotten tired of leveling through battles, and so he decided to make Dragon Quest VII more about puzzle-solving. He states that this is why it’s possible to explore for five hours without encountering a single battle in the game.
Just as MYST was about exploration and looking into every nook and cranny, so was Dragon Quest VII. This was the first time there would be so much opportunity for exploration in what had originally been a very straightforward series. Indeed, there were many extremely difficult-to-find items (“Who would have thought that you would find a stone tablet right there on a random villager’s table?” laments Noriyoshi Fujimoto of Square Enix, the producer of the 3DS remake).
In fact, this was one of the main points that the development team wanted to change about the remake. The exploration aspect, of course, would remain intact, but the main concept behind the 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII is “A VII that is easy to understand, unambiguous, and comforting,” according to Fujimoto.
This doesn’t mean that VII will be toned down, but rather that there are differences between the audiences of 2000 and the present, and the game will take this into account. For example, the concept of the original VII was “an RPG that chews you out and makes getting lost fun,” and it was in part because of this that there was such an overwhelming amount of content (close to 1000 different areas). According to Shintarou Majima of ArtePiazza, the team felt that if they were going to make such an extensive game, then they may as well go all the way and get people as lost as possible in the vast world. Because of this focus on making “getting lost” and exploration fun, extra effort was put into making every town feel unique.
However, with the current audience, Majima feels that most players would leave the moment they think something looks boring or tiring.
Because of this, one of the first points he thought of when faced with the remake was that a different approach would be needed. The main challenge would be to keep the “having fun while getting lost” aspect alive while somehow guiding players a little to reduce the stress and energy needed to move through the game.
In the same vein, Sachiko Sugimura, also of Artepiazza, also felt that the game needed to be modified a little, although for a different reason. Like Fujimoto, she felt that VII was extraordinarily suited for a portable system like the 3DS because the overall plot is written like a series of short stories. This way, the player can enjoy the game for short bursts of time. To aid this, functions such as a new summary system that explain what had happened up to that point in time. While this seems simple enough, because of the sheer content, this alone took a year to write and incorporate.
Also taking advantage of the 3DS is the Immigrant Town, which is a town that changes depending on whom you recruit to live there. Originally, you could trade immigrants between two different memory cards, a unique feature at the time that took advantage of the fact that the game was separate from the memory card. Now, instead you can trade inhabitants through Street Pass.
Another old side quest that takes advantage of Street Pass is the Monster Park, where players can tame monsters in various environments. With the Street Pass, you can send a party of 3 monsters out to explore, and sometimes they may even return with new stone shards, which you can then trade with others.
Other changes include modifications made to art and story. For example, while town layouts weren’t changed much, the art and the body ratio of the characters were modified. Sugimura stated that one of the most important changes was the flow of the game. While the number of things and places were the same on the first island, for example, the organization and how the story is organized was completely changed.
Finally, the job system in the Nintendo 3DS version of Dragon Quest VII has been revamped as well. Originally, you could carry skills learned from a previous job which, while it allowed for great customization, also ultimately led to all the characters being the same. The uniqueness of the job was lost. This was changed so that if you change jobs, you could only “do that one job.” While this is a risky change, Fujimoto states that this change had actually come about through the many comments of those who had played the original game.
In fact, the entire original release was treated as an enormous test, where the feedback good and bad were taken into account. As Nintendo president Satoru Iwata summarizes, the remake was created by taking into account the numerous comments and the differences in time and audience between the current and past release while still keeping the core concepts alive.