A wild Ian Beale draws near! Phil Mitchell attacks with the Toilet Flush! Critical Hit!

dragon quest 7

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past (2001)

And now for something completely different, something that might shock and frighten you: I like to watch soaps. It’s probably unwise of me to jump into soap discussion alongside mature women, but it’s always a good talking point, right? The show just always goes on with soaps, and the lure of watching the mundane on television seems to be incredibly strong for humans – see Big Brother, Jersey Shore, Love Island and their derivatives for other depressing examples.

Actually, is there really that much mundane about soap operas these days? Shown well before the watershed, you can expect to see arson with murderous intent, rape, adultery, prostitution, drug abuse and addiction, rampant alcoholism and at least an evens chance of a raucous pub fight. As for some of the stuff Brookside used to throw up… well actually, all I’ve got to say is that bombs going off in nightclubs and house raids by gun-toting mad Scousers was some pretty amazing viewing back then, just as it would be now.

Yes, it’s usually all happening in soaps. And since episodes of these programmes have to be cranked out for at least four slots a week, there’s an awful lot of economical direction and acting involved, giving rise to those odd little moments that you only ever see in soaps. When it comes to plot development, for example, one place rules the roost and that’s the local pub. There’ll be only one pub in the entire area, with the only possible thing resembling competition being a “nightclub” run by the local spiv or suited ladies man.

Nine to five jobs? Not in the world of the soap – daytime drinking is prominent, and the pub is almost always teeming with people from noon onwards. The pub might be empty early doors, if there’s some plot to be advanced (e.g. by the landlady rushing off to jump down the neck of her cheating boyfriend). But other than that, the pub is THE prime location for allegations or revelations of cheating, fighting and other scathing comments. All of this usually prompts an eviction from the pub in no uncertain terms.

And it’s well for soap directors to keep as few people in a room as possible, so that one-to-one arguments can be had. Towards that end, and in keeping with the constant tension that exists between soap characters, many indoor scenes will simply end with a character sighing loudly and storming off.

Despite the limited number of named characters in the cast, there will always be the case of two young singletons unhappy with their relationship status being brought together. A relationship follows, where the two are visibly and overly enamoured with each other – for a devastatingly short space of time. Then, like night follows day, the dysfunction and contrived plotlines begin.

And it doesn’t matter if you are hopelessly fat, devoid of personality and humour, or have a face like an Ogham stone – you will get a shag eventually. Indeed, some of the uggos of the soap area are somehow seen as sex objects, leaving viewers to wonder just how they do it. These characters just better see to it that they don’t wind up regretting it all later and sire a baby, when the conflict plots restart all over again.

They better not get too attached though, because in the world of soap, no wedding ceremony will ever go well. There’s the time-honoured method of spoiling the couple’s big day, by bursting through the door of the church and protesting loudly after the “Speak now or forever hold your peace” bit, that line that just invites trouble.

The bride, of course, almost instantly changes her mind, and now the unlucky groom has a problem. Immediately after yet another wedding descends into farce, the other older characters inexplicably express their surprise at how something like this could happen.

A quicker, simple, and far more effective way to spoil a soap wedding usually: happens after all the tense build-up, when on the big day it’s revealed that one of the couple has gone missing, and it’s eventually revealed that they’ve fled. Grooms will usually escape through toilet windows and slink back home a broken man, whereas brides will be found at a sister or confidant’s house, in tears.

On those rare occasions that a soap wedding does go well, and the bride has been kissed, you needn’t expect that to be the end of it. As the congregation clap the new couple, the soap episode will usually end by focusing and zooming in on the glaring eyes of a former lover of the groom, plotting her revenge.

In fact, if you find yourself caught up in a soap then you should not have any form of party or celebration. At best, you can hope for a punch-up and heavy screaming. At worst, you can expect the venue to be destroyed in a blazing fire, resulting in at least one death and at least two more in a serious condition in hospital. When I say death, I don’t really mean death, because getting killed off in a soap is never permanent.

Either way, all attempts to have some merriment are mercilessly cut short. A gathering in the pub? Forget it. About the best you can hope for is some down on his luck drunkard making a scene but being escorted out before the fists really start flying.

Pretty depressing all round, right? But that’s soap operas for you – loads of little stories, basically doomed to repeat themselves, and the whole charade goes on for years and years, and moves at such a glacial pace that you could tune out for months at a time and still know what was going on when you tune in for the Christmas Day episode.

It’s possible that one of the Golden Eras of British soaps, the late 90s into the early 00s, served as inspiration for Dragon Quest VII on the PlayStation 1, although somehow I doubt it. I’m told this game had the biggest script of any game in history when it came out, although it released far too late in the PS1’s life to make anything like the impact that another certain seventh RPG instalment had. And I need hardly inform you that it never came out in Europe.

This game doesn’t half go on, though. Bloody hell – it’ll run you not too far short of a hundred hours, making it probably the lengthiest game of the series alongside Dragon Quest XI. The enormous script is probably where the bulk of this game’s budget went, because it certainly didn’t go towards the graphics – 2D stuff always appeals, I suppose, and it wasn’t always common to get 2D graphics on the PS1. But by the time this came out on PlayStation in the US in 2001, nobody was wowed. It sold like hot cakes in Japan of course, but that was inevitable. The soundtrack is disappointingly limited as well.

You’ll want to stick with the badly needed remake on 3DS, which adds some nice 3D graphics – quite literally in this case, and I never use the 3D slider on 3DS games as it offends both my eyes and my sensabilities, but this remake has some of the best 3D I’ve seen. The game itself stretches the OG 3DS as far as it can, making some menus and other scenes a bit laggy at times, but nothing too bad.

Funny script though, you know, I couldn’t quite believe it when we went to Emberdale when sure enough, and in keeping with our little soap connection, the townsfolk started coming at me with broad Yorkshire accents. Nor could I believe it when I saw the words “céad míle fáilte” in a video game, and from a famous series at that. That’s what you call character and charm, and Dragon Quest has always been chock full of that.

In the end though, Dragon Quest VII is much like the soaps that’ll never disappear from our TVs – it goes on too long, never gets too far above dreariness, and the whole thing turns into a whole load of little stories and arcs that you care less and less about. Do feel free to dip your toes in every so often, and you might enjoy it. But even the game’s subtitle, Fragments of the Forgotten Past, reminds me of rewatching the golden moments in soap and reminiscing, savouring that beautiful 5%, while conveniently ignoring the fact that the other 95% of it was relentless dirge.

7 September 2021

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