I had some initial concerns about reviewing 7th Dragon III Code: VFD as it’s the last game in a series that’s been popular in Japan, but the first instalment to ever be localised by Sega for the West. I wasn’t sure if I would need information from prior games in order to understand the plot, as coming in on a final entry can be quite daunting, but thankfully it’s not essential in making sense of what’s going on. Although, the non-playable characters you frequently interact with do make many references to events and people from those games throughout the experience.
Set in the year 2100, the world is being invaded by dragons, and with them comes the spread of their deadly orange bloom, Dragonsbane, which is causing many of the population to show signs of Dragon Sickness that will eventually lead to death. Nodens Enterprises, a video game company that is dedicated to trying to stop the assault, enlists you and your team to help them protect the world by becoming dragon hunters. The ultimate goal is to prevent the 7th True Dragon VFD from awakening and destroying the world by travelling through time to the periods when other True Dragons destroyed civilisations and defeating them in order to weaken their foothold on humanity.
While visiting the mythical city of Atlantis of 12,000 years past and the world of Eden 7,000 years in the future, your party encounters some new allies. You come to understand the plight their citizens are facing with the attack of the dragons, with many of their people having already sacrificed their lives in attempts to defeat the True Dragons holed up somewhere in their cities. In a somewhat tenuous co-operative relationship with two members of the International Self Defence Force (ISDF), your party traverses numerous dungeons in a quest to track down the Dragonslayers, mythical weapons able to defeat the True Dragons, and… slay the dragons.
I’ve never particularly been a fan of complicated character creators, which is perhaps an unpopular opinion, so I was very pleased with how straightforward the process of creating a character was, especially since you need to go through the process at least 9 times. 7th Dragon offers plenty of options for customisation with 96 appearance variations and 20 Japanese voice actors to choose from for each gender. I did have an issue with the background music when trying to select my voices, though, as there is no way to adjust the volume which made hearing the voice samples difficult.
The range of classes offered for 7th Dragon is one of the things that impressed me most about the game. It was nice not having the usual roster of classes you would find in a typical JRPG – not to mention they managed to make them interesting with fitting abilities and weapons. You initially start the game being able to choose from four classes: Samurai; the sword-wielding warrior who can specialise in a single sword or dual blades, Agent; a dual gun toting hacker who can debuff enemies and even cause them to attack each other, God Hand; a brawler who inflicts God Depth on enemies to use stronger attacks, and Duelist; who summons monsters into battle and lays traps using a deck of cards. Through progression in the story, you naturally gain an additional four classes to round out the roster. All of the various classes have their own merits, and you may notice that there isn’t a dedicated healer class. That’s because most, if not all, of the classes have healing in some regard. Of course, some are more useful than others; Samurai’s healing ability only allows them to restore their own health, whereas God Hands can heal anyone in the party but aren’t able to heal everyone at once. I love this system as it’s nice to have every class being capable in combat in their own way. It also means you don’t have to put a fragile character in the front lines just so you can heal.
Each character you create is fairly customisable in terms of skills, with each class starting with several skills already unlocked. However, after that, it’s up to you what you want to do with your characters. I personally didn’t choose to learn all the skills for each class, but instead focused on powering up the abilities I used most or found to be useful/effective. The choice really depends on your preference as a player and is adaptable to your style; do you want to focus more on your attacks having the most power, or is it worth putting some SP into buffs that will help the party survive?
The majority of the game is spent exploring dungeons and uses an encounter system very similar to the Etrian Odyssey series. Battles are determined by the number of steps you take, with a bar at the top left of the touch screen that changes colour from Blue, Green, Orange to Red as you run around. The enemies are somewhat interesting creatures when you first encounter them, but as you continue through other dungeons, you will repeatedly see a lot of the exact same monsters just with a palette change indicating that they’re stronger.
For a game with ‘dragon’ in its title, I expected a lot of them, but not as many as there are in this game. Aside from dragons being the big boss at the end of a dungeon, there are multiple in each room that appear on the map and are harder than other encounters but not too difficult overall. On the world map, there is even a counter for how many dragons in total you will have to fight, and it starts at around 240. Something I did enjoy, however, is the ambush system. When engaging an enemy that’s close to a dragon on the map, they will move closer to you each turn, and if you haven’t completed the battle by the time they’re on top of you, they will enter the battle you’re already fighting. In the later dungeons, the dragons are placed closer to each other, so you’re more likely to get into this situation as most battles will take longer. There was an occasion where I fought five or six dragons in a row as a new one would show up right before I killed the previous one, providing no time for a breather and to heal up. Somewhat ironically, I felt there were too many dragons in this game.
The battles against the True Dragons are quite difficult, with each presented in a way that makes them feel like they’re large and looming over your party. Their designs are impressive, particularly the first that you fight. Many of them have a slew of status effects to throw at you and warnings before strong attacks that you need to look out for to ensure you guard to take less damage. They are particularly long battles, and I always felt accomplished whenever I bested one, especially when I had to retry some of these battles repeatedly.
7th Dragon utilises a typical turn-based battle system where chosen actions will occur based on the speed of the character to the enemies, combined with some which occur at the beginning or the end of the turn as explained in the description. The speed aspect is quite important, particularly when fighting against dragons which get two actions in a row per turn – you need to know which of your members will be able to act first, and what they may be able to do to protect the party from a strong incoming attack. Unfortunately, the developers did not provide any way to skip battle animations, which is particularly frustrating when you have a Duelist in your party, as every time they summon a monster, it comes with a fairly lengthy animation. There are also special attacks for each class that you gain access to later in the game, and they also have very long animations which can’t be skipped.
Aside from your main party that actively participates in battles, you are also able to create two additional parties that can aid in your efforts. They appear in rows on your touch screen and have bars with three segments under their images. When a row has at least one bar each, you can draw a line across them to activate their buddy skills; each class has their own status boost or effect that they’ll cast on the main party for a round, such as increased speed or healing any status effects. It’s useful when you learn what each class does, and is part of the strategy of big boss battles.
When all the characters from the backup teams have at least two bars accumulated, you can draw across them all and activate Unizon, allowing all nine characters to do an action for free – which, if done right, can be a devastating attack. It can be hard to pull off, though, as the different classes also have different rates which their bars fill up – some fill one bar per turn, others as slow as one bar every four turns. Finally, you can also just tap on a single character that has one bar before locking in an action, and, when it is your turn, they will come out and do a small attack to the enemy, sometimes inflicting status effects and breaking any buffs the enemy has put on themselves. This was the most significant use to me as a lot of enemies in later dungeons will regularly increase their defence making them harder to kill, so you need to use a buddy to break through it.
You can also switch your party with one of the other two in reserve if your characters are getting weak. I never did this as I liked using my chosen group, but there were two points where the game splits your party into separate teams for the story, and I hated using my other two. They were always weaker than my main party since they were created partway through. It also felt really unnecessary, and the plot reasoning for why they had to split felt very forced. These parts were uncomfortable, and I had to struggle my way through them to continue with the game.
Aside from dungeon crawling, you spend a lot of time at Nodens HQ in Tokyo. Here you can do quests for various staff and construct additional floors or improve on those you have already built. Some of the constructions are compulsory for the plot to progress, and there are also some quests that only become available after certain floors have been constructed. It keeps you busy between hunting dragons but is not very interesting overall. I also had an issue with how navigation is handled here as you’re given the ability to teleport around the building from the start, but there were numerous times someone told me to go somewhere and I couldn’t figure out where they meant by looking at the floor map as they referred to it by a different name or didn’t tell me which floor it was on. Thankfully they built in a Navi section in the menu where your Navigator will tell you where you’re supposed to go next to progress, I just wish that it was clearer initially.
The NPCs that you deal with regularly are quite bland, and many of them exhibit particular characteristics that are over the top – one of which is an effeminate man who is always making plays at your characters and calling them cute, which just felt like an overdone trope. You also gain the ability to date them, but this has very little involvement; just some short conversations with a couple of choices thrown in, with the third and last date usually ending in implied sexual relations, regardless of the gender of your main character.
I also found that the plot is often quite confusing and unclear about aspects such as how someone can become a True Dragon and what it is that truly makes the change happen. There is a lot of exposition from characters, and one of the quest lines actually has you reading books on the history of dragons in each of the time periods for more background on the world. My mind is still muddled on some of the events during the plot as the explanations weren’t clear to me, and they don’t really touch on it again after you have been told. There are also times where I think the plot is very predictable – although I don’t know if this was done on purpose as some of these moments had a lot of lead up that made it obvious to any discerning player.
I really enjoyed the soundtrack for 7th Dragon. Many pieces help to amplify the emotion in story scenes, while others are just great background music when running around in the world. I was disappointed with the presentation, however – it’s not that it’s terrible, but I felt that they could have gone with better designs, especially the character models as they’re all chibis with thin peg legs. I’m aware that the Nintendo 3DS isn’t known for its power, but I’ve seen other games that run fine on the 3DS with better visuals than what’s offered here. I also don’t mind the fact that they only provided Japanese voice acting, but it was so under-utilised, with mostly small, often repeated voice snippets, and occasional short cutscenes that were fully voice acted, that I was left wanting more.
7th Dragon III Code: VFD is an interesting JRPG that shares some of its roots with the Etrian Odyssey series. Unfortunately, the issues I have with the muddy plot, overwhelming number of dragons, and unnecessary party splitting prevents me from giving it a solid recommendation. However, there are plenty of positives to be had. I still had a good time with the game overall, so I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you give it a shot.