Through The Fire And Flames
It’s been a long time coming, but now JRPG fans in the west finally have their chance experience an entry in the long-running 7th Dragon saga thanks to the fine folks at SEGA. Despite its somewhat misleading title, 7th Dragon III Code: VFD actually marks the fourth and final entry in now-defunct developer Imageepoch’s (Luminous Arc, Stella Glow) dragon-slaying RPG series, and is the direct sequel to 7th Dragon 2020-II, which was released on the PSP in Japan back in 2013. While this may be the first game to in the series to make its way to the states, don’t let that dissuade you from diving into this handheld adventure, as 7th Dragon III Code: VFD is quick to get players up to speed before delivering 3DS owners a bountiful haul of turn-based RPG goodness to help waste away those slow summer months.
The story of 7th Dragon III Code: VFD begins 80 years after dragons descended upon the earth, driving humanity to the precipice of extinction. The year is 2100 A.D., and mankind has managed to rebound, rising from the ashes that the dragon menace left behind to rebuild their cities and return to a state of normalcy. However, not everyone has forgotten about the looming threat. The International Self-Defense Force (ISDF) has been biding their time, preparing for the imminent return of the dragons. However, these elite soldiers aren’t humanity’s only line of defense. The wealthy Nodens corporation may appear to be your typical mega-successful game development studio, but it turns out their most popular game, 7th Encounter, is actually a recruitment tool to scout out humans with the unique ability to battle the dragons and ultimately save the world from the game’s titular 7th Dragon, Code: VFD.
After completing the game’s opening dungeon set within a virtual representation of the dragon invasion of 2021 with a perfect S-Rank, your custom-made character and their party are whisked away by Nagamimi, Nodens’ foul-mouthed, psychotic, yet strangely lovable rabbit mascot and taken to the corporation’s Tokyo headquarters. Here they’re assigned to Squad 13 (an elite unit named after a legendary group of heroes from the previous dragon wars) and tasked with using their unique abilities, along with the corporations’ handy time machine, to journey to the earth’s distant past and future to hunt down history’s most fearsome dragons and use their samples to reconstruct the Dragon Chronicle, a mysterious relic with the power to defeat VFD.
All told, it’s not the most original premise, but 7th Dragon III‘s history-spanning story still manages to excite as it takes players to three distinct locales including the doomed kingdom of Atlantis, the high-tech capital of the land of Eden, and present-day Tokyo thanks to the game’s solid writing and entertaining cast of characters, like the aforementioned Nagamimi, who sadistically revels in tormenting Squad 13 with absurd demands, and Julietta, the flamboyant lead developer of 7th Encounter and all of the technical wizardry that powers Nodens, who just so happens to be deathly afraid of cats, much to delight of Nodens’ perpetually bubbly CEO, Allie. Each of the game’s three unique realms is populated with their own interesting cast of characters to meet and challenges to overcome. While you venture into these realms you’ll explore sprawling dungeons, hunting down lesser dragons while battling assorted baddies through engaging turn-based combat as they seek out each locale’s head dragon to claim their precious sample.
One area where 7th Dragon III Code: VFD really shines is when it comes to party customization. If you’ve ever played any of the Etrian Odyssey games, you’ll feel a certain sense of deja vu as you create your squad of dragon hunters. 7th Dragon III lets you to register 9 party members spread across 3 squads as the game’s story progresses. There are 8 classes to choose from in the game, and each one brings to the table a wealth of skills and special abilities to master. One of my favorite classes is the gun-toting Agent class. Agents make great support units. They can render themselves invisible and hack enemies, causing them to attack one another. Another excellent addition to your party’s roster are God Hands. These warriors are basically monks, serving as versatile comrades who are both proficient in martial arts and healing techniques. God Hands fight up close, and can inflict ‘God Depth’ on their targets. Successive hits with God Depth-imbued attacks will allow them to unleash even more powerful abilities or perform especially effective buffs on their allies. If you’re a fan of Card Capture Games, you might want to keep a Duelist in your party as well. These tricksters’ abilities are decided by a deck they draw from each turn. Like a super-powered Digimon-addict, Duelists can summon monsters, inflict status ailments, and even spring traps on the opposition with the use of their cards. These are just a handful of the classes the game sets at your fingertips, but overall each one feels wholly unique, and manages to incorporate interesting twists to established genre staples. And each class has a wide variety of skills to master, which you can upgrade with skill points that you earn as your levels climb. Overall, it’s easy to sink some serious time into 7th Dragon III Code: VFD’s sizable, 40-hour adventure as work to turn Squad 13 into the a menace on the battlefield.
This freedom of customization when forming your squad is also underscored by the game’s wealth of options at your disposal when you create your custom party. 7th Dragon III Code: VFD‘s character creation tool features 32 different character models to choose from, and each model can be customized between three different color schemes: Atlantis, Tokyo and Eden styles, which all take design cues from the game’s three distinct eras. You can even select from a wide assortment of different voice actors to find the one that best suits each character. Sure, these may all be mere cosmetic tweaks, but the degree of control the game gives players when customizing their squads is nevertheless very welcome.
If you’re like me, you may be pretty saddened by the relative lack of traditional turn-based RPGs being released these days. As a player who first cut my teeth on the early Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star games back in the early ’90s, I’ve always had a great appreciation for the methodical pace this style of combat brings to the genre, allowing you to carefully choose your strategy before watching the melee unfold. 7th Dragon III‘s combat system is certainly a throwback to this tried and true formula, but it still manages to do some interesting tricks to spice things up. Each locale is teeming with a set number of minor dragons that patrol the dungeons, and if you’re within a certain distance of one while in a standard random encounter, the dragons will approach. If you fail to complete the battle within a set number of turns the dragon (or oftentimes several dragons) can intervene, turning a would-be simple fracas into a full-blown boss rush. Additionally, oftentimes you’ll have a backup team accompanying you in battle. As you perform actions, your standby team’s meter fills up, allowing you to tap them on the bottom screen, causing them to join one of your party members in a co-op attack that adds some extra damage to your turn while negating any buffs the enemy may currently possess. Lastly, over the course of the battle your Exhaust Gauge will gradually fill. Once activated, players will get their turns fast, inflict nearly twice as much damage, and become much more effective when trying to escape or use healing items. Overall, the battle system still provides the time-tested formula you’d expect from a turn-based adventure, but it still manages to do enough new tricks to make things interesting for the player.
Visually speaking, 7th Dragon III Code: VFD doesn’t quite push the 3DS’ hardware to its limits, but it’s certainly serviceable. The in-game character models are just as dangerously pointy and super-deformed as you’d expect, but they do deliver some rather flashy attacks during the game’s battle sequences, and they’re animations are interesting, and oftentimes flashy when delivering their most potent attacks. Each area offers its own unique visuals as well, from the ultra-modern look of present-day Tokyo and the submerged splendor of the kingdom of Atlantis to the surreal, high-tech realm of Eden, each of these various settings looks distinct from one another, and features a handful of impressive vistas that showcase each locales unique visual trappings, such as the monolithic Nodens HQ as viewed from the town square to the towering palace that looms over the Atlantean capital. Perhaps most impressive are the dragons themselves, which come in a wide variety of forms. One such menace is about 70% teeth on a pair of legs the size of tree trunks, where other dragons resemble strange, lizard-like depictions of the Resident Evil series‘ iconic Lickers. While these all look great and are animated gorgeously, the leader dragons are the most impressive, filling the screen with their ominous forms.
While killing dragons offers the expected mountains of experience and cash, dragons also drop a unique form of currency known as Dragon Zenny. Essentially Dragon Bucks, you can spend DZ on construction projects at Nodens’ HQ, enhancing the facilities and adding new rooms that serve special purposes. For example, adding a dormitory gives the party a place to rest and gather fresh-made bento boxes for their journey, while adding a Sky Lounge allows you to take certain characters on dates, though these are hamstrung by the fact that your custom-made characters have such little dialog that these romantic getaways seem like little more than an afterthought. Still, there’s an undeniable satisfaction that comes with turning Nodens into a full-featured base of operations, with a fully-outfitted R&D wing and a burgeoning cat cafe (trust me, every bastion of justice needs a cat cafe). Upgrading these facilities also garners helpful rewards from the Nodens staff, so be sure to upgrade often!
One area where 7th Dragon III Code: VFD absolutely shines is in the audio department. Legendary composer Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack is one of his most memorable in recent years, providing a wide array of melodies that fit the action like a well-worn glove. From the haunting, submerged synths that drone in the cavernous bowels of Atlantis to the pumping battle anthems that accompany the battles with the dragons themselves, each track is memorable and instantly catchy. The Tokyo theme itself even evokes feelings of Yuzo’s work on the SEGA’s venerated Streets of Rage series. Trust me: you’ll be humming these tunes for hours after you put down your 3DS. They’re simply that memorable.
Role playing games are in no short supply on the Nintendo 3DS, but SEGA’s 7th Dragon III Code: VFD really manages to stand on its own as one of the most memorable adventures to make its way to the handheld in recent years. Time traveling stories are often difficult to get right, and while the narrative is perhaps the least enthralling part of the game’s package, the lively cast of supporting characters, deep and engaging battle system, and captivating world come together to create a journey you’ll want to see through to the finish. If you only buy one 3DS game this summer, make sure it’s 7th Dragon III Code: VFD.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: 3DS (Reviewed); Publisher: SEGA ; Developer: SEGA; Players: 1; Released: July 12, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a 3DS review code for 7th Dragon III: Code VFD provided by the publisher.