Dragons are mythical beings, usually depicted as giant and powerful reptilian creatures. Often winged and with fire breathing abilities, they’re common elements in all kinds of media, ranging from fantasy books to movies.
Games are no exception, with notable examples such as Alduin and the several dragons from The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, or Grigori from Dragon’s Dogma. 7th Dragon III: Code VFD is no different, focusing its plot and gameplay around these fearsome beasts.
7th Dragon III: Code VFD for the 3DS is the first Western release of a previously exclusive Japanese RPG series. It started with 7th Dragon for the Nintendo DS and it had two PSP sequels, 7th Dragon 2020 and 2020-II.
A curious details about the PSP games was the inclusion of Hatsune Miku, the VOCALOID mascot/voice synthesizer, as part of the story coupled with the possibility of choosing her to sing the game’s soundtracks.
Those unfamiliar with the Japanese releases need not fear, because 7th Dragon III’s story is understandable even without previous knowledge.
The game starts in 2100, 80 years after the events of 7th Dragon 2020, when dragons from outer space invaded Earth and almost wiped Humanity with their poisonous flowers, Dragonsbane.
However, a team of dragon hunters called Murakumo has managed to drive them away and save the day. The player’s present day Tokyo has forgotten those dreadful days and is back to be a peaceful society, slowly repopulating Earth.
When the player plays the popular VR game 7th Encount, created by the fictional game studio Nodens, you’re scouted into Nodens as part of a new dragon slaying team together with Mio, a frail girl sick because of the still remaining Dragonsbane.
Nodens true objective is to prepare for the reappearance of the Dragons and to finish the Dragon Chronicle: the game’s Macguffin will allow to defeat the seventh true dragon: VFD. For that, you’re designated as the leader of Unit 13, a throwback to the Murakumo team that previously defeated the dragons.
This is not the only reference to past games: several characters return, references are made explaining past plot elements, tying all the games together into a connected timeline. In fact, time travel is what you will do, traveling to past Atlantis and future Eden in search of the true dragons needed to finish the Dragon Chronicle.
The characters are quite unique and memorable: I just couldn’t help myelf liking the snarky and foul-mouthed rabbit doll Nagamimi, the flamboyant queer Julietta, or the stoic and competitive Yuma.
Overall, it’s a typical, cliche-filled RPG story, but it does it’s role of keeping the player motivated to know what happens next. Also, expect the usual end of game plot twists where all kinds of fecal matter hits the industrial fan (something of a trend for 7th Dragon games).
Where 7th Dragon III does shine is in terms of character creation.
The player can create his own team of dragon hunters, ranging from 8 classes (4 of them available at the start, and the rest being unlocked as you travel to other time periods). Even though each class has preferred male and female avatars. You can use them with other classes, and each of them have three color variations.
The classes range from the offense melee focused Samurai, the brawler/healer butler/maids God Hands, to more traditional classes like Mages and magic-tank Rune Knights. Each class has an unique element surrounding it. For example, the card wielding Duelists draw cards each turn which they use as a resource to cast spells or set up traps.
The gun wielding Agents can Hack their targets, a debuff that allows them to debuff monsters even further and even brainwash them against each others. All classes are balanced in such a way that you’ll rarely screw up in terms of team composition. The game is forgiving enough to let you change character names and avatars and even change classes with skill point refunding for the cost of 10 levels.
Another cosmetic feature to mention is the impressive list of 40 Japanese voice actors you can pick from. Ever wanted to created a cool looking guy that punches stuff like a certain famous anime bartender character? Now you can.
Another novel aspect is party management: At the beginning you can only control a team of 3 members, but as you unlock new classes, you gain control of 6 and finally, 9 party members, spread across 3 teams.
You only have full control of your main team, but that doesn’t mean your other members are useless. As turns pass by, each non-participant member charges a Standby Gauge, which is divided in 3 segments. Depending on the class and items, they can charge it as fast as 1 turn per segment or even 4 whole turns.
This Standby Gauge can be used in several ways: use one segment from each member of a backup to perform support skills; use 2 segments of one backup member to attack and debuff alongside a party member, or use the Standby Gauges of all members for control of all nine of your team members for a full turn.
There’s a great deal of flexibility and skill synergy, which alongside full experience points and skill points even for backup teams, keeps the players incentivized and solves one of the most common RPG flaws when it comes to team composition. You can even change teams outside battles, but you can only change each team’s composition in certain locations.
In fact, there seems to be a great deal of facilitating the player and avoiding most boring aspects of an RPG. While on your main base, you can jump to any location with a press of a button, which is sorely welcome considering the amount of backtracking you do.
Once in awhile, you will spend time talking with all the NPCs as you expand and upgrade your base with the material you gather from slain Dragons. There’s quests to be made, there’s cats to be hunted to expand a cat café, there’s even a simplified dating session on the base’s Skylounge.
This is where you can meet and your team members and base staff, which can end up with implied sex (and some creepy implications when you realize one of the characters is a minor).
I haven’t even talked about the aforementioned dragons. If you’re familiar with the Etrian Odyssey series and its FOE system, you will notice the similarities. Regular monsters are random encounters, but dragons are seen as floating dragon heads walking around the dungeons.
As expected, they can be flanked for a surprise attack but they can do the same to you, if you’re not careful. Dragons are extremely powerful and need to be taken down with strategy.
They can even intrude into other fights if you’re close enough to one of them and you’re not speedy enough killing the random monsters. Luckily, dragons don’t respawn once you kill them and the game has a counter telling you the remaining amount existing on each dungeon.
The music and graphics are quite impressive, being some of the best you can find in a Nintendo 3DS title.
There’s great compatibility between the scenery and the soundtrack, which has a good range of synthesizers and electric guitar play. The level design is decent too, although it relies a bit too much on false paths to extend game time.
In fact, the major flaws of the game come from its simple linearly. There could be more optional dungeons or content to make up for that issue. Another thing is the lack of a 3D mode, which is odd.
The game does run smooth and with no visible slowdowns in regular 2D mode, and the omission of the 3D mode was probably to make the game available for older 3DS models.
Another issue to be mentioned is the clunky item management. There’s a bit of redundancy overall with consumables, with several similar items doing the same thing and a hard to read item interface.
Another annoyance is gear redundancy. More often than not, when you unlock a new tier of equipment, several of them just have inferior stats and you just end up buying the best available.
Despite all of this, the end result is that 7th Dragon III: Code VFD is a great buy for those who like RPGs with impeccable mechanics and want to add another title to their Nintendo 3DS repertoire.
7th Dragon III Code: VFD was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS using a digital copy provided by Sega. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 8
- Solid class and party system
- Challenging fights
- Great soundtrack and sceneries
- Interesting characters
- Linear dungeon progression
- Average story
- Cumbersome item management
- Lack of 3D mode