Game Review: 7th Dragon III Code: VFD

I won’t pretend to understand how the localization works, but sometimes Western publishers make some weird decisions. One example that comes to mind is the decision to localize Ar nosurge but not its predecessor, Ciel nosurge. Another example is this game, the first to be localized for the West despite being the last game in the series. Oh well, better late than never, right?

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It’s the year 2100, and you’ve been recruited by Nodens, makers of the game 7th Encount. However, the game company deal is just a front for their real purpose–recruiting promising young people in order to hunt the dragons that have been spreading deadly dtagonsbane flowers. Their ultimate goal is to kill the seventh dragon, code name VFD, hence the game’s title. Your adventure will find you traveling through time and ridding the past, present, and future of these mighty beasts.

Even though it’s being marketed as a traditional JRPG, 7th Dragon III has much in common with dungeon crawlers like the Etrian Odyssey series, only from a third-person perspective instead of first. The focus is on building a custom party (later you add two other parties to your team) out of a number of interesting classes, including the Hacker, who can “hack” enemies and apply various status effects, or the Banisher, powerful knights who use a bomb launcher and have powerful anti-dragon abilities. Once you’ve created a party, you can take on quests that will have you exploring a variety of colourful environments, battling regular enemies and roaming dragons as well as rescuing civilians (and later, cats) that find themselves caught in the crossfire.

Although your party members aren’t fully realized characters, there are still plenty of NPCs to interact with, including Nodens employees like Julietta, a flamboyant man who is the mind behind the time machine you use to travel between different eras, as well as members of the ISDF, a special task force with the same mission of eradicating the dragons, as well as a few characters from the different time periods you visit: Atlantis and Eden. The characters you meet fall into predictable anime stereotypes: the shy girl who is unsure of herself but still acts as mission control, the rival who will stop it nothing until he’s better than you, the one exception, interestingly enough, is the mascot character, who is foul-mouthed and clearly done with everyone’s shit. Although 7rh Dragon focuses more on story than your average crawler, the story lacks the depth of JRPGs like Persona 4 and Trails in the Sky. Still, I did find myself warming up to most of them.

If you’ve ever played a JRPG, the gameplay will be instantly familiar to you. You guide a party of three around a dungeon. Regular enemies are random encounters, bur dragons can be seen on the map and are a bit more powerful than your average encounter, in fact, they’re practically minibosses. In addition to these dragons, High Dragons serve as end of chapter bosses, and True Dragons are truly epic fights that will test your skills. Battles are from first-person perspective, although your characters will come into view when attacking or using skills. In addition to standard attack, guard, item, and skill commands, your characters can build up a special exhaust meter, which allows you to instantly attack and deal higher damage, as well as unleash special skills called EX Skills, which do massive damage to even the toughest opponents. While one team is fighting, the other teams can provide special support skills and “Buddy Skills” which can cancel enemy buffs and give them status effects or buff your party. You can also perform a special attack with all nine of your teammates. Also, if you take too long fighting enemies, sometimes dragons that are roaming around the map will ambush you. In fact, you’ll need to make use of this feature if you want to kill all the dragons in the game.

If you like experimenting with different party combinations, 7th Dragon III‘s got you covered. Each class controls slightly differently. The Samurai, for instance, can use either a single sword or dual swords, whereas the Duelist relies on drawing cards and creating card combos to summon monsters or lay traps on the battlefield. One of my favourite combinations is the Rune Knight and Fortuner, with the Rune Knight dealing damage and applying status effects that the Fortuner can exploit with their life-draining oracles. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to try out different class combinations since the game not only lets you create three different parties of three members each, but certain points in the game require your team to split and for each party to tackle a specific area. In the beginning, I wasn’t used to controlling different classes, so my second and third parties died a few times before I figured out how to use them properly, and for those of you who are worried you’ll be stuck with a party at level 5 while your other party members are at level 4o, don’t worry, because the other parties were roughly on the same level as my main party when it came time to use them.

Outside of main story missions, you can take on sidequests from Nodens employees (and others) and there are also little diversions like hanging out in the cat cafe or dating your party members and NPCs (hint: in order to date someone, be sure to open the packages that are left on the table in your dormitory, you’ll know you can date them when you get their phone number). You can date your own party members although the dates consist of a handful of generic lines, dating NPCs, however, leads to short scenes and access to some of the best weapons in the game. However, don’t expect the depth of, say, Persona 3 and 4’s social links.

Since you’re visiting the same locales over and over again, the music can be a little grating, but I did find myself humming tracks from it, and I did like the music for the dragon fights in particular. However the art is simply fantastic, with a bright colour pallet and detailed environments. The chibi-fied character models are adorable. This is definitely one of the better examples of “chibi” characters that are so popular (the other popular trend being pixel graphics).

In terms of diversity, Julietta is a stereotypical flamboyantly gay/bi man (he prefers the name Julietta, but the other characters use masculine pronouns for him, hence why I’m using them). However, I was pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of a non-stereotypical gay man named Sakurai, who explicitly says that he lost his boyfriend to dragon sickness, and has a crush on Julietta (who he knows is a man, in case you’re thinking it’s one of those “straight man mistakes another man for a woman” bait and switch things). Unfortunately, Sakurai only gives you that single quest and you never hear from him again. A number of characters also have darker skin, though at least one is an antagonist, and unfortunately there aren’t many options for dark-skinned customizable characters.  Speaking of customization, I would have liked to see more of it, even different clothing styles, although realistically it would probably have been a lot of work.

Although I do like 7th Dragon III overall, there are a few weird design decisions, like having to travel to the terminal in your dorm to swap party members. Many of the dragon designs are interesting, unfortunately, a staggering number are pallet swaps. One of the most egregious examples comes after you fight your first proper High Dragon (apart from the one that you’re supposed to lose to in the beginning) and you discover that the second High Dragon you have to fight is literally a pallet swap of the first. It’s disappointing because there are so many interesting dragon designs, from the Megamouth dragon, which, as you might expect, is mostly mouth, to a dragon that is essentially a giraffe, to criminal dragons who will break their chains and become much tougher if you prolong the fight. I also found that the dating mechanic, while cute in a way, still felt tacked on like dating is some sort of requirement for every JRPG these days. I will give the game props for letting you date characters regardless of gender, however the dialogue is the same regardless, so at most it gets one prop. Another issue I had was that apart from a few hiccups (such as the first High Dragon boss) the game is pretty easy, especially when you figure out that unlike in many other games, most bosses aren’t immune to status effects like paralysis or bleed, add a Banisher, who has skills that are ridiculously effective against dragons, and I managed to prevent the final boss from moving for most of the battle with the basic shock spell from the Mage, and once you unleash EX Skills, well, they’ll pretty much one-shot almost everything in the game. Beating the game (including completing all sidequests and rescuing all cats and people) took me around 35-40 hours, not including the special post game dungeon (which you unlock by killing all the dragons) or the DLC “Allie’s Death March” which is essentially boss rush mode with buffed bosses.

In terms of triggery things: Allie, the CEO of Nodens, makes some creepy sexual comments towards her employees, then remarks that she hopes she won’t be sued for sexual harassment. A few male “otaku” characters make creepy comments directed at Lucier (basically catgirls and catboys). Although the game’s default protagonist is a woman and the female Banisher is covered in badass armor, there are still sexualized outfits, with Queen Ulania being one of the worst offenders, as she’s wearing what amounts to fancy lingerie, and as much as I love the Rune Knight, her costume is, well, awful. There is a plot point involving mass suicide (technically genocide) in order to destroy one of the True Dragons, but thankfully you arrive in time to put a stop to it. Some people might find the dating events, which pretty clearly state that the final date involves sex, a bit creepy considering your selection of dating partners, which include your coworkers and a certain mascot character.

Despite several questionable design decisions, predictable plot, and stereotypical NPCs, I like 7th Dragon III and it was definitely a challenge at times even though it ultimately is one of the easier games I’ve played. It’s an easy recommendation for people who are intimidated by traditional dungeon crawlers as well as those who like to experiment with different party combinations or play around with some interesting classes. I had fun with it.

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