If there is one type of game that will always capture my interest, it is fun handheld RPGs. I adore games where I can just pull out my handheld and grind a few levels, or set some skill points, or tackle a boss while I sit on the bus. I especially love when these games have funny or clever writing, or a particularly good localization.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that I ended up playing and enjoying 7th Dragon III: Code VFD.
7th Dragon began it’s life as a rip-off of an Etrian Odyssey-inspired RPG for the Nintendo DS, developed by Imageepoch. After the first game received an optimistic but lukewarm reception, it was followed up by 7th Dragon 2020 and 2020-II for the PSP. The combination of a more contemporary setting and heavy doses of Hatsune Miku led to the game being a success in Japan, although not enough to garner a US release.
After Imageepoch folded (and their CEO mysteriously disappeared), Sega took it upon themselves to merge the two settings and finish the series with 7th Dragon III: Code VFD for the 3DS. While the series’ Etrian Odyssey roots are still visible, the game managed to craft an identity of its own through unique mechanics, polished gameplay, and well-written characters aided by a fantastic localization.
7th Dragon III has you playing as a created character (although the promotional materials and demo do have an “official” character of sorts) and several other team members, in the employ of a giant company known as Nodens. You are tasked with traveling through time and collecting specimens from several “true” dragons, in order to complete what is known as the “Dragon Chronicle” that will supposedly defeat the 7th True Dragon, VFD. The plot is fairly generic and hits all the story beats you’d expect, but it is more than made up for with the excellent character writing and fun gameplay.
One of the main gameplay hooks in 7th Dragon III is the character creation and customization. 7th Dragon III has 8 different classes, each with unique abilities and unique visual options, similar to dungeon crawlers like Etrian Odyssey. Where the character creation really takes off, however, is that you can choose any appearance and use it with any class. The game maps animations for every class to every appearance option, allowing players to use their class of choice with their preferred appearance. In addition, players can choose from 40 different voice options (20 male, 20 female) each with unique voiced lines.
Unlike in most dungeon crawlers, where players have to select a few classes and stick with them, 7th Dragon III encourages players to experiment and try out different classes. While parties only hold 3 characters, the game unlocks secondary parties with new class unlocks that travel alongside you in dungeons. These sub-parties can offer minor assistance in battle, but are most useful due to being able to switch between parties anytime outside of battle. With a maximum of two sub-parties totaling 9 different party members, exploring dungeons becomes a much less tense affair.
Each of the classes in 7th Dragon III have their own unique angle and gimmick, and none fit quite right into typical JRPG class standards. While classes like the mage are close, functioning as both a black mage and a healer, classes like the Duelist and Agent skew things a bit. The Duelist can attack with all 3 in-game elements, but can only use spells that match the cards currently in their hand. Yes, the Duelist is one big Yugioh reference. The Agent, meanwhile, can hack enemies to lower their stats, inflict status ailments, or just do damage. They are a reimagining of the hacker class from previous games.
While much of 7th Dragon III will feel familiar to players of Etrian Odyssey, the skill system is one place where they differ. Unlike the 1 skill point for 1 level system of EO, players gets certain amounts of SP for every fight and different skills/skill levels require different amounts of SP. No skills are locked behind unlocking other skills first, with skill unlocks being purely based on where you are in the game. The main source of grinding in 7th Dragon III is SP grinding, which isn’t too bad. It is made much easier with the aid of a DLC grinding quest, however.
Speaking of DLC, 7th Dragon III has a fair amount of it. There are DLC quests for grinding EXP/SP/gold, cosmetic DLC for classes from 7th Dragon 2020 and 2020-II, a postgame boss rush, a doll that goes in your room, and the ultimate weapons + one more appearance option. The weapons are useful for the boss rush and the added appearance option is a nice bonus, but the boss rush itself feels lackluster. I have yet to finish it so I am unaware if there is any new content at the end, but it comes after both an endgame boss rush and a postgame series of repeat boss fights. The cosmetic DLC is fun if you like those appearances, but adds nothing else meaningful. The only one I feel is truly worth picking up is the EXP/SP grinding quest, to reduce the grind time necessary. The doll DLC is free.
The titular dragons of 7th Dragon III form another major gameplay hook. There are a limited number of dragons in the game world (and they don’t respawn) tracked by a global dragon counter on the world map. Dragons themselves are similar to the FOEs of Etrian Odyssey, but function a bit differently. They wander the world and can join fights like FOEs, but their ability to join fights is based on their proximity to the fight, ignoring the actual walls and boundaries of the game world.
The dragons themselves are less of a threat than FOEs, functioning less as walking minibosses and more as stronger random encounters. It is in your best interest to fight all of them, as they give good experience/SP and every dragon will drop 1 Dz. Dz is used to pay for expansions to Nodens, unlock new skill tiers, and expand the shop’s inventory.
Nodens acts as your main base of operations, where you return after missions to buy and sell items, take on sidequests, talk to NPCs, or rest and recover. Expansions to Nodens unlock over the course of the game, and either serve to unlock sidequests or provide the player with new functions. After a certain point in the game, players can build a cat café, unlocking a game-spanning sidequest of finding stray cats to populate your café.
Another game-spanning sidequest involves finding survivors of dragon attacks and bringing them back to Nodens with you, to populate Nodens with more NPCs. The game rewards you for every 10 survivors you bring back, with a grand total of 50 survivors and 30 cats.
On the writing side of things, 7th Dragon III does a fantastic job of bringing its cast of characters to life through fun dialogue and fantastic localization work on SEGA’s part. From the foul-mouthed Nagamimi to the fabulously gay Julietta, each and every character feels unique and well-developed, more than making up for any faults in the storytelling.
The game also develops characters further though romance subplots available with nearly every named NPC. Unlike in most RPGs, where these subplots are determined based on character gender and dialogue options, the romance options in 7th Dragon III are straightforward and have no limitations on them. You can date anyone and everyone with any character, of any gender. While they are a bit rote and simple, this is excused by the ease of which you can make every character in the game gay.
Dates can also occur between created characters, although these are even more simple and bare-bones. They do feature unique lines for every single voice option in the game, however, giving the created characters that much more personality.
Difficulty-wise, the game is a bit uneven. Certain dragon fights are significantly harder than others, and enemies that can inflict status ailments are far more of a pain than those who cannot. Overall, however, the game is fairly easy and a far more casual experience than games like Etrian Odyssey. It’s not for those looking for a challenge, but it will be more than enough for those just looking for a fun RPG.
The final verdict? 7th Dragon III is a fun, charming, and polished dungeon crawler that feels reminiscent of SEGA’s older RPGs in many ways. It places more of an emphasis on being an enjoyable experience than on trying to pontificate a navel-gazing story to a bored player, and for that I love it dearly. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun RPG, or who is interested in gay stuff in games.
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