A title like 7th Dragon III Code: VFD doesn’t sound like an inviting entry point into a franchise, but names can be deceiving. Oh, and Westerners don’t really have a choice in the matter. Still, this game’s merits lie not in its franchise ties, but in just how carefully it crafts its story, systems and style.
It can be intimidating to jump into a series after its first installment. 7th Dragon III doesn’t really have that problem, though, for a few reasons. First: this game is already a sort of standalone adventure; there are references to earlier games, but not having that knowledge just means you learn things when your characters do. Second: as a sweeping finale to the series, it touches on all of its lore, giving you a fairly comprehensive look at the world all by itself. You’ll travel through time to three different realms: the far-future land of Eden in which the first game was set, the near-future Tokyo shortly after the events of the second and the ancient Atlantis from which one of the game’s races began.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the localization was crafted specifically to aid in this, given that the other games were never in English and the vast majority of its audience was going to be in that position. Still, if you have managed to play the earlier Japanese stuff, it may earn you an extra nod here and there. There’s the most effort given to referencing the second game, as it was generally acclaimed and this game is still mostly set in its world.
There are a few things you’ll notice when you first jump into Code: VFD, chief among them its slick aesthetic. This game has some serious style and it knows it, in a very Persona-like way. Its soundtrack is no slouch either, a high-energy tech-heavy work from long-deservedly-praised Yuzo Koshiro. The character designs are cool and varied. The menus feel great and work just as well. Simply put: 7th Dragon III Code: VFD puts its best foot forward by not having a bad foot.
Simply put: 7th Dragon III Code: VFD puts its best foot forward by not having a bad foot.
As far as the plot? Yeah, okay, it’s fairly predictable. There’s this little creature called Nagamimi who starts off being the worst but begrudgingly helping you and, well, continues being the worst but begrudgingly helping you. There are characters who are highly suspicious and then end up justifying that suspicion, though there’s really no agency there so you generally watch that happen. There are some optional side quests you can do to make some lives better, but none of these events are tied to the main story at all. Also you can collect cats and put them in a cafe. The only reason you’re really given for doing this is “hey, cats,” so maybe just go with it, I guess.
So much of the 7th Dragon experience is about composing and shaping your parties. You build up a few different teams over the course of the game and can switch them about when you’d like, but the appeal here lies in the flexibility within classes. Specializing in certain skills over others leads to stronger character builds, so it’s important to figure out what works together best as soon as possible and go all-in on those ideas.
More than many games, though, these classes are designed to play differently. Sure, each one chooses skills from a list, but how each works is more than just stat differences and a different skill tree. The Agent is all about controlling enemy actions, so using one makes you rely more heavily on reading enemy moves and planning accordingly for peak efficiency. The Duelist draws and manages a hand of elemental cards for attacks, forcing you out of a battle pattern and making you choose to use your best option or save up cards for a better move. Banishers have a small supply of bombs to ration against foes, God Hands need to keep punching as long as they can and Fortuners can’t deal much damage but are a good choice for disabling foes with status effects. Each can be key to winning a big battle, and the multi-party system means you’ll get a chance to devote time to them all.
The game is built around an end that you can always see, making each bit of progress feel like, well, progress.
The game’s dungeons strike a balance between random battles and visible encounters with a radar system. Essentially, you’ll take a certain number of steps between each battle, and entering a new area resets the counter. Dragons, on the other hand, are moving around the map independently of this system. If a dragon is close to you when the battle starts, it may jump in after a few rounds to join the fight. Later in the game, you’ll have to use this system to defeat dragons that stay off navigable paths, but for the most part, moving about the areas becomes a challenge of efficiency.
The bottom screen shows a map while you’re running about, which is a convenient way to show the things you need to remember. This doesn’t work quite as well as it should, though, because the camera angle on the top screen doesn’t typically line up with the bottom map, choosing a visually dynamic view over one-to-one directional movement.
The game is built around an end that you can always see, making each bit of progress feel like, well, progress. The map screen shows exactly how many dragons are left to defeat, and bringing that number down from hundreds to zero just feels satisfying. So is building up your base. It’s easy enough to tell just how many facilities you can still build, and filling in the pieces of the architectural puzzle makes for a compelling reward. These elements persist between story chapters and serve as the driving force for many of the game’s interludes. It’s a reason to complete all the little side quests you can take, too: there aren’t a huge amount of these like in some game, and each has a tangible benefit beyond meager equipment or healing items.
7th Dragon III Code: VFD‘s failings are few, and its focus on making its hours count rather than going on forever means it’s a game that’s long enough to satisfy but not arduous enough to complete. It’s the sort of experience that shines on 3DS, and proves itself worthy of playtime among the platform’s best RPGs.