Release Date: June 21, 2016
ESRB: T for Teen
'Damn dragons' -- a phrase often murmured in the mouthful of a dungeon crawler RPG title: 7th Dragon III: Code VFD. Apparently dragons have been a problem for quite a while, according to SEGA. The first 7th Dragon release appeared on the original DS and eventually got two sequels on PSP called 7th Dragon 2020 and 7th Dragon 2020-II, but only in Japan. For better or worse, the dragon apocalypse draws to its conclusion outside of Japan with its newest and final release of the dungeon crawling series.
As often the case with dragon invasions, they start in Japan . Well, technically they wiped out the people in Atlantis first, but that's more reserved within the unnecessarily verbose main narrative. The storytelling itself is hodgepodge of completely random and cliched story devices that find a way to be presented in the most dull way possible further emphasized by the flat one-note supporting cast.
Basically, some company by the name of "Nodens" scouts the player-created character after they do abnormally well in a public video game beta. Of course, being much more than a video game company, Nodens is actually driven to stop dragons from entirely destroying the world. In order to do so, however, Nodens needs the player-created party to visit different time periods in order for them to literally craft the means to do so.
At its heart, 7th Dragon III: Code VFD is about traversing dungeons and killing lots of dragons. The dungeon-crawling itself is nothing to write home about (especially having personally played better examples recently) as the labyrinths are quite basic in design and enemies are frequently copy and pasted. You go from one time period to another and frankly they blur together in their lifelessness. Mechanically, however, Code VFD does truly stand out and is easily its best component.
I had thought Bravely Second would be the obvious choice for coolest take on RPG classes in turn-based combat during 2016, but I think 7th Dragon may actually claim that mantle. None of the characters behave in a way you would expect from any of them at a first glance. For example, the most straightforward-appearing class, Samurai, actually has entirely different movesets based on whether they have a long sword of two short swords equipped.
The game quickly gets into much stranger territory in regards to character movesets, such as the part magician and Yu-Gi-Oh card-flinging Duelist class, which is less about casting spells and more about setting up trap cards and debuffing enemies to heck based on randomly drawn elemental card combinations. Eventually players get access to the likes of Fortuner, which places over many heal over time effects on allies and adsorbs the life force of status afflicted enemies, or rocket-launcher/lance wielding Banisher with an entire ammunition mechanic, which are creatively implemented as well.
Though there are technically only eight classes total (nine arguably with Samurai) their skill sets are quite rich and there is a real strong emphasis on group synergy, especially as the story tries to encourage separating parties, using follow-up attacks, and eventually flashy nine-person Unison Skills. Code VFD makes it all the more satisfying when composing the various teams because not only is it necessary, but it is enjoyable as well.
Other than the basic dungeons, dull storytelling, and great combat mechanics, Code VFD tries to occupy the player by having them build various facilities within Nodens. The currency needed for construction is gained from killing many palette-swapped mini-boss dragons during dungeon treks, but are thankfully worth it for the unlocks. Some are mostly frivolous, yet somewhat amusing, such as a romantic Skylounge or a cat cafe in which you pet, well, cats for bonus skill points. The more substantial unlocks involve getting access to more character skills (which eventually becomes sort of overkill late game which already feel more than capable by then) or get many new items in shops.
Players can also partake in quests too, but, much like the main storytelling, are often quite boring and not usually worth doing despite some minor attempts at fleshing out its world. I may sound excessively harsh about the storytelling, but it honestly made me put the game down several times because how apathetic I was in continuing to see more of it.
Probably the last aspect worth mentioning is the presentation. I mean, the in-game visuals themselves are not that special even if I like some of the character designs, and, as mentioned before, basic dungeons as well. That said, many of the combat abilities look flashy in motion and sort of have a Dragon Quest VIII approach in which you make player commands in first person, like Etrian Odyssey, but see characters execute them in more traditional 3rd-person fashion. More importantly, however, is that legendary composer, Yuzo Koshiro, from classic compositions like Streets of Rage to more modern Etrian Odyssey, sneaks in to compose the techno themed score. It is not Yuzo's best work, but it is a well done soundtrack none the less.
In most regards, 7th Dragon III: Code VFD feels like a thoroughly average dungeon-crawler that barely manages to escape such status through its excellent character classes and mechanics in combat. I often found myself falling off the game because of the completely underwhelming storytelling, recycled enemy content, and uninteresting actual dungeons to traverse through over time. It is fun in short burst, but over time shows that dragons don't actually have that many tricks up their sleeves, contrary to what the main narrative would lead you to believe.
+ Unique character classes with often creative and fun skill sets
+ It is rewarding to create new facilities within the main hub due to the perks they unlock
+ Good soundtrack with a distinct techno flair
- Dungeon design is too basic and bland to justify their length
- A few too many palette swaps and repeated bosses
-Inconsequential storytelling that is more verbose than it needs be considering how boring the supporting cast is
Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
7th Dragon III: Code VFD does little to stand outside of its great character classes and satisfying combat mechanics. But unfortunately, players will have to put up with most of its other underwhelming aspects, from storytelling to uninspired level design, in order to do so.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.