In dragon sickness and in health.
SEGA, of late, began publishing games not known as Sonic again west of Japan. After an unsuccessful, but not necessarily bad, run of obscure titles – the likes of Valkyria Chronicles and Resonance of Fate, say – SEGA called it quits. To my happiness, SEGA reclaimed some western territory when it re-released an HD upgrade of Valkyria Chronicles and, subsequently, announced the 4th game in that saga. Another game made it to the west, however, in the shape of 7th Dragon Code: VFD.
Have any inclination of what it’s about? Yes, the title leaves much to be desired, at least from a westerner’s perspective. You see, 7th Dragon has numerous iterations in Japan, perhaps one of which ever made it to America. Still, fans of RPGs – those who actually realized it was making its journey west – were filled with trepid excitement. Yet videos and screens of the game did it little justice, as I, personally, couldn’t decipher what type of RPG I was getting. I supported the title, regardless, as I continue to hope SEGA will bring more games west.
7th Dragon Code: VFD is, as stated, a pretty traditional JRPG. The scene opens in a fairly modern Tokyo a bit into the future. Your character (one of a few choices) is randomly invited to join a young lady on a rare adventure into Nodens highly touted and prestigious virtual reality video game. As you assemble a party (consisting of two other created characters), you take the game by storm, able to defeat a dragon. After the battle, you learn the virtual reality simulator is actually a testing ground for soldiers – Nodens is an entertainment company with humanity in mind; its true motives involve eliminating the 7th true dragon. And it turns out that you’re essential in that process. You and the young gal are recruited into Nodens, and thence, your designated Unit 13 will find itself battling dragons, monsters, and, perhaps, humanoids.
There are many things to like and shy away from in 7th Dragon, and each aspect of the game is filled with positives and negatives. Starting, as I like to do, with the negatives, the battle system hosts most of my concerns. In 7th Dragon Code: VFD, you find yourself fighting in myriad battles. Combat is simple, and it’s based in classic turn-based gameplay. Each character is allowed a turn to choose an action, and once each action is chosen, the round commences. Later in the game, you can have a secondary squad with which you can combo attacks, but the basic setup for encounters is very standard turn based combat. This in particular wouldn’t be an issue, except for the fact that each battle is nearly identical (even the separate dragon encounters, which at first felt fresh, blended together) excluding the actual boss fights. Each area you explore consists of a set number of enemy encounter setups. In other words, each map usually has three to five enemy types, and each battle will have a variation of those types. This could possibly work, but even the variations aren’t random; there seems to be a pattern of enemies that is drawn randomly – but the variations are limited to about five enemy group formats. Often, I found myself skipping through battles (there’s an actual auto-battle button, which begs the question of: why make us battle if we can sim through it anyway?). Personally, I had fun with the combat, even though it grew stale quickly, but it’s a significant piece of the game and will scare many gamers away. Grinding isn’t for everyone.
Outside of the repetitive combat, there weren’t many negatives about 7th Dragon. The plot was pretty interesting, and the means of obtaining your objective is actually fairly fleshed out. What really intrigued me about the story was Yuma – an operative for the EDF who finds fierce competition (friendly, of course) with Unit 13. Unfortunately, it’s a competition that leaves him questioning his abilities and existence, which makes for a really interesting plot development. Without spoiling anything, it’s a great example of a changing characterization. In fact, most characters in 7th Dragon are interesting and worth caring about.
The music in 7th Dragon is also superb. I didn’t always play with the music on (I often play my 3DS before bed, so I try not to wake my wife), but during the day, the sound was up. 7th Dragon’s soundtrack is unique and enjoyable – especially for a classic JRPG. Heck, the entire atmosphere had a Persona feel to it from the aesthetics to the in-dungeon soundtrack to, even, the battle system. Regardless, the soundtrack fit the game well, and it really helped to produce a believable experience.
Finally, 7th Dragon meets your standard RPG length requirements, clocking in at approximately 30 hours. Unfortunately, that length is somewhat padded by repetitious side quests… and that’s about it. Sure, the side quests offered a smidgen of variety compared to other JRPGs and served to advance the narrative of many characters, but they did feel a bit contrived, and you could skip the majority of them if you pleased. For a handheld game, 25-30 hours is a solid amount of game time, though compared to the Vita’s The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel’s 80ish hours, 7th Dragon Code: VFD falls a bit flat. If you’re in the mood for a shorter RPG, however, this game would fit perfectly into your life.
7th Dragon Code: VFD is a brave leap by SEGA to reestablish itself in the west. While the game doesn’t offer a battle system with variety (and one that grows tiresome rather rapidly), the strong narrative and immersing atmosphere make the game worth a look. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, then there’s enough of a fresh and unique feeling from 7th Dragon to earn your cash, especially if you enjoy or don’t mind the grind (in this case, I only had to grind a level or two a couple times; this ‘grind’ refers more to the numerous battles). With a soundtrack that’s fitting and aesthetics that are pleasing, 7th Dragon Code: VFD is a solid JRPG experience that could hold you over until one of this year’s big RPGs drop.