For JRPG affectionates, does the 7th Dragon series ring any bells? No? Well then, first-time players, you’re in for a surprising treat (and if you said yes to that hypothetical question: congratulations on your impressive knowledge of Japanese-only titles).
7th Dragon III Code: VFD is the fourth game in the 7th Dragon series, but the first one to actually be localized and (soon to be) released out in the West. Ever since the first game launched in 2009, the series has gained a cult following in Japan for its strategic gameplay and high levels of party customization.
In 7th Dragon III Code: VFD, players start off being able to customize a player avatar from a variety of character models, including gender and palette changes. From there, you choose from one of four starting classes for your avatar. Once the story picks up, you’ll have the chance to create additional party members.
Battles themselves are turn-based and resemble Etrian Odyssey in terms of enemy set-up and available commands — all of which makes sense, given that the Etrian creators worked on this series as well. However, there are some key differences for veterans of the aforementioned series to keep in mind.
First, only three party members are allowed per team, meaning that proper class makeup and balancing is vital to success. Having three heavy damage dealers may seem like a good idea at first, but when healing is needed, one will be delegated to an overrated item-thrower.
Back-up teams can be created and used to support your main team. Each member has a different support skill available to them (depending on job class) that is activated in tandem with a main party member’s normal turn. However, the common denominator between all of the characters lie in the ability to break through an enemy’s buffs and greatly weaken them.
Then there’s the Extra Turn, allowing for the entire support team to use special skills on the whole party, such as buffs and a near full party revival from KO. This is incredibly useful during a desperate situation and should be saved for such occasions.
Players have access to four separate classes in the beginning — God Hand, Agent, Samurai and Duelist — as well as an array of character models and variations thereof in order to customize each party member.
As you proceed along the game four more classes — Rune Knight, Fortuner, Mage and Banisher — unlock, along with even more character models.
Job classes in this title are quite unique and require an understanding of how each skill works and what best way to utilize them. A breakdown of each class and a general strategy can be found below:
- God Hand – similar to the staple JRPG monk class, as you heal and deal damage, but with a twist. God Hands can inflict a status called God Depth that is stackable (G1, G2, etc.), which corresponds to certain skills that inflict massive damage based on the G level.
- Agent – this class uses a variety of hacking abilities to debuff enemies, as well as inflict status ailments. Their weapon of choice, a gun, deals great damage on its own.
- Samurai – a class that is made to be self-sufficient. Possesses powerful offense, buffs and self-healing spells. What makes it unique is the fact that it can switch between a katana and twin blades; the former has fewer skills but deals more damage and the latter has more skills and higher flexibility.
- Duelist – no, not from a certain other show about children’s card games (although they are kind of similar). This class is a glass-cannon — deals high damage by summoning elemental monsters through cards but has a weak defense. Duelists can also set traps to deal even more damage over time. The skills it has access to is based on the cards currently in the character’s hand, so using skills to draw more cards is imperative.
- Rune Knight – essentially the tank of the game, with the highest defense among all classes. This class specializes in buffing party members, healing, drawing enemy Enemity (the term for aggro in Code: VFD) and tanking hits.
- Fortuner – a pure support type who can buff ally defenses, cure status ailments and debilitate enemies. Unlike other JRPGs, this one has a strong focus on status ailments so Fortuner is especially formidable. Make sure to have other classes cover this one, since it possess the weakest defenses in the game.
- Mage – one of the closest classes to a traditional one found in most JRPGs, it can cast elemental and healing spells. A balanced class that can shift its focus between offense and defense depending on the situation.
- Banisher – a very fun but surprisingly technical class that wields some buffs/debuffs and a variety of powerful attacks — some fire element and some effective against dragons. However, around half of these moves require bomb ammunition to use and you only receive a certain amount at the start of battle. You can replenish it but that sacrifices a turn. Mastering this class requires balancing between the non-ammo moves and the strong skills that eat up ammo.
I cannot stress enough how imperative party makeup is in this game. Creating an ideal party is not just a matter of picking the three classes you think are coolest and then going from there.
Players must mold teams with the most synergy — in other words, teams that possess classes which compliment and support each other during even the toughest battles. Failing to do nets immediate losses — you’ll find yourself struggling against the more difficult bosses and even some strong random encounters.
While the gameplay does a lot to shake things up from the traditional formula, I’m glad to say the plot is rather engaging: a tale of insanely powerful and genocidal dragons, hellbent on killing any other race that’s not them, travel through time while your team of heroes need to stop them. It sounds cliche, but it makes for a surprising mix that pulls you in and keeps you invested. It doesn’t hurt that the pacing is balanced as well.
Just as in any RPG, there are plenty of side quests to be completed. Not only do they net some very useful items and equipment but also help to really flesh out the world and its strange, yet endearing denizens. You can also expand the base company your avatar works for, Nodens, and construct some useful levels, giving you access to even more quests to complete.
Then there are dates, which allows you to get to know your comrades and allies on a more personal level. While this feature isn’t super deep, it’s still pleasant to watch scenes between your party members — not to mention allowing you to receive useful items from some of your comrades.
7th Dragon III Code: VFD has some pretty swanky retro music that pairs well with the colorful and detailed, yet lower resolution visuals. The game keeps the Japanese voice acting which further adds to the retro aesthetic, but most of the game isn’t voiced so players aren’t bogged down by fully-voiced and slow moving cutscenes.
All-around, 7th Dragon III Code: VFD is shaping up to be a great dungeon crawler and an absolutely great game in general. Not nearly as punishing as the Etrian Odyssey series, but still a strategic challenge. Pile on a deep character and party customization system that most JRPGs don’t offer and you get a fun title full of content that’s more than worth the asking price.