What a time to be alive as a gamer, am I right? Fifteen years ago you never had any idea what might make its way out of Japan and into the US marketplace, and niche RPGs, while they did make their way into the market, were hardly commonplace, especially from larger publishers. Today, we’re getting our first true tastes of 7th Dragon in the US by way of 7th Dragon III: Code VFO on the 3DS, thanks to Sega, which seemed like an impossibility only a few years prior. Not only that, but in anticipation of the release, they’ve dropped a demo to the 3DS Store, which I downloaded immediately and jammed the heck out of, because I had no idea what to expect from the game and wanted answers. Well, as it turns out, some two hours later, I have… some answers, as well as a whole bunch more questions, which is probably the best state a demo can hope to leave you in, so let’s take a look at what’s on tap here and see if we can’t unpack the demo a bit before launch.
1.) Narratively, there is a whole lot going on here, but the general gist is that the game takes place several years after the events of the second game in the series, in a world that’s more or less recovered from the dragon attacks of the prior two games. While the game lets you create protagonists as needed, the demo starts you off as a girl named Yaibo, which one assumes you can change as needed in the final game if you so desire. As you walk Yaibo around, you’ll meet a girl named Mio, who wants to play at the nearby 7th Encount, an arcade of sorts, but is afraid to do so alone; since you can’t play without a ticket, Mio agrees to share, and you head in to play the game of the same name in the facility. This starts off as little more than a VR simulation sort of thing, before going crazy once you beat the game, and things rapidly turn from “killing dragons in games” to “killing dragons in real life” as the demo progresses. It’s not a bad hook to get players interested, honestly, and I’m definitely interested in seeing what the game has to show off story-wise from playing the demo, so thumbs up.
2.) Visually, 7th Dragon III looks pretty solid on the 3DS, thanks to its heavily stylized aesthetic. Character models utilize a stylish chibi-influenced 3D modeling that gives them pointed legs and arms with rounded heads and bodies, and it’s a really unique design that gives the game a certain special charm. Enemy models are more in-line with how you’d expect them to look, as you’ll fight monsters that borrow aesthetics from rabbits, butterflies and dragons (in the demo), and the contrast between the normalized enemies and stylized players is interesting. The battle environments you’ll see in the demo are limited, so it’s hard to get a sense of variation, but what’s here looks pleasant enough in terms of design and what the 3DS can handle, also. Aurally the game has its own charms, so far, as the soundtrack and combat effects are well composed and selected for the sort of game this is. Nothing in the demo soundtrack stands out, per say, but everything fits its chosen sequence and it’s nice to listen to while you’re navigating a dungeon and killing monsters. There’s also a smattering of voice work, which mostly comes up during battle, as your allies will shout combat phrases and words when performing actions, and the voice work is all just fine. There are also the odd vocal sounds during conversations, though none of the conversations are fully voiced at this point; that’s not an issue so to say, but it’s interesting to note given what we’ve seen from the 3DS so far.
3.) When the demo starts up, you’re given the option to select a difficulty level between Standard (Normal) or Casual (Easy), which can be changed at any time from the in-game options. The introduction sequence mostly exists as a way for you, as the player, to get used to the mechanics of movement, but there’s not an extensive tutorial per say; while the game will pop up directives at specific points, much of the gameplay is learned through a combination of perceivable consequence, experience from prior games and the odd pop-up indicator. This isn’t just true of basic interactions, either; when you’re first tasked to build a party or dropped into the dungeon to do battle with enemies, the game explains some of the elements needed, but others are left to your own investigation, which gives the demo (and presumably the final game) a bit of a positive experimental feel. Testing the different character classes, for instance, or how different skills work in context is interesting if you’re experienced in the genre a bit, and the different characters you’re given to work with don’t entirely work the way you’d expect, which makes experimenting with them even more interesting.
4.) So, what is the genre 7th Dragon III falls into? Well, essentially it’s a dungeon crawling RPG, similar to something like Etrian Odyssey or Stranger of Sword City, but with some mild differences, not all of which are explored in the demo. Dungeon exploration is handled through an entirely isometric 3/4ths overhead view, and the game fills in an automap as you explore the game world on the bottom touch screen. As you move, an indicator in the top left corner of the top screen turns from green to yellow to red, indicating when your next battle will occur, and once it’s red, you’ll eventually be pulled into a battle. Combat itself works with small parties of three against however many enemies are placed against the team in turn-based fashion, where you choose your actions, and the game resolves them based on priority order. The demo doesn’t really get into the more advanced concepts the website describes, such as managing nine person parties or utilizing party team-up attacks, but it shows off plenty of the core combat, such that players should have an idea of what they’re getting into by the time the demo’s finished.
5.) The demo gives you access to four character classes by way of four default characters: Yaiba, a Samurai, who you start the demo with, Jet, an Agent, Arika, a Duelist, and Aogiri, a God-Hand. You can swap between these characters and set a default team leader from a terminal that’s available in a couple of locations through the game world, and while you can’t customize these characters in any way in the demo, the full game promises the ability to customize team members somewhat, and implies the ability to modify existing members. You can only bring three team members into combat in the demo, and each party member offers different reasons to bring them with you. Samurai are mostly DPS-based, can choose between powerful two-handed swords and faster dual-wielded single handed swords for battle, and feature damage skills as well as self-healing and boosting techniques. Agents are more support-oriented gun-wielding characters, and can hack enemies to perform techniques on them or perform status effects in battle. Duelists are an odd magic user class that feel like Yu-Gi-Oh players given real-world abilities; each turn the Duelist draws a card that can influence the spells they can cast, and they can use monsters, traps and fields to deal damage and change status in battle, as well as force-draw cards for specific elemental attacks. Finally, God-Hands are battle monks, utilizing fist weapons for damage alongside healing effects, and their combat skills can stack God Depth on enemies, which allows for more damage and combat influence the more G is on a unit. There are further classes beyond these that you’ll see in the main game, but these four are surprising in how unique they feel and how they work within the game, and if this is any indication, party composition in the final game will be an exciting time for genre fans.
6.) The demo initially drops you into a simulator of sorts, which simulates events from the Dragon attacks that occurred in 2020 and 2021 (which are implied to be the time periods of the first two games); specifically, you’re dropped into the Tokyo Skytower in 2021, with the objective of fighting one of the True Dragons on a higher floor. Initially, you’ll just head through the dungeon, fighting monsters as needed, but you’re put against a boss on the second floor that’s a bit more challenging; defeating it (after a cutscene) increases the challenge of the individual enemies you’ll face as you progress. Towards the end of the third floor you’ll encounter another boss, who Mio (acting as your navigator) will note is way more powerful than expected; beating this boss will actively resolve the simulation and force you back into the real world for plot development. This is the majority of the combat portion of the demo, and is where you’ll spend most of your time leveling and grinding as needed. It’s also where you’ll get the most exposure to the navigation and combat mechanics, so it’s a good place to experiment with different party combinations before moving onward.
7.) Once you’ve finished the VR training, the demo gets more involved in its plot exposition before dropping the real deal on you: Dragons are most definitely real, and a Dragon known as VFD is going to end the world sooner or later. The Nodens corporation, who uses game development as a lucrative front (which is a weird concept to think about in this day and age), is attempting to study up on Dragons to fill out a Dragon Chronicle, which will help them defeat VFD. If VFD is defeated, the world is saved, and the illness known as Dragon Sickness (which Mio happens to have) will be cured; if VFD isn’t defeated, rocks fall, everyone dies. While Mio is in no way interested in being involved in this, the team is, which is good because dragons attack immediately after this, and the team races to save Mio… which introduces players to more of how boss battles operate. This mostly works as an ultimate boss fight for the demo, as you’ll face down a fairly normal White Dragon (which is white and red, but nevermind) in combat, making for a challenging boss fight before the demo wraps up. You’ll then face down against a High Dragon named Spectus, which is a plot-battle that you lose before the ISDF (basically the game world’s Dragon Police) show up and a guy named Yuma knocks Spectus out with one punch. This isn’t a bad way to wrap up the demo, all in all, as it gives the player a real taste of how intense battles can be and the true power of what awaits them, while also leaving you wanting more, and it’s pretty cool all in all.
8.) After the plot wraps up, you’re given a bit of a tour of Nodens, which allows you to see what’s available in the facility while giving you a bit of a clue as to the scope of what you can do long-term. You’re introduced, at this point, to two vendors you’ll likely be using a bit of in the main game, in the Quest vendor and the Shop. Quests are handled by Chika, a dark haired downer lady, who will allow you to take on Quests (though not in the demo) as well as cash in Dz, a currency earned by killing Dragons, to unlock upgraded gear options as well as improve the facilities in the building. The Shop, on the other hand, is run by Rika, a bright and cheerful lady, who sells you gear and items you’ve unlocked with your Dz. In the demo you can only access the Shop, but the game implies you’ll be able to buy new facilities in the building that will have all kinds of uses (as around a quarter are unlocked in the demo), so it’s clear there’s a lot to unlock here as you play.
9.) The game also gives you access to the Skill Tree before you wrap things up, which allows you a cool one thousand skill points per active party member, which can be used to upgrade your existing skills. The game doesn’t really allow you to grind out Skill Points, sadly, so you won’t be able to really max out anything within the confines of the demo, but you’re still given a bit of access to how the system works. You can utilize your Skill Points to either buy new skills or upgrade existing ones, and several skills are available from the beginning, each with multiple levels to buy as you play. At this point, the demo is more or less complete, though the demo offers you a few novelties once you’ve completed it. For one thing, you can boot the demo up again and load it up, then head to the VR training room to continue grinding out levels up to level ten, which is the cap for the demo, which would allow you a good head start on the coming levels. Further, keeping the demo on your system until you plug in the game itself offers you bonuses for doing so, including cash payouts, experience boosters, and equipment of some type, making it worthwhile to play through the demo if you’re interested in the full game. You can also keep your levels on your characters intact, as well as your progress, so you can skip the early sections if you’ve played through the demo already.
10.) 7th Dragon III: Code VFO feels like the sort of game that will really appeal to players who are experienced in playing dungeon crawlers somewhat, as the demo really showcases some advanced concepts alongside its gameplay; whether or not it’ll be something casual fans can jump into is likely going to depend on how the game progresses, but experienced fans should definitely give the demo a try, if nothing else. What’s here is promising so far, as the aesthetic is pleasant and the mechanics feel familiar if you’re familiar with the genre at all, but the extended systems have their own unique feel and charm that makes the game appealing if you’re tired of the normal, expected systems such games tend to use. The fact that the demo doesn’t even touch on some of the more advanced concepts is also appealing, as what’s shown in the demo is interesting on its own merits, and the idea that there are further unique elements and systems beyond this is enticing, especially if you love dungeon crawling. It’ll be interesting to see if the game proper can keep up this momentum, but the demo is a good starting point if nothing else, and as hype pieces go, it’s a good one.