As I’ve said before, I was interested in 7th Dragon because of its connections, as loose as they may be, to Etrian Odyssey. It didn’t turn out to be a terribly choice, though in the end it really reinforced how great the Etrian Odyssey series is. 7th Dragon III: Code VFD doesn’t stand up to the quality of any of the Etrian Odyssey games on the 3DS, but it is a fairly entertaining game in its own right. While it has plenty of new things to offer, it feels in some ways like a glorious throwback to the low-poly days of the PS1. That is admittedly a flavor that is pretty common on the 3DS, but as someone who was 12-16 in the glory days of the PS1 it is just my sort of flavor.
Really, the game is different enough from the EO series that the comparison really isn’t fair. Outside of some larger similarities, they are really two very different kinds of games. They do both feature a player generated party and things like strong monster visible on the field, but the focus of the games is very different. Etrian Odyssey games are highly focused experiences. They are about the player’s specific party and confounding labyrinthine dungeons. There is a reason that mapping the floor is a vital aspect of the series. Exploring and knowing the terrain is a significant portion of the experience. While you do build your own party in 7th Dragon, the dungeons tend to be afterthoughts. They are mostly just corridors connecting one set of cutscenes to another. They look nice enough, but there is little interesting about the dungeons themselves.
The party building is robust, but thanks to it refreshing array of interesting and unique classes, wrapping your brain around how each class works and interacts takes a long time. Honestly, the classes are individually powerful enough and the bulk of the game easy enough that mastering the party building isn’t remotely necessary. There are a few “normal” classes, like the Samurai and the Mage, but most of them fall into fairly interesting new territory, even if the game doesn’t always do a great job of exploring that new territory. Take the God Hand class, for example. The God Hand is essentially a Monk, with a combination of healing skills and fist based attacks, but in 7th Dragon they added a twist. Using the class’s punch skills inflicts God Depth on an enemy, the higher the rank of God Depth the more powerful attacks you can use, which in turn raises the God Depth more until it resets or you use the powerful finishing blow that resets it. It is a neat mechanic and God Hands, in my experience, are one of the most powerful classes in the game. Also, their default look is Maids and Butlers, which is amusing to me. However, no other class interacts with the God Depth mechanic. It exists just for that class, just like hacking exists for the hackers. The game piles on unique and fiddly mechanics to go with its unique and fiddly classes. There is a lot good and interesting there, but it feels like a rough draft of what could have been a great set of classes.
Much of the enjoyment of 7th Dragon III is in its delightfully bonkers story. You start as a character playing a VR video game about killing dragons, but you are so good at it that the mystery corporation that makes the game recruits you to time travel to several spots in history and fight dragons. You are not, however, doing so to rewrite history and save people from dragons, though you end up doing that, but merely to kill the dragons and get DNA samples. That is to be uses, somehow, to compile a compendium of dragons to better fight the coming 7th True Dragon. Each of the 3 time periods have its own attractions, from ancient Atlantis to a future Medieval Age that somehow exists even though the end of time is fast approaching the ravaged current Tokyo. There are strange delights everywhere, much of it originating with the player’s party. When confronted with the destruction of Atlantis, the protagonist just calmly forces shady corporation Nodens to relocate all the Atlanteans through the time portal to the current day. One sidequest has the player building a cat sanctuary; another has you tracking down a real life power ranger. It is all nonsense, held together by spurious logic and borderline nonsensical twists that quickly twist again before you unravel exactly what the twist is supposed to mean.
7th Dragon III: Code VFD is kind of a mess, but it is a completely enjoyable mess. There is enough good that comes from the team and character building, as well as the story and battle system that it is easy to just keep playing until the game ends. But once you put it down and look at it critically, all the flaws are glaringly apparent. This is not a great game, but it is a game whose flaws are never deal breakers. It is just delightfully messy, the perfect sort of RPG for a breezy summer playthrough; fun while it lasts but soon forgotten.