7th Dragon III 3DS Review: Fashionably Late

The finale to SEGA's RPG saga — and the first to be released in the West — is great, if you don't mind being seated during the third act of a movie.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

I've been waiting seven years for the 7th Dragon series to finally make its way to the U.S.; now that it has, my only real complaint is that SEGA waited until the very final chapter of the saga to make their first localization effort.

The games have until now been victims of poor timing. The original 7th Dragon hit in 2009, right around the time the DS market collapsed in the U.S. and publishers began abandoning the system in droves. Its first of two PSP sequels hit in 2011, long after all but the most courageous companies had given up on the idea of selling PSP games in America. Thankfully, the series' one and only Nintendo 3DS entry managed to squeak by just before the looming deadline of obsolescence for that system, and better late than never, I suppose.

You don't need to be familiar with the previous games in order to follow 7th Dragon III's storyline — certainly you'll get more out of it that way, but the script tidily explains its plot connections to its predecessors as it goes along. All you really need to know is that there are seven True Dragons throughout history that seek to destroy mankind by spreading deadly flowers that turn the air into a poisonous miasma, and your team's mission is to travel through time to destroy them and save humanity once and for all.

In the beginning, 7th Dragon played like a cross between a traditional Dragon Quest-style console RPG and Etrian Odyssey, which makes sense given that it was created by Phantasy Star designer Reiko Kodama and Etrian Odyssey director Kazuya Niinou. The latest game doesn't boast quite the same star-studded lineup; Niinou has since moved along to Square Enix to work on Final Fantasy XIV and Dragon Quest Builders. As such, the game's overall design has evolved somewhat so that its systems work less like a direct copy of Niinou's previous creation. You can definitely see how 7th Dragon III's mechanics could have come from Etrian Odyssey if you squint, but the series has really become its own thing.

The central concept of the game still carries a strong connection, though: The dragons you fight along the way are very, very similar in nature to Etrian Odyssey's F.O.E.s. They don't appear as random encounters, as with standard enemies, but rather as icons roaming the field map. They tend to be considerably more durable than random foes, too, with increasingly devious battle tactics. And if you happen to enter a battle with a dragon nearby, it will join the fight after a number of turns, potentially transforming an extended battle into a truly epic one. There are more than seven of them, despite the game's title; the eponymous seven dragons are the True Dragons, the end-boss-level foes. But there are about 250 of the other lesser dragons you have to deal with along the way, and each of those fights requires a well-honed team.

Thankfully, 7th Dragon III is a far friendlier experience for players than the original entry (which I've been told ended up being passed over by several U.S. publishers due to its crushingly high difficulty level). In fact, "user friendly" defines 7th Dragon III. It contains quite a few complex game systems and some truly brutal fights — the rare, climactic True Dragon battles will destroy you repeatedly until you perfect your strategy — but it also goes out of its way to minimize your frustration. While you're limited to a three-person combat team, you can travel with up to two back-up parties. These reserve members can't be rotated in to fight during a battle a la Final Fantasy X, but they gain experience and skill points at the same rate as lead party members, which means you don't have to waste time grinding for experience with newcomers; they'll get up to speed on their own.

More importantly, reserve teams can be called on as a battle progresses to execute special actions, some of which can be life-saving. For example, dragons have a tendency to charge up their power for a devastating super-attack the following turn. Rather than waste a turn defending, it might be better to call a reserve Rune Knight into action to use its support ability to null the enemy's status boost and reduce its super-attack to a normal action. Or, then again, maybe you should ride out the dragon's boosted attack and call on an entire reserve team to issue multiple simultaneous support actions in the next round, up to and including resurrection, healing, and buffs.

Where the original 7th Dragon more or less carbon-copied its character classes from Etrian Odyssey, this sequel includes more unique classes — some of which are pretty great. Maybe too great; I had a hard time shifting away from my initial team of Godhand, Agent, and Samurai as new jobs unlocked. The Godhand excels in building cumulative damage and "tagging" foes to enable powerful follow-up attacks, while the Agent possesses incredible support skills, including the ability to respond to every enemy attack during a turn with a powerful counter or "hack" enemies to steal mana points for the entire party. Agents have great synergy with heavy-hitting Samurai, as they have access to a status debuff that complements the Samurai's ability to imbue their own attacks with fire elements. And each of the other five classes offers equally interesting options, turning combat into much more than simply trading blows — standard attacks are much weaker than special attacks, many of which cost little mana.

If I have a complaint about the combat system, it's that it's balanced for the dragon encounters and the need for high DPS. As a result, the tactics that become essential as you fight those roaming boss-level monsters make random battles almost trivial. Classes that rely on status effects and long-term tactics to excel, like Duelist and Fortuners, are great in dragon battles but become a liability in standard encounters. This seems to be a side effect of the game's drive toward accessibility, which in some respects is admirable (you never need to wonder where to go next when you jump back into the game after a break, since you have a menu option to point you to your next objective) but definitely undermines the utility and value of certain tactical options.

Despite these issues, and despite being the final chapter of a story that until now has only been playable in English through illicit means, 7th Dragon III is an easy recommendation for RPG fans. The 3DS hasn't lacked for great role-playing experiences, and this ranks among the best. It's a great-looking game with interesting customization options, excellent music, a solid story, and lots to do and develop in the near-future Tokyo Midtown building that serves as the player's base... including visiting a cat cafe. A lot of heart and a lot of effort went into this RPG, and while it does have a few shortcomings, the good easily outweighs the mediocre. The 3DS seems to be entering its twilight years on the strength of RPGs, and 7th Dragon III isn't simply the end of its own saga — it's a great beginning to the final chapter of the 3DS's tale as well.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Interface: There's a lot to juggle in the menus, but the game takes pains to make itself accessible and minimally frustrating.
  • Lasting appeal: A pro RPG fan could critical path it in about 25 hours, but with side quests, dragon hunting, dating, and visits to the cat cafe, you're likely to clock in about twice that.
  • Sound: Four words: "Soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro." Play it loud.
  • Visuals: A gorgeous game. Even if you don't like the character designs, the detailed environments and artful use of color are unrivaled.

Despite some combat balancing issues and some occasionally too-linear design, 7th Dragon III offers a top-class portable role-playing experience. Thankfully, you don't need to be familiar with the unlocalized earlier games in the series to grasp the story, and its wealth of customization options make for a fairly breezy RPG experience... at least until you get to those brutal True Dragon fights, anyway.

4 /5

7th Dragon III 3DS Review: Fashionably Late Jeremy Parish The finale to SEGA's RPG saga — and the first to be released in the West — is great, if you don't mind being seated during the third act of a movie. 2016-07-07T16:00:00-04:00 4 5

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Comments 15

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  • Avatar for Karisu #1 Karisu 2 years ago
    The 3rd chapter part is a deal breaker for me. I'm not walking into a story 2/3 done.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #2 jeremy.parish 2 years ago
    @Karisu The first game was set 5000 years in the future, and the PSP ones were set 80 years before 7D3. They share themes but few direct connections. It's seriously not a deal-breaker.
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  • Avatar for IPA #3 IPA 2 years ago
    Another engaging 3DS RPG to add to my backlog? Twist my arm.
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #4 Kadrom 2 years ago
    Did not realize the OST was by Koshiro. I already had this preordered, but I guess I'll preorder it harder now?
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  • Avatar for vincentgoodwin88 #5 vincentgoodwin88 2 years ago
    I remember you writing about the first game when the fan translation came out a few years ago. The series has definitely been on my radar since then.

    I'm happy to hear this sequel turned out pretty good.
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  • Avatar for TernBird #6 TernBird 2 years ago
    "Four words: "Soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro."

    Okay, but is it on the FM Synthesizer? :D

    For real, I'm glad that this game is finally out in the states, even if I can't afford it. The other 7th Dragon games had a lot of cool ideas, and I'm always jonesing for a new series from Phoenix Rie. 7D also had really cool class ideas in 7D 2020, even if some of them were ridiculously designed (like the female Psychic, who wears a fur coat and a string bikini).

    That said, I recall that 2020 allowed you to trade your character's portrait for that of another class; does Code VFD allow for that too?
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  • Avatar for FirLocke #7 FirLocke 2 years ago
    Coming to Europe, yessssss. Thank you Deep Silver!
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #8 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    Hmm... another awesome game to go into my backlog! I'm sure I'll enjoy it when I get to it eventually!
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #9 TheWildCard 2 years ago
    Dammit, that's a stronger review than I was expecting. Gonna have to try that demo...
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  • Avatar for davidchambers98 #10 davidchambers98 2 years ago
    With no sign of a European release I am trying not to become too interested in this one.
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #11 himuradrew 2 years ago
    I'm still sort of on the fence with this one but Reiko Kodama holds a special place in my heart (Phantasy Star for the win), so I will most likely be getting this along with MHGen next week.
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  • Avatar for Malignant #12 Malignant 2 years ago
    @davidchambers98 is being released in Europe.Edited 2 times. Last edited July 2016 by Malignant
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  • Avatar for victorehunter #13 victorehunter 2 years ago
    Just played through the demo and oh my goodness do I love these character designs. And the battle animations are really top-notch. It takes a lot for me to get into something so dungeon-crawly but I'm considering giving it a serious chance just based on the visuals.
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  • Avatar for gamingiszen #14 gamingiszen 2 years ago
    If the demo is a fair example well well you can count me in. I've already invested 5 hours on the thing (which obviously isn't *required*), just to relive the snappy battles, re-experience the clever story, see that ultra refreshing use of color and listen to that holy-crap-where-did-music-like-this-come-from-seriously?! infectious tunes. But if potentially some combination of these takes place: poor pacing, static story (you know, not developing *at all*), watered down aesthetics (idk primary colors for prehistoric time or something), yuzo becomes like nobou and goes-all-over-the-place-o, well, I don't want to think that way. Because it's not true, right? If generally speaking the answers to my questions were added to your review, they wouldn't come out true, right?

    *Right?*Edited July 2016 by gamingiszen
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #15 Gamer-Law 2 years ago
    Thanks jeremy.parish

    I have had this preordered for a few months but became less certain about the purchase when everyone started talking up the Etrian Odyssey influence (generally not my favorite RPG franchise). After finishing the demo this weekend, however, 7th Dragon has moved to the top of my "next to play" list. The graphics, battle system and soundtrack stand out and I am interested to see where the story goes.
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