9 in ’09, number nine: 7th Dragon

I was going to write that out as “9 in ’09, #9,” but then the entire title of this post would have degenerated into a very silly load of numeric nonsense. Instead I’m simply going for arbitrary alliteration. Better than asinine assonance, I suppose.

Anyway. I guess it’s become kind of a tradition over the past few years that I stop and write about the games I enjoyed playing over the previous twelve months, and some people seem to enjoy it despite its narrow point of view (no man can play every game that hits in a given year these days, at least not while holding down a job) and generally sort of navel-gaziness. (“Navel-gaviness” was not a word until this very instant, by the way.) Last year I took the approach of reconsidering the review scores I had handed out over the previous year as a means by which to mostly say “I am so right! I am awesome.” Which was kind of a terrible approach to take, and I apologize. I won’t be doing that this year, in part because it was dumb, but mostly because sometime around the latter half of last year my approach to reviewing made a quiet and subtle shift and I started taking a long view of the reviews I’ve been writing. I think it’s because I’ve become old, but in any case I can’t think of a single review or score I’ve written this year that I would change in the least. So, I’m returning to the format I used in 2007 with my “7 in ’07” posts. Except now I have to do nine of them, because “7 in ’09” seems weird. And if I call it “7 of ’09,” well, that’s just too damn nerdy for even me.

This isn’t some all-encompassing list; I didn’t have a chance to play Uncharted 2 or Arkham Asylum or enough of Dragon Age to get a real feel for it (yet). It’s simply a rundown of games I’ve enjoyed, a lot. Some of which are games that will probably show up on people’s lists next year, since I’ve been dabbling in imports all year. Such as this one!

7th Dragon
ImageEpoch | Sega | DS | RPG

Well, it would be nice if this could be on people’s “favorite games of 2010” lists, but so far, no luck. Sega doesn’t want anything to do with it, and I’ve talked to PR and business development folks at several likely third-party publisher candidates who have all told me the same thing: “It’s too hard.” Proof that publishers continue to underestimate the intelligence and resolve of American gamers, I suppose. I hope they all look at sales of Demon’s Souls and the fact that it’s selling incredibly well because it unapologetically tests the mettle of even the most die-hard player and choke on them.

Because 7th Dragon is an exceptional RPG. It’s tough, yeah, but from the portions I’ve played — and admittedly I didn’t finish the game — the challenge is nothing insurmountable to any seasoned RPG veteran. Especially if you’ve played Etrian Odyssey, which comprises a significant portion of this game’s DNA. Its key creators are Reiko “Phantasy Star” Kodama and Kazuya “Etrian Odyssey” Niinou, and it really does feel like a hybrid of the two franchises. Rather than taking the first-person approach of the Etrian games, it plays out as more of what people think of as a standard Japanese RPG. You have a party, you wander around the world map in warrior-train formation, you encounter enemies, you dive into dungeons and measure your progress by reaching new towns and beating bosses.

What keeps it from being just a wannabe Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy-alike are the bits it draws from the Etrian games. No, you don’t draw a map. But you do build a party from scratch, and you do allocate skill points to customize their abilities at each level-up. And yeah, there are super-powered foes (or should I say, FOEs) that visibly roam the dungeons and pounce upon you to create an extremely hazardous situation. In fact, these special enemies are sort of the whole point of the game: There’s a numeric counter that always appears on-screen and it ticks down by one each time you slay one of these wandering minibosses. They’re nasty enemies that take a lot of work to overcome, but as with Etrian’s FOEs, besting one is incredibly satisfying.

I kind of wonder but what the problem with the game isn’t that it’s challenging but that it’s so relentlessly challenging yet so incredibly cute. 7th Dragon is crammed with colorful graphics and charming sprites and super-deformed character art that appears in combat to add a little extra personality to the first-person combat. It could be one of those instances where publishers balk at offering something so saccharine-looking that nevertheless has a vicious temperament. Demon’s Souls probably wouldn’t have made it overseas if it had featured little bobblehead munchkins fighting their way through pastel casts, honestly, and this could end up being one of those situations where the differences in tastes between American gamers and their Japanese counterparts creates an irreconcilable cognitive dissonance of sorts.

In the meantime, I’ll keep holding out hope. It’s a fine RPG that combines the best aspects of several different influences, and if it had been in English it surely would have appeared higher up my list of favorites. Alas: It languishes overseas, and at the bottom of my list.

17 thoughts on “9 in ’09, number nine: 7th Dragon

  1. Sounds like a cool game. Now I really, really would like a nerd rock band do a song called Warrior Train. (“7 of ’09” should be the “tit monster countdown” in Play Magazine.)

  2. You know, just yesterday I was thinking that it was that same kind of cute dissonance that may have hurt Megaman: Powered Up.

  3. I love hard rpgs and 7th Dragon sounds like a really fun game,anyone know if it would be worth importing? I would love to give it a shot.

  4. I want this sooo bad! I’d definitely import if it wasn’t so text heavy. I could probably get through it with my average Japanese, but I think I would enjoy it much more if it were in English.

    Pull some strings tfrog and get it localized!:p

  5. Well hey, now that Vic Ireland has risen from the dead, maybe Gaijinworks’ll pick it up. It’s the sort of thing Working Designs used to do. Assuming there’s no more bad blood with Sega there… or general disdain for handhelds… yeah, now that I say it out loud, it’s less likely.

  6. I don’t get the “it’s too hard” thing, especially if you’re hearing that from, say, Atlus. 7th Dragon was considerably easier than Etrian Oddysey.

    I will also say that I was incredibly annoyed when one of the 1up Podcasts (Active Time Babble?) had Shane Bettenhausen on it, hyping up some generic looking RPG (Nostalgia?) his company was releasing while mocking 7th Dragon.

  7. Yeah, I played somewhere between 5-8 hours of 7th Dragon and thought it was a breeze compared to Etrian Odyssey. Supposedly it gets crazy hard later on, but I dunno. All I have to go on is what the PR folks told me.

  8. Personally, I thought that the game only got easier as it went on. The latter half of 7th Dragon is kind of like the endgame of Chrono Trigger and FFVI in that the story battles (including the final boss) are a joke if you’re doing a lot of the side quests (and getting all the EXP and broken gear that comes with them).

  9. I haven’t heard anything that turns me off from this game yet. But it does look like this is going to be one great DS RPG that doesn’t ever make it over. Hyperbole time: the DS’s Mother 3?

  10. I’ve been really interested in this game solely based on the Rieko “Skies of Arcadia” Kodama and Yuzo Koshiro pedigree, but I really didn’t know all that much about it until reading your post just now. I can’t read a lick of Japanese, so all I can do is hope that someone will bring it stateside… I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it as much as you did.

  11. I personally wish more games went for cuteness instead of grittiness. Especially in games like Megaman Powered Up and apparently this, where the look belies the depth and/or viciousness of the gameplay. Maybe Sega could just give all the artwork Kirby Eyebrows and call it even?

  12. This article was cruel, Parish. You’ve whipped my want for this game up into a full lather. Now I have to sit, uncomfortable, in a puddle of my frothing demand.

  13. I find it absolutely infuriating that nobody will pick it up — it’s probably the DS game I want to play the most (with Infinite Space being a distant second), and yet nobody is willing to localize it and sell me the damn thing.

    I seriously considered importing it, but I don’t have the time to sit around with a kanji dictionary that I did when I was younger… v_v

  14. I only played the import for an hour or two, but it reached that bizarre sweet spot where it clicked with me more than either Etrian Odyssey or Dragon Quest. I keep hearing rumors that someone is in fact localizing it, but when and by whom, I’ve no clue.

  15. Thank you for increasing my froth. At this point, it doesn’t look like the game will see an official localization, but we can always hope for a fan-trans (new video-game-hipster slang. spread it around), a la Shiren DS2. Is this even remotely playable with the 7th Dragon wiki on hand?

Comments are closed.