“These ******s again?!”
The game begins with someone contacting “Nodens HQ” about traces of “1st True Dragon Iod” and subsequently collecting specimens. Man, these people take their Monster Hunter LARPing really seriously.
Back in the poorly lit Nodens HQ, three figures plot and scheme – they now have “the first key”, but they’re working on gaining military power for further operations. And they gotta do it without the meddling ISDF finding out. Next step? Look for “the dragon hunters”.
Here I am at the character creation screen. The system message says it’s my “alter-ego”, but if this game is anything like 7th Dragon 2020, what narratively matters isn’t a specific character I create, so any character could be swapped into the role without affecting the story.
Character creation is the same as 2020: Pick a portrait, a class, a voice, and a name. There are now two portrait styles with 3 color variations each, for both genders. (Each class has a “default” male and female portrait, if the promotional materials are anything to go by, but the game has no restrictions on portrait-class combinations.) Half of the portrait selection is greyed-out and will definitely be unlocked further into the story. Same with the classes, since there are only four available right now: Samurai, Agent, God Hand and Duelist. Duelist is a class that is completely strange to me, whereas I can at least guess that the other three are variations on classes from 2020. Voice selection has grown much bigger though, and there’s even a convenient temporary marking feature so that I can jot down which voices I find most fitting for each character before making the decision.
Anyway, enough tinkering. On with the show~!
In the year 2100, next Sunday UE, a VR game called “7th Encount” has become popular in Tokyo because Pokémon GO was never invented. So popular, in fact, that its tickets are among the most prized items among people. Naturally, my character wants in on it too, but they have no tickets. Fortunately, a sickly timid girl lets me in along with her becuse she’s packing a special S-Class ticket. Also: The receptionist is the doll from the earlier scene. Also also: The arcade is run by Nodens. Eh, I’m sure this won’t lead to anything.
The girl introduces herself as Nagumo Mio, and she wants to play as the “navigator”. But we need three combat members and one navigator to form a party, so time to start recruiting! By which I mean “conjuring human beings out of thin air”. Hey, it’s cool – everybody’s doing it. Oh, and another cool new feature? I can now change a character’s portrait, voice and name at a Terminal, as often as I want without any penalty! I am so happy about that.
The VR simulation takes us “back” to Tokyo Skytower in 2021 A.D. – the climax of the battle between humans and “5th True Dragon Fomalhaut”. (Might be from 2020-II, which I didn’t get around to playing.) Our goal is to climb the tower. Mio gives the basic tutorial about save points and encounters – and thinking about it, she’s giving us the game’s tutorial… as a game tutorial. I gotta admit, that’s kinda cleverly meta, even if it’s just a thin masking.
A couple floors up the tower, there’s a scripted encounter against a slightly stronger monster. The Nodens people earlier are impressed by our performance – something about “her prediction” coming true – and decide to throw in a “real test”. From that point on, a couple of tougher monster types start appearing, but still nothing dangerous. The significant threat is one floor up: A little dragon bobbing around like a puppy with giant head and teeth, called… “Little Dragon”.
Mio is confused because she didn’t read anything about this enemy in the manual and the difficulty spike is huge for our level. Dialog choice: “How do you know it’s so strong?” and “Maybe you missed something.” – I picked the latter, but she insists that she memorized everything there is, so this could be a rare monster.
The critter is… kind of a threat this early in the game, but far from unbeatable. The biggest dangers are that it can act twice per turn and it has a multi-hit attack, but that can be mitigated with some healing.
The “mysterious” Nodens people are so impressed that they immediately decide we are the “second key” and take us out of the game to congratulate us in person at their office. Dialog choice: “It sounds like fun to me.” vs “Let’s go with it for now.” – Hm… second one. I don’t trust no schemin’ weasels. Or rabbits.
As soon as we’re out of public sight, the doll – who calls itself “[the Almighty] Nagamimi” (Japanese for “long ears”) – drops its work face and turns into a massive foulmoth. Like, really – he uses “shit” and “dick” in his speech. Didn’t expect the localization to go with that, but maybe that’s why it’s T-rated.
At my insistence, Nagamimi explains a few things about Nodens. On the front, it’s just a game development company from America. But 7th Encount isn’t just a game; the VR machine is a device that tests people for combat abilities – specifically, the power to slay dragons. Except for Mio, of course, but Nagamimi… assures her that strength isn’t everything and she does have key navigator abilities. Huh. I guess it’s not as abrasive as it lets in on. Mio also brings up that Dragons have been gone for almost a century now, but it just tells us to hurry the fuck up.
So, to keep things short, we just got scouted to fight Dragons, and Nagamimi is gonna be our supervisor. Happy days!
You know what just hit me? An organization scouting for people with exceptional abilities through a program disguised as a videogame, in order to battle a threat against humanity – this is the premise of MEGARanger!
Anyway, meet the top brass of Nodens: An uncomfortably cheerful lady named Allie Nodens, who is the president and has replaced her punctuation marks with a star; and an uncomfortably touchy dude(?) named Julietta, who is the development director and hates being called by his “real” name, Tomari Jurota. I want to emphasize again that they’re both uncomfortable, because the first thing they do is invade our private space. Julietta even kisses Mio out of the blue – dude, I fully support your identity, but you’re in “creepy” territory right now. They both dress like metrosexuals, but given this series’ choice of fashion since 2020, that’s a statement of normality at best.
Time for a history lesson. 80 years ago, in the year 2020, the world was invaded by space dragons. They got evicted, came back in 2021 and got double-evicted. It started with the spread of a toxic flower called “Dragonsbane”. (I was expecting an ironically pretty localized name for “Flowaro”, but I guess this works too.) The flower is supposed to spread all over a planet and kill off all the life, at which point the planet becomes a delicious dumpling for the “True Dragons”. Like the one in 2020 – who dropped in before the planet was done cooking. I’m just sayin’ – this is what happens when you’re not patient with your meal.
Apparently, there are seven True Dragons in the universe; Earth has met two, and both got routed by an organization called “Murakumo”. More specifically, Murakumo Unit 13 – the “collective protagonist” of 2020 games, as I call them. Nodens have been devoting their resources to studying the Dragons ever since the Calamity ended. (Game development is just part of the revenue plan.) They’re compiling all their data into a database called… Dragon Chronicle? Uh… I actually have that. Not sure if a pre-order bonus artbook is gonna be much help against eldritch creatures, guys.
Nodens’ goal is to collect samples from six True Dragons and complete the Dragon Chronicle, at which point they can defeat the titular 7th Dragon, VFD – the Dragon of creation and destruction. While this is being covered up from the public, many governments and organizations all over the world know this already – including… [dramatic sting] the meddling ISDF.
VFD hasn’t awakened yet, but various signs are starting to pop up – “global warming, disappearance of the Caribbean Plate, and […] Dragon Sickness”. Gotta say, I don’t remember “space dragons” being mentioned in An Inconvenient Truth; I guess it’s future knowledge. Dialog choice: “What’s Dragon Sickness?” and “I have a friend who’s been coughing.” – Going with the latter. Allie confirms that it’s the sickness, and they unfortunately don’t have much long to live, as it’s untreatable. That… sucks. All of the sudden, the mood just plummeted. And as the “Dragon miasma” becomes thicker, more people are gonna fall ill. Not even the Trauma Team will be able to help! (See, I can make that joke because Atlus is part of Sega now. Sometimes, life just put things in place.)
The only chance against VFD lies in completing the Dragon Chronicle – according to Nodens, anyway. Afterwards, they might even be able to find a cure for Dragon Sickne-Oh, come on. Now you’re just teasing the only person in the room with a virtual death sentence.
But still, some dragon hunters need to go out and hunt dragons, and that’s gonna be us. All of this is too much to handle at once for poor Mio, so she leaves, also because she lacks confidence in her abilities. Julietta assures her otherwise, but doesn’t try to stop her. Mio walks out, blaming herself for “running away again” after coming all the way here to “find her dad”. The universe decides to abruptly interrupt her character development with – what else – Dragons!
Actually, they dropped in earlier than expected, so ISDF is gonna take a while getting to the scene. Allie figures they’ll lock down their bulding and wait it out until things simmer down, but seeing Mio in danger through security cameras, my team decides to jump into action. Julietta advices against it, since a game company (being seen) hosting an armed fighting force is pretty certainly in violation of the law. Of course we’re not staying down – we’re Japanese Shonen main characters, dammit! Allie seems quite on board with seeing us in action too, despite the risk of blowing the company’s cover.
Now we fight our first real Dragon. Stronger than the one in VR, but still not terribly difficult, since it doesn’t act twice per turn. Once it’s beat, however, a much bigger dragon drops in on the scene. Nagamimi urgently warns us to run away; it’s a High Dragon, far stronger than what we just faced. This time, we’re… still gonna fight. Hell, even the dialog choice goes either “I’m going to save everyone!” and “I will defeat it!” Mio is flummoxed by our
suicidal idiocy lack of fear; Nagamimi expresses the same sentiment by yelling at us some more. Allie is… hoping for the best, but I can tell she’s not gonna feel too bad if we died. Also: I now notice upon close-up that she has pointy ears. Hmmm…
The High Dragon, Spectus, is honestly quite a sight to behold in terms of monster design – red lobster-like carapace, stained-glass horns and wings, and more spikes because why the hell not. Finding out new Dragon designs was actually one of the interesting experiences in 2020, because the then-newly adopted aesthetic style of the series lent itself very well to a lot of creative Dragon designs – wild, unrestricted and colorful. I’m quite happy to find it still intact in this game. With my gushing out of the way, back to me getting my ass torched because it’s a scripted unwinnable fight.
Thankfully, ISDF arrives just before we become Dragon chow, led by a bald guy with huge scars, Admiral Yorimoto, and his Bishie partner, Yuma. Yuma just walks up to the Dragon, does some power-up thing and knocked it dead with a single punch. That… honestly took me by surprise, and I’m not even sure how; everybody else is bound to be far stronger than us this early in the story.
ISDF get to collecting the High Dragon’s samples – probably with lots of spatulas after Yuma one-punch-manned the thing. He’s still fairly humble though – walks over to us and gives his thanks for softening the big lug. I was doing like 1 damage per hit, so I can only assume this is supposed to show off his friendly personality – relative to the stoic Yorimoto, that is.
Oh, right – Thanks to us, Nodens is now definitely on ISDF’s watchlist. Can’t be helped, I guess; we were at risk of losing a named character back there. Allie’s pretty happy about finally finding the dragon hunters she’s been looking for – although she looks jovial about everything, so that doesn’t say much. Mio also thanks us, still seemingly astounded by our
suicidal idiocy selflessness in contrast to her timid self.
All in all, with the crisis wrapped up for the time being, we’re led to treatment by the Nodens medical staff. The opening song and credits play over the montage, interspersed with illustrations of various events – some I recognize, some I don’t. The song is pretty nice.