7th Dragon games are what can effectively be considered a parallel development to Atlus’ Sekaiju no Meikyu / Etrian Odyssey games, and there is a good reason for that: Both series are brainchildren of director Niinou Kazuya. Shortly after the release of the first Sekaiju no Meikyu, Niinou resigned from Atlus and joined the then-newcomer Imageepoch (which, around that time, had just recently released their debut title Luminous Arc). His first project there was 7th Dragon, released for DS in 2009. It was essentially an alternate take on Etrian Odyssey‘s mechanics; it carried over a lot of elements from its predecessor, and combined with some new elements of its own.

     A side-story to the original 7D, 7D20 is set in the distant future of year 2020. Dragons have descended to Earth out of nowhere, attacking many nations all over the world. The setting in focus for the story is Earth’s natural giant monster magnet, Tokyo, which got hit especially hard by the catastrophe and subsequently lost most of its major wards and districts to the behemoths. With the Self-Defense Force in disarray, and the request to the United States for reinforcements refused by the President, the Prime Minister has to rely on the service of ‘Murakumo’ – a paranormal threat control agency consisting of various individuals with superhuman abilities. As Murakumo Squad 13, your prime objective is to take back Tokyo from the dragons, and most importantly, to defeat the Imperial Dragons (帝竜) in each area, which has warped each of their domains to their fancy.

     7D20 is a turn-based dungeon-crawling RPG which allows you to create your own characters. There are 5 classes to choose from: Samurai, Psychic, Destroyer, Hacker and Trickster. Each class is a modern rendition of classic RPG builds and has its own specific uses in battle: For example, Samurai are obviously the Swordsman/Warrior types, while Psychics are Mages and Clerics rolled into one. Since there can only be 3 members at most in a party, it is important to make a good balance.

     A feature new to character creation is being able to assign a voice (and its pre-set personality) to your characters. 30 voice actors lent their talent to this feature, 15 for each gender. A lot of them are well-known performers too, such as Sakurai Takahiro, Miki Shin’ichiro, Yukana, Tanaka Rie – just to name a few. Between 10 models, 5 classes and 30 voices, there is certainly a lot of combinations to be made.

The entire battle system in a nutshell.

     Being a traditional dungeon-crawling RPG, its basic mechanics likely won’t even need elaborate explanations (except for players completely new to RPGs, I suppose): You go into dungeons, fight random encounters, get EXP and money, level up – the classic routine. The battle system doesn’t have any complicated mechanics either; I’m certain that a mere look at the image to the right would be self-explanatory to anybody familiar with RPGs. The only element not obvious on its own is “Exhaust”, which is a massive one-turn parameter boost for the user; it can be accumulated for re-use by dealing and receiving damage.

     But of course, to be efficient in battle, you’ll have to rely on Skills. Each class its own Skill list, from which players can pick out whichever ones they want. (Note that this is not a “skill-tree”, because it’s not necessary to have a prior skill before unlocking another.) Skills are unlocked and upgraded by spending SP, which is another type of points gained in battles along with EXP. Since the amount of available SP is limited only by the player’s will to grind, there is a lot of room for experimenting and building a Skill set that suits you most.

     The primary objective in each area is to get to the end and defeat the Imperial Dragon there, taking care of lesser obstacles along the way – that is to say, lesser Dragons. Dragons are basically mini-bosses: They’re stronger and tougher than average enemies in their areas, and tend to have multiple strong skills, some even inflicting ailments. They can also pop into a battle if you’re taking too long with a battle in their vicinity – even if you’re already fighting a different Dragon. Battling them requires tactics and caution, and may very well frustrate unprepared challengers. Fortunately, some of the dragons can be avoided, depending on whether they chase you around when you get close to them. Those familiar with Etrian Odyssey would no doubt draw a connection between them and F.O.E.s[1], and understandably so. Except, the major difference here is that Dragons can also attack twice in a row consecutively each turn. Imperial Dragons are, of course, no exceptions to these rules, aside from being much more dangerous.

     Defeated Dragons yield a special type of “currency” called “Dz”, a material collected from their corpses. Its sole use is to repair the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which serves as the headquarters and the hub area after it was retaken from the first Imperial Dragon. Essentially, you “buy and add” new floors to the building, which unlocks various facilities – such as new products for shops or new skills for all character classes. There is a total of 200 Dragons in Tokyo, including the Imperial Dragons; as they don’t respawn, total available Dz is limited. But there is no need to worry, as the maximum possible Dz is just the right amount to unlock every floor, and if you don’t have enough Dz, there are optional floors that you could skip out on for the time being.

     Establishment of a safe headquarters lead to many secondary (and optional) agendas. Firstly, the government starts issuing rescue operations for survivors in the city, whom you can come across as you progress through areas. Traditional sidequests are also available by talking to Cheron, a peppy NGO worker with a heavy lean on English words. While entirely optional, they tend to yield good rewards; some of them can also be beneficial in the long run, as there are a few survivors and Dragons that can only be accessed through quests.

     One such survivor is a unique NPC: Hatsune Miku 2020, a futuristic rendition of the popular Vocaloid, as well as the “vocalist” for the opening song. She is quite a princess, as you also need to build an entire floor in the TokyoMet all for her and her alone. Your reward after going through all this is a new sound option: Diva Mode. It completely remixes the game’s entire soundtrack with Miku’s vocals. Diva tracks are not merely original tracks overlaid with Miku’s voice, but completely different ones, so they offer an interesting alternative.

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     7th Dragon 2020 is an interesting game in the sense that it is a refinement of its predecessors, which are refinements of RPGs of the old days themselves. Perhaps because of this, it’s quite convenient to understand and play; in particular, it’s quite obviously intended to reach out to newer audiences. The difficulty is not daunting yet still challenging enough; it’s visually tidy and colorful; music tracks are pleasant and fit each of their designated atmospheres; there is a prominent storyline; and the game rules allow a lot of leniency for error and room for experimenting. I would suggest those interested in traditional RPGs, as well as (but not just) fans of dungeon-crawlers, to give this game a whirl, as this is certainly the most streamlined and accessible rendition of the Etrian Odyssey formula to date.

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- The game offers “Standard” and “Casual” difficulty modes. Casual is, of course, easier; although the difference in difficulty might not be very obvious in early chapters.

- There is also a Retry option if you lose, which lets you restart from the beginning of that battle. There’s no penalty for it either.

- If you want a noticeably easier time through the game, be sure to have a Hacker in your party. For what they lack in combat ability and direct healing, they’ll make up for it manyfold by raising your entire party’s survival rate.

- Once you’ve unlocked Diva Mode, it’s universally available for any save file and doesn’t need to be unlocked again for separate plays (since the unlock is recorded in the system file.)

- The game features a different artist, Miwa Shirō, instead of the previous one, Mota.

- Story scenario is done by Morihashi Bingo, a novelist and writer who has done, among other things, scenarios for Devil May Cry 3 and 4.

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[1] F.O.E. is a category of enemies in Etrian Odyssey. Like Dragons, they’re very strong minibosses wandering around in areas. The acronym could mean “Formido Oppognatura Exsequens”, “Field On Enemy”, or “Freakishly Overpowered Enemy”, depending on who you ask.