Review by Phange
"At worst, Blue Dragon seems to suffer from a developer version of "Senioritis""
Prior to release, Blue Dragon had been touted as the harbinger of traditional JRPGs; nearly the entire Chrono Trigger team, including Akira Toriyama's artwork, came back to make it. The veritable "dream team" of Final Fantasy creator Sakaguchi, Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, and Dragon Ball artist Toriyama seemed like a match made in heaven. However, much like the "USA Dream Teams" in basketball, the overall performance of this team turned out to be less than expected. It's not that Blue Dragon is a bad game, because it isn't. Blue Dragon does a number of things very well, as I'll point out later, but there's no spark of ingenuity or heart in Blue Dragon. Whereas games like Chrono Trigger, Baten Kaitos, Eternal Sonata, etc all carry that special "something" that makes them unique and wonderful, Blue Dragon is content in simply following all of the traditional RPG conventions, and doing none of them with particularly impressive effect. It's also notable that Blue Dragon has some significant performance issues on the Xbox 360, which is surprising since the game doesn't exactly push the system to its limits.
Akira Toriyama's character designs range from "not another DBZ character" to "wow, that's awful clever". Interestingly, I found the enemy designs to be infinitely more ingenious and hilarious than the actual characters. Shu might as well be Young Goku (in more ways than one, which I'll hit on later), Jiro looks oddly similar to the main character from Dragon Quest VIII (who, unsurprisingly, was also designed by Toriyama) and Kluke, aside from having an immensely peculiar name, looks like your typical RPG stand-in girl. They're all rendered wonderfully in 3D, with no shortage of polygons to make them as round as possible. Facial expressions are well-done, too. Eye movements in particular are very impressive.
The game's locales always look at least good, but there's rarely a moment where you'll find yourself dumbstruck with the artistic design of an area. This is due, in part, to how generic every area is. A desert is the same desert you've seen since the PSOne days. A "mechanical factory" is the same one you've seen since Phantasy Star made them popular in the early '90s. They're all well-rendered and feature some impressive mapping if you look closely, but for the most part they're dull and unexciting.
Of course, the most disappointing aspect of this game's graphics is the general performance of those graphics. If you were expecting 60fps, then you're in for a surprise. Not only does the game run around 30fps, it's very unstable. The framerate often drops into the teens during battle and when rotating the camera in cities. Sometimes it's so bad that it becomes distracting or even headache-inducing to watch. There's simply no excuse for any game to perform like this on a console like the Xbox 360.
Nobuo Uematsu, on the other hand, has seriously outdone himself. Blue Dragon features one of his finest soundtracks yet. Blue Dragon features plenty of orchestrated tracks, and all of them are stellar. There's no much more that can be said, other than the fact that it's one of the finest videogame soundtracks in recent memory.
The voicework is solid, except for a few (Marumaro and Shu borderline annoying).
It's about as conventional as a JRPG gets, which is both its strongest asset (it breaks none of those conventions) and its biggest weakness (it goes nowhere with them). Back is the oft-loved "job" system made popular by Final Fantasy V. These "shadow" forms are great, because they allow you to customize your characters as you see fit. However, because every character can learn every job, your characters will start to become all the same towards the end of the game (a problem shared with Final Fantasy X's sphere grid system). Since the characters aren't exactly dynamic in the story, they're made even less so by how they fight.
The game's also quite long, but the storyline is often disjointed and throws too many (quite long) tangential things to do. The main quest almost seems more like a trip to the store than a full adventure when you realize 90% of the time you're finding X for Y people because you're just that nice.
Blue Dragon's a good, but very conventional, JRPG. There's not a lot to dislike about the game, but it's not memorable and the storyline is practically non-existent. If you enjoyed games like Dragon Quest VIII, this game is for you. A word of warning, though; this game is only for fans of JRPG's, and those who aren't fans will likely find it to be exceedingly boring and uneventful (and for good reason). For fans, it's up to your discretion. It's possible that the Xbox 360 will get some nice JRPGs in the future, but so far it's slim pickings between Blue Dragon and its future cousin, Eternal Sonata. Overall, it's not a bad choice. But you won't remember it once you're done.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 09/07/07
Game Release: Blue Dragon (US, 08/28/07)
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