Review by Crack Addict

"Here is my review of Final Fan- I mean, Blue Dragon"

Ah, Blue Dragon. Despite the fact that it is a new IP from a brand new company, one can say that Blue Dragon was arguably born with a golden spoon in its mouth. Is it any surprise considering the big names backing it?

The game was developed by Hironobu Sakaguchi with art by Akira Toriyama and music by Nobuo Uematsu. In the RPG world, these people are giants. As if that wasn't enough, the game was backed by Microsoft Game Studios debatably making Blue Dragon one of the 360's premier RPGs.

Despite the star power behind the game, however, I feel that while Blue Dragon is a great game, it also fails in many areas, but this is perhaps simplifying the problem. At times, my feelings for Blue Dragon seems almost schizophrenic as some parts of the game are done very well, yet very poorly at the same time.

Elaboration following this short break.

I can not give up! I will not give up! No matter how much my spirit is broken, no matter how badly I'm losing, I won't admit defeat! That is my nature! To never, uh, what was I going to say? Oh yeah- I will never give up!

Blue Dragon is the story of three kids: Shu, Jiro, and Kluke. They all live in the village of Talta, which is ravaged annually by a creature they call the ‘Land Shark' that appears whenever violet clouds form in the sky. As the game opens, the village is again being attacked, but the young kids decided they've had enough, and directly confronts the Land Shark.

Using a diversion, the three manages to capture the Land Shark in a net only to be dragged away along with their trap. All of them ended up falling into an area where they discover that the Land Shark is actually a machine. Without warning, it comes to life, and begins to fly away, but Shu, Jiro, and Kluke grabs onto it.

The Land Shark flies into a base and the three kids meet the source of all their troubles: An evil man named Nene, who says he is the source of the destruction because he loves suffering. They battle him only to be easily defeated and thrown out of the base, but is magically saved by a strong wind. Landing back in the base, they discover spheres of light with a voice beckoning them to swallow it.

Having little choice, they do so, and their shadows come to life giving them the ability to use magic. With this new source of power at their disposal, they made the decision to take down Nene, and end his tyranny over the world.



At first glance, Blue Dragon's story seems extremely generic. Unfortunately, the feeling remains the same at second and third glance too. Blue Dragon's story is, in fact, very generic.

One could say that Blue Dragon's story is an amalgamation of the familiar stories of various RPGs. Viewing the story from an above angle, one could easily see that the game contains multiple story elements that is typically utilized only one or two at a time. The game contains story elements of a war between magic and machines, an ‘ancient race' of beings with special capabilities, and the game even utilize the concept of alternative worlds.

It has a very Final Fantasy-ish feel. Of course, this is probably because the guy that worked on Blue Dragon is famous for working on Final Fantasy.

Nonetheless, while the story is familiar, this doesn't mean that it isn't enjoyable. In fact, Blue Dragon at times displays very good presentation in its story. Scenes in the game are very well done and can be very cinematic. It's obvious that the game was trying for this effect as one could guess since many of the scenes have soft lyrical music in the background reminiscent of a romantic movie.

The game is also very, very big on character development. There are many scenes in this game, which is solely meant for interaction between the characters and to help players learn more about who they're looking at. Almost all RPGs have character development, but Blue Dragon does it in a very, well, Hollywood way.

Think of a movie you watched recently. When the movie wanted to develop characters, what does it do? It has one of the characters in the movie speak to another character in order for viewers to learn more.

This seems like common sense, but video games don't typically do it this way. It seems as if video games often have character development on an action-basis. You want to learn more about a character's past? A villain will reveal it as you are trading blows with him. You want to learn what secret was hidden from you? Your father will tell you it with his last breath as he is dying on the floor.

Blue Dragon takes a different approach (albeit not throughout the entire story). As you play the game, you will see many, many scenes which will have nothing more than dialogue. The characters will speak to each other, voice their opinions, and make their feelings known….and there won't be a sudden explosion happening right afterwards.

One may not necessarily notice it at first as such a thing is not completely unknown, but as the game progresses and one see more and more similar scenes, it does make itself notable.

So then, considering the game's emphasis on cinematic FMVs and character development, does the game achieve an immersive and emotion experience? Well, unfortunately, I would have to answer ‘no'. Almost all of the scenes are done beautiful, but unfortunately, many of them are also ruined by little things.

OKAY, GUYS! I WILL NOW EXPLAIN A PART OF THE GAME WHICH MAY BE IMPORTANT TO SOME OF YOU! HOPEFULLY, THE INFORMATION I SAY WILL HELP YOU IN THE DECISION TO MAKE A PURCHASE OR NOT!

Those ‘little things' I mentioned above? They're the characters.

In a game that has a story with heavy emphasis on character development, would it be consider irony if the weak piston in the story happens to be the characters themselves? Or perhaps I'm looking at it from the wrong point of view. Perhaps the characters are really as bad as characters from many other RPGs, but it's just so much more noticeable here because the game chose to focus more on the characters.

Enough of this vague description, though, let me introduce the cast of the game.

1) Shu – This is the primary protagonist. He is the de facto leader of the group, if for no other reason than his constant cries of “I will never give up!” to encourage the group to trudge on. Aside from that, his shadow, the dragon, is the titular character of Blue Dragon.
2) Jiro – Jiro is the Spock to Shu's Captain Kirk. The Piccolo to Shu's Goku. The Sasuke to Shu's Naruto. To make it short, he is the logical, calm, and cool member of the group. His shadow is the minotaur.
3) Kluke – I guess she would be the mandatory love interest of the game. Her personality is sort of an in-between of Shu's and Jiro's. She's largely calm and collected, but at times can be emotional too. Frankly, I prefer Zola. Her shadow is the phoenix.
4) Zola – It's kind of funny that I described Jiro as I did above, but that's only because Jiro is more prominent in the game. Truth is that Zola is much more logical and collected than Jiro is. She is one of two outsiders in the group (i.e. not from Talta Village) and, surprisingly enough, is probably the best character in the game. Her shadow is the killer bat.
5) Marumaro – This is the second outsider of the group. His name is Marumaro, but some knows him as ‘Satan'. He is extremely loud and prone to random bouts of dancing, but this is a result of him being from the Devee tribe, which is apparently known for such things. His shadow is the saber-tooth tiger.

Colorful group, right? Lets get to the point, though: What is my problem with the characters?

Well, the first thing I noticed in the game is that they are extremely cliché. For example, Shu is the epitome of the anime-style courageous boy. He's thin as a stick, has a tendency to shout out his opinions and feelings, and his favorite motto seems to be ‘I will never give up'.

Paradoxically, despite me thinking of Shu as cliché, he's probably the most normal character in the game. Jiro and Kluke epitomize the calm and collected heroes, which, in retrospect, seem like strange personalities for them to have considering they're both teenagers. Then again, who am I to say? Until I read the manual, I had thought they were all 13-14 years old.

Moving on, aside from the cliché personalities, perhaps what makes them not a very good cast to begin with is their general lack of depth. Does it make sense for me to say this considering I seem to describe their personalities pretty well above? Characters can't lack depth if you would know how they react in a situation, right?

Well, let me put it this way: Who do you know fit a personality type completely and utterly? If you meet a guy who happens to be brilliant and knowledgeable in botany, is it reasonable to expect him to be equally intelligent in nuclear physics?

This brings me to the point I'm making about lack of depth. It seems to me that the characters lack depth simply because they fit their stereotypes too well. We don't see any deviant in any of the numerous character development scenes. If you can guess their reaction in one scene, you can probably guess it in all of the others.

Is it a bit unreasonable to desire Shu to say ‘guys, I'm a bit afraid' instead of shouting ‘I will never give up' over and over again? I hope so.

Lastly, I've been putting this off, but now is the time to express my emotions: Marumaro is the goddamn devil. He is the Devee tornado; ruining and trashing scenes whenever he appears. A scene could be emotional with nice Uematsu-composed music playing in the background and he would ruin it as soon as he gets a word in edge-wise.

Sometimes, he doesn't even need words. He may just stand in one spot and dance back and forth out of the blue distracting players immediately.

How do you know if you will like or dislike him? I've developed a very simple formula in order for one to decide the answer. All you have to do is answer this question: Did you like reading the all-caps headline to this section of the review?

The answer to the above question is the same answer to whether you will like Marumaro or not.

Okay now, one of these games you're playing is a Super Nintendo game and the other is an Xbox 360 game. I'll give you two guesses as to which is which.

Graphics is most definitely one of the things Blue Dragon can consider its strong point. It is a good looking game. The character models are drawn as if they're polygonal anime characters as opposed to the realistic models one might find in RPGs like Final Fantasy XII or even later Mistwalker game Lost Odyssey.

However, despite the style of the graphics, it definitely does not detract from the graphics of the game. Models in the game are detailed and look very good, animation is fluid, and, as is the case with many modern games, the water looks great.

Furthermore, the game utilizes an effect that I don't see very often (at least not in RPGs); distance blurring. When you are far away from an object (or when the camera pans very closely), it will appear blurry. As you walk closer and closer, the blurriness will steadily disappear. This is a cheap little technique, but it does wonders to impress.

Now while the graphics in the game itself is good, there is little doubt that the most graphically impressive part of the game is the FMVs. This seems obvious, but the FMVs in this game are just much better than the usual. Aside from the increased realism, what contributes greatly to how nice it looks is the cinematic feel. Watching one of the game's FMVs, you feel as though you are watching a movie.

In fact, some FMVs in this game seem to take inspiration from some particularly popular movies too.

Unfortunately, as we all know, the rest of the game won't look nearly as good as the FMVs, but considering the type of game Blue Dragon is, I am more than willing to consider FMVs to be a big contributor to the graphical feel of the game.

C'mon, c'mon, get within range of my invisible, belligerent aura! Ah ha! Caught you!

The battle system in Blue Dragon is the traditional turn-based. Enemies are completely viewable on screen (all with their own distinctive appearance) and players are able to choose to initiate a battle or not by touching the enemy.

Blue Dragon does all of this extremely well from my perspective. First off, just initiating a battle takes some thought as there are four ways it can be done. The first and simplest way is to simply walk into a monster. The second way is to ‘dash' into it using the Dash button. According to the manual, this gives you an advantage in battle, which presumably means your turn will come up faster. I can't seem to tell if that's true, but if you use the dash from behind the monster, it'll allow you to attack first and deal more damage.

The third way is to let the monster dash into you. This is generally not recommended as the above rules apply to monsters too. You do not want to let them hit you from behind.

The fourth way and, surprisingly, one of the highlight of the battle system is using the ‘encounter circle'. What is that? Well, while you are outside of battle, pressing the right trigger will bring up a huge circle, and a list on the right side of the screen. The list will display the names of any monster that falls within the encounter circle and the list will also allows you to set techniques that can be used outside of battle.

Anyway, as the name implies, the encounter circle is used to initiate encounters within the circle. When you press the right trigger, any monster that falls into the circle will be brought into the battle…assuming you want it. The game lets you choose to fight any monster you wish, all of them at once, or none at all.

Of course, the highlight here is that there's some fun in attempting to capture as many monsters in the circle as you can. My record happens to be seven at once. Even if this gets boring after a while (and it does), there is a real gameplay benefit to the encounter circle. The benefit is less loading time.

When you use the encounter circle, you will fight one set of monsters at a time (e.g. if you caught two monsters with your encounter circle, you have to defeat one before moving on the next set), but once one set is dead, the next set jumps in right away, so you don't have to go back to the field. Furthermore, another benefit to using the encounter circle is that if you caught more than one monster in the circle, defeating each set (save for the last) will give you a boost.

A ‘boost' is basically a benefit that you can get after you defeat each set of monsters in an encounter circle. When you defeat a set, a list of boosts pops up prior to fighting the next set of monsters, and a highlighter will race through each item until it stops automatically (or you can stop it yourself). Depending on what it stops on, a boost can do things such as replenish your HP/MP, increase ATK, increase DEF, heal status, or etc. The list of boosts you can get increases after each set of battles. The more monsters you have in the encounter circle, the larger the boost list can become.

As I described above, the encounter circle is extremely useful for numerous reasons, and it is something that you will inevitably use in the game to a great extent.

I will now charge my technique in order to perform a more powerful version of…cure poison!

Lets talk about the actual battle itself. Blue Dragon continues its traditional element here rock solidly. The commands within the battle screen are self-explanatory and should be familiar to anyone who has played an RPG before: Attack, Defend, Item, Formation, and Flee.

(Note: Admittedly, ‘formation' is a bit more cryptic, but it is simply a command which switches party members between the back and front increasing/decreasing damage/defense depending on which you choose.)

At the top of the battle screen, one can find the turn meter, which tells you who can make a move next. All turn-based RPGs have a system which determines whose turn is up and some games include a meter which tells players whose turn is up too, but frankly, I'm surprised at just how useful the meter is in Blue Dragon.

Whenever I play an RPG, I typically use whichever commands I want without regards as to how long it would take to perform or when that particular character's next turn might come up next -- usually because it isn't worth thinking about. This is different in Blue Dragon for one main reason: The game actually shows you how long before a character perform a command.

See, whenever you choose a command that takes some time to perform, a ‘charge meter' appears with each character (party members and opposition) situated somewhere along the meter. The game will ask you to hold ‘A' to start charging and depending on where you stop is when you will perform the technique.

Say, for example, you decide to cast a fire spell, and the charge meter comes up with Shu in the middle of the meter and the monster at ¾ of the meter. If you start charging and you stop in-between Shu and the monster, then, well, you will perform the spell right after Shu's turn. Simple, no?

There are two exceptions to this. If players decide they don't want to wait, instead of charging, they may simply press ‘A', and the technique will be perform immediately. Alternatively, the second exception is if players hit the ‘sweet spot' (this is the term the game actually uses), which is an orange/red area in the charge meter that allows you to not only perform a more powerful technique, but the time it takes to perform it is actually decreased (though you will not perform it immediately in most cases).

Mind you, the sweet spot is not always in the same place, and the speed at which the charge meter charges is not always the same. Sometimes, it is slow while it is fast at other times. The worst charging is when it actually switches between slow/fast and/or goes into reverse before it finishes charging.

So as one can see, the way Blue Dragon manages players' turn is much more transparent to players, and makes it, from my perspective, much more strategic. After all, in battles that are tough, you can now create better battle strategies by determining which techniques is more important to use at what point in time.

At the very least, I know that the way I battle in Blue Dragon is drastically different from how I battle in, say, Final Fantasy X. I liked FFX's battle system, but what Blue Dragon did is definitely a good thing.

I will now change my class to that of the Swordmaster! Now my character, who can't use swords, will become all-powerful!

Moving on, I have spoken extensively about the battle system, but I avoided talking about the elephant in the room: The fact that you battle in the game not using weapons, but your shadows.

Mind you, you still need to upgrade armor/accessories, but weapons are not necessary in this game as you battle exclusively using your shadows. This is not really all that different from what gamers are used to as instead of hitting your enemies with a sword, your shadow will move forward, and smack them with its paws/claws/etc.

Using the shadows to battle instead of weapons is not all that notable to the game. Instead, their bigger importance lies in the fact that they facilitate a class system. Your shadow is the object that allows you to perform attacks/magic, so going into the menu and changing the shadow's class effectively changes your own class.

There are nine classes in the game: Swordmaster, Black Magic, White Magic, Support Magic, Barrier Magic, Guardian, Monk, Assassin, and Generalist.

Each class in the game has their own list of techniques and each class affects your stats differently. Most of these are self-explanatory (at least to those who played RPGs previously) as we all know that Black Magic is offense-based, White Magic is healing-based, Support Magic is boost-based, and Barrier Magic is defense-based. However, the rest might be a bit less so.

For example, in prior RPGs that have a class system, a Swordmaster class is typically one that increases physical stats and make your character more deadly with a sword. However, there are no weapons in Blue Dragon, so how does this work? Well, basically, it makes you better at defeating multiple enemies as the skills associated with the Swordmaster class tends to be ones that are designed for killing multiple enemies (skill ‘Mow Down' which lets you attack multiple enemies at once), keeping multiple enemies from ganging up on you too easily (skill ‘Absorb HP' lets you heal with each hit), or killing enemies as quickly as possible (skill ‘Magic Sword' lets you hit elemental weakness with an element-based attack).

The Guardian class, as one might extrapolate from the name, is a class based on defense. The Monk class is the second class based on attack. Unlike the Swordmaster class which is focused on killing a large group of enemies, the Monk class is focused on letting you kill a powerful single foe.

Here's where it gets a bit more confusing: The Assassin class is an attack/speed-based class. Its primary focus tends to be a mix of several classes (including some which aren't in the game) as the class allows you to steal, avoid battles more easily, kill enemies more quickly, and allows you to use better physical attacks too.

The last class, Generalist, is a class designed to make the class system more useful. See, similarly to a few other RPGs, Blue Dragon allows you to ‘level up' (their level is called ‘rank' in the game) your shadows' classes by gaining SP (Shadow Points) in battles. Once your shadows gain a skill in a particular class, it may continue using that skill even after switching classes simply by equipping the skill in the skill menu.

How does the Generalist class affect this? Well, by increasing the rank of the Generalist class, you gain a skill call ‘Skill Slot +', which, as the name suggests, allows you to equip more skills. At the outset, you are only allowed to equip four skills (and once of those slots is taken by a mandatory skill that each class has), so being able to equip more is definitely useful.

Ah, there we go. Well explained, I think.

Goldilocks: This one is just right! …and so is this one! This one too! All of these are just right!

A class system is almost always a good thing as it typically improves gameplay in multiple ways (length, depth, strategy, etc). Blue Dragon definitely utilizes this system to a good effect, but unfortunately, I think Mistwalker did not balance the classes well.

A good class system, in my opinion, is one in which the developers give gamers a significant reason to use any particular class over another class depending on the situation they're encountering. Mistwalker did not do this in Blue Dragon well as there are really only two types of classes which are truly useful: Monk and Black/White Magic.

Of course, you're probably raising an eyebrow as that is three whole classes, but I say all of them because once you reach a certain point in the game, they're all really interchangeable. Once you reach a certain point (i.e. the point where you gained all the skills you wanted), the only classes you would want to keep your characters in are the classes with the highest attack stat (i.e. Monk) or the classes with the highest magic attack/defense stat (i.e. Black Magic or White Magic).

Basically, you'll put your fighters in the former class and your magic users in one of the latter classes. The other classes will be completely useless and the difference between the Magic classes is pretty negligible.

This is a poor oversight from my perspective.

Lets stop for a moment as I try to demonstrate the underwhelming class balance in Blue Dragon. To start: What would you say if I tell you that the class you'll level up the highest (at least at first) is the Barrier class?

You may react in one of several ways. You may scoff that you rather level up the Swordmaster/Monk class in order to defeat enemies quickly and increase your defense as opposed to wasting time casting defense spells. Some of you may be horrified that the game is insanely difficult and leveling up a defense class is necessary to progress. Some of you may simply say I'm on crack.

None of the above is true; you will simply level the Barrier class up first and much higher than the other classes simply because of efficiency. See, the Barrier class has an extremely useful skill called ‘Field Barrier', which is a skill that lets you defeat weaker enemies (for a certain amount of MP) for SP only without getting into a battle.

Immediately, one should see why it makes perfect sense to level up the Barrier class first. However, I also mention that you'll level up the Barrier class much higher than the other classes. When I say ‘much higher', I really mean much, much higher. Your Barrier class will probably be 20-30 ranks higher than your other classes for a good portion of the game.

The reason for this as you might expect is because Mistwalker recognized how popular the ‘Field Barrier' skill will be and created different versions of it. Field Barrier is gained at Rank 6, Field Barrier 2 is acquired at Rank 21, and Field Barrier 3? It is the highest skill in the Barrier class and it is gained at Rank 50.

All other classes get their highest skill typically in the 30s Rank, so why does the Barrier class require you to go up to 50? Simply because Mistwalker knows every Blue Dragon player will want Field Barrier 3.

See, the issue with the Field Barrier skill is that it requires a certain amount of MP in order to defeat an on-screen enemy. Field Barrier requires 30MP for each enemy killed. This may not sound like a lot since characters can have a ton of MP, but do the math.

Assuming you kill one enemy with Field Barrier every ten seconds, this means that you'll use 180MP every minute, and 1,800MP every ten minutes. At a point in the game where your character only has Field Barrier, you'll probably have only 150-250MP, so you'll lose almost all of your MP in less than one minute.

Of course, you might say simply replenish MP with items, and keep going. This brings me to another point: The most economical MP item to buy is the Ultra Magical Medicine which retails for 800G, so it'll cost you 79,200G to buy enough of them to replenish 9,900MP….all of which will be gone within one hour.

By the way, that estimate of one enemy every ten second is a conservative estimate.

Getting back to my point, this brings me as to why players will inevitably want to increase rank to get Field Barrier 2 and, ultimately, Field Barrier 3. Field Barrier 2 is beneficial because it lowers the MP requirement to only 10MP per enemy and it increases the amount of SP gained. Field Barrier 3's sole benefit is lowering the MP requirement to only 1MP.

And it is a damn big benefit, indeed. One which will convince a great deal of players to go for the gold and try to get Field Barrier 3 in order to make leveling up the other classes much, much easier.

Okay, so lets get to the bottom of all of this: How does this demonstrate my claim of Blue Dragon not balancing classes very well? Well, perhaps it's just me, but when the game encourages players to overlevel two primary classes to the max (which is an incredible 99 in this game), keep the other classes at level 20-30ish, and overlevel another class solely for a single skill…

I just think there's a bit of an issue with the balance.

You know, walking from town to town would be so much easier if I didn't have to view things from the eyes of a passing bird.

Blue Dragon utilizes a traditional world map for its navigation. This basically means that travelling from town to town will basically consist of you walking on an undetailed world map until you approach a village which you are bigger than from a map view.

Now, this is the traditional system frequently used by RPGs in the 8-bi/16-bit/32-bit era, and it gradually got less frequent as you move up in years (for whatever reason developers choose). Still, it is a system familiar to many gamers, and many would know what to do when the game suddenly throws them on the world map.

Which brings me to an issue: The game can be very confusing for those who do not know what to do.

This is basically because navigation is fairly difficult. The game gives you a menu map, a mini-map, and a compass, but I have to admit: Almost all of these save for the menu map was useless to me. The mini-map was too small and undetailed to be of any real use while the compass spins like crazy (because you're constantly turning yourself) with colored points at each end confusing me as to where to go.

Finally, I ignored all of them, and used my verified RPG senses to navigate. In other words, I listen to which direction the dialogue says to go, and go there. If no direction is given, I simply follow the road, or go in the most logical path.

It hasn't failed me yet.

Nonetheless, despite any innate or learned skills I've received from playing RPGs over the years, I have to confess that there were points in the game which I found rather confusing. They were generally rare, but there were times when I wandered in confusion wondering what to do.

Occasionally, I knew what direction to head into, but was confused anyway because the direction branched off into different paths. This is an unfortunate part of the game, but it happens so infrequently (at least for me) that it really doesn't detract from the experience.

Still, Mistwalker could have alleviated any navigation issues by simply positioning the camera in a manner that lets player see ahead as opposed to positioning it in an overhead view. I can't blame them for this as this may be intentional; a throwback to the RPGs of old, which all had overhead views, one might say.

Still, I had hope that the thought of allowing the option had passed their minds. In the creation of a 360 Blue Dragon sequel, I hope that an in-game synopsis will also be something they consider. For those of us who may not play Blue Dragon consistently, getting completely lost, and not knowing what to do next is a real possibility. Many modern RPGs contain such features and I hope that Mistwalker considers it in future IPs.

Hmm, a well designed, metal chest. I wonder what treasure awaits me inside? Oh joy, it's a 100G Mega Medicine! The same thing I found in the last ten chests!

One strange thing about the gameplay mechanics of the game that, in so far as I know, does not exist in any other RPG is the incredibly extensive number of hidden items. For reasons I have yet to think of an explanation for (or at least an explanation I can accept as reasonable), Mistwalker chose to make an enormous number of things searchable for items in the game.

You can search rocks, trees, tree holes, holes in the ground, parts of machines, and so on. The sheer number of thing you can search in any particular area of the game is mind-boggling. I would estimate that there are literally close to, if not over, 2,500 objects in the game that players can search. If I exaggerate, then it's for a very good reason.

Now, almost all RPGs give players the ability to search for items in various objects. Some games choose to make the object noticeable (e.g. objects that are searchable may be of a slightly different color than other objects or more standout in some way) while others choose to make them completely normal. Some games choose to include mostly decent items to find while others choose to include a balance of great/decent/poor.

The difference between other RPGs and Blue Dragon is simply in the scope. The sheer number of things to search in the game is simply so large that Mistwalker had little choice, but to put largely poor items in most places. To further put emphasis on my point, the scope is so large that Mistwalker actually decided to put…nothing…in many of these objects.

The idea of putting random useful items in various objects through parts of the game is a mean to encourage players to explore and to reward those who are diligent. In this regard, Mistwalker really dropped the ball.

With the wide majority of objects in this game hiding largely items of little usefulness and the game containing such a large number of things to search, it makes searching a task of great tedium in the game. Instead of encouraging players to explore, it does the exact opposite. It encourages players to ignore certain parts of exploration.

And why not? When the effort required is so great and the reward is so little, why would players bother?

Okay, there must be some switch around here that allows me access to this glowing chest. I vow to not leave this place until I find it!

Now, considering the large majority of searchable objects in the game happen to be mundane things such as rocks and trees, I suppose one may consider this a non-issue. After all, it is reasonable to assume that mundane things should contain mundane rewards, correct? However, regardless of your position, I think we can all agree that Mistwalker made a big boo-boo when they extended the same issue to chests.

There is a whole Congress session surrounding chests in this game.

For a game knee-deep in traditionalist RPG gameplay, Blue Dragon seems to have fallen apart on this classic staple of the RPG: Treasure hunting. Perhaps little else epitomizes the reason why RPG veterans scour massive caves and spend half an hour trying to find a backdoor into a house than that of the chest.

In the past (and pretty much in the present too), a gamer would spend a large amount of effort in this search for chests in the hope that after stumbling upon various brown chests containing replenishers, revives, offensive items, and so on, they would find a decorated chest containing a valuable equipment. From this man's perspective, there is nothing quite like spending an hour walking through various tunnels in a massive, poison weed infested cave and beating a huge dragon to finally walk up to a golden chest, opening it, and seeing the protagonist holding up a glowing sword that the game names ‘Masumune'.

So this brings me to the issue of Blue Dragon seemingly throwing this timeless staple away in favor in lining the various chests in the game with…Mega Medicine. Regardless of whether the chest you stumble upon is brown, metal, locked, or so on, it seems as if the majority contain some item that is either not very useful or slightly above not very useful.

The few times that the chest you find happen to contain a truly valuable item, it feels more like luck than something that you would expect to find in a chest that is guarded by high level monsters.

The issue is, indeed, notable, and, unfortunately, it is much, much worse for someone like me. See, for some gamers out there, when they see that the majority of chests contain such poor rewards, they'll do something simple: Ignore them. Of course, the thought of doing the same passed through my mind several times, but I simply couldn't do it.

It's a shame I can't blame Mistwalker for this, but I have the unfortunate affliction of having uncontrollable urges to open chests. I used to have the authorities called on me for breaking into friends' houses and wandering around their house looking for the key to the chest in their attic.

It really can't be helped; after over a decade of playing RPGs that rewarded me handsomely for finding all the chests it hides, how can I just expect myself to stop opening them? It's impossible. I'm a walking example of Pavlov's experiment.

And no, all of the above is not something in my head as even the developers seems to recognize it. After all, they included a character in the game that actually gives you items based on the amount of ‘nothings' you find as you search throughout the game.

Good God.

However, let me step back a moment, and bring up a ‘but' in this whole thing. There IS one exception to all of the above. See, Blue Dragon really loves decorating chests. It explains why there are so many different types. There are brown chests, metal chests, locked chests, and, here's the big exception, glowing chests.

Glowing chests are the exception in this game as they actually do typically contain something good. They may contain spells, good accessories, or just rare items. Surprisingly enough, I rarely find myself disappointed with the stuff I find in the glowing chests.

Unfortunately, just as there was a good ‘but', there is also a bad ‘but'. See, in order to get to these wonderful, glowing chests, you need the proper device to gives you access. The glow around those chests? They're actually barriers that block access. To make it worse, there's more than one type of barrier.

The various barriers come in green, white, blue, red, and black. To open them, you need the correct corresponding device. The earliest one you can get is late in the game; the rest is damn near the end of the game.

So despite this nice exception, getting access to them comes so late that it seems, well, too late.

I'm not sure why Mistwalker chose to do all of this or why they seem to hate treasure hunters so much, but I felt that it detracted from the gameplay. Not by a great deal, mind you, but enough to be noticeable. They should have spent more time balancing the spread of items (not just in chests, but in the mundane objects too) to make gamers more willing to explore. At the very least, they should perhaps have second thoughts about making every nook and cranny searchable in the game.

Something something fear something sky above something something blind something something eternity!

When you are an RPG with names such as Hironobu Sakaguchi, Akira Toriyama, and Nobeu Uematsu backing you, players may expect a few things from you. Among these things: Great gameplay, great artwork, and great audio.

I've spoken on gameplay and graphics, but lets get to the audio work in the game now. First off, the music in the game is very well done. Much of the music is soft adventure-type lyrics, which fits very well in RPG games. I also don't want to try to typecast Uematsu here, but Blue Dragon's music has a very Final Fantasy feel to it.

Again, not trying to typecast, but some of the scores sounded like it came straight from FFVII.

A bit less common in RPGs, but this game also utilizes lyrics fairly extensively. Of course, this is a bit, how shall I say, misleading. Yes, the game utilizes music with lyrics throughout the game, but there are really only two songs with lyrics. One of these songs is heard only once; the other is played repeatedly throughout the game every time there is a boss battle.

The song is called ‘Eternity' and it is frequently complained about. You will learn to hate it too, young one.

For a game filled with fairly good music, ‘Eternity' is really a blemish simply for the fact that it is so loud and aurally abrasive. I mean, if the song was played once or at least rarely, it wouldn't be such a big issue deserving its own paragraph, but the fact is that Mistwalker chose to utilize it throughout the entire game making it an additional nuisance.

Moving aside from that, lets speak about another important part of the game: Voice Acting. The game comes in three languages: English, French, and Japanese. I chose to play the game in Japanese.

Now, the voice acting itself is pretty fair. It is not the best nor is it the worst, but I do wonder whether this lack of distinction comes from the generally bland dialogue placed throughout the game as opposed to the voice actors' skill.

I do have to complain a bit about the visual dissonance caused by the game, though. See, as I said above in the character description, I had thought the characters were very young for a good part of the game. This is mainly because they look like it in the game.

On the other hand, the characters in the game also sound older than they look. They sound like they're 17-25 years old, which they actually are, but the difference between their appearance and their voice is rather jarring from my perspective and this is something I actually noticed in the beginning of the game.

And again, as I said in the character description, the devil (aka Marumaro) is probably the worst part of the voice acting. I can't imagine the voice actor just decided to wake up one day and scream everything they say, so I would guess that the script is to blame for all of this.

My God, what were they thinking?

Anyway, lets break it all down a bit to make it more simple:
Music - Largely good with one blemish
Voice Acting – Decent with the exception of Marumaro

Despite the few flaws, it seems like Blue Dragon got a good deal to me.

Recommendation

At last, we are at the conclusion. What is my recommendation?

I would recommend Blue Dragon to any RPG lovers out there. The plot is not so great, but the highlights of the game are definitely the cinematics and the gameplay. The cinematics are wonderful to look at and the gameplay is more than good enough to keep you glued to the screen.

There is nothing necessarily unique about the gameplay. As a matter of fact, it's the same gameplay we've seen in numerous RPGs before (particularly Final Fantasy), except presented in the form of shadows. However, what's important is that the developers brought this formula together in a good way. It's all too easy to see a game that receive accolades, try to imitate its formula, and screw up spectacularly. We've seen this numerous times in the past.

Mistwalker, however, managed to take some of the best formula from great RPGs of the past, and brought it all together to create a game with very fun gameplay. It's unfortunate they couldn't do the same for the story, but we can't have everything.

Moving on, how is the length and replayability of this game? First, regarding the length; Blue Dragon comes on three discs and, as that would suggest, it is, indeed, a long game.

Of course, in the realm of RPGs, the word ‘long' has a lot of meanings. Back in the NES days, a long RPG was typically 25-35+ hours long. That steadily went up until it was 80-100+ hours long during the PS2 era. Of course, there are also those very special RPGs (Elder Scrolls, Pokemon, Disgaea, etc) that could easily run people 200-300+ hours.

In all those ranges, where does Blue Dragon fit in? Well, with full exploration, and plenty of sidequests tackled on, I was able to beat Blue Dragon in 45 hours. Mind you, if I had done all of the sidequests, and scour the game for all the chests, that would probably increase to 50 hours. So my estimation would be that Blue Dragon is one of those 40-60+ hours games for the average person.

I'm a man who likes my RPGs as long as possible, but I'm more than satisfied with that length.

Now, moving on to replayability. From my experience, very few RPGs can pull off replayability well. Ironically, the long length that I give it a high rating for is also what typically ruins replayability. It is hard to replay an 80+ hour game over and over again. Unfortunately, this is just one among multiple factors that doesn't make RPGs very replay friendly.

Other things that factor into it is the sheer amount of work you could put into a single play through (sidequests, extra items, leveling, etc) that makes the prospect of doing it all over again daunting. Another factor, and this is a big one, is the linearity that most RPGs have. Going through the game more than once tends to make you yawn as you've experienced it all before.

It's unfortunate, but Blue Dragon has almost all of these issues. Mistwalker did try to alleviate some of it, however. The cutscenes are entirely skippable (Thank God he didn't bring the Square Enix's trademark of non-skippable cutscenes with him when he left), so you don't have to sit through the story again. Furthermore, they later gave out a free DLC called ‘Ultra Hard Mod'.

As the name suggests, it (optionally) increases the difficulty of the game, but more importantly, it lets you play a more difficult game without redoing the work. See, the ‘Ultra Hard Mod' includes New Game+, a feature that lets you replay the game with all the stats/items you found in your previous playthrough.

Those two features do a lot to increase replayability and I commend Mistwalker for it.

So to get to the point, the length of the game is good and the replayability is above average. For those of you who are on the fence due to these issues, you can now rest assured. For my part, I was very happy to discover these things myself.

Despite the Xbox 360 receiving a surprising amount of JRPGs over the other consoles (including the console brand which has received the dominant amount of JRPGs for the last two gens), there is still a rather lack of them. If you are an avid JRPG lover and are craving for them, you don't have too many choices.

I'm not saying Blue Dragon was only considered because of the above situation because I myself would have played it either way, but the situation does do a lot to increase consideration for the game. At this point (four years after the 360's release), I don't think the situation is going to change, so either way you look at it, Blue Dragon should be a serious thought in any RPG lovers' head.

Regardless of which way one might view it, I give Blue Dragon a thumb's up.

Overall Score – 7/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/14/09

Game Release: Blue Dragon (US, 08/28/07)


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