Review by oneshotskye

Reviewed: 09/17/07

Classic gameplay + blue dragons = a pleasant RPG experience.

“An epic adventure in a vast and mysterious world.” The tagline for Blue Dragon could be transferred to the back cover of any one of hundreds of Japanese role-playing games, along with such other trite phrases as “devastating magic war” and “sappy romantic journey” to fully flesh out the whole cliched experience. After all, Enchanted Arms promised a similar “epic RPG adventure” and ended up giving gamers, at best, a middling fifty-hour run through a typically angst-ridden storyline. Although Blue Dragon has the legendary Chrono Trigger development team at the helm - Hironobu Sakaguchi, Akira Toriyama, and Nobuo Uematso - skepticism still arose as to exactly how epic, or unique, this quest would be once released.

If there’s one thing that could be said about Blue Dragon, it’s that the game makes you feel. And no, it’s not an openly touching saga of romantic affairs and soured friendships, and in fact there will be little connection that most gamers will make with the spunky teenaged crusaders featured in the user manual. That being the case, I still ask anyone who has honestly enjoyed an RPG in the past to at least rent this game. Yes, rent it, because you will feel an inexplicable tinge of elation when that battle music starts playing. That sensation, my friend, is nostalgia, and it will grip you at some point when you boot up Mistwalker’s first game for the 360 console.

The storyline itself is nothing original: You play an anger-proned, emotionally stunted teenager named Shu who teams up with his two friends, the logical Jiro and benevolent Kluke, once his hometown is reduced to rubble by a land shark, an annual affair that theoretically will continue to happen every time purple clouds amass overhead. Soon you discover that these clouds belong to a shallowly-developed old codger named Nene, who is evil simply for the sake of being evil; he confesses his delight in causing anguish in others before unleashing his blue dragon and soundly defeating you in battle. You discover your own set of colossal shadows mere moments later, and that’s when the core battle system is introduced.

Your shadows grant you immense amounts of power during the various turn-based encounters you run across in the game. These encounters are never random (although some enemies pop up near you on the world map), and with both a dash attack and the ability to surprise your opponents by striking them from behind, Blue Dragon grants players a little strategy when it comes to battling. Unique to the game are two additional tactics at your disposal: field spells (which grant you additional powers like automatically dispatching weak opponents) and monster fights (which pits antagonistic enemies against each other). These features, however, are overshadowed by a conventional, conditional turn-based fare which can be reduced to whacking the A button until your thumb cramps up. Most enemies are extremely easy and can be downed in one round of fighting, only to be followed by an encounter which effectively cripples your party. A perfect example of this comes during the first time you traverse the map; you can effortlessly bump off a half dozen moths only to run across a Lazy Bear that pummels your characters into the ground. Field combat, like this battle was, can usually be avoided altogether, as can a fair amount of dungeon clashes, but if you want the various rare items strewn about each location (and believe me, you will), you’re going to have to jab that A button through a few encounters.

The whole combat element plays out like a classic role-playing game, a feature which further delves into the game archives by presenting players with a number of job classes to outfit their characters with. For the most part these jobs are the standard collection packaged in any RPG: You have your white mages and you have your black mages, a monk class, and a few others which raise a character’s proficiency in the defensive arts and offensive combat. The most novel job in the game is the Generalist, which grants players additional slots for their spells and accessories when they level up. These accessories play an important part in bolstering your characters‘ stats, because equipping a new ring or a bracelet ups your character’s attack and defense much more efficiently than traditional leveling up. One of the most frustrating aspects of the game is the fact that you’ll spend hours grinding your characters and have little to show for it. Yes, you get new skills as your job rank increases, but sadly you’ll find few perks in attaining whatever new level you’re striving for save the number flashing by each character’s name. Okay, great, so I’ve reached level thirty. What do I get for it? Nothing? Thanks.

Mistwalker promised state-of-the-art graphics for Blue Dragon, and they successfully deliver one of the best-looking JRPGs on any console. Akira Toriyama’s character models shine with fluid animation and clothing that repositions itself realistically with each person’s movement. Shu’s scarf wavers in the victorious wind that blows after each battle and Kluke’s dress looks just like a dress should and not the “puffy pants” that have plagued females’ wardrobes in older titles. The style itself is an acquired taste, meaning that if you love the artwork done in Dragon Quest, or in Toriyama’s more famous work, Dragon Ball, you’ll enjoy the anime-inspired design that went into the facial detailing of each creature. Although there are nice emotive touches that shine in the game’s numerous cut scenes - the biting of Marumaro’s lip, the shifting of Kluke’s eyes - the style sometimes inhibits the mood the character is trying to convey. For example, because of the placement of Shu’s eyebrows, he always looks like he’s ready to explode in a homicidal rage. Marumaro’s puckered expression makes it look as though some debris flew into his eyes, an expression which undermines bouts of real emotion he shows early in the game.

Following the generic storyline are generic environments - a forbidden forest, a castle, and numerous ancient ruins that beg (or force) exploration. Each environment is beautifully rendered with meticulous attention to detail. Electrical wires fizz in the Ancient Hospital and dust blows into the camera at the ruins of Talta Village. Each wall is lined with crags, or barnacles, or mechanical gauges that can be searched for additional gold or experience. Constantly searching crystal formations can get old quickly and usually with little payoff; therefore, most gamers will probably abandon the practice after a few meticulously searched rooms. Menus are well laid-out and simple to navigate. The world map, however, is just plain simple, with a basic bird’s-eye overview that labels nothing save your location, bodies of water, and the various warp points you’ve activated throughout the world. Warp points themselves allow you to circumvent the annoyances that spawn from trying to figure out how to get to a desired location. It’s a good invention and does away with any irritation caused by side quest backtracking.

Another good aspect of the game is the music, composed by the infamous Nobuo Uematso. The scores themselves work to stimulate the pathos the player may feel with the characters’ struggles better than any other aspect of the game; strings swell during emotional reunions and plod along in areas that have fallen into disrepair (i.e. the Forest of the Dead) like they had in Midgar ten years ago. Because of the score, sound effects happen infrequently, and when they do, they’re rather forgettable. The generic pounding of footsteps fades beneath a piano medley and when the occasional sound does stand out, it’s generally because it is sub par; a perfect example of this substandard audio works comes in Lago Village, where a group of bats’ wings sound like a MIDI sample. You’ll know when you hear it. As for the English voice acting, well, I can safely say it’s above average, though the actors fail to capture the same level of emotion that the music expresses so perfectly. Most voices, like Jiro‘s, Zola‘s, and Kluke’s are pretty good, albeit commonplace in RPGs. Others, like Shu, with his angered and frequent growls of inspiration, can try one’s patience after awhile.

No, the game is not perfect, with a run-of-the-mill collection of role-playing elements coming together: A group of plucky minors band together to stop a relentless malevolence that afflicts the world’s welfare for no explicit reason… yadda, yadda, yadda. We’ve heard it all before, and perhaps therein lies the beauty of Blue Dragon. It might not have a high replay factor or an emotionally touching storyline, but it succeeds in a way that a technical analysis such as this fails to describe. Blue Dragon brings a nostalgic vibe to the turn-based gameplay, so that players may reminisce about the other RPGs they had beaten over the past twenty years of the genre‘s existence. We don’t always need innovation, and for the lighthearted affair that it is, Mistwalker’s Blue Dragon succeeds in providing gamers with an eighty-hour romp through their fictional world.

- Beautiful, fluid animation shows off the wide range of people and monsters in the world.
- Fantastic music harkens back to the classic collection of role-playing games.
- No random encounters.
- Plenty of cut scenes that advance the lighthearted story and provide a cinematic quality to the game.
- Standard RPG combat that is easy to master and easier to customize, with plenty of skills and jobs to choose from.
- Warp points prevent laborious backtracking

- Battling can be repetitive and enemies are on the easy side.
- Unoriginal, slow storyline can detract from the experience.
- Dialogue is okay, but not exactly memorable, and characters have personalities that are expressed through stereotypical exclamations.
- Voice acting, too, is satisfactory overall, but some characters (namely Shu and Marumaro) have voices that can grate on the player.
- World map is not detailed enough to be an effective tool for exploration.
- Frame rate can drop when moving the camera around.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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

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