Review by Unbridled9

"From such great promise, disappointment."

With the dawn of the Wii/360/PS3 era of gaming there were no strong contenders for an amazing JRPG in line, and then famed artist Akira Toriyama and Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, announced Blue Dragon and it looked marvelous. Between the wonderful designs created by Toriyama and the amazingly solid and strong mechanics by Sakaguchi it looked like it would be a sure-fire win… only to then strike out simply because it got lazy in the single most important area. An area that denied an otherwise-wonderous game from being an amazing, timeless, classic and instead shoved it into the bin of ‘unremarkable JRPG's'. Reviewing this game is difficult because, by any objective measure, this SHOULD be a wonderful game. It has all the required elements to transcend the medium and become an icon, yet it seems to have fallen short simply because it ended up becoming lazy in the worst of ways.

But let's handle this properly. Blue Dragon is an RPG cut from the same cloth as Final Fantasy and Blue Dragon. It follows the tale of a young boy named Shu and his quest to defeat the evil Nene, an ancient wizard who terrorizes the world as he sees his ability to wield magic while the rest of the world is incapable of such a thing as bringing him a cut above the rest. Accompanying Shu is Jiro, a soft-spoken and normally calm boy who is Shu's best friend, Kluke, the daughter of the village healer whose parents were killed by Nene, Marumaro, a member of a race of beings called the ‘Devee' who wants to stop Nene after Nene poisoned his village, and Zola, a mysterious swordswoman who wishes to stop Nene as he threatens the man she loves.

The world of Blue Dragon is very bright, vibrant, and downright amazing. Between the wonderful designs provided by Toriyama and the simply beautiful world designs cause simply watching this game to be a treat in of itself. Almost nothing here will seem stale even if we have seen things like giant rats before simply due to how beautifully designed everything is. To make it better each creature has it's own unique personality and will act and react in different manners and ways. Weak monsters might flee at the mere sight of you while ballistic fish charge-in haphazardly trying to hurt you and moles dig their way up and out of the ground for surprise attacks from behind.

Too make it even better, almost nothing about the world seems stale and, often, is outright amazing. From exploring abandoned and long-destroyed hospitals teeming with ghosts, a village trapped inside of a magical barrier that prevents people from leaving, and literal cubes hovering in the air with puzzles involving moving along both walls and ceilings, you will simply almost never run into something that seems like a generic rehash of another level you saw elsewhere and, even in the event you do, it will be clear that each level teems with its own unique life and manner.

What could make this even BETTER? Well, the distinct personalities for the creatures I mentioned before carry over into battle. It is entirely possible to engage multiple creatures in an area and various creatures will interact in different manners. Engaging a group can start what is known as a ‘monster fight' in which the enemies can turn on each other instead of fighting the party directly. From things as simple as simply having stronger enemies gobble up the weak to some enemies killing others to steal their armor to bolster their own defense, the level of detail and interaction is simply amazing and makes the world presented by this game simply stand out.

Too make it even BETTER there are, literally, items hiding under every rock, tree, and everything else. These can range from simple things like token amounts of gold to outright increasing the stats of a character meaning that people who opt to explore instead of just charging through the story will be rewarded amazingly. Even finding nothing is its own reward as special items will be awarded by NPC's for how many times you've found ‘nothing'.

But what about the gameplay itself? That too is an amazing hit. In the game each character is capable of taking on a specific class, such as sword-master, white mage, guardian, and the like. These classes level up in addition to the characters level. Each level brings an increase in stats and, additionally, the potential to unlock an ability for all classes to use. Want to have a guardian, a defensive class, that can cast Black Magic? All you need to do is level up your Black Mage enough to gain the skill! You can mix and match learned skills at will too, no restrictions beyond the number of skill-slots!

To make it even BETTER the combat itself is wonderful! Functioning in a manner similar to Final Fantasy X, with each character taking turns in a que and having the ability to see and alter said que to plan out moves, the game further improves on this with the ‘charge' mechanic. Magic attacks and certain melee abilities will allow a character to charge their attack, potentially making it stronger, affect more people, reducing its cost, and the like and charging an attack or spell to go off at the exact right moment is a HUGE part of battling properly. Setting off a heal-all spell for a large amount right after an enemies damaging attack, for example.

To make it even better abilities have certain effects on certain enemies beyond simple status multipliers. Hypothetically, an enemy might be weak to light-magic, but casting a water-elemental spell on them might extinguish their fire making them weaker and less-damaging than before making the choice between the two key.

So, from all that, this sounds like it would be an amazing game, right? Strong game mechanics, beautiful visuals, a varied and unique world? And then… then its story comes into play.

Too be fair, Blue Dragon's story is NOT a bad story. In all my years of gaming I have seen far worse stories from far ‘better' games and games that have become truly timeless classics. Indeed, objectively this isn't even an average story. With all the twists and turns it should be above-average. Unfortunately that's where the problem appears.

The story presented by Blue Dragon is almost entirely based upon emotion. Things happen not because of logic, but because that is what your emotions want to happen. For example, Nene's reason for terrorizing Shu's village at the start of the game? He wanted to hear their screams. While this paints Nene as an irredeemable villain to be despised from the get-go, as the game progresses and Nene tries to take over the world one will begin to wonder why he HASN'T done so already. The only people capable of standing against him are the main party and only one nation even has a viable military. This would be excusable in another game where an explanation is given or there being some being capable of challenging the antagonist keeps him from growing too powerful initially, but here it is simply not explained and only implied that it's due to his seeking a cure for his aging body.

Additionally, the characters are simply too… stock. The descriptions I gave earlier were not just general overviews of the characters, but almost entirely everything there is to who they are. By adding in ‘Shu and Jiro are competing for Kluke's affection but she either doesn't notice or is stringing both along for presents, Shu refuses to give up even when the odds are hopeless, and Marumaro's voice is shrill enough to make nails on a chalkboard sound like a lullaby' I have described basically everything about the characters that matters. War is bad, thinking you're better than others just because you have magic is bad, and you will deal with more poo in this game than in any other RPG you will have ever played. I have just summarized the entire plot now, as well.

This is the games biggest down falling and the reason I cannot recommend it a higher score. Despite its solid mechanics, despite its amazing world, it simply lacks any real substance. To make it even worse, if it had focused more on story or character-development, even if by simply shoving it into small skits ala Tales of Symphonia, this game could have been SO much better. Especially with its immense emphasis on exploration and detail, adding in small things to provide backstory and interactions for the characters to show why they are the way they are instead of simply pushing us through the plot would have turned this into a timeless classic.

Overall: It's hard to recommend Blue Dragon or tell you to avoid it. It really only has one flaw, but that one flaw is also a deal-maker/breaker. Just based on the game mechanics and visuals alone it will likely leave a strong impression on whoever plays it though if that imprint is of its potential at how great the game is in spite of its story, or disappointment at the lack of solid effort on the part of its story to make it truly legendary is hard to say.

What I will say is that, if someone can overlook the weak story, this is simply an outright memorable game well worth playing. Had its story come together, this would be in the same league as the legendary Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games.

My suggestion: Buy unless you can't stomach JRPG's (at which point, why are you even reading this review?) or feel you can't stand a paper-thin story. If you can excuse the story it really is a great game well worth playing. If you can't, ignore it entirely and you won't miss much.

Suggested Price: $25.00-$30.00

The sheer amount of content and enjoyable world will make the price worth-while, though I cannot give it a true ‘must-buy' price due to its poor story.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/13/13

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

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