Blue Dragon review
Back to basics, Square-- I mean Mistwalker!


The Introduction:
When you put into consideration how many JRPGs the 360 has, it's understood that there has to be one that will go back to basics in order to get some attention. I will be the first to say that I actually liked Enchanted Arms. I don't understand why it gets so much flak from the reviewing community. To each to their own, I suppose. I guess I just prefer to play a game that is willing to expand beyond the known tendencies and whatnot as opposed to the same thing over and over again. Not to say it had the greatest story, but the battle system rocked my socks off. Anyway, a studio by the name of Mistwalker, which consists of some former employees of Square-Enix, decided to make a game that went back to the way RPGs were during the 90s called Blue Dragon.

Now, you will all need to forgive me if I might sound like somebody who expects the reinvention of the wheel to you, but this is an experience that is overly familiar. I know that doesn't make a game bad by default, but when there are many stronger alternatives, you can't help but to wonder why you would choose Blue Dragon over, say, Lufia. I guess it's for collection purposes, or maybe you just so happen to be curious as to how it can really stand. In all essence, it's a generic JRPG. Been there, done that, and while it's a solid experience, it's not about to shake heads or rattle balls... but since I'm required to add more to this, I'll explain myself throughly.

The Story:
Blue Dragon centers around a trio of kids, Shu, Jiro and Kluke. Their home village has fallen victim to a land shark once every year for... some time, I guess. They go to investigate this, and find that it's a machine. They take it to the lair of the main antagonist, Nene. They escape and are left stranded on some remote part of the continent, so they set out to get back to their village, but they must overcome challenges that are thrown their way. Ultimately, these problems are caused by this Nene character, so their quest expands into having to stop Nene. The basic story manages to work surprisingly well. Predictable, yes, but the flow and the actual execution make for a solid storyline. It remains stagnant for a good 6 hours, but once you're on your way to stop Nene with all 5 party members (you gain two on the way), it really shifts into high gear, allowing you to tune into what's happening, and will keep you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next event. What's that dastardly Nene up to next time? How are our heroes going to stop him? Keep going, and you'll find out!

Oh, whoops, I almost forgot. While in Nene's lair, they find some orbs and eat them, which causes an animal to emerge from their shadows. This seems like an interesting concept (taken from Persona, but whatever, not like anybody plays those games or anything), and manages to give the characters a fighting chance. The characters, themselves, have personalities you would've seen many-a times, such as the brash guy (Shu), calm dude (Jiro), typical love interest (Kluke), hyperactive guy (Marumaru) and the tough as nails woman (Zola), but the way that they're portrayed will make you overlook that fact, since the story plays out like a kid friendly anime. If the PG rating doesn't make it obvious, the back of the box will. And if that doesn't, the first few hours will make it overly obvious, since there isn't a whole lot of dramatic tension. It's all in the name of kid friendly entertainment; light hearted and without a care in the world. Awesome.

The Graphics:
Upon first glance, the visuals look pretty good, sort of like an anime from the 90s. It actually manages to conjure up a mental image of Dragon Ball, since you got characters that look like Dragon Ball characters, monsters that look big and tough that you’d expect in that anime (in fact, just picture some enemies from the Dragon Warrior/Quest games) and each of the main characters sport different looking eyes. Wouldn’t you know it; the artist behind this game’s style did the artwork for Dragon Ball and Dragon Warrior/Quest! If you’re a fan of his artwork, you’ll enjoy looking at this game.

The FMV scenes are stunning. When there are some scenes added, they showcase a rich color scheme, as well as some lush looking locations. There seems to be a hint of vaseline added and smothered across the screen, but all is forgiven, since these scenes are exceptionally well made. It still conveys the anime image, so it’s not as if they went for ultra realism here. Excellent.

Unfortunately, after spending some time with this game, the visuals start to feel lackluster. How so? Through the magic of lagging, that’s how! The game has some rather shocking lag issues while performing bigger attacks. This isn’t limited to the big bang attacks like the limit break-ish moves you get (rather late in the game, I might add), but includes any spell attack, and sometimes, even normal attacks are affected. There should be no need for lag to be present in any game, especially one that is 3 flipping discs long, and especially since the graphics look like they can fit on a PS2 quite finely. It’s about as good as Final Fantasy X’s visuals, which hardly, if at all, lags.

The Sound:
Music is something that RPGs either get right, or just get. Blue Dragon’s soundtrack falls under the latter. The tunes are simple and memorable, going along with a theme such as a time, what happened prior to the event, the situation at hand, and just at the right place. This sounds like the recipe for a great soundtrack, but unfortunately, that’s where I stop praising the soundtrack. For the most part, it is repetitive, and just sounds too similar to the rest of the soundtracks I have heard over the years. It doesn’t even try to stand out, half the time. The dungeon songs, for example, are tucked quietly behind the background while the group runs through. The same goes for the town songs – dominated by bleeding footsteps. The soundtrack just has a strange tendency for playing it safe – does what has been done millions of time. Well, I will offer the boss theme some condolence... it manages to add vocals (from the guy who was in Deep Purple, no less) over a few guitar riffs, and is probably my favorite song in the soundtrack.

The voice acting, for the most part, is good. Not excellent, certainly not even close, but it manages to deliver the message finely and clearly. None really stand out to me in terms of goodness, although one just loves to stick out in terms of horrible voice acting. Marumaru has a terrible voice that makes me want to reach into my ear hole, and tear out the drums, just so that I’ll never have to hear his shrill voice ever again. Some like to complain about Shu’s voice acting, but I can’t really see it from their perspective. I think his voice actor was good. Not as good as Jiro’s or Kluke’s, per se, but still managing to get some emotion in there, some nice delivery in the lines, and honestly, if it’s not screechy and annoying, I’ll give it a thumbs up.

The Gameplay:
Ahh, this takes me back a number of years, to when RPGs were starting to go beyond a simple premise and turn based combat. It was when storytelling started to become a vital part of the game, and the gameplay was just to keep the player from thinking they’re watching a movie... If you can’t tell by this soliloquy, this plays like a JRPG of old. It gives you an overworld, some towns, some dungeons, and some fights here and there; all the while, giving you a cutscene to advance the story.

The battle system is essentially this – pick a command on the menu, pick an enemy, and watch the fireworks. This is far from alien territory, and if you’ve played a JPRG before, you should know how it’ll work. If not, it works fine. The game does try something new in this department with a charging system, where, if you use a certain attack (be it magic, for example), you can hold A, and charge it from left to right. Ideally, you want it at about where the red lies for maximum output. Once you’re done there, you just wait until your next turn pops up (which is displayed at the top), and then, it’s time for domination! It’s a neat little addition to try and separate this from other JRPGs, and it’s a working one at that. It does become a big deal when you want to kill everything with each of the spells, but can’t do much initially, so why not charge?

Everything else should be pretty cut and dry, but I’ll explain anyway. The overworld allows you to travel between towns and dungeons. Sounds fine and dandy, except for one detail – the camera only moves horizontally. Since the view is set up about 70 degrees from the ground, you’ll have hardly any idea as to where the next destination is, due to the lack of vertical camera movement. It’s a bit annoying, but with some persistence, you’ll find the next location, so it’s nothing to stress over, but it is a minor gripe regardless. Amazingly, the towns and dungeons have a camera that moves on both the X and Y axis, so it’s a bit baffling to know that the overworld only has movement on the X axis.

Towns are essentially safe havens where you can buy items and accessories, as well as restore your HP in an inn. Now, you’re thinking that you read it wrong. Actually, no you didn’t. You see, the shadows serve as your weapons, so we’re doing away with them, meaning you’ll be spending less money on equipment. In fact, you don’t even buy accessories. Most of what you can find in chests scattered across the world will suffice, so really, you’ll be buying items and paying for sleeping privileges. It’s also where you talk to people about the situation and where to go… moving on...

Dungeons aren’t exactly the most exciting locations to be in this game. Battling monsters and bosses is a good thing, but the actual dungeons, in which you fight them, aren’t all that. Basically, all you do in a dungeon is go straight through them. Now, this may sound fine and dandy for those who don’t want puzzles in their dungeons, but the designs constantly trick you. The color scheme is similar throughout, and they often throw forks in the road, so in case you bump in a dead end, you will end up getting lost when you’re trying to find the right way.

Let’s just head straight into the awesome stuff – the battle system. It takes a basic turn based system where you input your commands by pressing A on a few menus. You know what I mean – Attack, Magic, etc etc. The fighter with the highest speed starts first, and depending on what move that party member made that turn and how fast your enemies are, that member may get another turn after a couple of enemies make their moves. This is similar to that of Final Fantasy X, since your speedier characters can have a lot of turns against slow enemies.

Mistwalker did add some extra features to this system. The first is the ability to charge up the power of certain attacks. Select a spell or something, and once a bar comes up, hold A, and make sure to let go when it hits red. This will force the member to wait after a fair amount of participants have made their moves in order to charge up and fire, but the damage will pay off, since it’ll do more damage. It’s a nice touch that makes battles feel a little less formulaic, and I commend Mistwalker for adding this.

Another neat little addition is the usage of frontlines and backlines. Up at the front, you’ll take some damage, and deal some right back, while the back will take less damage, but can’t deal that much back. It’s best to know where your class excels so you know where to place your units. Speaking of classes, you get to use a range of classes, like one that deals more with elemental physical attacks, black magic, white magic, support magic... Through this, I’ve noticed that the class system feels a bit unnecessary, since some classes are basically splitting hairs and could blend into other classes. Just something that annoys me a tad bit.

One addition that really stands out to me is the ability to have monsters that hate each other fight. By pressing RT on the overworld, you can see some monsters targeted. If they’re of two distinct varieties, fight all of them, and see if you got a pair of monsters that hate each other. If they hate each other, they’ll focus all of their attention on one another. All you need to do is hit both sides to weaken them so that when they’re done with their own little battle, our battle will be so much easier. It’s an excellent addition, since at least when you do find monsters that hate each other, you can make battles easier for yourself. The problem is that you don’t think about doing this too much, since it feels like the monsters get along too well, but persist – that’s all I can advise.

The Stats:
Story: Predictable, but manages to convey each scene alright. The characters are fairly well portrayed and interesting, despite remaining mostly stagnant throughout. In fact, my only real problem, aside from obvious unoriginality, is that it takes about 6 hours to really start, and as patient as I can get, 6 hours feels a bit too long. 4/5
Graphics: There shouldn't be much of an excuse to look like a PS2 game and lag when performing attacks requiring some special effects on a 7th generation system. Barely passable because the game looks nice and sports a sleek anime look, at least... and I guess the FMVs look excellent, too. 3/5
Sound: SOMEBODY KILL MARUMARU'S VOICE ACTOR! The other voices are good enough, conveying enough emotion in line delivery, but the horrendous voice for Marumaru... I prefer his anime adaptation's voice, by far. The music is passable... nothing too big, but nothing bad either. Mostly plays it safe. 3.5/5
Gameplay: Not bad, but nothing to scream "OH MY GOSH" a million times over, maybe except the monster fight system. Besides that and a couple of little things, all Blue Dragon really does is take conventions from past RPGs and puts them on the Xbox 360 in the form of an ambitious storyline. It’s not a terrible thing by any means; in fact, it just proves the formula to be tried and true enough to be rehashed. It’s still a good formula, too, so there’s nothing wrong... I just wish it wasn’t so easy to get lost in a dungeon. 7/10

The Conclusion:
Blue Dragon isn't a bad game by any means, but if you've been playing JRPGs for the past decade and want to go for something less familiar, you are advised against the purchasing of this game. There isn't anything here that is new, except for a few elements that, unfortunately, won’t make a huge difference. It is, for the most part, borrowed or dissected from various old school RPGs. It makes for some solid RPG playing, but a slow start, a tepid graphics engine and lackluster dungeons manage to get on my nerves rather quickly, and for that, I can only recommend this to fans of the genre who can overlook some flaws with ease.

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