Three DVD disc’s packed full of imaginative classic RPG gaming should be enough for any gamer looking for a new vice for their Xbox 360. From famed game producer Hironobu Sakaguchi and the development team at Artoon we have a massive RPG epic poised to take away all your spare time. Get ready to cheer and rejoice as you run through the tale of Shu and his giant blue dragon.
I started my Blue Dragon review with a list of accomplishments from the who’s who that are behind the games production, and then I started this re-write. Admittedly, Hironobu Sakaguchi creator of the Final Fantasy series gives a boost to the name behind Blue Dragon, but it shouldn’t be a focus. I’m going to try and forget about Mr. Final Fantasy and take a look at the content within Blue Dragon, without heavy cloud of expectations that floats over the skies in Blue Dragon.
The plot in Blue Dragon begins with three youths who stand up for their village when a misfortunes purple cloud triggers destruction. These three youths named, Shu, Kluke and Jiro fight back against massive creature called the “land shark” and gets swooped into something much more than the ever expected. After the scuffle with the land shark, the trio find themselves in a space craft and confront the person behind the purple cloud that plagues disaster over the last ten years. This kick starts Blue Dragon as the gang gains magic powers that turn their shadows into immense magic beasts and the story unfolds and twists and turns until a final confrontation, three discs later. Blue Dragon is an epic adventure and in true role-playing nature you will walk, talk, and battle your way to the grand finale. If you enjoy light drama, evil villians, and cool magical powers, then you should find a lot to love in Blue Dragon.
In terms of the gameplay Blue Dragon it’s kept very traditional, light-hearted and fun. Like all RPG's you have town areas, exploration aspects, dungeon sequences, and battles, battles and more battles. If you enjoy turn-based combat then you’re in luck because Blue Dragon is 100% traditional turn-by-turn action. However Blue Dragon manages to switch up the formula a bit by bypassing random encounters. Instead they have a similar system that lets you see and choose which enemies you want to confront. The enemies do appear out of nowhere like random encounters, but Blue Dragon offers a chance for the player to avoid the enemies, or wage war in full out battle. This system also allows for you to pick your fights and battle more than one enemy at a time. Multiple enemy battles aren't necessary a bad thing in most occasions they can work in your advantage because of the hostile nature of the enemy creatures. If you are a gamer who really hates random encounters, Blue Dragon might have enough flavour for you to chew on, it’s not a perfect system, but you might find it more enjoyable now and again with potential to level up.
Combat itself based on the traditional turn based formula with a time line governing player and enemy turns. Having a time line makes the use of magic more important with skills like haste, and slow that usually get forgotten, it also makes the player think before leaping into action. Besides the time line, Blue Dragon has a “charge meter” that allows players to make their attacks more powerful by charging them. This is done by holding the button and letting go at the right time. This is based on the time line and has to be executed carefully; it’s good to get good at charging attacks because the extra damage goes a long way, especially in boss battles. Aside from the time line and charging, Blue Dragon is nothing new, but definitely not broken down. I liked how the combat was approached; the little extras make Blue Dragon keep a hint of originality rather than becoming a borrowed rehash.
The shadow creatures in Blue Dragon showcase the games most innovative feature. These creatures play a heavy role in combat and skill abilities. Each lead character in Blue Dragon posses a magical core that is represented by magical shadows that give each player unique skills and abilities. Broken down the creatures consist of a Dragon, Phoenix, Minotaur, Bat, and a Saber-Tooth Tiger. Each shadow can be given a specific class which in turn gives it certain abilities related to each different class. The classes break down into categories like Assassin, Monk, Barrier Magic, White and Black magic and so on. Depending on the assigned class your shadow will start to develop in that area. Any character in Blue Dragon can learn any class free of restrictions, so you can custom create each character as you want. In that respect Blue Dragon is dynamic and offers replay value.
One stab at Blue Dragon has come in the way of its pacing. With three discs of content to get through you’ll have to be invested for the whole ride. Blue Dragon will take you upwards and over to 50 hours to complete depending on how many achievements you want to grab. This is a lot of time to spend with five lead characters and one bad mamma jamma named Nene. Luckily, Blue Dragon ratio between cut-scenes, combat, and new objectives is set to a good pace so you’ll never get sick of one aspect for long. I never had a problem with the games pacing, I actual felt like it was sufficient for the story it wanted to tell. This is a role-playing game after all and for every moment that dragged on, I was still entertained and loving the action for what it is.
Blue Dragon strives to be more than most games. Like its ambition, Blue Dragon also has morals making it cool to be the good guys. At times Blue Dragon might work a little too hard for this feeling which sometimes comes out as extra contrived. If I had to point out a few negative points, the lack of originality in the story and the games. Even if you haven’t played Blue Dragon before, it’s going to feel like a hundred other role-playing games from before. Blue Dragon doesn’t want to overachieve in originality like other titles; it just wants to be a good game with a interesting story with easier gameplay mechanics. When or if, Blue Dragon 2 gets the green light I hope they can pull some innovations out of their thinking cap and make something more unique and special.
The graphics and sound quality of Blue Dragon is excellent, lending itself to a cartoonish look. The creator of 'Dragon Ball', Akira Toriyama is behind the look of Blue Dragon for character and monster design. Blue Dragon has a childish demeanour about it which is appropriate since the story follows the story of children. Mistwalker and Artoon did an excellent job in all aspects of the graphics from the camera angels during combat, to the size and scale of the world and creatures. Overall I was pretty impressed at the small nuances captured in Blue Dragon, however the shine to this diamond are the beautiful cut-scenes. The cut-scene sequences are the golden point to Blue Dragon’s graphics along with the animation of the shadows. I wouldn’t say Blue Dragon is super original, but its pure quality, 100% through out the whole project.
For sound I was impressed with the composed pieces which lend itself to the old school days of traditional role-playing games. In a funny note, there is one song that’s not like the rest and this is the boss theme “Eternity”. This juxataspoed Dio-ish glam rock song blares out when you come into a boss fight. This screamer is actually sung by the old singer of 'Deep Purple'. I wasn't a huge fan of the overplayed song because its shrieking tenors break the constancy and class of the rest of the soundtrack, and becomes almost laughable instead of impactful. Besides the music selections, the voice work is good with lots of personality that come to life within the digital characters. You might come to hate Marumaro’s shouting, but hey, he has personality.
Microsoft has put of a lot of resources behind Blue Dragon to make sure they have a top quality role-playing game that can hopefully win over the reluctant Japanese gaming crowd. I would think Blue Dragon does an admirable job recreating the finer points of role-playing games, while staying close to the traditional feel made famous by games like Sakaguchi’s Final Fantasy.
Blue Dragon is a wild ride that has a lot of character and plot development over a wide range of environments. For those who like the traditional aspects of RPG’s like levelling up, turn-based combat and long winded dialog phases then Blue Dragon will not disappoint. I think Blue Dragon has enough pull to capture non-RPG fans and win them over with its plot driven gameplay. Blue Dragon might not hit the acclaim as the next-Final Fantasy, but what Blue Dragon does is establish it self as one of the best traditional role-playing games for the Xbox 360. Blue Dragon is a must have for J-RPG fans who have been craving some RPG attention on the Xbox 360, or for gamers who are interested in exploring a world with a boy and his dragon.
Gameplay: 8.5, Graphics/Sound: 9, Innovation: 7, Mojo: 9 Final: 8.5 / 10