Gaming Today Reviews Blue Dragon
Recently I had to opportunity to play Blue Dragon on the Xbox 360 – the game that launched a mass pre-order frenzy in Japan during 2006. Developed by Mistwalker and Artoon and published by Microsoft, this spunky turn-based title from Final Fantasy mastermind Hironobu Sakaguchi is everything you have come to expect from a man who has been perfecting turn-based games since time began. It is fun and zany although a little frustrating at times – but before I get into gameplay mechanics and graphics I want to touch upon the games storyline for a moment.The main storyline centers around three friends from the same village: Kluke, Jiro, and Shu. Once a year, their village is attacked by what has become known as the “Land Shark’ – a beast which comes down from the sky amidst a menacing looking purple cloud and proceeds to wreak havoc upon the peaceful little village. Fed up with the elders doing nothing to thwart the beast, Kluke, Jiro, and Shu decide to step up and rid the world of this monster once and for all. During the battle, the three friends become aware that the Land Shark is a tool operated by a withered looking villain named Nene. Thus begins the epic quest to stop Nene – this quest takes place in various locations around the world and there is an abundance of places to visit: dungeons, fortresses, towns, forests, deserts and in these different locales the friends meet others which aide them in some way with their quest.
Shu is the main character of the story, and he definitely has enough confidence combined for all three of them. During the game, you meet up with two more characters that possess the same abilities as the original three – giant shadows in the shape of powerful creatures possessing magic. Shu’s shadow is -of course – the Blue Dragon, Kluke’s is a Phoenix, and Jui’s shadow is a Minotaur. The two characters that they meet during their adventures are: Zola the mercenary who has an awesome Bat Shadow, and the irritatingly loud and obnoxious Marumaro, whose shadow is a Saber-Toothed Tiger. Although Marumaro is supposed to be the comic relief of the game, this little humanoid dances and screams his way into your head until you are in the floor crying for Tylenol and a bottle of whiskey. Towards the end of the game, I was muting the volume every time he began to speak.
Now that I have the storyline and character information out of the way, I will get to the game.
Akira Toriyama created all of the artwork for Blue Dragon and with such notable past creations such as: Chrono Trigger, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Quest – it is not hard to understand why Blue Dragon has such vivid and lovely graphics. The colors are bright, the characters are clear and crisp and the graphics are nothing short of brilliant. With attention paid to the smallest nook and cranny in the space ship, the gorgeous color schemes and natural effects in the forests along with well-designed villages – Blue Dragon is a feast for the eyes. Because of the sheer volume of work and effort that went into Blue Dragon, the game is on three discs; otherwise there would have been no way to incorporate such huge graphics and over 60 hours of gameplay.
The gameplay of Blue Dragon is a very traditional RPG – not only because of the aforementioned turn-based style battle system, but also because of the ability to purchase items from vendors, fight your way through dungeons, rest on your laurels and hone your skill sets. These are all situations familiar to RPG players and like many other games of Blue Dragon’s ilk, you can warp to locations throughout the game to save yourself some travel time and having to fight the same critters all over again.
The Blue Shadows are your weapons in the game and each character’s shadow provides strength and magic allowing for more force during a confrontation. These shadows can be customized with different character classes and when they rank up in class, more attributes are attained. You can also mix and match skills regardless of whether your shadow’s character class is, for example, an “Assassin” or “Monk”. Basically it boils down to this: If a certain character has high amounts of Black Magic they can cast spells using that form of attack magic while still using certain White Magic spells to heal another party member.
Like most RPG games, leveling up is attained by earning experience points from defeating enemies and while some of the battles grow tedious over time, this is something you can avoid doing if you wish. The best thing about the majority of the battles is that you can choose not to fight – perspective fights are all over the place, but you can choose to avoid them. Monsters can walk up to you or you them, but you usually have the option of just running the other direction. Some of the monsters have hilarious names and look more comical than homicidal. One example of a monster you will encounter is the Poo Snake, and he looks exactly like he sounds, only he is purple. The majority of the time he will run from you, especially if he calls for back up and no one arrives. Sometimes, after he is killed, he will leave behind a pile of golden poo that contains a treasure.
Another intriguing thing about this battle system is the ability to engage more than one monster at a time if they are both within your fight radius. Some of the most fun that I had during battles was when I would choose an Ancient Katydid and a Poo Snake to fight at the same time – the Ancient Katydid would kill the Poo Snake for me – thus saving valuable hit points. All of the monsters in the game have a natural enemy and when you engage mortal enemies together, eight out of ten times it starts a “Monster Fight” and you can sit back and enjoy the show.
Presentation & Game Options (7.5/10)
Overall the presentation of the game is top notch and I liked the different options you had during battles. One such option is the ability to “charge up” your spells and attacks. Using the charge meter, you charge up your magical spell, whether for healing or attacking, and you can choose to attack immediately or hold the “a” button longer for more charge. Stronger charges have some give and take that goes along with it though, because the stronger the charge, the longer you have to wait until the next turn. During this time, it is not impossible for one of your party members to be knocked out which in turn can cause the charge not to work. You have to pay close attention to your charge bar, as it shows the number of turns you will have to wait until your attack can take place.
The only thing lacking in the game itself as far as options and presentation are concerned is the menu system being a bit complicated until you get used to it. Normally on an RPG, the menu system contains many different options and ladders, and Blue Dragon is no exception except for the sheer volume of options. The game is rated “T” for Teen by the ESRB, so it is obvious that the key demographic for the game is the preteen to teenage crowd, that being said, the youngest members of this group may find the menu system confusing until they get used to it. The listed items you find in your menu system could have used a larger font as well, but that would have been impossible to fit on screen considering all of the options available to you.
I have one complaint with the presentation. I mentioned previously that Marumaro raked on my nerves like a rusty chainsaw, and he is my only legitimate complaint. The developers should have made a main character such as him less irritating to players, although the younger crowd may find him hilarious. However, they could have come up with a happy medium for both demographics.
The sound effects for Blue Dragon mesh well with the content and add a sense of urgency to your battles and actions. The score is absolutely lovely, and considering it was penned by composer Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame – one would expect nothing less. The cut scenes, although many in number, are decent enough and the voice acting was spot on so it was easy to forgive a few extra scenes that otherwise would have done nothing more than drive you around the twist.
Replay Value (6/10)
Although Blue Dragon brings nothing revolutionary to the RPG table, it is nonetheless a great game that is more than worth the money you spend. It combines both linear and non-linear elements with a seamless gameplay element amongst a gorgeous environment. With more than 500 different chests, real-time gameplay during battles, small puzzles, a bit of button smashing, and tons of map area to explore – Blue Dragon is a quality piece of work that after playing for 60 hours does not feel as long winded as some RPG titles might.
The replay value is minimal though, but that is to be expected when a game such as this requires so many hours to explore. Some people may play the game longer, because it is easy to re-visit certain areas during the game if you want to level up or kick a few walls to see what pops out of them. That being said, I seriously doubt I would play Blue Dragon a second time. I will instead wait for the Nintendo DS version that is on the horizon and the sequel, which is already being talked about by Hironobu Sakaguchi himself.
Overall Rating (8.5)
My overall recommendation is that any fan of RPGs would have a blast playing Blue Dragon, and with a game filled with such an intelligent battle system, environmental eye candy and zany characters, who wouldn’t enjoy it? It is worth every penny, and every hour spent. Just remember to hit the mute button whenever Marumaro starts to talk otherwise the anger he produces might overload your central nervous system.