Name: Blue Dragon
Platform: Xbox 360
So before I get the inevitable “omg this game came out two months ago” comments, I’m well aware that this title is not a new release. However, when you play as many RPGs as I do, you sometimes get a little behind. After more than 50 hours of gameplay, I finally managed to complete this epic adventure, which is something that RPG fans new and old can enjoy.
Most of the classic elements of Japanese role-playing games are present: turn-based battles, strong storyline and character arcs, and a fantasy world with many magical creatures, both good and bad, to inhabit it. The game follows Shu, a teenage boy living with his grandfather in a small village, and his friends as they travel the globe trying to defeat the ancient evil force that’s been plaguing them with natural disasters for the past decade.
What’s interesting about this game is that in the early hours, it plays a lot like an RPG for beginners. Some seasoned veterans of the role-playing genre might be put off by this, but keep in mind that as one of the first turned-based RPGs on the 360, this may actually be the first one that a lot of gamers play. I actually know a couple of non-RPG fans who got really into this game after never having played one before, and honestly, I think it’s great that a whole new generation of gamers can be introduced to this genre in a way that’s fun and easy to comprehend. Despite the introductory nature of the beginning of the game, I never felt like it was too simple or dumbed-down to be enjoyed.
The fantasy environments in the world of Blue Dragon are beautiful. Though cartoonish in nature and not designed to look realistic, each town had a very different and specific feel, making every location unique. The characters were designed by Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame, and they look very similar to everything else he’s ever done, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
The battle system is one of the defining aspects of any turned-based RPG, and this one did not disappoint. I’m aware that some gamers absolutely despise any sort of turned-based battles, but personally, I love them. They’re strategic and challenging, and while Blue Dragon doesn’t exactly redefine the formula, it does add a few new aspects to the mix.
The fighting and magic-casting is done primarily by each character’s powerful shadow, which are acquired by Shu and his friends early in the game. While each one is given a default class (like Sword Master, White Magic user, and Assassin, to name a few), as the character levels up, new classes can be unlocked, allowing the player to choose which class and skills to attribute to each shadow. Unlike some other games with similar class systems, earned skills can still be assigned to a shadow even after a class change, giving the player more incentive to experiment with different abilities.
Blue Dragon doesn’t use random battles, which many players will be thankful for; each enemy you encounter will appear before you on the world map, giving you a chance to try and escape if you don’t want to fight. This also gives you a chance to sneak up behind a foe for a surprise attack, but look out; they can do the same to you. The actual battles themselves are pretty standard fare for RPG fans. However, the charging system gives them a little something extra. Many attacks, both magical and physical, have the ability to be charged up for additional power. Since charging takes more time, the character will take longer to make his or her attack. The amount of time a skill is charged is entirely up to the player, and this helps determine the order in which both the party and the enemies move. This adds a new level of strategy to the game that I found enjoyable.
As for the failings of Blue Dragon, I will say this: it feels very much like a “best of” mixed bag of past RPG elements instead of something entirely new. Given that the production staff’s past credits include Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Dragon Quest, this is not really surprising. Then again, these guys know how to put together an RPG, and I’m not about to say otherwise. Some will complain about the story being a little too shallow, and I’d be lying if I said it went as deep as a game like Final Fantasy VII or Persona 3. No, it’s much more light-hearted than many RPGs, despite the main characters being on a quest to destroy a man who has caused consistent pain and death all over the world.
There are also some major technical annoyances that, for a three-disc game, are really unacceptable. The most common one is slowdown, which seems to occur a lot during battles with a large number of enemies, especially if multiple characters are charging up their shadows. I also picked up on some sound effect glitches; again, these seemed to mainly occur during battle sequences.
The bottom line is this: if you are an RPG fan, you will enjoy this game. Technical issues and unoriginality complaints aside, this is an extremely fun game to play, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. This is also a great game for new gamers or younger 360 owners to pick up to get acquainted with the sometimes intimidating or confusing RPG genre. There are some gamers out there who are never going to get into role-playing games, and that’s fine; Blue Dragon is not here to change their minds. For the rest of us, though, it’s worth the time and money spent.