Blue Dragon launched on North American shores in BioShock‘s wake. Considered a success in Japan, Blue Dragon’s ad campaign was an award winner, and it even shifted a few Xbox 360 consoles, which can’t be overlooked in Japan. Part of the reason for this overseas success was the fact that Blue Dragon represented Mistwalker’s first collaboration with Artoon. Comprised of any RPG fanboy’s wet dream, the development team included the father of the Final Fantasy series, Hironobu Sakaguchi, artist Akira Toriyama of the Dragon Quest series and Dragon Ball Z fame (and countless others), and composer Nobuo Uematsu, also of the Final Fantasy series.
Blue Dragon is traditional turn-based role-playing game in which, during the course of three discs, you will explore the world, kill the bad guy and save the day. The story has you and two friends investigating a monster that’s been terrorizing your village and preceding an ominous purple mist. Fed up with the constant attacks, the three of you set out to end it once and for all. After being sucked up to grand fortress in the sky, you meet the evil Nene (the individual behind the monster) and find yourself powerless against him. However, under the instruction of a mysterious voice and after the ingestion of a ball of light, each member of your party awakens its Shadow Spirit, each of which representing a different animal. Now you’re playing with power, and it’s time for payback. Escaping the fortress, you soon realize that it’s not just your village that’s being singled out and attacked, but the entire world. Of course there’s only one thing to do: rout the evil from the surrounding villages and defeat Nene.
There’s quite a lot of carryover from the RPGs of yore, which makes Blue Dragon feel comfortable and almost like catching up with an old friend who’s a little older and wiser than when you last met but hasn’t gotten any crazy tattoos or piercings. You already know what to do, not to mention how to do most of the turn-based gameplay functions. This is due in part to most of us having already played through Sakaguchi’s games in the past.
Your Shadow, in Shu’s case the dragon (hence the title), is how you fight and cast spells in the game. Consider it a proxy, if you will. The shadows levels up independently of your characters, which is how you’ll find yourself unlocking more skills in the class assigned to shadow. Each shadow starts with a few slots to fill, and some skills unlock more slots for more skills or special items. It’s not all that different from the Guardian Forces in the Final Fantasies, except in Blue Dragon they’re always active and don’t need to be summoned (a la Final Fantasy 9). Any shadow can have any skill assigned to it, but the differences between them are purely cosmetic.
Exploring towns and dungeons is done on an overhead level, and when monsters appear, you can choose to fight them or not, as the annoyance of random encounters is nowhere to be found. As you level up, you are able to choose the skills you want to increase, and you’re not limited to the standard “roles” of an RPG; if you want to be fighter who happens to use both White and Black magic, go right ahead. More than likely, you’ll find something that works and apply those settings to most of your characters in the game. For the old-school crowd, reading the job skills are back, and most are level-capped quite early, which allows you to unlock most of them and experiment early on.
There is an abundance of things to do and items to collect, not to mention a monster encyclopedia to fill and minigames that actually play a part in the story. Most of the achievements alone will have you playing the game multiple times. Case in point, I finished the game in roughly 80 hours, did a few bonus dungeons and only netted 90 Achievement Points. Fortunately, with the addition of downloadable content, you are able to restart the game and carry your characters over with their levels intact. There is also a super hard mode that is, appropriately, super hard.
However, if you’re looking for an Oblivion killer, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for the next Final Fantasy, this isn’t it either. What Blue Dragon is is a strong foundation for a franchise and a rich, complete experience of having all the elements in place that earlier consoles’ RPGs lacked. The graphics are great, the music complements the game well (it’s obvious Uematsu is a fan of Tchaikovsky), and although this isn’t going to change your mind if you’re not a fan of these types of RPGs, newbies will be eased in and taught the basics quite well. Veterans, though, will find the game a little too easy, and the mini-map is confusing at times regardless of your skill level. But with its jaw-dropping cut scenes and hidden items, Blue Dragon transcends those shortcomings and promises to keep you busy for some time.
- Score: 8
- More of a solid foundation than a groundbreaking game, Blue Dragon still offers plenty to do. Here’s hoping for a bit more punch to the sequel.
— Phil Vollmer