The man behind the immensely popular role-playing game series Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, is back and has brought with him yet another RPG. With the recent release of Blue Dragon in North America and Europe, any role-playing game lover is sure to be pondering whether or not Blue Dragon is as excellent as the Japanese say it is, or if Blue Dragon is nothing to get excited about.
Before gamers even put Blue Dragon into their Xbox 360, they will notice something that should please them. Blue Dragon is the first Xbox 360 game where the game itself is spread across three discs. After getting Disc 1 into the Xbox 360, players will be asked to start a new game, and then finally select between English, French and Japanese for the voice language. Being able to choose Japanese as a voice language is something that is relatively unheard of outside Japan, and might be interesting for gamers to hear the original character voices. Unfortunately, gamers outside of Japan can’t choose the difficulty level seeing as how the DLC containing the Hard Mode is only available in Japan at the time of writing.
After going through all that and then moving around a little, gamers will be shown a cut scene which sets up the story of the game. The storyline is that during the annual appearance of the violet clouds and Land Shark, which is a machine in the shape of a shark which has set out to destroy the village of Talta, two young boys named Shu and Jiro try to stop this monster. After being joined by Kluke while attempting to defeat the Land Shark, they are dragged along the ground before falling down a big hole into ancient ruins.
After a while, the children become privy to the fact that the annual appearance of the violet clouds and Land Shark is being caused by an evil being by the name of Nene, and they set out to try and stop him. It isn’t until at least half an hour later that the children obtain their Shadows and that gamers will be able to have some fun trying out the different types of Shadows and skills. These different types are unlocked as characters level up and the types include Sword Master, Assassin, Monk, White Magic, Black Magic, Barrier Magic and Support.
Battles in Blue Dragon work on a turn based system. This means that gamers select what they want their character to do from a list of choices including “Attack”, “Defend”, “Magic” and “Item”. When that character performs his or her attack depends upon two things. The first thing is whether or not the attack type chosen can be charged. Charging basically means having to wait longer to perform an attack, but also having a more powerful attack when it is performed. If an attack, such as the case with the Sword Master class, can’t be charged, then the attack takes place instantly. If the attack can be charged, however, as with the Monk, Black Magic and White Magic Shadows for example, when the attack is performed depends upon where the user stops a bar which moves along the top of the screen.
There are a few things that make the battles in the game require some logical thinking. One obvious example of this is to do with the formation of the characters. A character placed in the front row of the formation will have stronger attacks, but will take more damage when attacked. A character that is placed in the back row, however, will have a stronger defence but will perform weaker attacks. Another strategy related issue is to do with charging attacks. If a gamer has the ability to charge an attack but decides against it, the power of that attack will be weakened. However, the character that just performed that attack will have their next turn sooner than they would of if the attack was charged. Basically, gamers have the choice to attack more frequently with less power, or to attack less frequently but with more power. This, of course, will force gamers to think their moves through before just attacking.
Contrary to games like Enchanted Arms, random encounters are not a part of Blue Dragon. This feature is much appreciated and makes the game less monotonous because gamers can try to avoid having to keep fighting the same monsters over and over again. As well as this, if a gamer has a character that has learnt what is called the Barrier Field Skill in Barrier Magic, the gamer can use that Field Skill to defeat a monster that they have previously defeated by simply walking into it. A Field Skill is simply a skill that can be used while not in a battle.
A nice feature in Blue Dragon is that as gamers progress, new features are unlocked. For example, after an encounter with an enemy relatively soon into the game, gamers are presented with Warp Keys. These allow gamers to activate Warp Devices and enable the ability to warp to any of the active Warp Devices. Another example of a feature which doesn’t make itself clear until gamers reach the second disc of the game is the force fields around treasure chests. It is not until gamers have actually passed by a lot of these chests that the way to open them is made clear.
Gamers may notice that for most of the first Blue Dragon disc, there is little or no character or story development. There isn’t much known about any of the characters during the first disc other then that Shu, Jiro and Kluke come from Talta village and want to stop Nene from destroying their village yet again. However, right at the end of first disc the story does unfold a good bit more, and gamers don’t have to wait long to figure out what some of Nene’s reasons for the annual appearance of the violet clouds are.
Another good thing about Blue Dragon is that there is a lot of replayability. To finish the game itself will take a lot of time, but even after that the Achievements should keep gamers playing the game. As well as that, gamers could go back to try and fully level up the characters. The Achievements are good choices as there are a few easy enough ones, and then a lot harder ones such as completing a part of the game perfectly (such as a particularly hard task). It is always nice to see a game with a decent selection of Achievements and these are about the only thing that adds to the difficulty of the game.
Unfortunately, Blue Dragon possesses three quite annoying problems. The first of these is, as previously mentioned, the difficulty level of the game. It will be noticed that little effort is required to win the majority of boss fights, and that by simply killing the enemies along the way to the next boss, gamers will be able to defeat the upcoming boss without much of a strategy or repeated levelling up. The second problem comes in the form of framerate issues. Quite a lot of the time, gamers will notice that when a character’s Shadow attacks, the framerate starts to slow down. The framerate can be so bad at times that even when monsters appear in front of the characters, the framerate will drop. These problems, especially the latter, are very irritating.
The only other major annoyance, which isn’t as annoying as the previous two, in Blue Dragon is the localisation of the voice acting. Sometimes the script doesn’t make the conversation flow very well, if at all. For example, at a certain point one character said “Right, let’s go”, and another character responded to this statement by saying “Yes”. While this may not seem too bad, it can get pretty annoying fairly quickly.
Even though Blue Dragon has some flaws, does this mean it’s not a good game? The answer is simply no, the game is still very enjoyable. While it certainly isn’t perfect, great features like an excellent story and quite a strategic battle system make it hard to put the game down at times, and will appeal to RPG fans. So yes, it is nearly as good as it is made out to be in Japan, but falls just short in too many areas for Western gamers.
Final Score: 7 out of 10 - Above Average (How do we rate games?)