The fact that Blue Dragon is a product of Hironobu Sakaguchi (Mr Final Fantasy himself), is reason enough to make any RP gamer sit up and take notice. Certainly, fans of the genre have awaited Blue Dragon’s much anticipated arrival with high hopes and big expectations… however hope and expectation are like a double-edged sword, as I was about to discover.
The story behind Blue Dragon will be familiar to anyone who’s ever played an RPG: a spiky-haired kid and his mates set out to save the world from a pompous but powerful evil dude who needs bringing down a notch or two. During their travels they visit all manner of locations and encounter many types of weird and wonderful creatures, finding plenty of loot along the way to buff up the party and buy essential equipment… all pretty standard stuff.
Controlling the onscreen action is simple and the learning curve minimal; thanks to the many in-game prompts and pointers even the most uncoordinated gamer will be able to get into the swing of things within 15 minutes. Of course, if you are familiar with the genre you will be up and playing from the get go.
A refreshing change from the usual turn-based fare is the fact that most enemies are visible onscreen, which means there are no unexpected encounters… you call the shots. You can even get certain monsters to fight each other, if they are in the right place at the right time. While I didn’t employ the Encounter Circle as often as I could have, it was always entertaining to watch groups of monsters fight amongst themselves.
Once battle begins in earnest Blue Dragon is pretty standard turn-based
fare, and here RP gamers are usually divided into the real-time and turn-based camps, with the former bemoaning the latter’s lack of spontaneity during combat. Turn-based RPGs compensate for this with their often complex combinations of spells, skills, items and party formation which, if employed effectively can affect the flow of battle in the player’s favour.
You’ll find plenty of opportunity for tinkering in Blue Dragon, with the unique ‘shadows’ for the major characters. Acquired early in the game, these powerful entities take the form of different mythical beasts, such as Phoenix, Minotaur, or the Blue Dragon, and during combat they can inflict far more substantial damage than Shu and his buddies ever could. The main point of difference between Blue Dragon and other turn-based RPGs is the class and skills system. Each shadow can be assigned a class from the pool of nine - although not all are initially available to you. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock more classes and skills, tailoring your shadows to suit your style of play.
Character designer of great renown, Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Quest), has lent his talents to Blue Dragon and his characters are a joy to behold whichever way you look at them. I did encounter a bit of frame rate slow-down however, when there was too much going on onscreen. I also found the text to be difficult to read – even from a relatively close distance. Rounding out the audio-visual experience are the well-matched compositions of Nobuo Uematsu, whose portfolio includes (Final Fantasy VIII and Chrono Trigger). While the dialogue and characters are largely unremarkable, the voice acting is certainly of a much higher calibre than many Japanese-translated-to-English RPGs; no lacklustre or mismatched performances here.
Despite boasting an impressive ‘A’ list design team and some interesting new features, Blue Dragon won’t go down in history as the most memorable RPG you will ever play. Having said that, it does grow in depth and addictiveness the longer you play, and if you’re prepared to invest the time required to unlock the bonus content you’ll find Blue Dragon is well worth a look. I certainly enjoyed it and if you favour the more traditional style of turn-based RPGs – and keep your expectations on an even keel - then you will too.