Blue Dragon Plus
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: Brownie Brown
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 02/19/09
Japan 09/04/08

Graphics: 80%
Sound: 80%
Gameplay: 85%
Control: 80%
Story: 70%
Overall: 78%
Reviews Grading Scale
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The pre-rendered cutscenes look really good.
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It's a disco inferno!
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Winning these is like forcing a critical failure on your enemies.
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Must resist... No fart jokes...
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John Tucker
Blue Dragon Plus
John Tucker

Lots of games these days make it into sequel territory. Developers and publishers both love to stick with an established property rather than risk millions of dollars on an unproven concept. Usually, the sequel is an evolutionary advancement of the original, even if the two games are not on the same console. Blue Dragon Plus, however, is a completely different animal than its Xbox 360 predecessor, Blue Dragon. The first was a traditional turn-based RPG, and Blue Dragon Plus is a Real-Time Strategy RPG. It's a huge change; now let's see how it turned out.

Shoring up weaknesses...

I'll start with what many felt was the weakest element of the original game: its story. Blue Dragon Plus improves on this with a storyline focused on multiple cases of unrequited love. It's not unmitigated brilliance, but it's not awful, either. As each returning character is introduced, the top screen shows a brief bio that recaps their part in the previous game, which means that having finished the first game is not required to understand this plot, but having played it will definitely be to your advantage. Your team starts out with just a few characters, but grows to include all of your team from the first game as well as some who were NPCs the first time around, some who were your enemies (including a Poo Snake), and at least one who is completely new. A noticeable number of spelling and grammar mistakes such as "it's" instead of "its" are present to annoy grammar fiends like me, but they aren't so pervasive as to actually make the game more difficult to understand.

Time to play...

In terms of gameplay, as I mentioned above, Blue Dragon Plus is a radical departure from its predecessor. The magic system is similar in that spells are elemental in nature, and some elements are the opposite of others (fire monsters are weak to ice, ground to wind, and dark to light). The characters that join you along the way can all control a Shadow (even those who could not in the first game), and as they level up, they gain the ability to equip more than one. Shadows are similar to the first game, but not identical. This time around, each different Shadow represents a class. For example, the Minotaur Shadow is your basic healer, Phoenix is the black mage. Equip any of your characters with a Phoenix, and they'll learn healing skills. Some of the classes match those from the first game, but some are new, and not all of the originals return (I'm happy to report that the Generalist class is gone). There's quite a variety, and equipping multiple Shadows allows quite a bit of customization, but you end up with a large and varied team regardless so the only real use for that ability is to allow multiple characters to cast the same spells. This wide variety of skills means that you have to think about who's on your team at the moment before you'll know how to win a battle, which keeps things fresh.

For the first 90 minutes of the game, you are forced to go straight from battle to battle. After that, your team splits up and you are allowed to take time between battles to do things like equip new items, skills, and Shadows. You can also purchase items at shops, move around the map to previous areas, move characters from team to team, and fight extra battles just for the experience points, and after a certain point in the game, you can even create robots to join your team. These robots don't gain experience or level up, but they can be powerful allies, and can be replaced when you get tired of them or when they stop being useful. The mechanic of creating robots is about 80% interesting challenging fun, and 20% boring math (assuming that you don't really hate math).

The thing is, I'm not generally very good with RTS games, and this one was still only a real challenge to me near the beginning when I was getting used to the mechanics of the game. I believe that I only lost two battles during the whole game. On my first playthrough, I missed something in the instructions on where I had to go to create robots, but I found that I didn't need them. After all, being able to move your characters from team to team between battles means that you can have as big or as small a team as you want, and I wanted a big one. On one occasion, I messed up and my "tank" character (the king) had to survive a battle alone. If anyone else had been in that situation, I'm sure they would have lost, but carefully picking enemies off one or two at a time allowed him to win through. Even in the hour-long final boss battle (thank goodness the game lets you save whenever you want), I don't think I was ever in any real danger of losing. The moral of the story is this: Blue Dragon Plus is not a terribly difficult game unless you handicap yourself to make it one.

Wait–I'm actually having fun!

Knowing that I'm not a pro at this kind of game, I was worried that I wouldn't like it, but somewhere around six hours into Blue Dragon Plus, I realized that I was having a lot of fun. It's not perfect, but it does a lot of the little things right, and those little things add up. To give a few examples: once you direct your characters to a location, they'll keep going until they get there, but if they come into contact with enemies along the way, they'll attack. If the enemy is in their way, they'll keep attacking until the enemy is dead. If an enemy comes close to them, your characters will stay where you put them, but they'll attack the instant the enemy is in range. Many characters start out only able to hit the square next to them, but equippable items will increase their range, which allows you to bring a lot more force to bear on a single enemy at a time. They even made the dialogue different in each scene based on which characters are in your current party.

Having said all of that, I think my favorite little touch in the game is the fact that any time an enemy uses a skill, you can direct one of your characters to use one. All skills have a small charging time, and yours are shorter than your enemies'. Timing your charge to end at the same time as your enemy's triggers a simple "scribble on the screen" mini-game, and if you win, you'll not only make your enemy fail to use their skill, but you'll dish out damage to every enemy in the battle.

But how does it look?

Blue Dragon Plus is presented like many strategy games: the DS' bottom screen shows you an isometric 3D playing field with nicely distinct 2D sprites for characters and level elements like treasure chests. The top screen is a flat map that shows the entire playing field, with green markers for your characters, red for enemies, yellow for chests, etc. The markers change shape depending on what is happening - stationary characters are a dot, moving ones are an arrow, and when they attack, they're an X. It's a very useful map if you split up your team and can't see them all at once. When Shadow skills are used, the Shadow appears behind the character as a 3D model. The L and R buttons rotate the lower screen 1/4 turn, which I am mentioning because I was never satisfied with the clunky way that the 2D level elements rotate when you turn the map.

That one complaint aside, I felt happy with the graphics, although they're definitely not the most gorgeous you've ever seen on the DS. There was never any slowdown, even when I had a team of 15 characters going up against at least as many enemies, casting spells and attacking for all they were worth. Pre-rendered cutscenes show up fairly often, and they look great. Many of the videos use both screens, and the image spacing works very well with one exception: a fairly uncomfortable crotch shot of Zola (the improbably hot general from the first game) in the first scene.

One question: does that stupid boss song play all the time?

The original Blue Dragon had one song that played in every boss fight, and that darn thing still gets stuck in my head at the slightest provocation. It does make a return in Blue Dragon Plus, but you'll be happy to know that it doesn't play in every boss fight. There are a number of songs in the game this time around, some of which were familiar even in the dumbed-down state the DS forces on them, but some of which I'm sure were new. There's a noticeable difference in how good the game sounds from the speakers or through headphones, so I'd highly recommend that you take the latter option, as most of the music is fairly decent.

Combat sounds are just what you'd expect to hear, and although they don't particularly stand out, they are executed fairly well. There's one thing you'll spend fights listening for: the beeps that are Blue Dragon Plus' equivalent of "Wizard needs food badly!" With a big team to look after, those beeps saved my characters' bacon more times than I can remember. They were useful enough that I happily kept listening long after the point in most games when I would have usually turned off the sound and reached for my mp3 player.

A final note on the sound: there's not one word of voice acting in this game, even in the cutscenes. Instead, all dialogue is accompanied by the classic one-beep-per-letter sound system. I bring it up so that I can call out one more little thing that I think the developers got right - every character has their own beep "voice." Boys tend to be lower than girls, kids are higher, and while they're not different enough that you'd be able to close your eyes and say "yep, that's Shu," it's still a detail I appreciated.

Great, but will I wish my DS came with a mouse?

As you'd expect from a Real-Time Strategy game on the DS, the touch screen is all-important to Blue Dragon Plus, and I was happy to find that its use was very intuitive. Tapping a character selects them, tapping the open ground directs selected character(s) to it, and tapping an enemy targets them. Icons on the screen allow you to quickly select your entire team or to pause the game to draw a circle around a few characters and divide your forces. The D-pad moves the camera around the map, and although I never used them, the face buttons can be used like the screen icons to select characters. Assuming you're a righty, all is well with the world.

Unfortunately, I'm left-handed, and the game doesn't allow you to flip the buttons to accommodate that (swapping the functionality of the face buttons with the D-pad), so I found myself having to awkwardly work the D-pad with a stylus in the same hand. It didn't radically interfere with my enjoyment of the game as a whole, but did lead to a number of mildly frustrating moments.

There were two other control issues I had with the game. First, sometimes when my team was bunched closely together, I had a hard time directing a specific character to the square I wanted. The game would think I was trying to tap on another one of my team members when I really wanted the first person to stand next to the second one to cast a healing spell. Second, if the camera was pointed in three of the four possible directions, it was difficult for me to use the top map as a visual way to move my viewpoint - I'd hit up, and the camera would move down on the map. Frankly, I don't know of anything they could have done to improve this - after all, there is an arrow on the map showing which direction the camera's pointing- but still, it was annoying.

So to wrap it all up:

As a reviewer, you get the chance to play lots of games. Some of them you would have purchased on your own, and others you would have skipped if no one had given you a copy. I'm not good at RTS games, so I don't typically enjoy them. Thus, I would have skipped Blue Dragon Plus, and I would have missed out on a pretty decent game in so doing. It's not flawless, it's not too hard, and the genre change may put off fans of the original game, but it gets a lot of little things right, and the whole ends up being greater than the sum of its parts.


© 2009 Ignition Entertainment, Brownie Brown. All rights reserved.

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