|Publisher:||Microsoft Game Studios|
|Official Site:||English Site|
Blue Dragon was one of the few anticipated JRPG's to come out on the Xbox 360 last year, and the reason was simple: It was developed by the creator of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Sakaguchi's new company, Mistwalker, was formed to help Microsoft capture the Japanese audience that it failed to capture with the original Xbox. So far, Mistwalker has had an impact, but it wasn't as big as Microsoft had hoped for. Blue Dragon's main draw was the fact that three out of four people from the "dream team" that made Chrono Trigger were a part of the development, just like it says on the back of the box: "Legendary RPG Creator Hironobu Sakaguchi", "Renowned Character Designer Akira Toriyama," and finally "Famed Music Composer Nobuo Uematsu". How could a JRPG fan not get hyped by this?
The game starts you off as Shu, a kid in the village of Talta, which is currently being ransacked by the "land shark," a mechanical shark that comes during the annual gathering of purple clouds above the village. He is accompanied by his intelligent friend Jiro and his good-hearted friend Kluke. Together, they vow to take out the land shark, yet despite their attempts the shark is successful. This sets off the main story, in which the party is trying to figure out exactly who is controlling the land shark and why the culprit is attacking the village in the first place. After a while, they find out that Nene, an old-looking purple fellow, is the one behind it all. They eventually meet up with two more companions: Marumaro, a high-pitched yellow creature called a "devi," and Zola, a captain in the Jibral army who is the king's right-hand lady. Zola is the oldest of the crew by a lot, so she's always the one keeping the party cool when things heat up. The characters in Blue Dragon are pretty cookie-cutter though, especially Shu, who constantly says he "won't give up". It becomes apparent the Sakaguchi isn't the storyteller he used to be, as he weaves a plot that is generic and quite unmemorable. The plot is terrible, but everyone knows Sakaguchi can do better than this.
Blue Dragon's gameplay consists of many elements from past JRPGs - except for a few tweaks here and there - and will not feel very different from any other JRPG you have played, but that doesn't mean it's bad. Most of the gameplay involves exploring the world map and the various areas in the game (ranging from dungeons to forests - the typical fantasy stuff) and fighting monsters while searching for treasure, all while making your way to boss fights. There are no random battles; instead, you run into enemies on the screen, but like Grandia 3 you can hit them before running into them to gain an advantage. Also, you can pull up a circle with the "R" button that will show you every enemy in range. You can choose to fight as many as you want at a time, as long as they are in the ring, and if there are a lot of enemies they will attack each other. Also, there are special moves that you can use while exploring, such as a shield that blocks the character from getting attacked and running into battles; instead, if the enemies are weak enough they automatically die, and you still get the points for the battle.
During battle your party members take turns like in Final Fantasy X, and it even has a display at the top that shows you the order of character actions. The game starts off simple, with you just clicking attack, but later in the game your characters get their shadows (the blue dragons) and you will be able to change your classes to whatever you would like (very reminiscent of Final Fantasy V). One of the most important classes, Monk, has a charge meter pop up when you attack or use a magic spell, and this lets you choose how long to charge it for. The longer you charge, the more damage it does, but the longer it takes. When you get the charge meter, it also shows you where your person will be in the turn order, so you can charge it up just enough to get in between party members. This definitely adds a strategic element to the gameplay. Each class has a different ability that is important, so you will want to change classes often. Also, in Final Fantasy fashion, you have a meter called the tension meter (reminiscent of limit breaks) that fills up as you damage and take damage from enemies. When it is completely full you can choose to unleash powerful attacks called Corporeal Magic. These powerful attacks aren't given to you until the latter part of game, though.
The controls in Blue Dragon work quite well in most areas, except for the mini-games. There are parts in Blue Dragon where you have to shoot down incoming missiles and try to take down another flying object at the same time. Unfortunately during these segments, the controls just would not cooperate. I'm a person who always changes the sensitivity and inverts the controls on shooters because that is how I play them, but Blue Dragon didn't let me do either. I struggled immensely and failed quite a few times because I would want to pan up and would pan down instead (being used to inverted controls). Mistwalker should have let you mess with the controls before taking on the mini-game. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one who would have wanted it. Other than this, the controls are just like every other JRPG, which is fine.
The presentation in Blue Dragon is above average, but not spectacular. The graphics look pretty for the most part, but the game suffers from slowdown in battle (although it doesn't affect the gameplay one bit). The CG cutscenes are beautiful, just not used as frequently as I would have hoped. They are the entire reason the game was on three DVD's, and the in-game cutscenes were pretty good as well, but I don't think it was worth putting it on three discs just for those scenes. The character designs by Toriyama aren't as good as they were in Dragon Quest VIII, and the 360 hardware just doesn't get pushed as much as it should have.
The soundtrack is primarily composed of rock music. I liked it, for the most part, but it definitely isn't nearly as good as any of Uematsu's past work. The boss theme particularly sticks out as a sore point because it is the only boss song in the game, which is a shame. It gets repeated so much that even I got sick of it, even though I originally liked the song the first few times I heard it. The voice acting in Blue Dragon isn't particularly bad either, but almost none of it is amazing. Some characters fit well, but the dialogue prevents any character from standing out above the crowd. Marumaro's voice is easily one of the most annoying voices I have ever heard, even if it does fit his character.
In the end, Blue Dragon was a fun, albeit conventional, JRPG for the 360. The gameplay stuck out for me as the strong point, with the plot being the weakest. JRPG fans who just want to have some fun stomping on baddies will probably end up enjoying their time with Blue Dragon, but those who want a grandiose plot similar to Sakaguchi's Final Fantasy games will be disappointed. Blue Dragon is not a classic, but for a system lacking quality JRPGs, I would say Blue Dragon is a nice addition.