When the first Blue Dragon game hit, many critics had mixed reactions. It was definitely an acquired taste yet it still had its charm. There was something about the characters and old-school, traditional battle system that kept many, myself included, playing. When Blue Dragon Plus, a strategy RPG for the DS, hit the scene it also garnered a similar reaction. It was either your cup of tea or it wasn’t; there wasn’t a whole lot of middle ground. It may have been adequate enough, but it just never really caught on. So, now with the release of Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow, a dungeon crawling Action RPG, is the third time a charm? After being through three types of battle systems, does this one finally get it right? Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is a worthy dungeon crawler to add to your collection, but it’s not without its faults. Yet, there is something so addicting about it that it’s difficult to put down. Whether you are a fan of the Blue Dragon series or not, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow will not only provide you with hours of entertainment, but also a hearty challenge. I’ll be honest, I went into the game without expecting much, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Naturally, I’ve come to the conclusion after playing it that the best things really do come in threes.
Once You Create Your Character, A Mystery Unfolds
Before you start your journey, you’ll need to create your own character; you have the option of being either male or female. The game offers a nice selection– for a DS title– to customize your avatar, although I wish there were just a few more options to choose from. Honestly, I’m just a little hurt that I couldn’t find an adequate blonde hair color selection, so I had to give my girl pink hair in true JRPG character fashion. There are a small number of options for each customization, but it’s nothing compared to the sliders you’ll see in western titles like Fallout 3. Once you’ve customized your character, you’ll start on your adventure.
The story takes place two years after the first Blue Dragon game ended. When it begins, the character you’ve created wakes up in a laboratory without any recollection of what’s going on or why she’s there. After your main character escapes the laboratory, she runs into Shu, the main character from the first Blue Dragon game. Naturally, a battle ensues before much can be said. After the battle, you find out that nobody has been able to use their shadows lately, but for some reason you can still use yours. Being that you’re the only shadow user, the mystery of the story begins to deepen. What’s even more mysterious is that those who fight with you are also able to see and access their shadows.
The story is a little confusing at first, especially since some things are explained only vaguely. However, it’s adequate enough to carry you through the game. The game is primarily about slaying your way through dungeons, but you’ll get tiny parts of the story throughout your grind. They are spread thin, but the scenes are done in an intriguing way, so you’ll actually want to keep dungeon crawling to see what the story has in store for you. And although the scenes are spread out, they tend to be pretty lengthy. Fans of the previous Blue Dragon games will notice that various characters make an appearance in this game and fight alongside you, including Shu, Jiro, Kluke, Marumaro, Zola, and King Jibral. Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow does a good job at keeping key personality traits from these familiar characters and they definitely shine through in certain scenes. I also just want to add that you don’t need to play previous Blue Dragon games to understand the story in this one. But while you won’t feel lost, you will miss out on knowing core things about certain characters and why they act a certain way. As such, it isn’t mandatory to play the previous titles, but it does help your enjoyment of the game to already be familiar with these characters. Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow also makes it so you need to recruit certain characters to be in your party; the plus side of this is that you can obtain them as party members by completing certain quests with them. These quests not only establish more backstory, but they also mix well into the story. Some are better than others, but quite a few of them will be comical to Blue Dragon veterans. And while the story does succeed for the game, the main draw here is the hack-and-slash dungeon crawling gameplay, and that’s where most of the effort seems to have went for Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow.
Hackin-and-slashin the Night Away With Shadows
At its core, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is a Diablo or PSO-style Action RPG, where you’ll do a great deal of dungeon crawling. In addition to traipsing through monster-filled corridors, you’ll have a great deal of extra quests, item synthesis, and additional boss battles that you can partake in. The game is also not a walk in the park; the battles are tough and you will need the right combination of strong equipment, made through synthesis, and leveling up through grinding just to beat dungeons. Not only are the bosses tough, but the regular battles you encounter can be difficult as well, especially if you are underleveled. Most notably, when you are just getting your bearings, it’s easy to die in a regular encounter. Enemies appear on the screen and you can see them before you engage them. A big strategy in this game is to sneak up on the enemy and use one of your shadows’ powers on them before they can see you. In battle, you need to mix it up between regular attacks and using your special skills granted to you depending on which shadow you chose to equip in battle. After using a special skill, a set amount of time has to elapse before you’ll be able to use another one. You are also able to block and dodge attacks, so if you’re in dire need of healing and the allotted time hasn’t passed since you last used a special skill, you can act defensively until you have access to your skills again.
The battles are fairly repetitive, though you do need a solid strategy for victory, especially when it comes to boss battles. You can only equip a certain amount of special skills at a time, so the type of enemy you face off against will determine which skills will best suit you for battle. And for those of you who enjoy taking down challenging bosses, you’ll be happy to know that the game offers extra challenging boss battles for you to partake in. In Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow, there are special doors all over the main town. After you reach certain milestones in the game, these doors will be available for you to go in. Once in these doors, you will experience extra tough boss battles. If you can take down these big bad bosses, the pay off is great. You’ll be netted some strong bonuses, primarily stronger gear. And as frustrating as these boss battles can be, you feel a great sense of accomplishment when you do complete them.
Now this brings me to my one big gripe about this game, the battle AI, which controls all of your allies, is horrible. I can’t tell you how many times I lost a battle primarily due to their horrible choices. If they are low on health instead of staying back from the enemy, they tend to charge right in and, of course, die. They are helpful when it comes to healing, but that’s about as far as it goes. It will feel like you’re in these battles without much support, basically, and if you want to win, you’ll have to not depend on them for anything. You’ll have to anticipate that they will select the worst strategic action for the battle. With my awful experience with the AI, I’d recommend using the game’s multiplayer option as much as possible. Unfortunately, I was unable to test out that feature, so I’m not sure how well it functions, but with the bad experience I had with the AI, it simply has to be better. You can either play local multiplayer or if you have another person’s friend code you can play with them over the WFC.
Another big part of Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is item synthesis. Item synthesis is very simplistic and not difficult to master, mainly because there isn’t much to master. Basically, you’ll combine weapons, armor, and accessories of the same type to make more powerful items. You’ll spend a lot of time in the game trying to combine as many items together as possible, but items also have limits to how many times they can combined. Once you’ve reached your limit, that’s as powerful as the item will get. Honestly, I liked that the system wasn’t too complicated and had fun trying out new combinations. Unfortunately, if you don’t like what you did with what you combined, there is no way to reverse it, so I highly recommend you save before combining any new items to your beloved weapons, armor, and accessories. One cool part I want to make note of is that every time you combine something or don new equipment, your character model will change with the new outfit, weapon, or headgear. It’s almost like you’re playing dress up with your character, which is fun. To sum it up, the core gameplay is fun. It does has its flaws, specifically the repetition and horrible AI, and while the dungeons also aren’t anything to write home about, there’s something quite charming and addictive about the gameplay. Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow was hard for me to put down, no matter how frustrated I got with difficult boss battles, and I just didn’t feel satisfied until I beat them. I felt a great sense of accomplishment for being able to surpass the challenge and this is no doubt where the game succeeds.
Graphics and Sound That Just Don’t Measure up
As far as the graphics go, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow feels just average. Don’t get me wrong, the cutscenes that play out do look well for a DS game and the character portraits look rather nice, but the backdrops in this game are just average. The dungeons, especially, leave much to be desired. They all look pretty similar and although you can tell there was an effort to add in some variety, it just doesn’t stand strong in the game. It feels more like dungeon areas are the same, just with different colors used. The dungeons look entirely generic and I can’t really think of any of the dungeons that stood out to me. However, the game is quite colorful and does illuminate the DS screen well, so at least it has that going for it.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack, too, suffers from being just average. As I sit here writing this, there’s not one track that I can recall… and I’ve been playing the game non-stop for weeks! I hate to call it “forgettable,” but it is just that. On the other hand, the game does feature some voice acting. Now, It’s far from the best I’ve ever heard, but it is adequate for a DS title, and does liven up the game. As it stands, the cutscenes are a strength to the game and the voice acting only enhances them instead of hindering them.
One of the Better Dungeon Crawlers on the DS
While Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow may not be the best game I’ve played, it’s one of the better dungeon crawlers I’ve played on the DS. It has this undeniable charm and addictive gameplay that makes it hard to put down. If you enjoy a game that’s easy to pick up but has challenging battles and allows you to customize your character with plenty of new duds, then Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow will be worth your while. The third time definitely was a charm for the Blue Dragon series and if you’re a fan, there’s not a doubt in my mind that you will enjoy this title. You know you want to see just how Shu and his friends are doing after all this time.