That Blue Dragon wasn’t the commercial and artistic success Microsoft (and us) were hoping for seeing the top development studio, is by now common knowledge. We too have checked out the game and made our own conclusions.
The biggest disappointment of this huge production is that the ambition and production isn’t supported by a strong – let alone epic – story, and that the characters will easier make you curl your toes than make you shed a tear or laugh. Shu, the main character, is a small dude that you wouldn’t mind doing without and which constantly has the need to shout “I won’t give up!”. This deep motivation leads him and his uninteresting party through a Land Shark and the accompanying adventures.
Everything is too decent, too general and just too déjà-vu to be able to speak of a memorable game. The 45 to 60 playing hours are too long to keep you interested even if the last of the three DVDs is more interesting. But before you get there you’ll either have to be a huge fan of the genre or extremely persistent.
It’s unfortunate that the game falls short in that aspect as other things are very strong. On the sound you can discuss the appeal of certain battle-songs, but the rest of the music and voices are very well done. Also the graphics are quite original with colourful surroundings and perfectly finished characters. The visual effects and fights an sich are drawn on your screen with the necessary cinematic flair and dynamics. There’s some lack of inspiration and bravery when it comes to design of the – often quite empty – environments as well as models but making this a big issue like so many other reviewers do is a bridge too far. On that aspect, Blue Dragon only loses from topgames like Dragon Quest VIII.
The game also gets some positive points thanks to some small innovations in combat, both in the “world” as the turn-based battlefields. Fighting is done by using the very goodlooking blue dragins, some sort of shadows of your characters that appear to make your enemies’ lives miserable. These can be endlessly adjusted and the lack of classic weapons is made up by a strong and extensive skill system, including classic and magical attacks for your shadow.
Just like the job system from some episodes of the Final Fantay series the classes in Blue Dragon allow you to adjust your alter egos as you want. New classes constantly become available and used ones will level and therefore become stronger. For newcomers to the genre it will take some looking around but it’s fun to try everything out, become stronger and constantly having the possibility to adapt your shadows to the situation. That you therefore have less feeling of playing with a certain type of character (there’s no specific “tank” or “healer” as you can easily change) is something I really didn’t mind. Gamers that prefer going at it with people that are flesh&blood will find these hollow gameplay things less interesting.
While adventuring you can avoid random fights and choose those you want to do and a lot more. You can attack in the back which gives you an advantage in the turn-based fight that comes afterwards, and by selecting a couple of foes in your neighbourhood you can do combat against a couple of groups at the same time. With some luck they’ll first fight amongst each other after which you can get rid of those that remain and collect some bonuses in between enemy waves.
Finishing fights in Blue Dragon is a lot more fun than following the storyline and the many beautiful cut-scenes. Unfortunately we want a complete experience in a top RPG and in that the game doesn’t succeed. The beautiful visual effects, the accompanying music and some nice mini games can’t make up for the lack of daring and innovation as well as hide the failing of the story and characters. If you’re someone that likes graphics combined with more than decent fights then this is for you. If you’re looking for epic and immersive storylines than you’re better off waiting for Mass Effect!