A Binge Gamer Review: Blue Dragon Plus
When I first hear about a new release, I’m usually pretty savvy at calling whether it will be quality or crap before it’s even on store shelves. But in some instances, a game will defy my expectations, because—as much as I hate to admit it—I’m no psychic.
With Blue Dragon Plus, I was unsure of what to think. Before this review, the franchise never garnered my interest. I was appreciative of the Chrono Trigger/Dragonball art stylings (crafted by the one and only Akira Toriyama) and the strategy elements seemed pretty cool, but other than that, BDP looked like just another DS title for the kiddies—gameplay fit for a first-grader, a cheesy story, and worst of all, a lack of challenge or depth.
Of course, with a lead like that, you’ve probably already guessed that my assumption was wrong. And you’re right. I was wrong—very wrong.
Contrary to any opinion I had before playing it, Blue Dragon Plus is a fantastic title with tons to offer even the most skeptical of gamers (read: myself).
The story of Blue Dragon Plus takes place shortly after the events of Blue Dragon for the Xbox 360. Thankfully, the developers do an excellent job of bringing players new to the series up to speed through some cutscenes and well-written dialogue. While I’d rather not drop any spoilers about the story (which is actually really good), I will sum up the basics: Nene, the big bad boss from the last game, is back along with some shadow-summoning robots, and it’s your job as defenders of the universe to find out what the hell is going on.
The game even goes as far as to toss in a handful of plot twists right at the start. Never having played the original, even I found myself anxious to see how things develop for Shu and the gang. I was quickly absorbed by the quality of the dialogue and the varied set of unique, interesting characters.
Speaking of which, as each new character is introduced, the game offers a brief bio along with a suggestion of how he should be used in battle. This proves to be invaluable, as each hero has a unique set of skills and stats, really pushing you to thoroughly plan your tactics.
Then there’s the music, which without question is one of BDP’s strongest suits. Composed by the renowned Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger), the soundtrack aptly sets the mood for every scene in the story. Clearly Uematsu’s work, one number is strangely similar to Aeris’s theme from Final Fantasy VII. Of course I’m not complaining, because the music is straight up gorgeous.
But when it comes down to it, Blue Dragon Plus is a strategy RPG, meaning if the gameplay isn’t there, it’s not worth a second glance. Fortunately the game delivers in spades as far as the battle system goes. Combat is fun, fast, intense, and—much to my surprise—pretty damn challenging.
What’s really interesting about this game is that the battles take place in real time—no turn based decision making here. Everything is done on the fly, adding an awesome twist to the gameplay.
As mentioned, each character has his own set of skills, typically allowing him to summon a massive shadow beast that causes heavy damage or status ailments. A neat twist here is when a foe uses his own shadow at the same time as one of your characters. The result is a “Shadow Fight” where you must slide your stylus rapidly back and forth over your opponent’s dragon (or anywhere on the touch screen, really). The winner of the duel damages all enemies for maximum damage, a good incentive to sync an attack to your opponents.
Of course, as I’d mentioned, I worried about the game’s difficulty—until I got to a mission where the objective is to rescue a bunch of Poo Snakes (yes, that’s what they’re called) from being flushed down a set of drains. While trying to free the suggestively-named mini-monsters, I was also racing against a treasure-happy rat looking to steal my spoils (if an enemy opens a chest before you, the prize is gone for good). Still, it was immensely fun, and I welcomed the challenge.
The graphics of Blue Dragon Plus certainly have their charm. The CG cutscences have the typical, DS choppiness, but still look really damn good. The character models are beautiful (especially those represented during the dialogue), and the skills are pretty to watch, with many of the special skills being rendered in 3D.
The game also keeps track of all the monsters you defeat, adding some statistics to your dungeon crawling quest.
Of course, the BDP isn’t without its problems. The lack of an option for left-handed controls was a pretty big downer (we lefties always get the shaft). Still, I managed to get adapt to the controls pretty quickly, and I’d imagine playing BDP would be even smoother than it already is, were I right-handed.
Another problem involves character movement/action. In order to get a character to anything, you must select him first, and then either poke at the enemy or the location on the map which you wish him to move. Simple enough, but suppose you accidentally choose the wrong enemy or you decide you want him to go elsewhere. You can’t just click any old place; you have to reselect the character, and then reselect the enemy or location. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in the heat of battle when characters are spread apart by a distance of two or three screens, it grows to be a real nuisance, especially when a character refuses to go where you command him to go, instead opting to attack the nearest enemy again and again, wasting time if you’re in a hurry.
Mapping skills can be a bit of a bitch too, and I don’t understand why the task couldn’t have been made as simple as equipping items (which is a breeze). In order to rearrange a character’s skill list to your liking, you must first remove one skill, make sure the skill you want for that slot isn’t in another slot, add it to the slot desired, and then, if you want the other skill you originally removed from the character to remain active, you must reapply it. Why isn’t there an option to simply rearrange skills with a simple slide or tap of the stylus?
While Blue Dragon Plus has its share of minor flaws, none of them are overly bothersome, acting more as a mild inconvenience if anything. I’ve already adapted to the right-handed controls, and if fighting with menu or a stubborn character insistent on hacking at every enemy in his path is the only other price I have to pay, I think can live with that.
I certainly have to recommend Blue Dragon Plus as a must-buy for DS owners (or at the very least, a rental). With fantastic art and music, an interesting story with tons of twists, amusing characters, and action-packed gameplay, you really can’t go wrong. Boasting about 30 hours of gameplay, DS owners should definitely give it a look.