The JRPG dream team produce a rather lackluster snoozefest
Blue Dragon by Mistwalker is what you would class as one the first next generation JRPG's. Created by an ensemble dream team of the genre, surely this title should be a measure of perfection that no others can hope to reach? Well no, not quite.
There has always seemed to be two different class types in the JRPG genre. One in which the game is primarily story driven with a sparse amount of fighting and the other being a pure test of patience level grinding (albeit with subsequent rewards for your time). Everybody interested in JRPG's has a preference of one style over the other, Blue Dragon almost without question falls into the latter category. This isn't to say there is no story in Blue Dragon, just that it's so predictable, ill-written and by the book that in no point during the games sixty hour time span will it put you to the edge of your seat. The vagueness is such a problem in parts that during the story you won't quite understand why certain events take place, or why characters are behaving in a particular manner.
In terms of gameplay, there's no real time MMO style battle system ala FFXII or any of that nonsense here. This game’s gimmick is that rather than equip weapons or armour, the main characters use their own magical shadows to fight for them. While this looks very pretty in a crisp 720p resolution, the level of detail in the characters is almost near non-existent. Rather than scales and scars and other such goodies that you'd wish (and expect) to see on these menacing shadow creatures, instead they look more like shiny balloon animals that some clownshoes at a shopping mall would make. Even worse is the severe framerate slowdown whenever a particle effect comes into the equation, this ends up applying to just about every spell or attack you make by game end. While not utterly game wrecking it certainly underwhelms the whole experience.
The characters all level up in class systems as they fight. All the usual classes you'd expect are here; Sword Master, Healer, Assassin etc. Despite the game manual telling you otherwise, essentially to form any kind of effective unit you'll want to roll out the genre norm of physical tanks in front and magic healers at the back. As only a few skills are of any real use in this game, you're going to be levelling up at least three out of five characters in exactly the same manner which proves to be quite a dull and slow paced affair.
As no weapons or armour are involved due to the characters not actually fighting, customisation is offered in terms of accessories. Equipping different accessories changes statistic differentials and some also come added with status effects which help with the larger boss fights. Sadly when the accessories are equipped they make no change to the characters appearance, also the sheer number of them which anybody can freely use with little restraint make the reward of finding or buying them fairly non-existent. In another game while you might get the visceral excitement of seeing your character waving his brand new shiny sword about here you have nothing, not even a new attack animation. So as well as a weak story, the lack of customisation or reward makes it a very hard game to enjoy from a grinding perspective too.
On a positive note the voice acting is actually rather good, with only a few bad apples in the bunch of voice actors. Having played it through in French, the lip-syncing is acceptable and only the character Kluke seemed to under-perform every single line given to her. This doesn't help that the dialogue is awful to start with but it saves the story from being a complete disaster. The musical score is very underwhelming and lacking in variety. Despite the acclaimed Nobuo Uematsu being the game’s composer, it's almost as if he used all his previously rejected Final Fantasy scores for this project.
Despite such a dream team being responsible for the game, it seems a crime of money over passion took place. Money was thrown at the three big names involved making the game purely as an attempt to win over the Japanese market at the 360's launch. However I don't think anyone's heart in production was really fully involved; the story, artwork and music are all very underwhelming and reek of doing the most modicum amount of work possible. If it wasn't for such a shortage of the genre on the 360, it'd be really hard to recommend this game to anybody considering the severely unbalanced ratio of time vs. reward. On par with Enchanted Arms or PSU, compared to Lost Odyssey or Tales of Vesperia it’s worth avoiding all together.Paw Rating: 2/5
Good: Long game length, impressive voice acting, interesting premise.
Bad: Poor story and pacing, lack of character customisation, severe framerate issues.