Blue Dragon: This is the beginning (constantly)
The first game developed by Mistwalker, a developer headed by the legendary Hironobu Sakaguchi, Blue Dragon is an adventure into a very strange world, and an interesting old-school JRPG style to it, which is both a gift and a curse, given that games have moved on in certain areas that Blue Dragon could have benefited from.
So will this be an enormous waste of time? Probably. But let’s dig into it anyway!
The story begins as the residents of Talta village are under attack by the infamous Land Shark, which has plagued the area for generations, murdering hundreds and leaving children without parents. One of these orphans is Shu, a classic, spiky-haired kid, who doesn’t like to give up...this, is his entire persona really...and his friend Jiro, the smart and well-balanced child with parents, who are trying to defeat the Land Shark before it can kill anyone else. They are joined by Kluke, the love interest of who knows who in the game, with each of them discovering spheres in an underground cave that they fell into during the battle with the land shark, saved by a mysterious light, that merge with them, allowing them to summon powerful shadows with which to combat the evil mastermind behind the land shark, and several other events that have ravaged the lands, including killer fog, and a village with a man eating tree in it, Nene...yes, that’s his name...he’s also a decrepit old man, so you just know our heroes are really the pure of heart here. Nene has some kind of weird plan to make himself more powerful, and also has a weird robot thing attached to his floating chair. You see, the land shark is a machine, or Mechat, and when Shu, Jiro and Kluke damage it, it returns to an old ruin, where they encounter Nene. Anyway, long story short, they get powers, as they journey around the land, they encounter two more shadow-wielding individuals, Zola, the pirate lady with some sort of apparent anime sex-appeal, and Marumoro...who can go straight to hell, as he is the most annoying character to exist in videogames ever, with a high-pitched voice and a creepy, cross-species crush on Zola...and he never shuts the fuck up shouting. Seriously, this game is actually worse because of his participation, you’ll wait intently for the moment when you can leave his ass in the middle of a monster infested island, but sadly, he’s integral to the story...so anyway, basic plotline, find the big bad, kill the big bad, explore the world, and so on. Nothing new, but it does have an almost simplistic charm to it, something that we’ve rarely seen in videogames of late, however, it has some seriously dark undertones involving lost civilisations and death.
Graphically, Blue Dragon is on its own in terms of prettiness, with its anime style allowing for some rather nice use of the HD effects, and the enemies and environments a certain amount of pleasing detail. It’s by no means an utterly stunning game, but it isn’t run-of-the-mill, or even sub-par, resting somewhere between great and alright. The character models are very anime-esque, giving the game a more cartoon-like, lighter tone, which is surprising given some of the darker elements of the story.
The combat system is one of the two major elements of Blue Dragon, focusing on the Shadows, which each character has. These shadows range from a Dragon, a Minotaur, a Phoenix, a Sabre-Tooth Tiger, and a Bat, each with some inherent abilities suited to each character, with Shu and Marumoro acting in damage output and damage sponging abilities, to Kluke’s healing and Jiro’s offensive magic, along with Zola’s abilities, which are quite handy when you want to deal some fast physical damage. Each character can learn the range of classes available to them, and can mix-and-match different abilities from different classes, boosting their powers with XP and PP, for levels and class levels respectively. This gives you the ability to have certain characters learn certain, handy abilities, which make for some highly varied combinations during the game. Though each character may have specific traits that they are more skilled in, these stats can be altered using different classes, and learning specific abilities which can change stats to the same level as other classes would give. It’s not a difficult system, but it involves more than a bit of grinding, which you’ll enjoy, thanks to the turn-based combat system that is surprisingly fast-paced, allowing you to pick attacks with ease, and the element system is actually fun, with the classic elements of fire, water, earth and wind, along with light and dark, helping the player form a range of precision attacks to better defeat enemies in a faster fashion. Enemies can be stacked in combat, by holding the right trigger, which activates a circle which activates a small area to encompass a set of enemies that you fight in a specific order. At times, two different monsters may fight each other and the player, so this is an interesting mechanic. You can also sneak attack certain enemies if you aren’t seen by them. Overall, it’s a neat little system that’s fairly tight when it comes to strategy. Grinding is a must, but it never really feels as quick to annoy the player as it should, lasting a lot longer than most RPG’s, given the vast array of abilities to gain for each character, which can be mixed and matched after the character has reached a certain skill level with a class.
You’ll also find that at a later point in the game, you can fly around the game world looking for new islands to land on, which could wield more powerful items or fun enemy bosses that are tough as nails, but given some good XP, PP and items. The exploration elements to the game keep it from becoming boring, allowing you to discover new areas and even some powerful spells that cannot be gotten anywhere else. Also accessible to the player is the vast amounts of shops that can help you stock up on potions early in the game, as getting money isn’t hard at all, since some battles are actually over quite quickly, and with the free-travel element, you can visit plenty of the surrounding towns and cities in order to complete missions and discover other characters who have their own stories to tell.
The sound in the game is...well...I have to be honest, the soundtrack consists of a lot of uplifting music during cutscenes and the ambient music while travelling the game world actually has some pretty nice scores to it. The voice acting isn’t at all terrible for the most part...that fucking shit Marumoro aside...though the main problem with the music in the game is the combat track. Yes...track. I’m not joking, it is literally the same two minute, thirty second song put on repeat over and over again for as long it takes you to beat the enemy. You’ll know it off-by-heart whether you want to or not, because it just keeps going. The words; “This is the beginning” will mean utterly nothing at the end of your playthrough of this game...which is substantial, given that it consists of three discs.
Despite everything that is actually pretty good about Blue Dragon, the game inevitably fails because of its lack of scale. Right when the story and world are getting interesting, the game pretty much wraps up, so some of the best ideas are left unexplored, which I see as a huge waste of potential. However, I will say that what Blue Dragon does right, it does extremely well, but given the simplicity of the game overall, and that fact that it took me for-frigging-ever to write this review, thinking up what the game had to offer, Blue Dragon fails to meet a particular standard of JRPG that would have been expected at the time, or even now. Stylistically, it uses it’s cutesy tone to soften the darker elements to the story, but the really philosophical elements of the story and its characters and world are never extrapolated upon further, showing just how much the game could have achieved if it had a little more development time and a bigger budget. It’s a decent game, buy it for a discount if you see it, because it’s not as bad as you’d think it might be, and as its Mistwalker’s first title, it’s kind of impressive to see the utterly staggering leaps and bounds that it made with its next game.
Final Verdict: 3/5
· Interesting stylistic choices
· Classic anime look and story, dark elements contrast heavily with anime comedy style
· Voice acting is good...apart from Marumoro...ugh...
· Game world is quite large and filled with areas to explore
· Combat and class systems allow a mix-and-match strategic element that is fun to play around with, gives the player total control of strategy in combat.
· Graphically decent
· Story never really gets interesting
· Combat track becomes a horrible noise
· Overall the game feels too short in terms of storyline, tends to rush towards the ending at times.
· Not enough variety throughout the game to keep the player interested or invested, easy to lose track of where you are if you leave the game for a while.
WTF? Moment: “THIS IS THE BEGINNING!!!!”...it's like they didn't have a budget for music. Also, how does Marumoro have parents that don’t want to kill him in his sleep, or at the very least, gag him when he’s around? Oh and Poo monsters.