Genre: Role-Playing Game
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: August 28, 2007
As an avid fan of RPGs, I often find myself waiting and hoping for the next great genre offering. Role-playing games have always been about immersive worlds, interactive characters and amazing storylines, and gamers have been hoping for the definitive next-generation RPG for their shiny new systems. Three well-known RPG designers — Hironobu Sakaguchi, Akira Toriyama and Nobuo Uematsu — collaborated on Blue Dragon, so could it be the RPG that everyone has been awaiting?
For each of the past 10 years, dark purple clouds have mysteriously formed in the skies, spelling disaster for everyone in the world. Your village of Talta has been burdened by the purple clouds as much as anyone else. In your case, a creature called a "land shark" lays siege to your village each time the clouds appear. You and a couple of your friends create a plan to ambush the land shark the next time it attacks your village in hopes of ending the regime of fear under which your village has learned to live. After combat with the land shark, you discover that it's not a creature, but a machine. Following the land shark leads to more mystery as it flies high into the purple clouds and docks with a huge mother ship, taking you and your friends along for the ride.
On the mother ship, you encounter an old man named Nene, who admits to being the culprit behind the attacks on the village, angering your party and leading to their defeat when they try to combat him. Attempting to flee, your party runs to another small aircraft on the ship that none of you know how to pilot! Suddenly, a female voice instructs you to swallow three spheres located in the room to gain power, skill and the ability to pilot the craft. Despite possible outcomes, your party complies, and each person is imbued with a shadow monster. These shadows not only tie into the story, but they also greatly affect your combat. After escaping, your party vows to bring an end to Nene and save the world from the annual attacks.
With Sakaguchi — the man credited for directing the first five Final Fantasy games — crafting the storyline, it's insanely difficult for Blue Dragon's story to fail. It brings a mixture of both fresh and classic elements to the RPG genre and fits in well on the Xbox 360 console.
In addition to the rather unique storyline, Blue Dragon's combat system doesn't disappoint, either. If you're a fan of turn-based combat such as that found in the earlier Final Fantasy games, then Blue Dragon has just the combat system that you're looking for. The game world is essentially comprised of towns and dungeons. In towns, you rest, buy equipment and advance the plot; in dungeons, you fight monsters, level up and complete your goals. When you're in dungeons, you'll see your enemy and have the option of evading or attacking, instead of entering a mandatory combat sequence. If you manage to strike the monster before it makes contact, your party can initiate a surprise attack against your enemy as soon as the battle starts.
Rather than fighting with their hands, the heroes of Blue Dragon fight with shadows. Some shadows give your character the ability to show more physical strength, while others may allow new and improved magics. Each of the characters' unique shadows — for example, the main character Shu has a dragon shadow, while his friend Jiro has a Minotaur shadow — also has the ability to specialize in a separate class.
Once the skirmish has ended, all experience and level ups are obtained only by the class currently active to that shadow. For example, Jiro, as stated above, has a Minotaur shadow. When you first unlock the power of the shadows, Jiro defaults to a healing class, and if you choose to play through the game with Jiro as your healer, his healing class will increase, and he will gain stronger healing abilities. However, you may also choose to play differently and set Jiro's shadow to be an assassin class so that he specializes in stealth attacks, and his abilities will level up accordingly. Classes can be changed at any time in the game, as long as it isn't during combat.
The Blue Dragon world is simply beautiful. With a very animated yet still fresh and crisp feel, the game certainly lives up to the expectations of being a next-gen RPG. From battle animations to terrain development, the title does not disappoint. Perhaps the most beautiful graphical elements of Blue Dragon are the characters. Toriyama, best known for his character development for Chrono Trigger, Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Quest, is a law unto himself in character development. Each character has a unique attitude and overall design, both physically and emotionally. Remnants from anime-like animations seem to show similarity here, but it certainly remains looking new and great on the Xbox 360.
Blue Dragon's soundtrack can be described in one word: epic. The soundtrack was produced and composed by Uematsu, the composer for most of the music in the Final Fantasy series. All of the music in the game gives the classic RPG vibe for which fans have been searching. Calm and soothing music plays in towns while intense and thrill-seeking music bursts in for boss fights, and, of course, the quirky and eerie music creeps in when something is amiss with the plot. This happens quite a bit.
The control scheme for Blue Dragon will feel very familiar for any classic RPG fan. You run around the world using the analog stick, and a simple press of a button brings up your menu to display character information, inventory details and equipment options. Performing actions in combat are done by scrolling through a menu with options such as Attack, Magic, Item and Run, and when it's a specific character's turn, he performs the attack. While some favor the new and oft-used real-time combat system for RPGs, like Final Fantasy XII, I prefer the turn-based variety, and Blue Dragon performs well with it.
Overall, Blue Dragon is a great RPG for a next-gen system. It doesn't earn a perfect score because every element of Blue Dragon has been done time and time again. Yes, the title brings back old features from classic RPGs and gleans some good traits from more current games, but there is little innovation here. The story line is new but certainly not powerful enough — it could have used quite a few altercations! If you're looking for a next-gen RPG, Blue Dragon certainly suffices, but if you're looking for an amazing story line or a brand new RPG with exciting new features, you'll have to wait a little longer.
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