Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: Brownie Brown
Release Date: February 19, 2009
You see it everywhere you look in the media these days: It's become standard practice to seek popularity and exploit it. Whether you're watching your favorite video game being turned into a feature film, keeping an eye on your favorite rapper as he goes the way of the sit-com, or seeing if your favorite book can be adapted to the big screen without losing an unforgiveable amount of content, you can reasonably expect any phenomenon that generates a fan following to be translated into other media. The same holds true for Blue Dragon, an anime series about a young boy who gains the ability to bring his shadow to life as an enormous blue dragon and teams up with others who have a similar ability to fight evil. The real question: Will Blue Dragon Plus for the Nintendo DS go over smoothly and remain faithful to the spirit of the source material, or does it misrepresent and embarrass the source material with a lackluster offering? Regrettably, the latter is far more accurate in this case.
If you played the Xbox 360 game by a similar name, then some of this content will seem familiar to you. The plot (and I use the term loosely) for Blue Dragon Plus picks up where Blue Dragon ended. You've just defeated the big, bad boss and brought peace to the world, or so you believe. There are still some loyal enemy stragglers who oppose you and are easily picked off in the introductory battles, as well as one rather clever part where one of your robotic enemies must be electrocuted with some careful timing and a bit of the old bait-and-switch. What follows is an endless series of one-shot battles, wherein your little group is expected to defeat all of the enemies or face certain doom. There's nothing too unfamiliar about this so far; even the renowned Final Fantasy Tactics usually came down to a "win or lose" mechanic, wherein the battle ended when one side was entirely wiped out. No, this title's real failure lies in the flawed execution of the gameplay, which is an instant death sentence for any game.
One of the great complaints I have with Blue Dragon Plus is that your individual units are fairly nondescript, visually speaking. Sure, the yellow-skinned creature tends to stand out among the others, but you'll have trouble differentiating many of your human units. While this might seem like something of an inconvenience, it becomes an actual impediment to playing the game when you realize that each character has a different role; one character runs very quickly, while another casts support spells, and yet another is one of your tanks, so he's good at taking hits for you. With these attributes largely unchangeable for each character, it rapidly becomes obvious that it's very important to deploy the right unit for the right task, and doing that in the heat of battle can be challenging when so many of your characters look similar to one another.
The issue of timing is another area in which Blue Dragon Plus betrays itself. Where many players might have purchased this title hoping for a strategy/RPG in the same vein as Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea, this is instead a real-time strategy, commonly known as an RTS to fans of the genre. This means that all fighting happens in real time, with no one waiting for commands from you; put down the system for five minutes and walk away, and you'll return to a "Game Over" screen. This definitely makes for faster battles, but it also means that you're forced to keep up with all of your characters at once and give them orders that might otherwise seem obvious. Don't think that they'll be smart enough to figure out ideas like "once you kill one monster, go on to the next," either; they're utterly useless without your intervention, and with the DS screen as small as it is, you'll often find yourself scrolling madly to rescue one character from his own idiocy as he stands in the midst of a cloud of enemies that gleefully whittle away at him. Between that and their willingness to stroll right by swarms of enemies to reach their goal, all of whom eagerly take swipes as you pass by, it takes some real adjustment and accounting for moronic AI to get beyond the first couple of stages.
In truth, it takes very little gameplay to realize that the natural limitations of the DS format mean that this was definitely not the right title to be released on this handheld system, at least not in its current state. If nothing else, the mandatory usage of the stylus can prove to be a major impediment, especially when you get a large group of allies standing relatively close together. Personally, I lost track of the number of times I tried desperately to click on my healer so that his little healing circle could be used to bring back some of my characters from the brink of death, only to accidentally tap a fighter or a runner or what have you because my fingers were two microns too far to the right. No amount of name recognition can rescue an RTS with bad gameplay from the junk heap, and when you can't even deliver the orders you have in mind because of the problems inherent with the physical method of inputting commands, it's definitely not a sign that this is a title you'll want to keep around.
What it all comes down to is that it's difficult to recommend Blue Dragon Plus to anyone. Blue Dragon fans will be disappointed by the lackluster story, weak characterization, and total lack of voice acting. RTS fans will be further disappointed by what amounts to a monumentally large step backward in their field of choice, and strategy fans will soon discover that the system prevents the intended actions from taking place. If I were this dragon, I'd be blue too.
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