Blue Dragon Plus DS
Blue Dragon was released at the back end of 2007 exclusively on the Xbox 360 to fairly positive reviews. It had an excellent anime visual style, coupled with a very traditional turn-based RPG battle system. The game was created using the talents of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, the melodies of Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, and the character designs of Akira Toriyama of Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, and Dragonball Z fame.
Although the legacies of those legendary Japanese creators’ work are still apparent somewhat on the DS sequel, Blue Dragon Plus, their input has been watered down to the point of mediocrity.
Firstly, the plot will fail to appeal to both Blue Dragon fans and newcomers alike. Although there are a huge number of returning characters, there is an almost complete lack of interesting character development or interaction. Only towards the end of the game are there any events that come close to being compelling.
Fans may also be annoyed by the fact that the central premise of the first game, that Shu and his friends are the only one with the power to control their Shadow beasts and therefore save the world, is completely nullified in Blue Dragon Plus. Every Poo Snake and his dog now possess a Shadow spirit, including the supposedly soulless and heartless Mecha Robo’s.
As the instruction booklet gives it away, I don’t think it would be too much of a spoiler to say that Nene, the main antagonist of the first Blue Dragon, is back. Nene ends up nearly redeeming the plot by being a much more intriguing character, with more depth than ever before.
Visually, the game works very well for the most part. The 2D character sprites are detailed and the 3D Shadow attacks look excellent. Although the locations do vary, there are no outdoor locations and none of the rooms are anything approaching exciting. There is also a large number of high-quality cut scenes that really add to the presentation.
Uematsu’s excellent musical scores are present, and despite most of them being synthesised rather than orchestrated, they do evoke the grand sense of adventure found in the best Japanese RPG’s.
It’s a shame then, that Blue Dragon Plus loses the epic feel of the 360 RPG by being set entirely in one of the myriad ‘cubes’ that were formed when the world split in two during the climactic battle with Nene in the original game.
There is no exploration outside of battle in Blue Dragon Plus, as your party of characters can only move from room to room in a turn-based style. However, battles themselves are conducted in real-time.
Using the d-pad to scroll around the map is the only non-stylus control really needed, as tapping around the screen directs characters towards particular enemies, at which point they will begin to attack automatically. All that’s left is to select the various Shadow attacks and skills that you would like your little fighters to perform. Annoyingly, you have to reselect a character after every action, which becomes frustrating when focusing on a single unit.
There are no Magic points that are depleted when using skills and spells; instead, there is a recharge time after which they can be used again. Of course, more powerful attacks take longer to recharge. There are never really any dilemmas over which type of spells to use, as a symbol is displayed to show you whether the currently selected spell will have a greater, lesser or normal effect on the currently selected enemy.
Although different allies play different roles, such as healer, ranged attacker, and defensive wall, the game conspires against you to make it almost impossible to use any kind of tactical formations. The selecting of different units with the stylus is so inaccurate in the thrall of battle that you’re likely to just give up and swarm enemies with all of your units at once.
Sadly, even these brute tactics are made difficult by the atrocious path-finding of your friendly characters. Allies cannot walk through each other, or occupy the same space, and when you’re trying to direct up to 16 characters at a time, more often than not they’ll end up standing still as they’ve managed to block each other in.
Characters also take randomly long and winding routes to reach their destination. At one point I directed four characters standing next to each other to move as a group across the map – they went in four different directions to get there. This issue becomes most apparent when trying to manoeuvre a Healer into a position where they can actually be effective, and things are made even worse by the fact that characters all walk at different speeds.
Blue Dragon Plus still provides the basic satisfaction of killing a variety of creatures, gaining experience points, equipping accessories and becoming more powerful, but it’s all so generic. Apart from fighting with the control scheme to move your characters around, the only real input that’s needed is to constantly choose the best Shadow skills and heal when needed, so at times it can feel quite passive.
Apart from the small number of optional side-quests, Blue Dragon Plus will probably take you around 20 hours to complete. A large proportion of this will be the last few battles, which drag on to the point of tedium.
Blue Dragon Plus is not a bad game. Despite its failings, it manages to be a perfectly competent RPG, but it does nothing to excite the imagination or stimulate the player. If it were a colour, it would be beige. If it were a foodstuff, it would be a dry cracker. If it were a beverage, it would be mineral water. All of the components are present, but there are a few loose connections and all we’re left with is an uninteresting game.