Blue Reflection PS4 Review
After seeing Nights of Azure, an action RPG from Gust, the developers mainly known for their charming and often happy-go-lucky Atelier series, I stated that it was nice to see them step away from Atelier and craft a different type of RPG. While it wasn’t a brilliant game, Nights of Azure showed that Gust had ideas to share. Blue Reflection is Gust once again trying another approach to RPGs that differs vastly from Atelier, with this new title being heavily focused on telling a story, coming across more as an animated visual novel with RPG elements than being a typical turn-based RPG.
Central to the story is the game’s protagonist, a young girl named Hinako Shirai, who goes about her day to day life as a student at Hoshinomiya Girls High School. She seems like a charming, happy student, but she hides her true feelings. A year ago, Hinako was a promising star ballet dancer who injured her knee and had to stop due to the permanent damage. Hinako has never quite gotten over the depression with having to halt her dream future as an Etoile, the highest rank a ballet dancer can achieve, and so is having to deal with that personal issue.
The game quickly introduces a girl from Hinako’s previous middle school who remembers her, but things take a turn for the strange when she begins to maniacally laugh uncontrollably and a strange aura appears around her. Hinako finds it bizarre that she is the only one who can see this happening to the girl, and then Hinako is suddenly teleported into a strange beautiful field filled with unusual looking monsters. A ghostly voice whispers her to channel her thoughts, and in doing Hinako transforms into a Reflector, the game’s take on the magical girl empowerment, enabling Hinako to slice and dice those monsters with her blue sword, but more importantly, she has discovered she can use her leg without issues, but sadly for her, transforming into a reflector only works in a world known as The Common.
It is revealed that the mysterious voices are actually two girls at Hinako’s school, Yuzu and Lime, who have been reflectors for a while, and Hinako has become their newest member, turning them into a trio of magical girls who are saving their school from the big daddy of all the monsters, Sephirot. Hinako is told that she can have a wish come true when Sephirot is defeated, and so Hinako is determined to get to the end and have a wish to fix her leg. To do this, Hinako must befriend the people at school and help them with their unstable emotions, which causes people to go rampant when they are consumed by it. There are a lot of them to help, covering such areas as a student who becomes lazy after getting an A+ on her first test, to another who works too hard to impress her father. Jumping into the Common and finding the fragment of the rampant girl will return them to their normal state, while making the reflectors more powerful with each fragment collected.
This becomes the game’s cycle, which never really changes. As the player in the role of Hinako, they go about her high school life, roaming around classrooms and solving all the problems. There is a huge focus on relationships between characters, and players will make plenty of friends after helping solve their rampant emotion. The plot loves to pile on the magical girl tropes seen in many anime shows, and while it won’t bring many surprises in the overarching plot, the day-to-day hanging with school friends contains some topics that I would imagine would be discussed often between girls as they are growing through their final years of school. There is a also a lot of fluff in the side-content, which has a mandatory target to achieve before the story moves onto the next main plot line, but I found this to spoil the flow of the game, as this title is packed with lots of dialogue and cutscenes. The writing itself is good, but people who like action in their games will most likely find spending all the downtime in the school and watching the scenes a little on the dull side, as that’s where most of the game spends its time.
As for the RPG aspect, this area lies within the Common, which is a manifestation of a person’s emotion, such as sorrow or anger, but these are not fully explored, as the time spent in the Common is short, made up of small one or two areas with a task often to either kill all the enemies or collect all the item drops to initiate the discovery of the fragment that leads to a small fight before being teleported back to the real world and the person having their rampant emotion dissolved. The concept of the Common lends itself well to having fascinating locations, and while the initial colour palette and environmental design gives off this vibe, after a few hours of game time, you’ve seen the various environments that are now just mixed up with random pieces of pathways to create an area to explore. Blue Reflection doesn’t have many locations in the game. The main area is the school with its various rooms inside it, and then the Common makes up the other area players visit, but with its very limited scope, and often repeated use of map layouts, it’s the lacking part of the game that makes it a disappointing area to explore that could have been so much more.
In fact, the weakest elements of Blue Reflection are the parts where it tries to be an RPG. Combat happens in the Common when coming into contact with visible enemies, but battles are an easy experience on the default setting. Fighting is turn-based, with speed a factor in who performs in what order – a bar indicates that at the top of the screen, with some moves able to pushback enemies to delay their turn. Each attack is catalogued as a type of damage (Slash, Pierce, Heart) and the demons inside the Common are usually weak to one of the elements. There is added depth implemented into the battle mechanics; the focus on Ether, the mana of the game that enables the more powerful attacks, will require replenishing by skipping a turn, a sort of defensive act to build the Ether back up. Ether is also used for Overdrive, an ability that enables the character to do more than one attack on their current attack phase. The fragments gained from helping people can be slotted into skills, similar to the Materia system from Final Fantasy VII, except these fragments will buff the skill they are assigned to.
Fights become a bit more exciting when bosses approach the school field for a huge fight. These behemoths have cool designs, and their multiple body parts enables them to attack more often, so a more careful approach is required, but again, I never felt overwhelmed by the increase enemy count. It’s more that the increased health of the boss means the fights were lasting longer, but the challenge did not step up much with it. There is quite the potential in this battle system, even boss fights add a new mechanic that enables support characters to come running in to help in exchange for the use of Ether ( the party is always just the three magical girls of Hinako, Lime and Yuzu), but it never pushes itself to go further, leaving the player to get away with doing repeated attacks on the limited enemy variety that live in the Common.
As I mentioned at the start, everything about Blue Reflection feels aimed at its social aspects and story, rather than the role-playing part. Even experience points are non-existent here, with levels and skill points coming from successfully finishing up the side quests, solving student issues and increasing your friendship bonds with various pupils to translate them into growth points. The only reason to fight enemies is if the quest requires it or are trying to find one of the items they drop. Rinse and repeat the above many times and you can see why the game can grow stale over its 30 hour playtime. It becomes formulaic from the first hour and never tries to step out of it. For every good aspect that the game has, such as seeing what happens to all the girls and watching them overcome their emotional problems, is then met by going to the Common and finding X amount of items or killing X amount of enemy to repel their rampant state and bring them back to normal, and it sticks to that all the way through.
I find this formulaic approach such a huge shame, because when it comes to the presentation and soundtrack for Blue Reflection, it’s all rather magically fantastic. They are some stunning visual shots with its prime anime aesthetic, and the quality of the models for the characters are beautiful, especially when you see the lighting bouncing off them. There might not be much variety in its locations, but when it comes to character modelling and creating an atmosphere, Blue Reflection is unquestionably gorgeous, gaining top marks for its graphics, which sadly are spoiled by some frame rate issues during cutscenes or heavy special effects. The game’s soundtrack is wonderful on the ears, mixing up the ambient calmness of a school, then turning on the heat when it comes to its catchy battle and boss tunes. It mixes classical instruments, such as pianos and violins, with a sort of techno/drum and bass score that just works within the game’s magical theme.
Sadly, the same quality cannot be said for the translation. Blue Reflection only includes a Japanese audio track, so the game is subtitled, but the quality of those are questionable. The translation itself seems fine, maybe a bit too directly translated (literally taking the translation rather than working on it to be more natural sounding in English), but I have noticed many incorrect spellings or typos within the text that signals that it might had not had many checks with editors. It’s unusual to see this many mistakes in a big publisher’s game – it spoils the overall rather fantastic presentation and user interface.
Blue Reflection seems to want to tell a story more than wanting to be an RPG. The focus on delivering a coming of age tale, seeing all the characters deal with their growing pains during a typical school life comes across as genuine. If you don’t mind slow paced stories that dig deep into emotional context, then Blue Reflection will be an attractive proposition, especially for less experienced RPG fans who aren’t good at handling complex battle systems. The issue with Blue Reflection is that the game parts, those battle aspects of an RPG, aren’t well developed and lead to repetitive gameplay that soils the game’s overall experience, which some people might find to be on the tedious side, particularly if you’re more into action than story.