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Blue Dragon Review

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Developer: Mistwalker Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: August 28, 2007 Also On: None

Blue Dragon was supposed to be the “JRPG” that fulfilled the hopes and dreams of Microsoft somehow winning over the hearts of our fellow eastern mega-nerds. Though it sparked some interest, it was supposed to light up the sales charts and flood Japan with Xbox’s. It did not.

Six months ago I blamed the lack of interest on the stubborn Japanese entertainment market, one that has often shunned American video game products like the Xbox 360. Now I know that it is actually because Blue Dragon is one of the most generic, soulless and dry “JRPGs” to exist in quite some time. By no means should you feel obligated to take my word for it, but there is not a better market to judge this game than the market that shunned it in the first place.

Allow me to go off-track for a moment to clarify something. For those of you who still do not know what a “JRPG” is, it is a “Japanese RPG.” Since apparently the world still cannot go without sub-grouping absolutely everything by region or culture, we have got another quality entry in the encyclopedia of video game acronyms. Perhaps the idea came around because of Microsoft and the Xbox being so poor with Japanese games. After all, previously we just considered the role-playing game an “RPG” regardless of its home region.

In the past gamers considered the role-playing genre to be the home of some of the best stories ever to exist in a virtual form. In fact, many of Mistwalker’s staff also created those stories: Chrono Trigger, early Final Fantasies and so on. Why is it, then, that Blue Dragon cannot even capture the mandatory element of an interesting protagonist? Shu, summoner of the Blue Dragon shadow and proud winner of the Young Gohan look-alike contest, is pretty much the most uninteresting character I have come across in a while. He is so stereotypical that it hurts at times; he is uppity and impatient but has both the good heart and courageous hardiness of a born hero. By no means is he bad, he is just uninteresting.

Fellow team members Jiro and Kluke are also quite boring, and Yola is the last one you meet before you realize that you are indeed traveling with five video game chumps. Among those five characters resides the bane of Blue Dragon is the character Marumaru. This little guy is actually so dreadful that I could not stomach the game being audible during story sequences. I would estimate that at least 75% of his dialog is screamed, not spoken, in his tinny, scratchy, high-pitched voice. I rarely make such a big deal of a bothersome character but Marumaru is unacceptable. In fact, his presence alone makes this game easy to pass up. If it was fair and reasonable for me to shave off several points based on this one character, I would do it.

Even the big blue shadow monsters that appear behind Shu, Jiro, Kluke, Marumaru, and Yola are pretty boring. They do not animate much during battle, but they are the only attackers. The playable party members are more or less controlling the shadows like puppets. The designs of them are pretty cool. They are a dragon, minotaur, phoenix, saber-toothed tiger, and bat, respectively. Still, like every other character in this game, the shadows are pretty dull.

I would summarize the storyline but it starts too abruptly to matter anyway; it also steers clear of captivating or motivating throughout the three long discs it infests. The gameplay, which truly is not bad at all, suffers from the same grayness as the characters. It is so basic and generic that it is difficult to consider Blue Dragon over many games that came out a decade ago. In fact, a decade ago, Final Fantasy VIII innovated the role-playing genre more than this game does today.

Combat is remarkably simple thanks to a clean and clear interface, but quickly becomes monotonous and boring thanks to uninspired magic attacks and repetitive abilities. Customizing the party is not so much about equipping its members as it is optimizing and setting skills and classes for the shadows of each character. There are several “shadow classes” including sword master, black mage, white mage, support mage, and assassin. As the shadows earn points by winning battles, their equipped class will level up. Abilities from one class can be learned permanently and then interchanged after another shadow class is selected. Having characters that are well-balanced in several areas is the key to winning some of the game’s tougher battles, but for a long time I did not have any trouble plowing through enemies anyway.

At least setting up the battle can be interesting. Blue Dragon lets you see the enemies roaming its dungeons and fields, and it is possible to run away from them or even get them to be distracted by each other, if that becomes necessary. Also, holding one of the trigger buttons emits a circular field around Shu. Anything caught within this circle can be attacked simultaneously, resulting in a battle with multiple bands of monsters fighting against your party. The interesting part about this is that some monsters really do not like each other and would prefer to kill each other before assessing your party. These “Monster Battles” are fun to set up and incredibly effective to use, especially if you do not wish to battle in random encounters every fifteen seconds in the field. I would say these battles are the coolest part of the game.

Blue Dragon uses so many old-school RPG trends that it buries itself in the ground with them. The simplistic battle system had might as well have been cut right out of Final Fantasy X and the class system is similar to every other basic class system in the RPGs of today. Some would credit Blue Dragon for delivering an old-school experience, but I fault it for not adding anything, and I mean anything, fresh to the genre.

Even the graphics cannot be considered impressive unless you want to rant and rave about sharp, high-definition character models that probably would have looked as good four or five years ago on a high-quality Xbox title. Nothing looks bad by any means, but I would definitely consider Blue Dragon to be an average game, visually.

The music is unsurprisingly great, but the dialog ranges from fatal misery to uncomfortably bothersome throughout the game. As I mentioned earlier, Marumaru is intolerable almost every moment he is on the screen. Also there is a stoic female voice that announces every discovery in the environment while you search for items among and inside set pieces. Allow me to textually replicate this experience, while Shu searches rabidly through a house: “Nothing. Gold. Nothing. Nothing. Gold. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Gold. Gold. Nothing.” Tired of it yet? Imagine it in the most monotonous, droll female voice you have ever heard, and imagine hearing it every ten seconds or so as you scavenge every nook and cranny of the environment for whatever you can find to add to your inventory.

Blue Dragon might have blown the socks off of Xbox 360 owners in 2005 or early 2006, but it definitely is not favorable over any RPG I have played in the last year or so. PlayStation 2 games like Odin’s Sphere and Rogue Galaxy were far more impressive in 2007, and so is Mistwalker’s second effort, Lost Odyssey. For hardcore RPG fans playing Blue Dragon is like drinking your favorite soda when it is flat and lukewarm. It keeps the taste, for the most part, but in the end you are probably just going to want to pour it out or get a fresh new can.

Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 6
Creativity: 4
Replay Value/Game Length: 6.5
Final: 6
Written by Cliff Review Guide