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Blue Dragon January 31, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.
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When Mistwalker’s Blue Dragon was announced for the Xbox 360, expectations were high. After all, the project reunited three individuals responsible for some of the best RPGs of all time — producer Hironobu Sakaguchi, composer Nobuo Uematsu and artist Akira Toriyama. Yet upon the title’s release, reviews were painfully mixed. Now I understand why.

Blue Dragon suffers from at least two significant problems. First, it is as old school a Japanese RPG as one can get, right down to its traditional turn-based battle system. Some aficionados might take to this sort of thing, but others will be turned off because it isn’t particularly well-balanced. While it is a rather elegant take on an old standard, it takes an inordinate amount of grinding to level up one’s characters and learn new skills to let the system come into its own, and by then one has already played almost 80 percent of the game. In this regard, there’s very little character growth gameplay-wise. Worse, the story is actually quite forgettable.

Second, there’s really no reason for the game to be on a next-generation console. There’s nothing technically remarkable about Blue Dragon: graphics and controls are serviceable at best, though both could have probably been implemented on a Playstation 2. As an early offering for the Xbox 360 some of this is understandable; yet the unbearably slow load times that accompany the otherwise average production value make the experience all the more frustrating (yes, even after the NXE dashboard update). If anything, the only thing that Blue Dragon has going for it is its musical score, with the exception of some terrible boss battle music.

There are some bright spots, though. The sidequests prior to the final act are plenty challenging (in fact, the game needed more of these) and thoroughly improve the experience one has with the game. Also, as mentioned, like any RPG Blue Dragon becomes so much more fun to play the more powerful one’s character party becomes, which unfortunately in this case can only be realized far too late in the game. Thus, there are rewards for the patient — but perhaps only for the patient.

It’s a pity Blue Dragon didn’t turn out better than it did, which is to say more than just average. It’s almost as if Sakaguchi hoped that an RPG built around the concept of characters using magical shadows in battle would be enough to carry the day. Clearly it wasn’t, which makes one wonder about what might have been had the concept been fleshed out and implemented more carefully because, yeah, the idea is pretty cool.

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