Blue Dragon Plus - Reader Review  

Blue Dragon Plus Well Executed RTS Equals Like
by Aaron Slater

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20-40 Hours
+ Great cinemas and graphics
+ High quality score
+ Fun, fast paced adventure
- Fairly easy and short
- Rather generic storyline
- Sometimes irksome battle system
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   Blue Dragon Plus for the Nintendo DS is a sequel to the XBox 360 debut title from Mistwalker. Instead of another console outing, Mistwalker has chosen to take the same route Final Fantasy XII chose with Revenant Wings and make an RTS/RPG hybrid for the Nintendo DS. While this does a lot to take advantage of the DS format and create an original adventure based off of the franchise, it falls into many of the same pitfalls that Revenant Wings before it succumbed to.

   Blue Dragon Plus continues the adventures of Shu and his comrades following the climax of the original. For those who never played the original game, the events are summarized in cut scenes throughout the first few stages, so that youíll be up to date on all the events and characters before too long. The story incorporates a sizable amount of the cast from the original game to tell a rather interesting tale of a mysterious new threat and the groupís investigation into the cube that produced it. Along the way, there are a few twists and turns to make things more interesting, but the story never really becomes an epic for the ages. Instead, the story feels more like a way to pad out the universe of Blue Dragon without delving too deep into anything new. Itís an entertaining enough way to fill in the gaps between levels.

   As noted before, Blue Dragon Plus is not another traditional RPG, but rather an RTS/RPG hybrid much like Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. The game itself plays out on a series of maps, where the player controls a smaller group of Shu and his friends as they expose the cube to get to the bottom of what is causing this new threat to their world. Each character has a role that they fill, in part based on their own statistics, as well as the shadow with which each player comes innately equipped with. These shadows cover the majority of the standard RPG classes (white mage, black mage, thief) while adding some interesting new classes that work rather well with the RTS battle system (a mage who focuses solely on status effects, characters whose jobs are solely to buff other characters). The game offers some level of customization by allowing characters, after a certain level quota has been reached, to equip each character with a second shadow. Essentially a second class, this allows a character to have access to another set of skills, allowing your healer to be able to use some attack spells, and support characters to be able to blast enemies with debilitating magic spells. Characters can also be equipped with different accessories, and eventually the character can custom create their own Mecha Robos to supplement their party, which further elaborates the ability for the player to tweak their party to their own satisfaction.

Shu and his friends embark on another almost, but not quite, remarkable adventure! Shu and his friends embark on another almost, but not quite, remarkable adventure!

   The battle system itself works much like any other RTS on the DS. The player can select one character, draw a loop around the group of characters they want to use, or select the entire party at once, and can direct them to move and attack by simply selecting an enemy or a location on the map. Path finding, a large hurdle for Brownie Brownís previous RTS offering Heroes of Mana, still proves to be an issue with Blue Dragon Plus. Although it has been smoothed out, there were many instances where the whole party was directed to move across a bridge, and while the rest crossed the bridge to engage the enemy, one or two stragglers veered off to the right, to apparently do some sight-seeing. While this rarely becomes detrimental, it is a kink that can prove to be a rather large hassle when trying to move a white mage character with the rest of the group, so that his spellís area of effect will encompass the entire group.

   Aside from path finding difficulties, it can also be a bit difficult to select a particular character to access his or her special attacks. This can become a rather large hurdle when trying to access a mage to cast a spell that will finish off a group of enemies, or when youíre simply trying to move a damaged unit out of the fray of battle, but is more a limitation of the size of the DS screen in comparison to the action on screen than to the game itself. One last issue with the battle system comes with the use of special attacks. When using a special attack, targets appear overhead indicating just who will be affected, but it is often difficult to line up characters to use their attacks, or to determine before actually selecting the attack, an approximate area of effect. In addition, if one is about to select a special attack when another enemy uses their skill or spell, the game stops all action to show the battle animation. When the game returns to normal, the character must be reselected, which can be an issue in the more hectic battles.

   This isnít to say that the battle system is a total mess. When these issues rear their heads they are inconveniences, but for the most part Blue Dragon Plus offers the player some very entertaining battle situations. The game switches up scenarios rather often, and isnít afraid to surprise the player with changing criteria in the midst of battle. Bosses come bursting through walls, other units must be protected, or additional rounds of reinforcements may appear. These changing conditions keep the player on their toes, and result in a well rounded tactical RPG experience. Some of the side quests even require that certain enemies be defeated in certain ways, or ask the player to hunt down a particular enemy. While most of the battles do fall into the ďdefeat all enemiesĒ trap of strategy RPGs, the conditions are spiced up frequently enough that the battles rarely feel repetitious.

I wish the giant shoe was an enemy and not just a location marker I wish the giant shoe was an enemy and not just a location marker

   The game itself looks quite nice and plays pretty smoothly. The sprites are all well animated and capture the art work and style from the original Blue Dragon quite nicely. The levels are capably rendered and are varied enough such that it doesnít feel like you are exploring the same dungeon, but many different areas. Special attacks and spell effects are also nicely rendered and colorful, much like the maps and sprites themselves, which stays true to the style of the original Blue Dragon. In addition to the nice in game graphics, the cinematic cut scenes that are strewn throughout the game are very nicely rendered and hold up quite nicely when compared to their console counterparts.

   Also sticking true to the original Blue Dragon are the audio and sound effects. Much of the sound track is borrowed from the original game, and while some changes have been made for the audio capabilities of the DS, the music in the game is very well executed. The sound effects themselves are all sufficient enough, with attacks and special effects sounding as explosive as can be expected. The game itself mostly prides itself on the strength of the compositions for the initial console title, and coasts by on a slightly remixed but mostly borrowed soundtrack.

   Blue Dragon Plus is a surprisingly fun game, which overcomes the limitations of an RTS on the DS with mildly improved path finding and some very entertaining battle scenarios. While it certainly is not an epic role-playing experience by any means, especially since itís rather easy and the main storyline can be completed in about 20 hours, it proves to be fun in short bursts and is surprisingly entertaining. While Shu and his companions have yet to go on an adventure that fully utilizes the promise of the world of Blue Dragon, Blue Dragon Plus is a worthwhile sequel that does enough right to warrant a play through.

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