Blue Dragon - Reader Review  

Blue Dragon
by Obsidian J

Click here for game information
Xbox 360
40-70 hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   I feel I must start this review by setting the record straight. I've heard a lot of people making unfair assumptions of Blue Dragon due to its pedigree. Many assumed this game would be the second coming of Chrono Trigger what with Final Fantasy mastermind Hironobu Sakaguchi, character designer Akira Toriyama, and composer Nobuo Uematsu being the driving creative force behind the game. [Insert record scratching noise here.] Didn't Uematsu only contribute about ten tracks to CT? The main composer of that game was Yasunori Mitsuda. Maybe if he composed Blue Dragon, we'd be set. Well, probably not. My point is, one mustn't assume such things, and despite Blue Dragon failing to be the groundbreaking RPG many hoped it would be, its pedigree has delivered an engaging and entertaining game worthy of your time.

   Now that my personal agenda of crediting Mitsuda is out of the way, allow me to focus on the game proper. The story is standard RPG fare. Talta Village is periodically terrorized by a mechanical "land shark," forcing the hapless denizens to constantly rebuild. While most of the villagers are content to ride out the storm, spunky protagonist Shu and his friends, Jiro and Kluke, devise a trap for the bolted beast. Their efforts only prove to be half successful, and they get pulled, quite literally, into a more sinister plot.

   Early in the game, the heroes are endowed with the power of magic in the form of "shadows," spectral manifestations of the hosts' psyches. The clichéd personalities of the characters actually compliment this mechanic as each hero's starting class clearly mimics their demeanors. Shu's blue dragon shadow (hence the title) begins as a flat-out attacker. Jiro's level headed and a protector, so naturally his minotaur shadow starts out as a white mage. Kluke, the fiery, independent orphan sports a phoenix shadow imbued with black magic. Along the way, the trio is joined by the eternally annoying bat-child, Marumaro, and the mysterious mercenary Zola hosting sabrecat and bat shadows respectively. The characters are flat, but endearing and shouldn't get on your nerves too much.

   On the flip side, the party faces the game's only real villain, Nene, and boy is he...unintimidating. He definitely serves his purpose as the heroes' foil, but unlike most good villains, he isn't very charismatic, nor does he show a sympathetic plight or tragic flaw. He's just plain mean.

That That'll get the dirt out.

   The story of Blue Dragon can be summed up in one word...trite. The build-up and pacing are extremely slow in the early stages. In fact, not until halfway through disc two will the player begin to see the overall direction of the plot. This isn't untrue of a myriad other JRPG's, however, so fans of the genre should be used to this. It's just that so many similar games start off with more of a bang. Sakaguchi is not the best storyteller, but he does pull off a few touching and dramatic moments. A couple of twists at the end, however, are dialed-in and are hardly worth getting excited over.

   The gameplay can also be summed up in on Blue Dragon seems to try its hardest to avoid treading new ground. It uses a class system similar to Sakaguchi's own Final Fantasy V, allowing the player to customize any character to be an attacker, defender, spellcaster, or a little of everything. The characters' starting classes only define them as far as the player let's them, though. If you want Shu to be a back row white mage, knock yourself out. Battles are standard turn-based affairs. About the only innovation is the ability to pit certain monsters against each other in a feature aptly dubbed "Monster Fight." It is largely unnecessary, but it is useful to get rid of the weaker fodder by letting stronger beasts do the work for you. Some strategy is infused by allowing the player to decide whether to charge their blows, or take several quick shots at the enemy. This strategy is largely negated, however, since the damage taken from the AI's cheap shots is far outweighed by the massive damage dealt by a charged attack. It is pleasant to see random battles eschewed in favor of seeing your foes onscreen.

   Graphically, Blue Dragon is certainly easy on the eyes. The character designs are not Toriyama's best (the poo snake will never be iconic like the slime), but the power of the XBOX 360 certainly brings the designs to life. I couldn't help keep from picturing the main human characters, however, as talking bobble-head dolls. The environments, on the other hand, are right up my alley. Although simple and uncomplicated, they are detailed and expansive. You can see for yourself why Shu's resting spot in Talta is so relaxing, and Jibral Town truly is a sight to behold. The dungeons don't fare so well, though. Many corridors are identical and those without a good sense of direction can easily get lost.

That is one huge butt. That is one huge butt.

   After scoring dozens of games and churning out hundreds of tracks, I felt Uematsu was beginning to wear himself a bit thin. Splitting the duty in FFX and taking a break from FFXII has done him justice. I wouldn't bump this soundtrack in my stereo, but in the context of the game, his work is elegant, subdued and grandiose in all the right places. Some pieces are overused, and he was clearly trying (and failing) to make the tracks different from Final Fantasy, but they work. Just be ready to either love or hate the boss battle theme. The raucous, hair metal inspired theme is so absurd, I actually liked it.

   If there is one subtle, but glaring flaw against Blue Dragon, it's that it offers a very low degree of difficulty. If you want to self-impose a challenge, try plowing straight through the game. Stopping to raise your class levels, or completing the completely back-loaded side quests might render your party so powerful, the final boss might get a couple of turns in at best. This is definitely a turn off for vets looking for a challenge, but I actually found it quite relaxing not being subjected to the pressure of facing a possible game over screen after working through a long dungeon.

   Blue Dragon is lacking in innovation. Its characters aren't strong, its story is rudimentary, and its music is underwhelming. Some might say it's setting Eastern RPG's back with its archaic design. One cannot deny, however, the knowledge and ability of its creators to put together an engaging, quality product. Blue Dragon has everything going against it, but I must say I enjoyed the entire ride.

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