Retrospective Reviews is a new regular series at PopGeeks that looks back at great games that you may have missed when they first released. The idea is to introduce you to the titles in an honest and frank way with the hope that you go back and play them if they sound appealing to you. We’ll be looking at a vast variety of genres over the coming months so there should be something for everyone.
We’d also love to hear your thoughts about the games in the comments, so if you played the featured title then please share your experience with it.
First Released: December 7, 2006 (Japan) / August, 2007 (Rest of the world)
Platforms: Xbox 360
Developer: Mistwalker and Artoon
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Blue Dragon was something of an experiment for Microsoft when it released for the Xbox 360. The console was struggling to gain any sort of momentum in Japan and executives believed that part of the reason was the lack of available titles that are traditionally associated with the region. To that end, the Xbox team set about creating a role-playing game that focused on Japanese elements rather than the more action based Western games that were currently available. With the help of newly formed Mistwalker and Artoon, as well as guidance of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, they created Blue Dragon.
As someone who hadn’t really played many JRPGs, I was tentatively excited about the prospect of Blue Dragon when it was first announced. It seemed like it would be the perfect title to jump into the genre. The first thing that struck me when I bought it was that it came in three discs, which was something of a rarity for Xbox 360 games. But it soon became clear that the additional discs were necessary for the huge game they contained, with well over 100 hours of gameplay available to players.
As far as the story went, Blue Dragon was nothing revolutionary. The player takes on the roles of Shu, Kluke and Jiro as they attempt to save their village, and as a side effect the rest of the world, from an evil monster that attacks every year when menacing clouds engulf the world. The game essentially carries on like that, barely breaking into anything truly original throughout the entire experience. That’s understandable to some extent though, as this was Microsoft’s attempt to get Japanese gamers on side and taking massive risks could have backfired spectacularly. It would have been nice to have more depth to the three main characters and a slight change to the JRPG story formula.
Although Blue Dragon uses a very traditional basis for its battle system that fans of series such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy will be familiar with, the turn-based combat does have a few intriguing changes to make it more interesting.
The first added element is the fact that you can see enemies on screen at all time, giving you the chance to avoid confrontations. Meanwhile, players can also choose to launch surprise attacks on unaware enemies that can give them some free hits or battle monsters from a larger area. While this will prove to be a far more difficult fight, it does give better rewards in terms of gold and experience. This adds an extra element of risk that makes the combat all that more meaningful and exciting.
The biggest difference in Blue Dragon’s battle system though comes in the ‘Shadows’ that each of the main characters have. These are giant blue creatures (a Dragon, a Bull and a Phoenix) are used for the vast majority of combat, pounding the enemy with a combination of magical and physical attacks. They add something new to the genre so that it is not just your own characters that are involved in the fighting but also these mystical companions.
Blue Dragon also pleases in the graphical and audio departments. The title doesn’t exactly stretch the capabilities of the Xbox 360 hardware, the visuals are done in a very pleasing style that mixes cartoon graphics with a JRPG feel that produces a colourful and vibrant world. The various characters and creatures you come across all have their own individuality, while you can immediately tell how much hard work went into creating the environments you travel to.
Of course, the musical score that accompanies the action is as good as you would expect from the names that are involved at Mistwalker. Although they do get a little repetitive as the game progresses as some tunes are recycled, the music provides a perfect partnership with the visuals and the story.
There are definitely frustrating points to Blue Dragon however. Grinding is still something you will find yourself doing quite a lot. But this is not a huge issue considering how prevalent the practice is in role-playing games in general. You also have to be extremely careful in how you upgrade yourself and your Shadows. Not levelling up each to their strengths and developing an efficient strategy can lead to hugely difficult boss battles.
Other gripes come in the scarcity of save points that either appear in groups lumped together or will not come along for what seems like an eternity. This is exacerbated by the huge world that you can explore and the lack of effective navigational tools. These limitations do leave the possibility of a player losing quite a lot of progress if they die or the game crashes.
Considering those problems, it’s entirely fair to say that Blue Dragon is far from being the shining example of the genre. It certainly is limited in some important aspects but this doesn’t stop it from being a very good game and one of the best JRPGs you can play on the Xbox 360. What you do get is a charming experience that will keep you entertained for a vast amount of time, making it great value for money if you are a role-playing fan.