Review: Blue Dragon Plus
Victory: review game. Defeat: thrown DS at wall.
The first Blue Dragon game on the Xbox 360 was a shameless attempt by Microsoft to try and get a toe hold in the traditionally western-phobic Japanese market. Featuring a storyline penned by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and music by long time Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu it had all the potential to be another J-RPG moneymaking franchise and more importantly for Microsoft a reason to buy an Xbox 360 in Japan, a market usually dominated by Nintendo and Sony.
Unfortunately for MS it was damned by faint praise when released and quickly ended up in many videogame stores’ offer bins with many gamers put off by the relentless grind of random battles, uninteresting plot and some of the most cringe inducing voice acting since the western conversion of Yakuza. Well now we have a semi-sequel in this Blue Dragon Plus for every housewives favourite the Nintendo DS but can it stand out from the crowd this time or is it yet another chunk of flotsam adrift the seemingly endless sea of DS software.
As mentioned before the original Blue Dragon was a J-RPG but this time out the adventures of Shu and his buddies are presented as a real time strategy game or RTS with you controlling a team of adventures with the DS stylus with a few shortcut keys for when things get frantic. The battles are viewed from an isometric style perspective on the bottom screen that you can rotate with the shoulder buttons for a better view of the action with events taking place in real-time with the game only pausing for important events (read: boss character running away) The top screen can be either used to display the team’s health, victory/defeat conditions or a mini map of the current stage.
At the start of each stage a simple set of victory and defeat conditions are given to you with 90% of them being straightforward beat the bad guys and don’t get killed. Later stages involve avoiding traps or using scenery to your advantage but these events are pretty rare. You can select individual team members by tapping them with the stylus or more than one by tapping the select icon then drawing around team members with the select all icon being ideal for a mass team attack or just moving your team about the stage.
Once close enough to an enemy your team members will automatically attack with whatever weapons they have but using each character skill is left to you. Each character has or own pre determined strengths, weaknesses and special skills be it a shadow for elemental attacks, healing spells or temporary boosters to attack and defence. Each character is represented as in the previous game with Shu being strong at attacking, Kluke having the best offensive spells and Jiro acting as healer.
The first hour of the game acts as an extended tutorial (there’s a basic tutorial playable from the main menu that covers the basics) that will soon have you moving your team about the stage looting chests, killing monsters and looking for hidden medallions. Then the game gets going properly and the characters split into different teams that can move around a main tactical map that lets each team take a turn during which they can move to another location and initiate a combat stage or search for treasure etc.
Further complications come in the form of some monsters being immune to normal attacks or vulnerable to certain elements with fire being weak versus water and so on. All in all on first inspection Blue Dragon Plus looks like it has all the bases covered with a straight forward control system and a multitude of classic (read: clichÃ©d) game mechanics to get to grips with but as with many games the more you play the more you’ll start to notice the flawsâ€¦
I loved Blue Dragon on the 360, loved the music, loved the character design and loved the story. Unfortunately this game seems to have taken the story and pissed all over its memory, resurrecting old enemies teaming you up with rivals and generally confusing the closure achieved at the end of the previous game. For the first 40 minutes or so I actually had no idea what the hell was happening, and I was struggling to find any substantial gameplay as there was far too much exposition and I wasn’t finding it fun to play at all.
However once I’d ploughed through the waffle and found the game proper I was pleasantly surprised. It holds up well to the similar Final Fantasy Revenant Wings and the graphics in particular look pretty lush. Also all the little incidentals I remembered from its bigger brother were present and correct from the enemy designs right down to the music and sound effects.
I do have some major issues with the controls though, but I don’t know whether that’s just down to my own cack handedness or just poor design. I found selecting individual units and timing special attacks to hit the enemies more difficult than it ought to have been and I really struggled with organising and moving large groups of allies. Regardless of my issues with the controls I did enjoy the game and it’s kept me playing till far too late in an evening, which in my book is always a mark of a good game.
Secondary Score: 6/10
At first it’ll be negligible stuff like the inconstant presentation with the game seemingly unable to decide how to present its exposition. On screen dialogue, screens of readable text, single screen FMV and double screen FMV are all employed with steamily little thought given to when each one is used. The next problem is the game’s basic AI programming that once you noticed can be exploited to great effect.
Each monster has an area of ‘awareness’ which once your team enters will trigger the monster to move closer and attack which all sounds fine but when you have half a dozen or so monsters clustered together you can slowly creep forward making the monsters react to you one at a time turning what should be a mass fight into a turgid bus queue of death. This which quickly removes some of the already fairly easy challenge on offer leaving you to only have to worry about bigger boss characters.
By far the biggest problem though is the game’s lousy path finding that will quickly have you tearing your hair out with frustration as your team of carefully positioned warriors’ walks in circles or has single characters falling behind the others when given even the simplest of move commands. It might not be a problem in itself but when the game places so much emphasis on protecting your weaker characters having your party healer fall behind the pack can often ruin your chances of clearing a stage. Likewise trying to flank and encircle a dangerous enemy is just as frustrating with the game’s AI unable to attack on the diagonal and will just leave a character who should be giving out lumps just standing around unable or unwilling to act.
The game’s flaws while not game breaking only serve to remind you of better games not just in the RTS genre but strategy games in general with the likes of Disgaea or Advance Wars being far superior when compared this where every battle dissolves into a dog pile of characters and monsters struggling to act. Add to this the confusing plot and inconsistent presentation and an already shaky game is left in a poor state accessible to hardcore RTS or Blue Dragon fans only.