|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Mistwalker||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Aug. 28, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matthew Au
February 18, 2007 - There is a simple formula for creating frenzy amongst Japanese gamers. This involves pitting an unlikely, spiky-haired hero against a merciless evil villain but not without fighting countless random encounters with the local monsters and sufficiently leveling up. In other words, develop an RPG. Unfortunately, Microsoft's Xbox failed to adhere to this strategy, and they paid the price, as reflected by the pitiful sales of the console in Japan.
However, with the Xbox 360, Microsoft sought to make amends in the form of Blue Dragon, an epic three-disc RPG developed by Mistwalker, a studio headed by Final Fantasy creator and designer Hironobu Sakaguchi. Indeed, Blue Dragon created waves in Japan, boosting the Xbox 360's mediocre sales, and selling over 80,000 units within the first few days of its December 7th Japanese release date. Critically, gamers' responses have been overwhelmingly positive and renowned Japanese console game review magazine Famitsu gave Blue Dragon an impressive score of 37/40. And, since there is no shortage of RPG gamers in North America, developers are working to import the game by the summer of 2007.
The Blue Dragon story seems to follow the rule of "If it's not broken, don't fix it," as it centers on the young and spunky Shu. True to RPG fashion, the brave and ambitious hero, along with his friends and companions set off in an epic adventure to stop the evil Nene and his robot army from destroying the world. However, the protagonists are not without weapons as they have the ability to control shadows, or rather giant blue avatars of monsters that attack enemies for them. At first glance, the battles would be familiar to all RPG gamers, utilizing the tried, yet true turned based system. However, there seems to be a unique twist when completing the chosen action. When an action, be it casting some sort of magic or physically pounding an enemy, is chosen, a gauge will appear and fill as you hold a button. The gauge determines the power and timing during battle of the action for that character, adding a unique flair to the turned based system. It remains to be seen whether this added control can really add a new layer of depth to the battle system or just turn out to be an inconvenience.
Another unique addition to Blue Dragon is the lack of random encounters. Instead, in the over-world view, players will actually see the enemies and can either confront them to commence battle, or avoid them altogether. In fact, the player could approach an enemy in the over-world view from behind and score an advantaged "sneak attack" once the battle starts, adding more of an arcade element to the RPG. Also, to take this even further, in Blue Dragon, a button in the over-world will allow you to create a circle around your party and any enemy within it will be fought all together in one battle. Even more intriguing is the fact that, within the giant battle, not all enemies get along and they can and will attack each other, a factor that can be employed strategically.
Of course, an essential RPG element is the ability to customize your characters, and Blue Dragon seems to live up to the expectations. Shadows have the ability to take on different job classes and paths, and, with the collection of shadow points gained during battle, can learn the skills associated with the path. With the characters independently gaining stats and the shadows learning different sets of skills to the players liking, there are countless combinations of team formations.
Presentation wise, Blue Dragon looks nothing short of fantastic. The characters and environment are designed by Akira Toriyama, known for his work with the Dragon Ball animated series and the Dragon Quest RPG franchise. Fans of either work will surely recognize everything from character models and outfits, to town buildings and environment. And, although cartoonish, the game makes full utilization of the Xbox 360's powerful console engine, creating a smooth, clean, and detailed environment in both the cinematic sequences and actual game, clearly establishing that pixels are a thing of the past.
Another exciting bonus is the attachment of Nobuo Uematsu who, as any fan of the Final Fantasy series will tell you, is a highly acclaimed video game composer. Although I haven't heard any of the tracks for Blue Dragon, if it is nearly as good as his past achievements, players can look forward to a great soundtrack. In addition to the music, it seems that most of the story sequences will be voiced-over and if the dubbing goes well, Blue Dragon's music and ambience will go far in enhancing the gameplay.
Blue Dragon has already proven its success overseas in Japan both critically and financially, and in previewing the game, it is easy to see why. Although a seemingly cliché storyline, the large customizability of the shadows, the unique over-world approach, and the battle system gauge could make for solid RPG gameplay. Coupled with the seemingly amazingly flawless presentation and backings from such veterans as Hironobu Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu, and Akira Toriyama, Blue Dragon may turn out to be a landmark not just for the Xbox 360, but for the RPG genre as we know it.
CCC Freelance Writer