The Great Loot Drop Hunt Begins
Blue Dragon is an action/RPG hybrid with a customizable protagonist, dungeons full of loot drops, and online gameplay that can augment the single-player campaign. In the world of Blue Dragon, people use their “shadow” (sort of like a magical power animal) to assist both in combat and in everyday life. While it’s interesting to see a cartoonish rendition of Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow self, Blue Dragon is unfortunately marred by wonky combat mechanics, an unsatisfying single-player campaign, and an utterly forgettable cast of characters.
I can’t quite figure out if Blue Dragon was made with single or multiplayer in mind; while it’s more fun to fight boss monsters with human allies, there’s also quite a bit to do in the single-player campaign. I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that the developers spent equal time developing both single and multiplayer; sadly, I think that, somehow, both aspects of the game were somehow neglected, if such a thing is possible.
For instance, most of the computer-controlled allies have mastered the art of the wild haymaker, but few of them have an understanding of how to stick and move, or even the basic knowledge that they have a limited number of hit points which need to be preserved; they seem content with rushing into battle, getting stomped, and spending the rest of the fight taking a nap while you do the real work of achieving victory. What this means is that it’s all well and good to fire off powerful offensive spells, but if you don’t focus almost exclusively on being the team healer, then you’re also going to focus on being the team undertaker due to your AI allies not being able to keep themselves alive.
Then again, you are presented with a full cast of characters, and each of them conveys at least a suggestion of a personality during sequences of character interaction. I continually found myself wondering why the story wasn’t structured in such a way that your allies are presented as either zombies or victims of mind control – then, at least, it would make sense why they rush into battle, swing away, and then eat some curb.
I also found myself wishing that the developers had simply ripped off character ideas from anime, movies, or other games; the AI teammates are so vanilla that they can’t even truly be described as cliché. They are nonentities. If I could team up with, say, a faceless knight and a nameless ninja, the experience would have been much more tolerable. As it is, I just can’t imagine recruiting warriors from a playground. As far as fantasy goes, it leaves something to be desired.
Combat is somewhat fun, as long as you can deal with a few annoyances. Combat handles like an action/adventure game, but the RPG elements make for an awkward mesh. For instance, you can roll to dodge an attack, which is pretty standard fare for any action/adventure combat system. Unfortunately, just because you roll out of the way before an enemy finishes their attack animation (or even connects with your character) does not matter – oftentimes, the end result for how much damage you receive from an attack has already been rolled and applied BEFORE you have rolled away from the attacking character. What this means is that you can roll away, the enemy will finish their swing several feet away, then the damage you have somehow received will appear over your character. It’s enough to make you think you should simply wear good armor and block, as in a standard turn-based RPG, rather than even try to compensate for Blue Dragon’s awkward implementation of action/adventure gameplay mechanics.
Blue Dragon showcases some decent 3D terrain along with the ability to rotate the camera. Unfortunately, the graphics are hit and miss: some dungeons have creative color schemes, but most areas use a pretty bland set of colors, some of the enemies look cartoonish and goofy, and most of your AI teammates look (and dress) like children. Once, just once, I’d like to play a Japanese DS action/RPG hybrid that’s populated by badasses in black armor, rather than children in brightly-colored clothes. Fortunately, you can customize the main character to a fairly satisfying degree, so during cutscenes you can be guaranteed that there will be at least one person who doesn’t look like a clown hired to amuse children.
The most appealing aspect of Blue Dragon is, by far, the item fusion system. Two decent items can be combined to make unique and powerful items, like better weapons and armor that you can’t find in stores. Even weak items can be fused with stronger items in order to boost the stats of your strong items ever so slightly (almost as if the strong stuff is eating the weaker stuff). This means that not only is there a lot of room for character customization, as each weapon type has its own fighting style and elemental attributes, but it also means that loading down your backpack with weak gear is not such a bad idea after all. Feeding a bunch of weak swords to your powerful boss-slayer is much, much more satisfying than simply off-loading gear at the local chop shop. Still, to keep things in perspective, keep in mind that it’s a pretty flawed game design that makes the player wade through a lot of mundane tasks before you can get to the “fun” part. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the entire game is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?
Blue Dragon reminds me of two other DS titles in particular: Phantasy Star 0 and Ragnarok DS. Blue Dragon is more fun and engaging than Ragnarok (how could it not be?), but in every area where Blue Dragon trips and makes a mess of things, PS0 truly shines. If given a choice between those two games, I can’t imagine ever choosing Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow over PS0.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.2 Graphics
Some dungeons look very nice, but the overall presentation is weak and character design is largely uninspired. 2.8 Control
Awkward implementation of RPG mechanics on top of hack’n’slash combat gameplay is further aggravated by an inability to tweak offline teammate behavior. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Forgettable music and inconsistent voice acting make for a game best played with the volume turned down low. 4.1
Numerous loot drops, item creation through a fusion system, character customization, and online play injects a lot of life into an otherwise dull experience.
2.7 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.