The original Blue Dragon on the XBox 360 had its problems; mainly that the story and gameplay were geared towards two diametrically opposed demographics. However, I appreciated its style and charm.
Naturally, I was ready to jump on Blue Dragon Plus as it came out, hoping for more of the same. Strangely enough, while it is was somewhat similar, what little has changed transforms the game from a charming, nostalgic RPG experience into a disaster.
The funny thing is, almost nothing has changed. Almost the entire soundtrack is straight from the original game, although there are some changes to the arrangement that I think could have been done better. The graphics are excellent: the 3D cutscenes look almost as good as Blue Dragon 360 when you play it on a Standard Definition TV, and the 2D graphics – particularly the enemies you fight in battle – look superb. There’s something about artist Akira Toriyama’s style that translates really well into 2D. If you don’t believe me, go play Chrono Trigger; in fact, the enemy graphics look like they came straight from that game.
The story also remains the same, for better or worse; that is, the story is very shallow, but in a “Saturday Morning Cartoons” sort of way. It’s not worth repeating what the story is, other than to tell you that it continues right where the original game’s story left off chronologically. The game does manage to retain the feel of a simple, exciting-yet-superficial cartoon for kids.
Yet, there’s something about it that’s a little more difficult to deal with this time around, and that would be the sloppy quality of the localization. Not even considering the typos and severe lack of commas (which change the sentence context a lot – I’m not just being a grammar nazi), BD Plus’s writing is just all-around very trite and generic, which just makes it feel more like your everyday soulless Japanese RPG. It’s not helped much by the fact that your party consists of tons of characters, and virtually no one gets any screen time except for maybe two of them. Otherwise, there’s really not much to say. If you’ve played the first game, you know what to expect (not much). All you need to know is that it feels kind of like a kid’s cartoon, and it does that with a high level of excellency other than the stale writing.
So, the graphics and music made the best possible transition from 3D to 2D, and the story is about what I expected from the game. None of these let me down. What’s the big deal?
Gameplay. Blue Dragon Plus is a Real-Time Strategy RPG, a la Starcraft. You move your allies around on a map, and move them near enemies to attack them (that is, they attack automatically). You can also move over to treasure chests and open them during battle. When you aren’t in combat, your party is split into a few separate groups, and they all take diverging paths through a labyrinth. This part of the game progresses like a board game where you can only move one space per turn. There are shops to be found where you can buy stuff, and if you move into a space occupied by an enemy (or vice versa), you engage them in the RTS-RPG battles I described above. Each character has a class with its own set of special skills to learn, and you can later on choose to give them an item that will allow them to learn skills different classes.
Tragically, while this sounds really cool, Blue Dragon Plus winds up being frustrating, and boring to play, because doing ANYTHING in this game is really obtuse. How do I count the ways? Let’s see:
For one, during the non-battle portion of the game, the managing of several groups gets really obnoxious. You can only change a group’s equipment if it’s their turn. So if one group buys new equipment at a shop for someone in a different group, you have to either wait until it’s the other group’s turn (which might not happen before they are forced to engage an enemy in battle), or, you have to open up the game menu, and place the character in the other group, into the current group, change their equipment, and then place them back in the other group. As you can see, there are solutions, sure; but, this is exactly what I’m talking about! If inventory is pooled between all groups, why can’t you manage all your characters at once? Why do I have to jump through all those hoops?
And then there’s the actual battles, which I think were tailored to be as difficult to play as possible. The biggest problem is just the infernal controls. Many important actions in this game can only be done with the touch screen: movement, item use, and the use of special attacks. This is done by touching a character, and then touching either the place where you want to move them, or touching some icons in the lower-left corner to use their special skills and items. This all fails, because it’s very easy to try and move your character to a certain spot and click another unit on accident (meaning your character won’t move at all).
Adding to that frustration is the fact that all movement is done in square grids. There is never anything which indicates how large each grid is, making it very easy to click on the wrong place frequently: adding more frustration when trying to move your characters to specific spots. Even worse, if you get your character in position to use a special skill, and you try to touch the skill icon and miss, they’ll just start walking towards the lower-left side of the screen, meaning you have to waste a bunch of time getting them back into position. Good grief.
You can scroll the map with the Directional Pad…But wait? Doesn’t that mean I have to hold the stylus in my right hand? But I’m left-handed! Of course, there is no left-handed option to switch the functions of the buttons and the D-Pad (which would be great, cos the stuff you can do with the buttons is kind of pointless anyways). The bottom line is that if you’re left-handed; tough.
Beyond that, the game has a lot of other absurd hiccups. There are frequent stops in battle, either because of spell animations, or story dialogue. If you were trying to give a character an order when this happens, you’ll have to select them and their action again. This can be very agitating when you’re trying to get a character in critical condition to heal themselves, because it delays their actions by a few very important seconds. Speaking of spells, they have specific areas of effect; however, the game never shows you the AoE when you’re trying to cast a spell, giving them a chance of firing off and hit unintended targets, or no one at all. Lastly, the movement is just plain backwards: I ordered a character to move left one space, and he went forward first. What in the world is that all about? Also, characters have a stick up their butt about any obstructions that might be in their way; if something gets in the way of their preferred path, they’ll start to go in the wrong direction, or come to a dead stop.
And, finally, the biggest slap in the face comes with the ‘game over’ conditions. You don’t actually get “Game Over” in Blue Dragon Plus for losing a battle. So, how does one lose the game? Well, remember that board game styled world map I was talking about? Your characters start at the top and attempt to reach the bottom. There are enemies which attempt to reach the very top – your starting point. If they arrive at the top, you automatically lose. So, if you ever save in a situation where you’re too late to intercept an enemy on their way to the top, you’ve saved in an unwinnable situation, and will need to start the game over. Seriously. I wish I could make up stuff like this.
I’m gonna end this review with a tip to Mistwalker, the designers of the Blue Dragon series, free of charge: There is a ‘fight’ in Blue Dragon Plus where there are no enemies, a ton of dialogue, and about thirty minutes of moving around the map hitting switches that allow you to go to other places on the map to hit MORE switches. This is not interesting, this is not fun, and I think it could only be considered gameplay in a parallel universe. I recommend trying a different approach next time.
Well, it certainly looks nice. The story is about what you would expect.
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Frustrating control issues mar what could have been a decent RTS-RPG experience.
It’s not bad, but there’s hardly any original tracks, and the instrumentation of some of the old tracks are weird.
I finished the game in eleven hours, but there are sidequests which probably will take it up to twenty.
With its obtuse controls, scarce story, and shocking brevity, I see little reason to recommend this game to anyone.