Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is another attempt to legitimize Blue Dragonas a franchise worth taking seriously. I’m not sure why Mistwalker is so hell bent on the idea of making more games for this series. When has a children’s story even been good when the original idea was taken and expanded upon several times? Who honestly thought The Neverending Story III was anywhere near as good as the original (which was probably good because it was based on a Children’s fantasy novel to begin with)?
The game opens with two purple-skinned people with long pointy ears awakening from a deep sleep. They portend hints of something big about to happen, thanks to some mysterious scheme they’ve been planning. I don’t really remember much of this scene because it was a lot of abstract foreshadowing, but one thing stood out to me: the purple girl says some snide comment to the dude, to which he replies something along the lines of “That cavalier tone of yours hasn’t changed since ancient times.” Well, duh! She’s been asleep for who knows how long; what kind of significant personality changes could she have possibly undergone?
This is the level of sophistication we’re dealing with in the writing. I don’t have any qualms with a narrative being less mature. The original Blue Dragon reminded me an awful lot of the days when I used to watch Saturday morning cartoons. However, the original also had a script that was charming, and not full of exceedingly contrived and stupid comments. It didn’t insult its audience, which is why it was more captivating to watch the heroes as they journeyed to new lands and met new people.
What’s worse, all the Blue Dragon games up to this point have been handled by completely different localization teams, which causes a bit of inconsistency. If characters had a certain manner of speech in one game, they might have a completely different way of speaking in another game. If a word was pronounced in a certain way by the voice actors in one game, it may have a different pronunciation now. This may not be a big deal to newcomers, but to people who played either of the other games, this may raise a few eyebrows.
Speaking of which, if you’re a newcomer, good luck understanding the story. BD:AS brings back tons of old characters (and incidentally, almost no new ones to speak of but the villains), and picks up where the last game left off. If you don’t know what’s going on then have fun making heads or tails of the story, or even caring about it. Some series of games, like Ace Attorney, do a good job of filling you in on any events from past games that you’ll need to know to appreciate the game, allowing players to jump in at any point. BD:AS (and its predecessor for that matter) expect you to play through the previous games or take weekly seminars on Blue Dragon canon.
Anyways, the gameplay is very basic action RPG style. Press one button to attack. Players can press it multiple times to make a combo, or hold the button to use a spell, after which they need to wait a set amount of time before casting another one. Players can only equip a few spells to their character. Lastly, there’s a button to roll. It doesn’t make you invulnerable, so it’s honestly just…a roll. That’s it. Attack, combo, and roll. Those are the combat controls in their entirety.
That simplicity is what makes the game so completely bland. While it’s true that sometimes less is more, sometimes less really is just less; that’s the case with BD:AS. Players have a party of three, but can only control one character. When all we can do is attack, cast a spell sometimes, and…roll, it’s natural to ask for a little more. It’s not really safe or fun to go bonkers attacking an enemy because it doesn’t stop them from attacking you. The roll is completely ridiculous, because it doesn’t work as an evasion maneuver: it’s not impervious, and even better, if an enemy is preparing to attack, they will correct the direction they’re facing if you try and roll out of the way. Thus, it’s only worth a damn if you use it at the exact moment your opponent is about to strike.
Sure, there’s a lot of cool ideas with the level-up system and stats. There are many characters, but instead of leveling up characters, they have their own individual proficiencies. Alternatively, there are a variety of shadows players can equip to characters. These shadows have their own stats and spells, which increase as they level up. Characters also have a particular shadow they can use especially well, making the task of selecting a party into a pretty strategic process. Even equipping spells is done in a neat way; instead of only being able to equip the spells of your shadow, all the known spells of the shadows in your party are pooled, and players can mix and match the spells on one person. Thus, if you have the Dragon shadow and the Bull shadow in your party, a character can equip a spell from each.
Still, this winds up being all for naught, because when it comes down to it, players are just attacking, casting a spell sometimes, and…rolling. To make matters worse, the AI is completely braindead; if your main character manages to get killed in battle, you can be sure that the two computer-controller characters will fall in a matter of seconds. In fact, they die frequently even if you live. However, since characters who die in BD:AS get up after a fixed amount of time, you can make enemies give chase to you until one of your pals gets up. Your pals don’t make any attempt to survive or dodge anything, so don’t count on them for much. Finally, as the cherry on top, when a shadow levels up in battle, players temporarily lose control of their character for a few seconds. The enemies, on the other hand, do not wait for you to finish celebrating, so you better hope you’re not on the brink of death when you level up.
Is Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow a bad game? No, not really. Is it a fun game? No, not really. What it is, though, is one of the most boring games I’ve played in recent memory. It’s a shame, because there were some really good ideas being tossed around in the various gameplay systems. My advice to Mistwalker, free of charge: take all those good ideas, and append them to a better game. And for Pete’s sake, stop making more Blue Dragongames! I don’t believe in fate or destiny – a bit weird, considering the sheer number of JRPGs I play – but I think if something isn’t working out, don’t try and force it to work. Just move on.
The 3D graphics are pretty, but the framerate goes to hell when there are too many characters on the screen...and too many is about six.
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The underlying gameplay systems are seriously awesome. However, it's no gross oversimplification to say that all you do is hit stuff, cast a spell sometimes, and...roll.
Kudos to Nobuo Uematsu for writing a great score...for Blue Dragon, in 2006. No kudos for reusing those same pieces of music over and over again.
The game is of moderate length, and if you like multiplayer, there's a lot of side quests and optional bosses to fight.
Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is in desperate need for variety in combat. There are quests to complete, bosses to fight, and places to see. Unfortunately, players don't really do anything. Otherwise, if going places to hit stuff and roll a lot sounds like your idea of a good time, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is for you.