BLUE DRAGON (2007) – MISTWALKER
Two summers ago (which seems like a bloody long time ago now), I found myself running a bit short on games to play through – I had completed Mass Effect more times than I care to remember, was getting bored of FIFA and wanted something new and a bit different to play. It just so happens that one day while browsing the shelves of a local supermarket, I saw a copy of Blue Dragon going for £5. Considering that I had played through and quite enjoyed another of Mistwalker’s efforts during the previous months (the often overlooked Lost Odyssey, which followed Blue Dragon), I decided to give it a go. The result? Unfortunately, a rather childish affair that disappoints on quite a few levels.
The feeling that this could be a ‘child’s first RPG’ kind of affair is very apparent as soon as the story starts. Its opens in Talta village, where three young friends (Shu, Jiro and Kluke) are looking to stop the Land Shark – a strange creature that stops by every now and again to destroy the village. After managing to subdue the Land Shark, the friends quickly realise it is a ‘mechat’ which activates and takes our heroes to a giant fortress in the sky. Within said fortress, they meet an old purple guy called Nene who has all the classic villain traits (likes the screams of dead people, wants to destroy the world using fog etc.) and promptly kicks them off his ship. Before they fall however, the children are saved by mysterious beams of light which grant them the power to summon Shadows; powerful beings that allow them to escape the fortress unharmed. The rest of the story then focuses on the three heroes (who pick up two other party members; a female pirate called Zola and an annoying creature called Marumaro) as they look to stop Nene committing his evil deeds.
Considering the story was written by Hironobu Sakaguchi (the creator of Final Fantasy), you could have expected better for the game. 90% of it is clichéd as hell, and the last 10% of the story is utterly and needlessly confusing and anti-climatic. Credit should be given for breaking away from the normal angsty teenagers in the main roles, but going backwards in age hasn’t exactly been of benefit either – the characters are simply too young to have any proper development, and Marumaro is honestly one of the worst characters I have ever encountered in a video game; he won’t bloody shut up. The character design across the board isn’t exactly award winning either – one of the first enemies you encounter are snakes coiled up to look like dog turds. Really, the only benefit of Blue Dragon’s story is that Mistwalker upped the ante for Lost Odyssey and delivered a decent story there instead.
In order to appeal to first timers, many of the traditions commonly seen in JRPG’s also make themselves very much at home in Blue Dragon. Fights are turn based affairs, and enemies can be fought or avoided by navigating around various world and field maps. What stops this game from being simply another turn based RPG is the intriguing levelling up system. You see, the aforementioned Shadows that the party get to control are actually quite flexible things, and have several classes that you can level up for each character. For example, the Assassin class improves your speed and chances of critical hits, whereas being a Monk can increase your power and allow you to charge attacks to hit more enemies. Each character’s Shadow can learn skills in all classes up to a level of 99, meaning that if you want to max out your stats (where most of the gamerscore for this game is unlocked) you will be battling for quite a long time – fortunately you can learn field skills which instantly kill weak enemies, making this process a damn sight easier. The thing is though, the highest level skills unlock at around Level 40 for each class – meaning the subsequent 50 levels are completely useless and serve no purpose but to artificially extend the length of the game.
There are some other game mechanics that I also had major issues with. Throughout the entire game, by pressing the action button while walking along you have a chance of finding medals and treasures in scenery surrounding the world maps – accompanied by a women telling you most of the time you have found nothing at all. Fortunately, her monotonous voice can be turned off in the options menu; but the mechanic remains in place, meaning you can get some really odd rewards by button mashing while hugging the edge of a map. The worst offender in this game however is the button mashing mini-games that pop up four or five times in the course of the storyline. I hate to whine and moan, but they are GOD DAMN IMPOSSIBLE. Some people have tried to do them with turbo controllers and failed the task. I got so pissed off with some of them that I failed on purpose to avoid getting blisters on my fingers.
In truth, the best things that Blue Dragon has going for it is design and sound. As it was the first Xbox 360 game to span over three discs, it meant that Mistwalker (under the control of Dragonball creator Akira Toriyama for graphics and Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu for sound) could be pretty lavish when it came to making the game. It may have childish designs, but even I can’t deny that they look very nice on my television screen. It’s a bright uplifting game and barely suffers from any graphical slowdown, with the massive world map standing out in particular as a very nice place to observe. It’s not Uematsu’s best soundtrack (the boss battle track in particular is a great annoyance to my ears), but there are enough tracks that you can happily listen to outside of the game, including the airship theme.
Blue Dragon then: its not hardcore enough to appeal to Dragon Quest fans, too childish for fans of Shin Megami Tensei to sink their teeth into, and almost everything that it does has been done better in previous Final Fantasy games – it doesn’t have anything unique going for it to make it stand out from the crowd I’m sad to say. If you want a better Mistwalker experience, pick up Lost Odyssey or give the recent release The Last Story a go instead.