Coming from Mistwalker, Artoon and.....Microsoft of all people, Blue Dragon has an interesting pedigree to say the least - but does it deserve the stick it tends to receive from RPG fans? Absolutely not. Kind of.
The story is very traditional JRPG stuff – friends live in village, village is destroyed by monster, friends suddenly gain powers and set out to save the world. There’s nothing that you haven’t seen before here. It's as if Microsoft looked at all the other JRPGs around and just said ‘make it like those’. Certainly it shows little of the better paced and characterised Lost Odyssey that the studio released in 2007 (Blue Dragon turned up in 2006). The characters are standard archetypes (the shonen character, the love interest, the tough one, the mascot character you want to beat to death with its own leg etc). The whole thing essentially runs on auto-pilot.
I appreciate that I’m not selling the game here but this is where it gets more interesting, because the battle system is actually really good. It uses a class-based system taken straight from Final Fantasy 4, where you can assign specific roles to each of the characters (or more specifically to their shadows, which are the incarnations of their powers that do most of the fighting and spell-casting) which governs the skills they can learn and offers a variety of stat boosts. It’s a very effective system and once you get to the later stages of the game it's really fun to start working out the best ways to abuse the system with abilities that let you double the attacks and spells you can use per turn, counter-attack or auto-revive your party after a defeat.
This system is augmented by a really neat charge system where some attacks and most spells can be boosted by setting a delay on them using a quick time event, giving a neat little risk/reward system which allows you to choose whether to cast the healing spell now or wait till the boss has had his attack and hope it didn’t flat-out kill you.
Elsewhere, the game is certainly competent. The cel-shaded anime graphics still hold up pretty well even 6 years on. The character designs by Akira ‘Dragonball’ Toriyama certainly aren’t to my taste, but that’s just me and I’m aware that his work does have a big fanbase who should be pleased by them.
The soundtrack is good but instantly forgettable, the overworld is sufficiently big to allow for a good fourty-odd hours of play and everything runs very smoothly with no real glitches.
All in all, whilst this may be pretty old hat to experienced RPG fans, its still pretty playable and it comes into its own if you consider it as an entry level JRPG – something that you can use for that friend/child/spouse who has never really tried one before. Given the low price at which it is now available, you can consider picking this up as it's well worth a go.