Blue Dragon Review

Dan Webb

From the legendary mind behind Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi brings his latest incarnation to the Xbox 360. Originally a Japanese exclusive, now 360 owners worldwide can get their hands on this epic title and whoever said that turn based RPGs were dead will be eating their words after this masterpiece. It could quite possibly be Microsoft’s answer to Final Fantasy as both games are on similar levels in terms of attention to detail, storyline and the sheer size of it. Three discs of brilliance, Blue Dragon truly is the thinking man’s RPG.

The game starts off in the Talta village, where the inhabitants have been plagued yearly by a purple cloud which brought with it nothing but chaos and disaster. Step in the main characters, Shu and his two friends Jiro and Kluke, as they try to save their village. The epic adventure starts here for our three characters. They set off on the long and winding road to defeat the nemesis Nene while picking up and meeting new friends along the way. The tale of zero to hero is an entertaining one that keeps you gripped from start to finish.

They say the bats are bigger this time of year

The visuals on show feature the skills of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama and it is apparent as the game is a visually a masterpiece. It however may take some time to adjust to the stylised visuals, but eventually you’ll grow to appreciate the level of detail poured in to every aspect of the game. The 3D character models are highly detailed and the animations are fluent and realistic, even the numerous animals that you encounter round the towns and camps are incredibly impressive. There is nothing like chasing Pigeons through the centre of Jibral town. Throw these beasts in to a living, breathing and breathtaking environment and the game really comes in to its own. The environments are colourful and richly detailed, the water and especially the waterfalls are a joy to behold. I know everyone raves on about water in games, but hey, as the sun glistens off the surface, you will be impressed, I can assure you that. Jaw dropping and awe inspiring. Strolling round some of the idyllic environments is where the game comes in to its own. In a total different sense, the battle scenes are some real eye candy with smooth flowing motions impressive looking attacks, well they look pretty sweet, until you unlock the Corporeal magic and the cut scenes for those will blow you away. The story cut scenes are more vivid and a real wonder and add another dimension of realism to the characters and story that aren’t really demonstrated in game. It's as if you are taking part in an interactive movie. All in all, Blue Dragon is a visual masterpiece, and although the graphics may appeal to some more than others, it can be appreciated by all as a true work of art.

The musical score comes from another Final Fantasy veteran in the form of Nobuo Uematsu and carries on the same vein. The music is quirky and light hearted, nothing that will have Beethoven fearing for his concertos, but far from disastrous. On the whole, simple and playful and very fitting. One of the boss fight themes is written by Sakaguchi and features the lyrics of Deep Purple legend Ian Gillian. “Smoke on the Water” anyone? The ante is upped as indicated by the change of tempo on the typical Japanese Stereotyped rock fest and I kid you not, that parodies such of such themes done by South Park creators Parker and Stone hit the nail right on the head. The themes which are typical of a Japanese RPG, nonetheless, only add to the experience. The voice acting in the game is commendable, if not a little fake at times, but it all has to be put in perspective. A warning now though, watch out for the shrills of Marumaro, they can straight through you sometimes. A complimenting piece all in all that is typical of most JRPGs.

Enter domineering Zola to take charge of a situation

The delivery of the game is where it excels. Ignore the opening menus as part of this compliment, as it’s uhhh, well... It’s a white screen with “New Game” and “Load Game” on it. Hardly a great introduction to the game, but it seems as if they spent this time elsewhere, so every cloud has its silver lining. The game starts off a little too slowly, introducing you to the basics at an incredibly slow pace but after a few hours, the game starts to flourish. You start as a puny punk kid with a small knife and just a bucket load of enthusiasm and as you progress through the story, you pick up stronger spells, powers and of course, the ever handy and powerful shadow creatures. These shadow creatures take the form of various mythical creatures and accompany the main characters on their quest to defeat Nene, growing as your characters do. It can be a little tedious to start with, but once you start unlocking skills and powers and your enemies become more of a challenge, then the game really becomes a joy. As the game becomes more and more challenging, the need for tactics is essential. Sorting out formations and accessories start to become more and more necessary so you can get that much needed edge in battle. Deciding on what jewelery your characters wear which harness special powers and playing to your character's strengths is key to success in this title. Putting your strongest characters on the front line, using physical attacks and placing your magic users on the rear line is a great tactic which pans out to be so effective in the game. Don’t think about this area and you’ll be cast in to the simplistic white “Game Over” screen a few too many times. Part of the fun of the game is actually sitting back and watching your tactics shine through in well polished battle scenes, this is highly satisfying. The battle scenes are easy enough to navigate with the lack of complex menus, but navigating your inventory can be a little awkward when you first start, but after a few hours it becomes second nature. General field navigation in this turn based RPG is better than every other on the market to date. Why you ask? Well, that's simply because you can see your enemies on the world map and choose which ones you want to fight, whereas in most RPGs, you're forced into random encounters every few steps. If there is one minor fault however, it would be the inability to invert one axis for the camera which can cause problems for semi-inverters like myself, it’s either all or none. In all seriousness though, the game is that good, that you should be able to work through this tiny niggle. The camera can also get a little awkward when you are in confined spaces as well, but that issue doesn't occur frequently, as the environments are big enough that you're rarely in a tight space.

The world you are thrust in to is absolutely huge, taking nearly three figures of hours to explore every single nook and cranny, but in no way is it a pain to navigate. Handy placement of warp devices which you activate throughout your adventure, make traveling the whole map in a heartbeat a real possibility. Whether you want to fly from the Underground River to buy some more potions from your friends back in the Devee town of Lago or simply jump 100 feet to the nearest Warp Station cause you can't be bothered to walk, its possible. Problem is when you get to the town and speak to the locals, there is no voiced acted dialogue, there's just scrolling text. We were promised next generation pre-Xbox 360, and this surely isn’t it.

As typical RPGs go, level up the characters and the game should be a breeze right? Well, some of the bosses are still a bit tricky, even for the higher leveled characters, so the challenge is still there. The monsters you come across have been designed with the wildest of imagination and sometimes you can’t actually believe what you are fighting. Just attack them with the opposite element, or what you believe is, and even you can match even the toughest of bosses. For non-turn based RPG fans, it could get a bit repetitive and samey fast, but isn't that what all turn based RPGs are all about?

Pikac.... I mean Maru... Will you shut up!!!

As far as achievements come, wow, these push the limits of insanity. It is very possible to go through the game and only score 10 points, it really is. Points getters stay away, this could slow your scoring down for a month or two. To get a full 1000, you could very well be looking at somewhere between 100 and 150 hours and that’s if you pay attention. Unfortunately, some of the achievements are tied to sporadic storylines that can be missed due to lack of attention. For a few of the dexterity achievements, the game will ask you to tap a random button till it melts the controller, no seriously, you do have to go that fast, if you just so happen to be slow off the pace and fail it, you either have to reload a previous save, or just leave it. That’s ok if you saved the game like ten minutes ago, but if you haven’t saved it in hours. Well, you aren’t going to be a happy soldier. Add to that the insanely intense achievements of leveling all your characters up to 99 and all your shadows skills up to 99, well, it’s not a five minute job in the slightest. Then there are the item achievements where you must collect EVERY item for your log book and finally a few over boss achievements and you have a pretty simplistic turn based RPG list on your hands. Not much originality, but they clearly try to embrace the meaning of the word, “achievement”.

What we have here is an epic, addictive, supremely impressive turn based JRPG for the Xbox 360. It’s definitely a title where you will lose track of time and there will be the ‘just one more battle’ moments as you plough through 50 plus hours of story. Microsoft may finally have an RPG to battle Final Fantasy for the hearts and souls of the millions of RPG fans out there. The anime inspired title not only looks stunning but plays like a dream, but who would have thought any less with the talent behind the scenes of such a title. Blue Dragon is a must buy title for all RPG fans out there and screams value for money throwing three jam packed discs at us gamers.

Quirky, typical JRPG anthems run throughout this title. Competent voice acting, but listening to Marumaro at times is just like pulling teeth.

Expansive and idyllic environments that are vivid and highly detailed. Character models that go with them hand in hand. Akira Toriyama has turned Blue Dragon in to the Mona Lisa of Xbox 360 games.

Simplistic controls and ease of navigation over such a huge world. Camera can be a bit awkward at times. All without sacrificing anything that makes the game so smooth.

You’ll be navigating fight scenes and inventory options in no time whatsoever. Setting up your characters and using them in battles has never been easier. Can be a little tedious at times but welcome to the world of RPGs.

Lack of originality but try to embrace what an achievement really should be. Leveling up every character though... Seems a bit excessive.

Who said turn based RPGs were dead? Mistwalker laughed it off and then created an epic adventure. Bonus for Microsoft, as it's exclusive. Brilliant and one not to miss.

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