Review: Blue Dragon Plus

Blue Dragon Plus is a return to form for the admittedly lackluster JRPG originally housed on the Xbox 360. From Mistwalker Studios and famed developer Brownie Brown (Magical Starsign, Heroes of Mana), we’re gifted with a sequel to a story that, while it shouldn’t have received continuation to begin with, is much more engaging than its previous installment. With a focus on strategy conventions rather than tried-and-true turn-based battles coupled with some gorgeous sprites and washes of color, this is the Blue Dragon I would have preferred from the beginning.


Blue Dragon, Continued
Fans of the previous game’s storyline will no doubt enjoy embarking on another adventure with the motley crew. On this outing, you’re joining Shu, Kluke, Jiro, Marumaro, Zola, and other familiar faces on a trek throughout deep space immediately following an unfortunate disaster in Blue Dragon (I won’t divulge for the sake of those who haven’t completed the game.) Drifting through space only provides our heroes with the vacuum of emptiness that is space along with countless areas to explore – cubes, to be precise. These cubes are where Shu and the others will be forced to clear out in order to progress through the narrative.

While Nene is the prime threat to the safety of our heroes and life as they know it, less focus has been placed on defeating a singular villain and more on the ideals regarding the Shadows the party previously fought with. This adventure is a bit more on the introspective side and should please those who forged a connection with the parties involved via the first game, and at the very least you’re getting a bit of backstory regarding the mysterious Shadows.

Still, first-time visitors to the Blue Dragon universe will be left feeling quite underwhelmed – there is little to explain the events that unfolded in the first game. While brief text bios are provided for the sake of having an introduction, refreshers are quite meager. If you’re just entering the picture, you may want to research or play the original in order to fully understand what’s going on in this diminutive sequel.

Entertaining Tactical Battles
Gone are the days of painfully generic turn-based JRPG play that Blue Dragon used as its one real crutch. While I generally prefer turn-based play, the addition of a strategic battle system to Blue Dragon Plus is quite the curious one. From the very onset of the game, Shu and his party is separated from one another, so you’re already at a disadvantage. This increase in challenge sets the two games far apart simply by laying out the typical terms for victory and defeat as we’ve seen in popular strat-RPGs such as Disgaea or La Pucelle Tactics. While conditions for victory rarely differ from “defeat all enemies” or “defeat the boss,” it’s refreshing to note that you’re not traversing an overworld that tends to smother, mindlessly whacking away at the same enemies over and over.

Enemies are attacked via the stylus, which coincidentally controls most things within the game (usually a negative gameplay mechanic). You’ll summon your shadows, use items, and assign orders to the squad being controlled onscreen via the stylus. The left area of the screen will allow you to select various pieces of your current squad, or you can just select them by dragging (much like with PC RTSs). Different enemies require different strategies, i.e. fire enemies will require water magic to take them down, and various other familiar elemental conditions. While it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, the switch from tired RPG mechanics to more DS-friendly touch-and-go stylus control should thrill those who are looking for another great tactical RPG for on-the-go. If you’re not quite enjoying the ties being formed with the cast of characters, you can at least pretend you’re into Final Fantasy Tactics or something that presents similar battles.

Gorgeous Visuals
While the Xbox 360’s interpretation of Blue Dragon was dull, seeing as lifeless 3D models didn’t work too well with the console’s capabilities, the transition to sprites was a great one for Blue Dragon Plus. Lovingly crafted renditions of your party, enemies, and environments are a sight to behold. Perhaps I’m spoiled on pixels, but these are simply stunning. The DS’s handling of the 3D-rendered environments is actually pretty impressive, as well. They aren’t on par with the reenvisioning of Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV on the DS, but the environments and portraits that conjure cel-shading are much appreciated. True, the character sprites are a bit on the small side, but they’re just so darn cute and accurate! Unfortunately, it was opted to retain the style of cut scenes seen in the original, so you’ll have to deal with scenes riddled with artifacts that play on both screens simultaneously (I remember how psyched I was to see that in Metroid Prime: Hunters).


Prior Knowledge Required
If you weren’t privy to the characters and storyline of the first Blue Dragon, don’t expect the sequel to hold your hand. All you’ll be given are brief character bios at the very beginning of the game, or flashbacks throughout the adventure. It’s absolutely necessary that you play through Blue Dragon before tackling this one, unless you just enjoy having absolutely no idea what’s going on or who everyone is. Since an engaging storyline is integral to an RPG, there’s really no point in picking up this sequel if you haven’t connected with the characters before. Unless you’re rich – then commence to throwing your money away!

An Invisible Grid
Most tactical RPGs allow you a preview of the area you’re about to let loose on with an elemental attack, highlighting squares on the grid that will give you a good idea of which enemies you’ll hit. There is no grid with which to test out your range of attack, spells, or item effectiveness. As you can imagine, this is overly frustrating. Often, you’ll find yourself fighting a battle within a battle as you just can’t quite figure out how far a melee attack will reach, or which enemies will have flames raining down upon them. For a tactical RPG this is a glaring flaw, and one that could be a dealbreaker for many players.


If you didn’t quite dig the original Blue Dragon, then this great little tactical RPG sequel should lift your spirits. This is a move that many bloated franchises could learn from. It’s a bit of a downer that you should have previous knowledge of the game’s story, but for those of you who trudged through Blue Dragon, this should be a welcome reprieve and a chance to really connect with the characters who felt dull and lifeless throughout their first outing.

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