Blue Dragon Plus, a strategy RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics for the Nintendo DS, turns out to be a pretty easy-to-learn and engaging game so far. It avoids some of the pitfalls I encountered with FF Tactics and proves to be a good way to pass the time.
Blue Dragon Plus is the official sequel to the more standard XBox360 JRPG, Blue Dragon, though prior knowledge of the older game isn’t really necessary: all you need to know is that the villain they thought they defeated at the end of the first game has somehow returned and is back for more. Blue Dragon was notable for being one of the few JRPGs at the time for the XBox360 platform, and for hiring some fairly big guns: Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator and director of many Final Fantasy titles, was credited as the creator and scenario writer. Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragonball Z, supplied character designs, and that is pretty apparent once you look at the faces and hairstyles. Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for all but the most recent Final Fantasy games, was the score composer for Blue Dragon as well. As a fan of Final Fantasy I was curious as to whether their talents would carry over to this new franchise.
So far, there is definitely a focus on story as much as gameplay. Especially initially, before you get to move about the world map (a cube radar, actually), battles rarely finish all the way through: it’s almost always interrupted or concluded with a nicely rendered cutscene. This proved irritating on some occasions, however, as the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a battle seems taken away by the constant interruption. However, once the world map sections appear you are free to move about the board (so to speak) and fight the various hordes of monsters that come your way.
The battle system is not complicated, and should be especially welcoming to those who are not well-versed in real-time strategy games–such as myself. Each of the eight or so playable characters has specialties in their summons/spells: some can do fire and water spells, others ground, others with physical attacks or defense, etc. While the stylus is required for many actions, it turns out some of the frequently used actions, such as select all characters, are easily accomplished with the DS buttons. I’ve always found the stylus to be awkward for gameplay and I’m glad that it’s not terribly necessary in many cases, with the exception of the Shadow Fights where you have to scribble on the touchscreen as fast as you can to win a battle.
Also notable is the good use of the camera, which is fully rotatable with the left and right trigger buttons. I’ve played many games where the camera is fixed, and thus obscures the best view during battles in particular (I’m looking at you, Eternal Sonata). Since the game is in an overhead view, it’s not hard to simply change the perspective if you need to see behind an enemy or investigate alternate routes for your party members.
One issue, though, is about those routes: when you select all the characters and direct them all to a particular place on the board, many of them tend to straggle and wander either in circles or in barely the same direction. This is annoying when you want to bring the party to a particular place to meet. The problem becomes less of an issue when the parties split up and you only have to manage 3-4 people at a time, however.
Graphics-wise, this is pretty simple–it’s a DS, after all, and you get 16-bit 2d sprites a la Final Fantasy VI, though with 3d rendered cutscenes on occasion. Of course the DS is capable of more–see the Final Fantasy VII level of graphics found in SquareEnix’s remake of Final Fantasy III–but for a strategy game that isn’t as important. The sprites are cute enough, though occasionally the characters are a bit hard to tell apart at first. This is an issue that more playtime will undoubtedly fix, but when the screen and sprites are as small as they are, somewhat more distinction would have been helpful.
I can’t say too much about the story or the music so far–neither has made a strong impression on me, since I’m not finished with the game. I agree with Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation that the best games integrate the story with the gameplay, and while Blue Dragon Plus got off to a rough start I think in its first hour on that score, it seems to have begun focusing on gameplay more heavily once the prologue is complete.
So far, then, in spite of some of its flaws, I can say that this game is enjoyable and I look forward to finishing it and completing a final review. You can find out more info about the game with the widget below.
Thanks to Romeo Corsi for sending us a review copy of this game.