Blue Dragon Plus
When Ignition picked up the rights for Blue Dragon Plus back in 2008, it wouldn’t be far wrong to admit a few eyebrows were raised across the gaming scene. Not only had the aesthetically pleasing 360 original Blue Dragon failed to launch the JRPG genre on the new hardware, there was little indication that a sequel would be making an appearance so soon, especially on the smaller screens of the DS, and in the form of an RPG/RTS hybrid. Taking place just one year after Shu and the gang defeated the tyrannical Nene, the world of Blue Dragon has now split in two. As mystical cubes begin emerging, something even more sinister than Nene lurks in the depth of Earth’s once sturdy core. Unsurprisingly, it’s your job to save the planet before all hell breaks loose.
As a 360 exclusive, there was little chance that the PSP would see a mini-incarnation, and with the popular RPG formula going strong on Nintendo’s handheld, it makes perfect sense that the series follows in the footsteps of big-hitters such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and even Disgaea. Often, games in this genre can be lumped together in one huge, stylish, anime infested orgy, as their plots and battle systems are largely made up of randomly generated turn-based encounters against a host of ridiculous, out-of-this world character designs. Trying to differentiate itself from the rest, Blue Dragon Plus opts for something a little bit braver, and a lot more daring. Mixing real-time strategy with time stopping special events, it’s clear that this title is going to attract many at a first glance, and repel the rest in an instant.
For those who haven’t played the original Blue Dragon, this title could be difficult to initially get into. Although it doesn’t take long to understand that the main heroes of the last game can still utilise their courage in order to harness the devastating powers of their shadows, the narrative itself is a world away from the interesting plot of the 360 title. Even for an RPG, it’s utterly confusing, as you begin journeying round the inside of an ancient cube to put a stop to those pesky, child-beating monsters. It’s a shame that the complexity of the narrative will leave many feeling baffled and emotionless towards the majority of characters, as there are some truly impressive cut-scenes that’ll have you questioning what is and isn’t possible on the clam like handheld.
Fortunately, the dashing good looks aren’t only limited to the impressive FMV sequences. Although laid out in a simple, isometric view, there’s a charming depth to colour throughout the entire game, giving battlefields a look of detail and intricacy. With subtle changes in tone, players engage in war on a canvas of beauty, providing a stark contrast to the dark, dank dungeons that so often appear within the genre. The visual flair is reinforced by some memorable audio that serves the title’s grand nature excellently. Presentation wise, Blue Dragon Plus is at the top of the handheld tree, as the enchanting graphical splendour and boastful mini-orchestral score makes this one of the biggest ‘experiences’ on the DS.
It’s disappointing that this attractiveness isn’t replicated in large portions of the gameplay, as the title begins to stumble after the seemingly misleading hour. Battles are initially fun, as you divide your squad into two separate forces and branch out to uncover the mysteries of the newly formed cube. However, once physically into the war zone, the sleek, user-friendly feel to the game largely evaporates, leaving you with a frustratingly slow, repetitive, drop of discontent. Commanding your troops only requires a simple tap of the stylus, and yet, it’s executed like you are controlling a lumbering group of undecided zombies. The title promotes the use of tactical strategies, but we never faced a challenge that couldn’t be overcome by selecting all of our characters and sending them to attack the same target one at a time. Tricks such as flanking and sneaking up on enemies are rendered useless as long as you have an ally who can heal those within a certain proximity (which is from the beginning), as Blue Dragon Plus fails to enter it’s stride until obstacles are thrown up unexpectedly during battle, often in the form of electrical barriers, extra enemies, or even some kind of story progression.
It’s a shame that the battle system falls short of its potential, as enemies are varied enough to keep it interesting (with the comical Poo Snakes making a return), and the use of 3D for the shadows that are summoned look great for the most part. If your enemy is about to unleash a shadow attack, you have until the timer empties to get in position and utilise your own, or face devastating results. If you manage to save your squad from the ghastly beasts’ onslaught however, you’ll enter a shadow vs shadow duel, where you’ll need to flick the stylus back and forth in a gruesome showdown. When you consider how slowly the rest of the title moves forward, these sudden changes in pace are too brief, and not explored enough. Consider that some of the shadows witnessed in this sequel are much more daring than the previous title (with the octopus and Cerberus style being our favourite), and you can’t help but feel that Blue Dragon is going to need another stab on the DS in order to get it completely right.
For fans of the franchise, this title will definitely add some further fruits to the basket of potential the series finds itself comfortably sitting in. It’s going to be mightily interesting to see where the Blue Dragon cast find themselves next, as it’s still unclear as to whether they’ll be returning to the HD glory of the 360, or making another appearance on the pocket riding handheld. A worthy addition to the series, Blue Dragon Plus is held back by its own ambition, as the graphical beauty and audio design are overshadowed by the uncertainty and aggravation of the battlefield.