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Blue Dragon (Xbox 360) artwork

Blue Dragon (Xbox 360) review


"Just by going through the game and experimenting with the class system enough to give all five of my characters (Shu and pals find two more allies before the end of the first disc) a decent amount of versatility, I was trouncing every storyline encounter in my path to the point where the game's final bosses wound up being exercises in me tapping buttons while being more interested in the college basketball game I was watching on my other television."



Blue Dragon is about as unoriginal as they come. It's a turn-based role-playing game focusing on an impetuous and idealistic kid and his friends as they fight to save the world from the machinations of a diabolical figure with godlike powers. Due to a series of events, the kids get their own taste of these powers, which gives them the physical and magical strength to fight the forces of evil, but they need to discover the true power within their hearts before they're actually able to realize their destiny and topple their mighty oppressor. Everyone (except for the bad guy, obviously) lives happily ever after and all that crap.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I've played countless RPGs with some or all of those plot elements and, if anything, Blue Dragon could be considered an homage to the roots of its genre. And if one would look at the people who put this game together, they'd see notable names from both the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. I can't say for sure if their goal was to put a true retro RPG on the XBox 360, but if it was, they succeeded. Kind of.

The main problem of Blue Dragon is how pitifully easy 99 percent of the game is. Sure, you COULD download (for free) a pair of tougher difficulty levels, but in my eyes, it's pretty lame to hand players a game that's nearly devoid of challenge and then essentially say, "Oh, you ACTUALLY wanted some resistance? Whoa! Really? Well.....download this and, you know....things will hit harder and stuff."

I made the mistake of not immediately downloading those optional difficulties, so I essentially was able to sleepwalk my way through the game's three discs. There's a good amount of work a person can put into customizing their characters and by dipping my toe into those waters, I quickly became massively overpowered for all but a few hidden optional foes. These guys were the exact opposite of everything else, as they seemed to require specific strategies as far as what skills and equipment needed to be used by my party. To beat the game, I didn't have to do much of anything. To beat these guys, I needed to do a lot of everything. They could be compared to Ozma from Final Fantasy IX......if the gap between that thing and the rest of the game was multiplied tenfold.

The lack of difficulty was a shame, as I enjoyed the game's skill system. As Blue Dragon begins, youthful hero-to-be Shu and pals Jiro and Kluke have no special powers. They do have to deal with a mysterious being they only know as "Land Shark" coming to their village and smashing it good once per year, though. An ill-fated attempt to stop the Land Shark in the opening moments of the game leads to the thing dragging them along the ground a long distance before crashing into a cave. The kids find out their village's tormenter is actually a machine, which leads to all sorts of crazy stuff commencing -- including them winding up with dramatically different shadows resembling various mythological beasts.

These shadows give the characters the ability to learn a multitude of powers scattered over several classes (think Final Fantasy V). As I progressed through the game, a number of great skills were unlocked -- such as the ability to cast two spells per round, attack all enemies at once with a charged attack, hit twice in a round, reduce the amount of time it takes to cast a spell, increase the number of skills that can be equipped at once and many more. And with characters able to switch their shadow's class at will, it's possible to mix-and-match any number of skills to create both magical and physical juggernauts.

Blue Dragon had a few other really good ideas. Monsters appear as visible icons on the screen and by hitting the proper button, it's possible to start a fight with multiple groups of them. There are two possible benefits to this. Much of the time, you'll just fight two or more consecutive battles -- but your party will get a random power-up between each fight for an added advantage during the remaining conflicts. However, some species of monster are hostile towards others. Get groups like this in a fight with you and you'll get to watch those creatures tear the crap out of each other, allowing you to pick them off with little fear of reprisal.

Also, as you might expect in a game of Blue Dragon's nature, there are a ton of things you can do. Medals can be traded for enhancements, there are a handful of bonus dungeons and even "nothing" becomes something. When you search a background item, such as a barrel or crate, if it doesn't hold anything, the game tells you it has nothing. In one town, there is an old man who will exchange all the "nothings" you've found for items.

But after playing for a number of hours, I lost interest in doing many of these optional things. Just by going through the game and experimenting with the class system enough to give all five of my characters (Shu and pals find two more allies before the end of the first disc) a decent amount of versatility, I was trouncing every storyline encounter in my path to the point where the game's final bosses wound up being exercises in me tapping buttons while being more interested in the college basketball game I was watching on my other television. Why should I set up fights between groups of monsters when I can bully them mercilessly myself? Why should I search every corner of every screen for items or "nothings" when I don't need any extra help to overpower nearly all of the opposition?

And then we have the most important question: Why should I do extra things that put me in the presence of these characters any longer than necessary? Jiro, Kluke and the mercenary Zola come across and calm, cool-headed and intelligent.....therefore, they are treated as background objects. Meanwhile, the party is led by Shu and his tendency to yell, "I'LL NEVER GIVE UP!" while rarely exhibiting anything resembling rational thought. Sadly, the bat-creature Maromaro makes Shu seem thoughtful and reserved. Possibly the most annoying being I've ever dealt with in any game I've ever played, this little freak's main contribution seems to be loudly screaming stupid lines on a regular basis. I'm not sure if the designers thought he was cute or would make a good comic relief character or what, but constantly hearing lines like "MARO DOESN'T LIKE THIS!!!!!!" in a voice reminiscent of Freddy Krueger's claws scraping across a chalkboard was near-unbearable to me.

Blue Dragon had a bunch of good ideas and was a reasonably fun game for me to get through, but was an overall forgettable experience. I was simply able to do so much of the game without facing any real resistance that I felt a bit let down. I would have liked it if I HAD to make good use of classes and skills just to beat the game -- not to make it even easier. This is the sort of game a shameless RPG junkie like me would enjoy to some degree just because it's giving us our fix, but a more discriminating player probably would consider it a waste of time, as there are far better options out there.

Rating: 5/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 27, 2009)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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Suskie posted March 27, 2009:

I actually expected you to enjoy this game more than you did, as you seem more forgiving of generic JRPGs than I am. I feel my earlier comments on the game may have given the wrong impression: I actually like JRPGs in general. The problem I have with JRPGs is that they can be excruciatingly dull if no effort is made to propel them and make them stand out amongst the crowded pack. I wouldn't quite label Blue Dragon "lazy" since it's the product of an obviously gifted team, yet no attempt was made to give the gameplay any distinguishing characteristics. When I was playing it, I kept thinking, "Haven't I played this, like, a million times before?"

And while the gameplay was boring, a compelling plot could have saved that. But I think it speaks volumes for how underwritten this series is when you consider that I've now played through two lengthy Blue Dragon games and still can't really distinguish the characters (other than Marumaro, whose characteristic is that he's annoying). It's one of those games where there's nothing explicitly wrong with it, but there's really nothing to like about it, either.

Anyway, this review pretty much summed up my thoughts with far more energy than I could ever actually muster for this game. Great job as usual.
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overdrive posted March 27, 2009:

Thanks.

Blue Dragon was just a funny game. I know what you mean. I spent a good 60-70 hours playing this game and can sum up every character in one word. Shu - Loud; Jiro - Quiet; Kluke - Girl; Maromaro - Annoying; Zola - Mysterious.

I was actually leaning towards a 6 for the review with a 7 if I really liked how it ended. And then got this final sequence where it seemed like every action anyone took was for the sole purpose of easily setting up the next thing that happens. I was just shaking my head in sad disbelief when the final boss was essentially created because a character casually took this orb with near-infinite magic power and casually tossed it away, allowing that one annoying little thing to absorb it.

I think I have more of a tolerance for these blah RPGs, but so many things could have done better here that I felt more disappointed than anything when I was done. Like, for me, the most attractive dungeon was that underwater cave you're in on the first disc on your way to the forest of the dead. The final dungeon......nonstop orange walls with lava all around. Almost as boring as the two optional mecha base dungeons that looked exactly the same. I did like the music most of the time, which was a high point. But most of the game was just blah. Not bad, but blah.
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Suskie posted March 27, 2009:

I think I made it to somewhere on the final disc before stopping, and most of the game was so forgettable that it's gone from my memory by now anyway. Like, I don't even remember that water dungeon you're talking about.

The music, by the way, was written by Nobuo Uematsu. I don't think anyone will deny he's one of the best in the business so that was obviously one of the game's highlights.
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zigfried posted March 27, 2009:

Excellent review. At times, I actually forgot it was a review and thought you were IM'ing me with your thoughts. In other words, very free-flowing style that really covered it all. I played through the first disc of this game before putting it down... that was, uh, with the Japanese import before the US version even came out. And I've never gotten around to picking it back up.

//Zig
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jerec posted March 27, 2009:

I get the feeling the extra difficulties were added because people complained about how easy the game was, so they delivered. :P

I've only just begun the game. Probably played about 20 mins so far, and I'm gonna put some time into it when I 100% Lego Star Wars.
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randxian posted March 29, 2009:

Personally, I don't mind games that are on the easy side. I was wondering if this game is any good (don't own a X-Box 360).

In any event, I still think it's a good, well written review even though easy games don't really bother me. At least I'm getting a sense that the characters are a bit lacking in this game. I've read a lot of objections about Maru..whatever his name is.
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jerec posted March 29, 2009:

I started playing it yesterday, and I find the easiness quite welcome. Too many challenging RPGs lately. I like 'em, but it's nice to have a pretty game that I can just sleepwalk my way through the battles. Lets me focus on the shadow skills, and that whole aspect seems quite cool.

The game looks very Dragon Quest-ish to me, too. The characters mostly.

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