Blue Dragon Plus (DS) review
"What good is equipping your meat shield as a monster bait when your stupid healer wonít stop standing in front of him? The more numbers mean the greater chance for complete chaos, and itís all too tempting to ignore the gameís wishes to break your forces into four small platoons to explore different corners of the map independently when you can redistribute characters to far-flung areas between battles without penalty. "
Itís fair to say that I had issues with the original release of Mistwalkerís Blue Dragon when it hit the XBOX360 some time ago. While the game was heavily advertised as a look back on the JRPGing of old, it seemed more of a loose collection of all the negative aspects of the genre. The protagonists were dorky, noble kids with pure hearts wanting to save the world from an overwritten source of evil who is never quite as evil as initially seems. Sure, the gameís credits boasted big names like Nubuo Uematsu and Akira Toriyama, but all this amounted to was a decent soundtrack that sometimes felt unfitting or phoned in, and a cast of characters suffering with DBZ-like mutant infant skulls for heads, all sporting one of the three faces that their respective artist is only capable of producing.
Most of these issues carry over to the DS sequel, Blue Dragon Plus; some -- like the gameís look -- are improved upon by the need to refit them to a smaller screen. Itís disappointing, in a way, that so many flaws would carry across the platforms considering just how big a change has been made sine the previous game. Blue Dragonís initial outing was an RPG Ďepicí with numerous side quests, optional English or Japanese voice acting and cut scenes so vast and pretty, four disks were needed to contain them. Plus, however, is a handheld RTS hoping to make the best use of the touch screen. So, still in are the irritating cast of kind-hearted kids yelling constant catchphrases like ďIíLL NEVER GIVE UP!Ē or the odd bat-like creature breaking into random dances to show whatever extreme emotion heís currently going through. I suppose itís meant to be inspiring or comedic, but it comes across more as tired and long played out.
Plus keeps these, then adds the odd problem of its own. Like how the entire game is built around the idea that the previous title didnít do enough to point out how the main villain is evil because of a tragic twist of fate that wasnít his fault! or how it takes the ideas of the previous gameís shadows then neuters it with a worrying grin and a rusty hacksaw. Shadows were magic beings that only the last questís gathering of five were able to wield, making them the only ones who could stop the ultimate evil who, ultimately, wasnít very evil at all. But that was before it went strategic and needed a wider cast of characters. On the handheld version, every half-bit cast member who got more than a handful of lines returns to the fray sporting a shadow of their own, often with very little justification, just to bolster the ranks.
But ordering them around is thankfully simplified by dumbing down your typically overly-complex RTS controls to something thatís often intuitive enough to be easily contained by stylus prodding alone. Units can be lassoed by drawing a circle around those you desire, or you can just poke the ĎAllí button and take command of everyone on the map. Activating special powers is as simple as prodding the person you wish to use, then selecting their power from a line of icons at the bottom of the screen, be it Shuís elementally charged sword attacks, Klukeís flurry of spells or any of the buffs, heals and attacks youíd expect to see in fantasy-based brawling.
Sadly, controlling them around the huge floating techno-cube they lay war to can often be far more frustrating that it should be. Itís commendable that each character serves a unique role, such as healer or buffer or meat shield, but the pathfinding is often so poor that when the orders are given to rush an enemy, your physically weak mage ends up at the forefront getting her pretty little head kicked in when she should be hanging back hurling spells and whacking robots, ghostly falcons and, er, more robots with well-aimed boomerang strikes while your big slugger wanders off to the other side of the map for no reason whatsoever. And because of the claustrophobic confines of many of the levels, reshuffling your units is nigh impossible. Asking the mage to fall back cannot be done when other units are pressing in from behind, sandwiching her between them and the deranged lawnmower trying to scythe her face off. By the time you've shifted all the units blocking her retreat -- and stopping them from dealing damage to their target in the process -- the only thing left of the girl youíre trying to save is a motionless corpse on the floor. Well, unconscious body; JRPGs are loathe to kill people. In the meanwhile, your slugger is still in the far corner of the map, following an invisible path that only he seems to be able to fathom.
Itís a shame because the option to further enhance your characterís unique skills or try to dual-specialise them is presented in the form allowing units to equip multiple shadows or by presenting a wide range of accessories with stat buffs and special powers, such as flame resistance or a dark energy that draws beasts towards the wearer, is often lost in just how hard it is to place your forces right. What good is equipping your meat shield to be monster bait when your stupid healer wonít stop standing in front of him? The more numbers mean the greater chance for complete chaos, and itís all too tempting to ignore the gameís wishes to break your forces into four small platoons to explore different corners of the map independently when you can redistribute characters to far-flung areas between battles without penalty.
There are good ideas in Blue Dragon Plus, including a great interface and some wonderfully clever (and sometimes downright sadistic) level design, but thereís always something there to trip them up. The controlís grandeur and the scope of the levels are undercut by the very irritating fact that traversing them is a pain in the arse, making you rely on pure luck rather than careful planning to get you troops to engage the enemy in the way you would want them to.
On one stage, I was asked to rescue reoccurring monsters, the poo snakes, from guarded pits where they were held hostage while their life force was drained to siphon into biological weapons. After freeing a few of the cringe-inducingly juvenile beasties based on curly mounds of crap, only one pit remained guarded by a hulking robot with massive shields where his arms should be. I selected my small army of four, and ordered them to attack this last bastion of evil. They all responded by picking a random direction, and wandering off aimlessly in it. By the time someone engaged the robot guard -- the weakest member of the four, of course -- the captive it held was gone, flushed away down a swirling vortex of water.
Pathfinding issues suddenly become a lot more serious when a walking turd carrying a spear looses its life because of it.
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