Blue Dragon

boyward - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

GAME TECH INFO

Computer Platform: Xbox 360 (Microsoft)
Produced by: Microsoft / Mistwalker
Price Range: $31-40
Learning curve time: 1-2 hrs.
Age level: Teens
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

     Reviewed By: Phil Rownd (boyward)
     STAFF REVIEWER

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆
Genre: RPG
Christian Rating: 3 of 5 (average)
Gameplay: 3 of 5 (average)
Violence: 4 of 5 (barely present)
Adult Content: 3 of 5 (mild)


Blue Dragon.  Illustration copyrighted.

Blue Dragon is a lengthy Japanese RPG that will last you about 50 hours, but you’ll have to wait until the third and final disc before you get to the really good stuff. Blue Dragon’s design team include such legends as Hironobu Sakaguchi, director of Final Fantasy I-V; Akira Toriyama, character and monster designer for Dragon Quest; and Nobuo Uematsu, composer for many Final Fantasy game soundtracks. With such an illustrious pedigree we would expect Blue Dragon to be something really special. Blue Dragon attempts to blend high tech science fiction and traditional Dragon Quest-style fantasy. Sometimes this mix comes off as inspired, but most of the time it just feels like a ripoff of every Japanese RPG that came before it, like the design team ran out of fresh ideas of their own. There are a few moments of brilliance on the first two discs, but there is so much filler material between them that you may wonder if it’s worthwhile. Those who decide to stick with Blue Dragon will be glad they did by the time they get to Disc 3.

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The central character in the Blue Dragon storyline is Shu, a very determined 16-year-old boy who declares and again, “I won’t give up!” He’s going to need all of that determination because a villain named Nene is causing all kinds of misery in villages around the world. Nene’s motive? “I wanted to hear you scream.” Is that really Nene’s only reason for terrorizing the world, or is there more to Nene than meets the eye? Joined by his best friends, Jiro (a brainy and thoughtful boy) and Kluke (a soft-spoken little girl), Shu will soon find out, but not until the very end of the second disc. Many gamers will give up long before then because there is a lot of bland ground to cover before the game really kicks into high gear.

I’d rate the three discs as follows:

Disc 1: C-
Disc 2: B-
Disc 3: A-

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Clearly, you have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to invest 20-30 hours just to get to the grade “A” part of the game. By Disc 3 you’ll get your own airship as well as what amounts to the awesome “summon” ability we’ve seen in the Final Fantasy series. By this point in the game the characters have grown out of their one-dimensional personalities, and for the first time you’ll genuinely care what happens to them, which is great because the story really ramps up big time. Disc 3 really had me laughing and even having some strong feelings about what was happening. It’s what we hope Blue Dragon will give us all along. But, again, it doesn’t happen until late in the game.

If you do decide to play Blue Dragon, there are some good things you’ll notice right away. First of all, there are no random battles. You can run past enemies if you don’t want to fight, sneak up on them for a back attack, or attack several at once. Sometimes involving more than one monster species in battle instigates a “Monster Fight.” In Monster Fights, dominant monsters will fight or eat the weaker ones. The potential of getting a Monster Fight going adds a lot of strategy to battle planning.

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As cool as Monster Fights are, they don’t make it any easier to swallow the long list of grievances I have with Blue Dragon. Save points in the dungeons are few and far between, so if you don’t have at least an hour to devote to your play session, you may as well play something else.

Graphically, you can tell from the screen shots whether you like the art style. What the screen shots don’t tell you is that the Xbox 360 chugs and stutters to make it all work. It’s like the game can’t keep up with its own graphics. A couple of times this chuggy game crashed on me, once at the end of an extremely lengthy and difficult boss battle, so I lost an hour of my life right there. Overall the code seems pretty solid, and two crashes over 50 hours of play isn’t too shabby, but it’s rather unnerving to wonder whether the game is going to freeze.

I was also disappointed by Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack. Sure, there are some lovely string and wind arrangements at certain points in the game, but overall the compositions are uninspired and I cannot recall a single memorable track except for the horrendous boss music. An English singer, Ian Gillan, screeches his way through a Uematsu-composed thrash fest, and it’s simply awful. Blue Dragon is definitely not Uematsu’s best work. The sound design in general leaves something to be desired. The fourth member of your party, a little Devee named Maromaru has one of the most obnoxious voices in games today. The other cast members sound pretty good, but if you’re the kind of gamer who doesn’t like childish voice acting in your games you may want to select the Japanese language option from the very beginning.

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Finally, if you buy 360 games for the sole purpose of earning Achievement Points, you’ll find Blue Dragon is pretty stingy. In 50 hours I earned under 100 points. After you beat the game you can play through it again on one of two harder difficulty settings, but that’s a lot of work. In other words, you need to play Blue Dragon because you like Blue Dragon, not as a means of earning some easy points.

SPIRITUAL CONTENT
Every member of your party receives a glowing blue sphere and a mysterious voice tells them to “swallow the light spheres.” This begins the relationship with the Shadows, magical beings that can transform your feelings into power. They appear in the form of a blue Dragon, Minotaur, Phoenix, Saber-tooth, or Killer Bat, and they enable your otherwise weak characters to fight and do magic. Magic spells include Black Magic (fire, water, wind, ground, shadow), White Magic (healing and shine), Barrier, and Support Magic. This kind of fantasy spell-casting is a major part of the game and there’s no getting around it. On our party’s quest we see an idol god. Your party comments on how their “god” looks more like a devil, and a discussion ensues on how “each of our cultures has its own values.” You’ll also venture through the “Forest of the Dead” and other such areas inhabited by ghosts and the undead. Skeletons have a spell called “Devour Soul” that steals your Magic Points and turn your party into zombies. Late in the game your Shadow can temporarily become “real” and have its own body. There are a few scary-looking undead enemies such as the Spider Scythe reaper which may be frightening to children.

VIOLENCE
Your party can’t use weapons, so violence is limited to your Shadow punching cartoon enemies or zapping them with elemental spells. Enemies occasionally wield weapons like swords, crossbows, and guns. When defeated, they merely fall down and fade away or go “poof” in an explosion. There is no blood or gore. Nene strikes people with illness and puts them in dangerous situations. Wild animals attack a caravan. A flesh-eating tree terrorizes a village. A suicidal girl tries (and fails) to throw herself off a cliff.

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PROFANITY
In the first 30 minutes we hear Shu say, “D—it” twice and “ba—-d” three times. After that rocky start, the frequency of cursing drops off significantly. Shu says, “This sucks” several times.

SEXUAL CONTENT
Despite the fact that your fifth party member, Lady Zola, behaves in a non-sensual manner, she does wear a revealing outfit that calls attention to her breasts. A number of non-playable female characters also show a lot of flesh. The Gorgo village tavern has a dancing girl and the men all sit around and admire her.

OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS
You’ll do battle with “poo snakes” who look like spirals of poop, and occasionally defeated enemies drop “poo” which you can dig through for rewards.

POSITIVE ELEMENTS
Shu shows tremendous perseverance, declaring again and again, “I won’t give up! Not now, not ever” — and he MEANS it! There is some discussion about how talk is cheap– it’s action that counts. It reminded me of what James teaches in the Bible, “Faith without works is dead.” Throughout the game you’ll help villagers and they generally return the favor. And I don’t want to give away any plot details, but showing compassion and loyalty to your friends is rewarded big time.

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I’d say the ESRB “Teen” rating is right on the money. Christian teens looking for a good Japanese RPG could do a lot worse than Blue Dragon, but the content is a little edgier than the art style may lead one to think. There are definitely some good lessons to be learned persevering through hardship. Playing the game itself teaches that very lesson. After all, if you play through the bland first 30 hours or so and, as Shu would say, “Don’t give up!” you’ll find yourself at the end of a very good game.

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Year of Release — 2007

[tags] 3 stars, RPG, Xbox 360 (Microsoft), T (Teen), Microsoft, Mistwalker [/tags]




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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