The Japanese are famous for many things. Sushi, Futuristic looking cities, an interesting fashion sense, the fact they always get games before Europe do and also crazy turned based action RPGs that fit onto 5+ discs. I, personally, am not really a fan of turned based games. I'm more of a "go up to a monster and bash the heck out of it" kind of guy, that's why Oblivion is one of my all time favourite games. Well, it seems Mistwalker have managed to convert me to the ways of turned based combat.
Released in December 2006 in Japan, Blue Dragon caused a storm. More 360's were bought in Japan just for the release of that game, than had been bought at launch. That is a pretty big feat for a game to do. Exclusive to the 360, the creative team is a magical group of amazing Japanese game veterans. The creator of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, is the brains behind the game. It does show as well. The plot follows the same path as many of his games. A group of children, who's home town is attacked by a "land shark" chase after it, but then end up gaining special powers, and then set out to rid the land of evil. The children are Shu, the fighter of the group who is a born leader, Jiro, the healer and the quiet, smart one and Kluke, who is like the mother figure of the group. Later in the story, you come across Marumaro, a very loud and eager creature and also Zola, a mercenary who joins the fight. These characters are charming and, at times, you begin to feel for the characters. Each of these characters has a Shadow. This is where the game really comes into it's own.
The Shadows of each character are like a personal guardian, but are also how the characters fight. Each characters Shadow takes on a different form. Shu's Shadow is the Blue Dragon of the title, Jiro's is a Minotaur and Kluke's is a Phoenix. Each Shadow has a class, and there are quite a few to choose from. As your Shadow levels up, you gain more classes and more skills to use. The Monk class is my personal favourite, as you charge up physical attacks and can unleash devastating attacks. However, you do need to mix and match within your team. You will need at least 1 Shadow that uses White Magic to have as your healer.
The creatures in the game are so lovingly created, that you'll never get bored of smashing them to pulp. There are crabs that prefer to live in poo rather than shells, fish with swords, massive dragons and a fire/ice wolf hybrid. Those are just a few of the many creatures. The brilliant and unique thing is that you can see them on the field. Instead of wandering along casually then your screen flashing and a monster appearing, you can see the monsters wandering around. You can choose to avoid them, sneak behind them for a back attack or try get the first hit in. This is brilliant, especially if you are low on health and need to find some Medicine, but can't afford to have a monster attack. That is what always frustrated me about these sort of games, but it is no more. You won't get bored of attacking the monsters either. They may be the same monster, but occasionally there are more than one, sometimes even more than 10 and sometimes they bring along weaker monsters to get killed first. You can group monsters together. Say if you had a fire and an ice wolf in front and behind you. You can press the right trigger and then queue the monsters up. Once one set is defeated, the next come along. Whats great about this is that between fights, you get a randomly selected power up, such as replenished HP or stronger attacks. Also if you group together two opposing monsters, like Ice Wolves and Fire Wolves, they attack each other, saving you the hassle.
The menus in the game are so easy to navigate. This was another feature that put me off Japanese RPGs. In Final Fantasy, it was so hard to find what you wanted. In Blue Dragon, it's alot easier to find, especially during combat. This speeds up the gameplay, making battles more exciting and selecting skills easier.
The graphics of the game are absolutely beautiful. During some cutscenes, which there are many of, my jaw literally dropped due to some set pieces. The opening scene, looks like a cutscene, but is actually playable. It is only walking around but it shows you that there is not real difference between the cutscene and the game. The water sparkles as the sun plays across its surface, the towns are colourful and a joy to explore. Even the blandest corridor looks amazing and detailed. However, sometimes, the scenery skips as it loads the next area, which takes away the smoothness. The characters and monsters are all thanks to one man. Akira Toriyama. He was the man who created the characters for Dragon Ball Z and the Dragon Quest series. His previous work definitely shows in these characters. Each area has it's own visually uniqueness to it, as well as music.
The music for the game was created by Nobuo Uematsu, who also worked on the music for the Final Fantasy series. It is beautiful. Simple. Each area has different music which suits the mood exactly. A quiet idyllic town has some nice serene music accompanying it, where as a dark, damp dungeon has some eerie music playing. However, the only gripe about the music is the boss music. It is the same with every boss battle. A heavy metal song sung by Ian Gillian, of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath fame, it is almost comical as it doesn't suit the game, but gets you pumped up for the battle
Blue Dragon is a fantastic game. There is little else to say. It looks beautiful, it plays beautiful, it sounds beautiful. The story is brilliant. However the first few hours will be a bit boring but it picks up quite quickly and keeps you playing. After about 4 hours of playing, i was only a quarter of the way through disc one, so there is definitely 40+ hours of gameplay to indulge in. This is a definite buy for the hardcore RPG fan and a brilliant buy for anyone who is wanting a game to last for a long while.