The Xbox has never received much RPG genre action since the first console launched in 2001. Apart from some genius from BioWare, namely Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, Xbox gamers have had to deal with average games such as Sudeki to satisfy their RPG habits. However, one big announcement before the launch of the 360 looked set to change that – if only a little. Hironobu Sakaguchi was going to produce RPGs (that’s plural) for the 360. The legend that created the Final Fantasy games was going to be making new IPs for Microsoft’s console. Hats were metaphorically tossed into the air. So we come to the first of the RPGs to come out of Sakaguchi-san’s development company (Mistwalker), the endearingly quirky Blue Dragon.
Blue Dragon is already out in Japan – Microsoft’s most difficult market – and the game managed to sell 30,000 consoles—definitely a good sign. The Japanese love their RPGs, and the game has received critical acclaim from publications such as Famitsu, but unfortunately we have a few months left to go till we get our grubby mitts on the three-disc epic.
The game focuses on a young group of friends, led by the protagonist ‘Shu’, where unusual circumstances uncover a great power hidden within them. Apart from the initial part of the game, where the party only has weak melee attacks at their disposal, each party member is able to summon a ‘Shadow’ who will do the dirty work for them. These apparitions take on a unique form for each character, ranging from dragons to sabre-tooth tigers. The player can also change the attributes of each shadow, dictating their stats and what style of magic they learn in a way similar to the customisation in Panzer Dragoon Saga. Sticking with a particular class for extended periods of time will allow the Shadow to learn more powerful magic and boost the relevant stats. This allows you to adapt to changes in your party—if you lost your primary healer for example—which should create a very fluid RPG experience.
Unsurprisingly battles are turn-based, with fight order being determined by both the speed stats of those involved and also the form of your party. Similar to games such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, you can choose the order in which your party attacks, which is important when strategising before and during battle. In addition to this you can also choose to switch characters between the front and back rows. Placing a character in the back row will increase their defense, but also decrease their attacking power; this can be valuable when you desperately need a character to survive during battle, but have a low amount of hit points.
Thankfully though, there are no random battles in Blue Dragon. When running around the various areas of the game you can see all of the regular foes, doing some sort of repetitive animation. Depending on whether you want to fight or not, you can non-chalantly stroll up to them and give them a good beating or just sprint past them. You can also uneven the odds a little by getting a sneaky little attack in before you confront them. Shu can slash an enemy with his knife before entering the battle arena, and should you get them in the back you’ll get a free turn before the enemy can attack you. One other way of confronting the various nasties you’ll meet is via the ominously named ‘Circle of Influence’. When activated, a circle will scale out from Shu and when stopped the party will battle all the monsters that have been caught inside the circle. This is a good way of fighting through a room full of foes more efficiently, but the added bonus is that some enemies will decide to fight between themselves—killing each other off and weakening the survivors.
The game is also looking incredibly good, and with the character design being done by Akira Toriyama (famous in Japan for Dragonball Z and the RPG, Dragon Quest) you can definitely see the influence that anime and manga has had on the whole look for the game. It looks as if this will suit the whole fantasy aspect of the game, and although it definitely doesn’t look very ‘realistic’ the graphics look very crisp, with lush environments and plenty of crazy particle effects. It may be a different story when displayed on your HDTV, but for now it is looking awesome.
Sound-wise we don’t know what the quality of the English voice acting will be when the game is dubbed, but the Japanese version is reported to be well-acted and the script of the 40-hour game looks to have great potential. The soundtrack for Blue Dragon is the product of yet another Japanese legend, Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. Although we are yet to hear the full breadth of the soundtrack, it seems to be a mixture of relaxed instrumentals and frenzied J-Pop, which gamers will either love or hate. Interestingly the game soundtrack also features music from the band Enter Shikari, which will definitely be a strange but welcome sound.
Blue Dragon definitely looks like it has enormous potential, with success in Microsoft’s most difficult market almost confirming that it has being delivered upon. Stick with Console Monster for the review to find out whether this is the first great RPG on the Xbox 360.
Originally Written By: Ali Owen