LOS ANGELES--We were ushered into a room at Microsoft's E3 booth this morning for a special showing of Blue Dragon, a game that the company hopes will finally allow it to make headway in the role-playing-game-loving Japanese market. While there weren't many new details on offer about the game's battle system or other combat mechanics, we did get to see the RPG in action, as well as some of the characters and environments you'll encounter.
The demonstration opened with a trailer that we first saw last fall, offering views of the game's main characters and their attendant shadow creatures. The short and spiky-haired Shu is paired with the titular blue dragon, while his friend Jiro is matched with a minotaur, the tiny Marumaro a tiger, Kluke a phoenix, and the enigmatic pirate Zora a bat. Some scattered landscapes were also shown, with a selection of villages, ruins, caverns, and canyons. While the trailer gives an impression of the art style and vision that pervade the game, we were next shown some live gameplay off a current build, and things look like they're coming along very nicely.
We started off with Blue Dragon's intro sequence, with a camera slowly panning past a tall windmill to show a bucolic village, while credits started to appear on the screen. Then the view centered on the base of the windmill, where Shu was lounging on his back. At this point, the game became playable--with the press of a button, Shu got to his feet and was able to wander around the immediate area. When he started down a ramp into the town proper, the Blue Dragon title screen flashed up, and the action kicked off.
Once a year for the past 10 years, the world in the game has been plagued by mysterious violet clouds, which invariably bring disaster in their wake. We were shown just such an event, as a roiling bank of purple weather started to advance on Shu's village. The villagers shot panicked glances at the approaching storm and spilled out of their homes and onto what looked like an elevated dock of some kind, apparently in preparation for evacuation to a shelter. The gameplay perspective then switched from the cutscene to an old man with a stern expression and a bushy white beard--Fushira, Shu's grandfather. Shu hasn't evacuated with the rest, and Fushira runs about the platform conversing with the other villagers, trying to determine the boy's location. One thing we noticed when he spoke to other characters was that the position Fushira stood in, in relation to other people, was preserved in the character portrait that would pop up during dialogue. For example, if he talked to a woman who had her back to him, the portrait would show the back of her head as she continued to look off into the distance and voice her worries.
After a number of conversations, Fushira finally figured out that Shu was still down in the village. The advancing menace--which the villagers called a land shark--was busy turning homes into kindling when the plucky Shu popped up in front of it, brandishing a small sword. Jiro also appeared at this point, telling Shu that everything was ready. While the children's parents attempted to cajole them away, the two were adamant that they had a plan to destroy the land shark once and for all. Just as Shu engaged the land shark, that demo portion ended, since we couldn't be shown the game's battle engine quite yet.
Another gameplay scene showed Shu in what looked like an underground cavern, where the land shark was revealed to be a machine, as well as a scene that featured the diminutive Marumaro running about his hometown. Visually, Blue Dragon has a great deal of style, thanks to the expert rendering of Akira Toriyama's character designs into 3D. Instead of going with a cel-shaded or cartoon look, Artoon instead turns the famous manga artist's work into 3D characters that are both highly distinctive and highly detailed and show off a wide variety of expression. The characters and their world are very bright and have a lot of personality, particularly the pointy-eared Marumaro with his horns and scrunched expression. The animation as the characters moved about their world looked very smooth, and we'll be eager to see how the battle mechanics work when they're finally revealed. Environments also looked really neat, like the Devi village, where homes that resembled clay pottery were suspended impossibly from a cliff face with supports, while a bridge system twined around all the homes.
There are still plenty of questions about how Blue Dragon will unfold as a role-playing game, but development appears to be moving right along. The Microsoft representatives told us that the game's release is planned for Japan before the end of the year, with hopefully a localization in under 12 months for English territories, complete with English voice-overs. We'll be sure to update this gamespace with the latest Blue Dragon news, so stay tuned.