Microsoft has brought some big names and big games to San Francisco this week for the 2007 Game Developers Conference. One name you might recognize is Hironobu Sakaguchi, best known as the creator of the Final Fantasy series of role-playing games. Sakaguchi is in town on behalf of his development company, Mistwalker, to show off two upcoming Xbox 360 games to which he is lending his creative vision. The first game Sakaguchi covered in his short demo was Blue Dragon, which came out in Japan last December and is scheduled for release in North America this August. We took a look at the first localized build of Blue Dragon, complete with English voice-overs.
The Blue Dragon demo began with a brief description of what the game is all about. The star of the game is Shu, a young boy who is able to harness the power of special shadow creatures. Shu and his four friends--Marumaro, Zola, Kluke, and Jiro--are up against the evil Nene. As we watched the first cutscene, Shu woke up next to a couple of his friends on the cold-looking metal floor inside a dark structure of some sort. After he screamed nothing in particular, seemingly brought on by the realization of his predicament, the evil Nene appeared and we got our first taste of the English voice acting.
Nene announced in a grave, sinister-sounding voice that he had taken over the world and shrouded it in darkness. He picked up Shu and shoved the young boy's face up to a window, where Shu took a good look at the devastated world beyond the glass. At this point we heard Shu's English voice, which fits very well with his rambunctious, hotheaded character. Other voices we heard included the high-pitched squeak of Marumaro and the slightly more feminine voice of Kluke. Based on what we heard, it sounds like the voice-overs and localization have gone well thus far. The short bits of dialogue we saw seemed about as natural as you can expect from a role-playing game about dragons, shadow creatures, magic, and monsters. The voices we heard were emphatically delivered and seemed to fit their respective characters well, adding a great deal of charm to an already great-looking game.
After showing a brief cutscene, Sakaguchi also demonstrated some of the gameplay in Blue Dragon. He began by running around a desolate, arid area to show off the exploration and combat system in the game. While you're on the overworld map, you'll see enemies patrolling the area, waiting to attack anyone foolish enough to get close. If you come into contact with a creature, you'll be drawn into a separate battle screen where the turn-based combat is resolved. If you're not into combat and just want to get from point A to point B, there are ways to make traveling through hostile territory much easier.
You can learn field commands in Blue Dragon, which are abilities you can use to gain an advantage over the enemies in the field. For instance, you can toss bombs at enemies to paralyze them and then run past them or even run around behind them for a preemptive back attack. One of the more interesting field abilities we saw was a barrier that formed around Shu and instantly killed any low-level enemies he came into contact with. This barrier ability is a clever way to avoid fighting a bunch of the same enemies over and over again, as it lets you walk right through any enemies that you could easily defeat, without going through the trouble of actually engaging them in battle. You still earn skill points for enemies you defeat in this way.
The actual battles are turn based, with you and your party of up to five characters taking turns attacking enemies. Each character in your party has a unique shadow creature that he or she can summon to perform a variety of devastating attacks. Some of these attacks that we saw were extremely impressive, with lengthy and elaborate animations that look like something straight out of an episode of Dragon Ball Z. That makes sense, given that the creator of that series, Akira Toriyama, worked on the character design in this game. We watched a few normal battles and one larger boss battle against a sort of robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex and a giant, pink serpentine creature.
Aside from the combat and treasure hunting, there are several minigames in Blue Dragon. One such game is a space shooter where you fly a ship and fire machine guns and missiles at enemy ships. There are three of these shooter sequences in the game, and the one we saw looked simple and not especially challenging, though it seemed like it could be a nice break from the more standard RPG activities in the game.
Blue Dragon is looking good on the Xbox 360. The characters are all very expressive and the enemies are large and cartoonish but still imposing. The attack animations and battle effects are especially impressive. The voices and the music sound good, as well, and there's even a song from Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan that played during a boss battle.
The game is already on shelves in Japan, but unless you're fluent in Japanese, you'll want to wait until the localized version of Blue Dragon ships in North America this August. Be sure to check out the