TOKYO--Blue Dragon, the upcoming 360 role-playing game from legendary Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, was playable in a closed-off section of Microsoft's booth here at TGS, and we were able to play through a good chunk of it and get a taste of the game's combat and roaming system.
The demo we played (there were two saved games that were selectable, but we only had time to play through one) saw four of what appeared to be six main playable characters team up to take on an army of robots sent by the game's villain, whose name is unknown and resembles a purple Yoda, if you can envision that. This robotic genius has designed an army of war robots to enact his nefarious plans, and it's up to your group to fight through the robotic army and give chase to the evil purple man before his goals are met.
The roaming system here is in full 3D, and you'll control Shu, the spiky-haired main protagonist, as he wanders about the inside of the robotic castle the enemy has constructed. There are few actions available to you while roaming, but these include an action button that lets you open up chests or doors and a jumping attack that you can use on any enemies that you spot while roaming. It's unknown what this attack does at the moment, although if you hit an enemy with it before they happen to engage you, you get a first-strike-type ability, where your characters will attack first when you enter the battle mode.
Battles will be instantly familiar to anyone who's played a Final Fantasy game; we easily defeated a few parties of enemies, despite not understanding a word of the Japanese menus. It's in battle that you begin to learn where the game gets its name, as party members have their own special blue dragons that float behind them during battle and act as a proxy during combat. Instead of your characters attacking or casting magic, they'll start the action and their dragons will bash the opponent or cast the spells. Your characters are the ones who get hit, though, but you can't expect your dragons to do everything for you. The dragons appear to be extensions of your characters, so the two have to act in unison.
Speaking of characters, we learned the English names for four of the six characters that appear to be playable in Blue Dragon. Shu is the main protagonist, and he's a small black-haired warrior. Kluke is presumably his love interest, if standard Final Fantasy conventions play out, and she's an offensive-magic specialist. Marumaro is a small goblinlike character that's some kind of trickster; he has extra options available when you select his attack command that may let him combine his attack with another character. Lastly, Jiro is a prim-looking male magician that seems to be the party's best healer. In addition, there appear to be two other protagonists involved in the game's plot, although neither of them were playable here. One is a soldier-type sword user, who we imagine fulfills a similar role of Auron from Final Fantasy X, being the party's most powerful physical attacker, while the other is apparently a female sky pirate (judging by the skull and crossbones on her black bandana) of indeterminate abilities.
When you hit combat, a standard Final Fantasy X-style turn-order menu will appear, letting you know the order in which your characters and the enemies will attack. The classic actions are available here, including attacking, spellcasting, defending, and running. In addition, your characters can switch from front-line combat to rear combat in the middle of a fight, presumably letting characters in the rear take less physical damage, though dealing less, as well. Some actions will take up more time than others, so you'll have to act in a manner that will let you destroy your opponents before they're able to attack. The combat is entirely turn-based, though, letting you sit and deliberate before making your move.
Most of the enemies we faced were easily dispatched by our party, but eventually we caught up with the Yoda-like villain. In a mixture of in-game and CG cutscenes, he rocketed away from his base and prevented our pursuit with one especially large robotic enemy, consisting of two large rotating saw-hands and a large, four-legged pod-shaped body. The robot had some vicious attacks, including claw stabs, sawblade swipes, and energy attacks that took off a third of all of our party members' health in one blow. We countered it with all of the tools at our party's disposal, including standard attacks and elemental magic, which eventually destroyed the beast.
After the robot guardian had been defeated, our party was led to another rocket ship that we used to fly after the villain. In a series of cutscenes, we saw that the villain's huge mobile warship/headquarters, which we had just abandoned, was actually a flying ship suspended over the ocean. Well, suspended for a moment; it quickly crashed into the sea, sending some of the other human soldiers fighting the robots jumping off and parachuting away to avoid being caught in the cataclysm.
Unfortunately, we were ushered out of the booth just before the action got really interesting. Our ship and the ship piloted by the mad robotic scientist engaged in a bit of a dogfight, firing machine guns at each other as they flew over the ocean. Just as we were being escorted out of the booth, tutorial screens began popping up, showing us how to pilot the ship and fire its weaponry, which implies that the game will have some kind of aerial combat mode in real time.
The trailer that ran after the playable demo implies that the game will have a suitably epic scope; many of the set pieces involve incredibly large events and enemies, such as a massive, mountain-sized robotic enemy, straight out of Final Fantasy IV. Although everything is still currently in Japanese, we hope to finagle more details on the game's plot and characters in the future, so stay tuned to GameSpot for more information.