Blue Dragon may not reinvent the genre, but it successfully takes an old concept and makes it feel fresh all over again.
The Bad: Lacks in challenge, unstable framerate hurts an otherwise gorgeus looking game
Young lad Shu is having a good time relaxing and wathing over his peaceful little village of his when suddenly a dark purple mist fills the area, everyone runs to shelter but not Shu as he conftronts the threat and quickly gets joined my his best friend Jiro and their female friend Kluke. The threat they are facing is some sort of land shark that once every year has striked the village and everytime almost destroying but Shu and his friends have decided that this has to come to a stop, especially since both of Kluke's parents have been lost to the land shark. So the tree of them confronts it in battle and and manage to capture it, at least so they think when it suddenly breaks loose and takes Shu and his friends with it eventually up towards the skies.
That is just the start of an around 50 hour long adventure.
Yup you read it correctly, 50 hours maybe more depending how you play. The game even spands over 3 DVDs, mostly because the game is packed with beautiful CG cutscenes, so I think you'll defiantly get your moneys worth if you're a fan of the genre and looking for a lenghty and storydriven experience.
The game's story while it doesn't take many chances it's lifted by the well written dialog along with perhaps not the most original but really cool and interesting set of characters. To get straight to the point the story stays intersting enough trough the entire experience you can't help yourself to sit back and wondering what's gonna happen next. An interesting thing about the cutscenes that carries most of the story forward except that they all look gorgeus is that many of them are also rendered in realtime and they switch back and forth with the GC ones real nicely and sometimes you don't instantly notice that some of them are prerendered as the characther and environments almost carries the same amount of detail in realtime, wich is honeslty quite impressive as it's someting not often seen in games. That prerendered cutscenes are even included in game have become more and more rare these days.
Another thing that suprised me was when I visited the Goro village, a village I could have completely ignored if I wanted to had this side quest that also featured these beatiful cutscenes just like in the main story quest. Defiantly something I wanna see in more games from now on.
The gameplay pretty much follows the basic eastern rpg structure though with a few twists. For one thing there are no random encounters in Blue Dragon as each group of enemies can be seen on the field and therefor be avoided most of the time if you don't feel like battleing them, there are also some field skills that you later get that you can use to stun your enemies before the fight, taking them by suprise by attacking frim behind, and battle many groups of enemies at once some that will even fight eachoter as they might not get along all too well.
Once in a battle you will attack by turns as most people playing these types of games should be familiar with, thankfully the battlesystem has a few key features wich feels it from being dated. One thing is that some attacks can be charged for greater damage but the more you charge the more turns it will take for the attack to actually strike, wich will make you think several turns ahead each battle wich makes things a bit more interesting. What kind of formation you have will also matter as it decides how much damage each of your character will take and duel out, someting that also a bit of extra bit of strategy to it all. I personally keep my strong physical combatants in the front and the magicians in the back, along with a few other strategies I have thought out, but explaining each and every aspect of the battlesystem would take forever so I'll leave some things for you to find out yourselfs.
The battlesystem may not be as innovative as the one found in the quite recently released Final Fantasy XII for instanse but it ads a whole new layer to the old and classic turn based battlesystem. The game starts of fairly easy though so that will have the time you need to master the system and build up your own strategies, problem is once the game steps it up you will become so good at it that almost nothing will be able to stand in your way, that's why some might find Blue Dragon is a bit easier than one would have liked and therfor lacks any real challenge, though I've heard there will be a hard mode up later for download at some point.
The customization of your character is also basic but very deep aswell, as you rank up you will eventually unlock new classes for your shadows that you use in battle and depending wich class you choose you will have a different set of skills at your disposal, switch classes often and you get a balanced characther but do not gain to most powerful of skills, and if you only focus on maxing out one skill you will be become more powerful but not very balanced. Simple yet deep.
You can also enhance your characters abilites by equiping them with earings, necklaces etc. wich will have their own unique effects in battle.
The graphics in the game are most of the time gorgeus, things like the sky, lakes and some caverns may be breathtaking to look at and all the cutscenes in the game looks great. Most of the time the game runs smooth at around 30 fps with perhaps a screen tear here and there. The are sometimes though but not too often the framerate might drop to as much as half the speed wich isn't all that great, but the game can actually also speed up to like 60 fps, perhaps more. So the game could defiantly have used some optimizing locking the framerate. But it's the only thing that huts this otherwise really beautiful game and stands as once of the most impressive looking japanese developed games for the system, even with it's unfortunate issues.
The music composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, wich most Final Fantasy should know about. And I can gladly tell you that the music in this game is absolutely superb, so beautiful, full and emtion and atmosphere. It might not reach up to the godlike soundtrack found in Final Fantasy VII, but Nobuo certainly haven't lost his touch.
The only thing there is to complain about really about the music is that rock/metallish boss theme that actually pretty decent until the former Deep Purple singer opens is mouth of his. I usually like metal quite alot and Dee Purple are pretty decent but this song just feels cheesy and a also bit annoying. Thankfully it does not play every bossfight.
The voice acting in this game is also top notch especially the original japanese speach, something I'm really glad that you can choose since us from the west most of the time have to settle with english voice over. The english voices work too, but if you have no trouble reading subttles defiantly go with the Japanese voice track.
Overall Blue Dragon stands as a great roleplaying game, it may not reach up to the team's former creation Chrono Trigger nor the best Final Fantasy games and does really do anything to reinvent the genre, but it has the whole package with great gameplay, graphics and sound and a very lengthly and intersting story to boot and it takes the old eastern rpg concept and makes it all feel fun and fresh again. Blue Dragon quite simply feels like a breeze of fresh air, something the genre hasn't had for quite sometime and defiantly one of the very best roleplaying experiences you will have this year if you go out and pick this gem up at you local gamestore.