Blue Dragon for the Xbox 360 was supposed to be incredibly excellent. It was created by the folks at Mistwalker, backed up by the pedigree of some of the most recognizable names in the JRPG world -- Sakaguchi, Toriyama and Uematsu to be precise. What a shame, then, that the game was actually a bit rubbish.
Nevertheless, you can't keep an RPG franchise down (unless it's really good), and now we can all enjoy Blue Dragon Plus on the Nintendo DS. Does it manage to be any better than the disappointing prequel, or does the game stink worse than the Poo Snakes that star in it? Read on for our review of Blue Dragon Plus, where we guarantee that there will be Poo Snakes for all.
Blue Dragon Plus (Nintendo DS)
Developer: Mistwalker, Feelplus, Brownie Brown
Publisher: AQ Interactive
Released: February 19, 2009
Blue Dragon Plus is set one year after the events of the first game, and presents itself as more or less a direct sequel. Quite why we have a full sequel on a completely different system is beyond me, but if you want this story to mean anything to you, you must have liked the original game enough to be familiar with the characters and events. This game's story doesn't mean much to me.
For what it's worth, the main villain of the last game, Nene, has reappeared because of reasons and is up to his old tricks. It's up to Shu and his gang of anime archetypes to track him down, as well as unlock the mysteries of a magical cube world that is threatening to destroy everything. Absolutely everybody now has a Shadow -- a magical creature that helps a character in combat -- and they all team up for some fun and frolics with a few silly twists along the way.
The dialog is silly (much use of the word "darn") and there is a ridiculous amount of text for what is, ultimately, a rather light story. As for the gameplay itself, Blue Dragon Plus is quite different from its predecessor, taking more of a real-time-strategy approach to combat than your traditional turn-based gameplay. As you might have guessed from the term "real-time-strategy," happens in real-time, with characters and enemies attacking automatically when in range. With the stylus, one can select each character's unique attacks and abilities, which can be used whenever you want save for a "cooling down" period after use. On the whole, the combat system works rather well and can be pretty enjoyable.
Each character has its own very unique set of skills and serves a particular use on the battlefield. Jibral, for example, is a defensive tank suited to soaking up attacks while protecting weaker units. Zola is fast, but lacks defense, making her useful for leading enemy units around the map. While the different units have been crafted very well, the chaotic nature of combat and the unwieldy stylus controls make positioning characters very difficult. Generally you'll find that moving Jibral in front of a vulnerable spellcaster is just not practical with the controls and the nature of the RTS format, not helped by the fact that enemies will often focus on one particular unit regardless of your best laid plans. It's simply a lot more effective to select "All" and send your entire force against the enemy, rather than utilizing each unit in intricate, specialized ways.
In between each battle, you'll end up on a "world map" of sorts, where you will be able to move your parties to different locations in a turn-based format. Nearly every space you move to leads to some sort of enemy encounter, although there are a number of shops dotted around the map where you can restock supplies. The world map branches off in many separate directions, and annoyingly Blue Dragon Plus wants you to explore them all, so forces you to split up your party often. This is where the game becomes a bit too much to handle, as you are required to split an uneven force between a number of different parties.
Although new characters are found often, it's incredibly annoying to have to constantly thin out your ranks, especially with so many weaker units that need strong units backing them up, leading to unbalanced parties. This doesn't even go into remembering how many characters you have, who has what equipped, and what all their skills do. The only saving grace is that the game isn't incredibly difficult, so often you don't need to think about everything. Heaven help you if you want to, though.
These faults aside, Blue Dragon Plus does provide some solid gameplay that fans will probably dig. The RTS format is surprisingly enjoyable, even if there are interface issues with the stylus, making it hard to get allies to group together. The battles feel quite lengthy and the special skills are all pretty fun to use. The fact that you get to play with a Poo Snake is always welcome, too. You see it's a snake, but it's made out of poo. Hilarity prevails.
There's plenty of content to keep RPG fans happy, with side missions and plenty of micromanagement on offer. Of course, only a true fan of the series will want to spend that much time with the game, as Blue Dragon Plus does little to encourage newcomers to stick with it. Its story assumes that you already know what's going on, and characters are not fleshed out enough to appeal to anybody unfamiliar with them.
Graphically, the game uses standard, old school pixel art for the characters and enemies which is unspectacular but inoffensive. The Shadows are rendered with a little more pizazz and all look pretty cool, and there is plenty of FMV action to dazzle you with spectacular effects and blatant compression. The music is all rather catchy, with a few memorable tunes. Also, Poo Snakes.
If you loved Blue Dragon, you're sure to like this DS followup. The combat is fun even for those who are unfamiliar with the series, but there is certainly not enough to entice new players, and many will feel alienated by a story that doesn't much care for them. I personally have no desire the see this game's story reach its conclusion. While not usually an issue for sequels, when you are releasing a game on an entirely different platform, you really should make a few plot concessions. Nevertheless, it's a decent little strategy title that has a number of very noticeable flaws, but certainly isn't bad.
Score: 6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
reviewed by Jim Sterling