Blue Dragon
Xbox 360
Reviewed: 09/12/2007

Blue Dragon is the much awaited first game from Mistwalker Studios, and the labor of love of three of the most acclaimed contributors to the RPG genre: Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy; Nobuo Uematsu, composer for the same series; and Akira Toriyama, character designer for Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest VIII. The game has garnered so much hype that one would expect it to be the Second Coming of RPGs. But the game is out now, and sadly, the Second Coming it is not.

>Blue Dragon‘s plot is likely its weakest point, and the majority of it can be summed up fairly quickly. Nene, an old purple man, is an evil villain and so he must be stopped. Since the game’s protagonists seem to be the only ones with the guts to challenge him, it’s up to them to chase him down. Remember, Nene is evil, and he must be stopped. Actual plot doesn’t really begin until the second disc, so the game suffers from poor pacing. It wouldn’t be surprising to find a few players giving up on the game prior to finishing the first disc, but rest assured, the game has a legitimate quality curve.

>Sakaguchi has often proclaimed that Final Fantasy V was his favorite in the series, and it shows in Blue Dragon. The game features a job system showcasing a whole nine jobs, and contains the likely now-familiar system of gaining skills as job levels increase and equipping them after changing to other jobs. The system is slow, as it is often several job levels between skills, and what characters do get leaves them overpowered. Since characters gain stat bonuses both with regular levels and with job levels, sticking to the same job can create some absurd stats, though successful combination of skills from various jobs is likely to garner the best results.

Screen Shot
These are the only people in the world willing to fight an old purple guy.

>Battles are turn-based affairs. The player’s party of five lines up against one ot two rows of enemies, and engages in a standard first-me-and-then-I-you fight. It’s a very traditional system, and that is actually one of its strengths, but with the proper skills, it becomes ridiculously easy to mow down a pile of enemies at once. In fact, most regular battles can be completed before everyone in the party gets a turn. Boss battles can be marginally more difficult, and there is strangely one regular enemy in particular that does about 15 times normal damage, but otherwise, battles are just too easy. Combine this with five of the same enemies having identically timed animations and the same view from behind every time one defeat an enemy, and the traditional-but-easy system begins to show a few cosmetic flaws.

>The biggest problem with the battles is not with the system itself, but the absolutely horrendous boss theme. A rock ballad composed by Uematsu, sung (yes, sung) by Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, and with lyrics written by Sakaguchi, one really has to wonder what was going through everyone’s collective heads with this one. Without the lyrics, it’s simply a generic metal boss theme. With the lyrics, however, it’s transformed into a dark, twisted, grotesque mutation of a song, one filled with the seemingly endless refrain of, “This is the beginning.” Oddly, “The beginning of what?” is never really answered.

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This will feel familiar.

>Fortunately, the rest of the soundtrack is superior, though it never really approaches the level of Uematsu’s previous works. Players will hear elements of Final Fantasy games throughout, but these are nothing but allusions, mere homages to the great soundtracks of yesteryear. There are few, if any, standout tracks. Most of the music merely exists, while some tracks (such as the world map theme) will begin to grate on players by the end of the first disc.

>Visually, Blue Dragon is essentially a three-dimensional Toriyama anime. Nothing is especially detailed–clean lines and solid tones are the order of the day–but it isn’t ugly by any means. Compared to other console RPGs, many of the dungeons are as beautifully designed as have ever been seen, richer in detail and polygon counts than has been able to be afforded before. But compare to compare Blue Dragon to any other Xbox 360 game is to be disappointed. The simple style works well for Blue Dragon, though, and despite the childlike design, everything just seems to fit into the overall style, and that’s a major compliment.

>Perhaps the finishing blow for Blue Dragon is that people were expecting a Final Fantasy. It really wants to be one, too. Earth magic misses floating enemies, fire injures the undead, and there are airships–very Final Fantasy. But despite this, Blue Dragon is simply not the kind of material that made Sakaguchi famous. It’s too simplistic, too slow, and most of all too average, and people are going to judge it all the more harshly because of this. It’s not a bad game, and the weak performance out of the gate is more than made up for by a strong finale, but it remains nothing more than a Japanese RPG in the mold of every Japanese RPG that came before it. Simply put, it’s nothing but average.

-Ryan Mance

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Good
Story Average
Graphics Good
Sound/Music Average
Replay Value Bad
The Verdict: 5