Video Game Rentals Delivered

Blue Dragon

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-03-18 08:22:51

Blue Dragon - Rank C

Developer: Mistwalker
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Date: 8/28/07

The best I can figure, Blue Dragon is the result of Microsoft throwing gobs of money at Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of Final Fantasy), Akira Toriyama (creator of Dragon Ball), and Nobuo Uematsu (composer for Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger) to craft an RPG in a futile effort to crack into the Japanese market. These guys are legends, and having no idea of their mindsets, I hate to impugn their integrity, but Blue Dragon feels like a perfunctory half-hearted effort to justify cashing in Bill Gate's money. It isn't terrible, but it most certainly does not come anywhere close to living up to the reputation of these creators' past glories.

Blue Dragon is the same old JRPG you've played since time immemorial. Ancient ominous threat? Check. Spunky spiky-haired kid-with-a-sword protagonist? Check. NPCs that repeatedly utter the same line, turn-based skill-menu level-grinding battles against goofy monsters, and interminably mind-numbing cutscenes? Check, check, and check. The sheer uninspired laziness shines through in every aspect of the game. "Phoenix Downs" are now called "Phoenix Talons". Good grief.

We can excuse these "conventions of the genre" if the story is engaging, right? It's not like Final Fantasy VII is cherished for its battle or character building systems. Sadly, Blue Dragon's story is dreadfully long and irrepressibly dull and boring, and boringly drab and dull and awful. And boring. This "epic" ships on three DVDs that are chock full of well-produced but useless cutscenes. Blue Dragon consists of cycles of pressing "A" repeatedly to grind through some battles, and then putting down the controller to watch several minutes of video that inevitably fail to develop the characters or capture genuine drama. Sakaguchi's plot is by-the-numbers predictable and his fantasy world is flavorless and sterile. Toriyama's generic characters look like they were rescued from his scrapbook of rejects for Dragon Quest. Uematsu's score is actually pretty good, but for some weird reason, the symphonic soundtrack is replaced by banal hair metal for major fights.

The entire production also feels utterly "kiddy". The main character's big, blue, plastic dragon gives you a thumbs up with every victory. The same sort of goofy monster design that worked so well in Dragon Quest just seems stupid here. Perhaps that's because Dragon Quest VIII was chock full of subtext and emotional complexity, whereas Blue Dragon sports the kind of subtlety that a kindergartener could follow. The fact that your characters' shadows turn into giant blue monsters that fight for them is vaguely reminiscent of Pokemon, only without that series' (and I can't believe I'm writing this) strategic complexity.

As I'm writing this, I'm shocked that I'm not giving Blue Dragon a lower rank. Somehow, despite these strident complaints, there were aspects of the game that I quite enjoyed. The class system is good. It was lifted from titles like Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy Tactics, and provides a virtually unlimited mix-and-match flexibility. You can cultivate your characters in any way you please, and set up each one to be complimentary to the others. Although, if you have a totally grindcore mentality, it's possible that they may all end up as clones of each other. Blue Dragon's achievements encourage you to max out all the levels of every possible class. Blue Dragon is designed like a 3-D Chrono Trigger: there are no random battles. This is a refreshing decision, which allows you to choose whether to travel unmolested or give battle as you see fit.

The battles themselves are nothing special, but I found myself grinding them out by the hundreds, unperturbed, in a zombie-like trance. This experience can best be likened to polishing off a bag of generic non-brand store-bought chips. You know that they're not even remotely delicious, but there's something mindlessly addicting about chomping just one more. It took me quite awhile to realize how much time I was wasting. The first disc took me over a dozen hours alone. I have to admit that I made a conscious decision to not continue playing; I never finished the game. I hear that Blue Dragon picks up toward the end, and that you get innovatively interesting things to do, like, um, flying around in an airship and engaging in side quests...

I realize that the text of this review has been extremely critical; the main reason I'm not giving Blue Dragon a lower grade is because of its high production value, and the polish that comes from strictly adhering to traditional and well-worn game design. Also, I realize that many gamers have been abused to the point of actually enjoying this sort of shit. I can't believe I ate that many chips...

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