Review: Blue Dragon Plus

Blue Dragon Plus apparently takes place one year after the events of the first game, which a quick perusal of Wikipedia reveals to be predictably titled Blue Dragon sans the Plus, released on the Xbox 360 a couple years back. Not owning a Xbox of any sort, it explains how it fell pretty far under my radar. The game provides the uninitiated with a few lines of background text before showing off some nicely done FMV scenes of your party and what looks like the Transformer cube, after which it pitches you head first into combat. As a huge fan of games like God of War, I can respect a game that tries to get to the point. The downside is that combat in BDP is fairly wonky when it comes down to selecting my own units, selecting an enemy, and movement (ie, the basics).

Selecting units is done via four different methods. The obvious is that you just peck the desired unit that you want to relay commands to, and for the most part it works out great unless he is lost in a sprite mosh pit. The second involves you randomly cycling through your allies like a malicious roulette wheel, and if you’re pounding your stylus frantically trying to get the right one it’s easy to skip past them and have to repeat the process all over again. By far the best one is the lasso technique since it actually pauses the battle and gives you a chance to consider your options. Of course if you’re going for expediency over tactics, you can just use Select All and mob the nearest opponent, which brings me to my next gripe: actual combat.

Combat doesn’t seem very tactical or inspiring at all, which is a problem since the game consists mostly of combat. In the six or so hours I played it I just used Select All and made my party mob one monster at a time before moving onto the next creature. If they couldn’t reach it, it wasn’t a problem because they would often auto-attack the nearest monster that blundered into their path. Mostly I was just there to have them down medicine when necessary, and use skills when I got bored.

Characters usually auto-attack monsters, which is a big plus when it works because the selection method makes it difficult to perform micromanaging duties inherent to a real-time game. Of course it’s a real drag when they are standing right next to a monster and decide to ignore it. The hardest part is getting your little pixilated warriors into the fray. Movement is slow and the pathing often runs from terrible to impossible, as they will often walk back and forth between a short area before finally taking the hint and getting their butts into the thick of things.

I’m not sure how to compare this to other games on the DS having never used one before. It’s your basic text-book RPG and has all the tried and true elements that make for an average RPG, which makes sense because it feels very average. There’s a plot to be sure, connected by a series of combat challenges that reward you with loot, levels, and exposition, but not anything particularly innovative or interesting to me. The animations are nice and the out-of-combat music is great (you cant go wrong with Nobuo composing your soundtrack), but since a game is defined by how it plays, its not enough to keep me interested for very long.

I just think that this really isn’t the game for me. In a RPG with an emphasis on tactical elements, I'd like to be able to utilize more tactical play. This is easy to pull off in turn based games, but many other real-time games let you modify a character with a kind of combat behavior, such as by using lots of magical attacks and being stingy with the curative items. The pathing makes it hard to resign casters to the back and be effective, especially since their magic has an extremely short range that is centered on them. If I want to make Klake use a fire attack, she has to be in the thick of combat getting the hp beat out of her.

If you aren't too interested in the combat then you can still fall back to the actual story part of the game, and though I'm not too far in it's your standard fare of bad guy threatening the cube world and the heroes are going to stop him (again following RPG textbook dogma). I’ve heard from others that BDP is very similar in play and execution to Heroes of Mana and Final Fantaxy XII: Revenant Wings, and having never actually played them I’ll have to take their word on recommending this game if you liked the other two.

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