Posted on March 24, 2009 by Flames
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Platform: Nintendo DS
Developer: Brownie Brown
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
The original Blue Dragon was a hotly-anticipated title for the Xbox 360. Not only did it have an esteemed pedigree with the creator and composer of the Final Fantasy series onboard but the 360 was going through a bit of an RPG drought. Its release helped scratch an itch a lot of Xboxers had and was a decided “hand across the aisle” to the Japanese market who regarded the 360 as an American machine with American games.
The Nintendo DS, by contrast, has plenty of RPG titles (including remakes and originals in the aforementioned Final Fantasy line) and the platform boasts two entries in one of the best strategy series of all time in Advance Wars: Dual Strike and Days of Ruin. So, Blue Dragon Plus is swimming against a stronger tide this time around and, while it’s fun enough to pass a couple hours, frustrating controls and repetitive gameplay prevent it from being a must-have title.
Blue Dragon Plus is a real-time strategy game from the folks behind Magical Starsign. In its fantasy world, characters have “Shadows” which are spiritual extensions of themselves. In battle, they manifest from within the character as big, bad beast-headed people-things that lay the smack on enemies.
The game doesn’t waste much time getting you into the action. After a brief and beautiful cutscene, you’re introduced to the characters. As each enters the scene, the game gives you not only the narrative lowdown on the character but a good overview of their role in battle and how to use and equip them.
While these pointers are nice, the game doesn’t spend any time telling you how to play. So learn on your feet or read the manual beforehand. I’m a believer that a game should teach you how to play so I came into it not knowing how to move, what the various attacks were, or how to access any of that information. By blindly navigating the icons, I fumbled my way through and managed to win the first encounter. But even in that first encounter, the control issues rear their head.
Battles play out on an isometric birds eye view of the field. The bottom screen only shows you a portion of the battlefield at a time so you have to use the stylus to direct the camera by “grabbing” part of the map and moving it around. But you also direct character movement by selecting the character then selecting an point on the map. There were times when I would set a destination for one character and then try to look at somewhere else on the map only to inadvertently set a new course for that character. Given that this is a real-time strategy game, all time is valuable and I don’t like wasting any of it.
After a character has completed its action, it is immediately unselected. This means that you can’t direct Shu and then immediately have him attack. You must select him again. This is a really minor change that not only goes against RTS standards but does so needlessly. I’m all for breaking rules in game design but they should be done with a benefit. This is just a needless step which, for a game playing out in real time, becomes annoying quickly.
You’re only ever going to control four characters in a battle which is a limitation that I found appealing. While I enjoy larger-scale battles (such as those found in the excellent PSP title Jeanne D’Arc) these four-character warbands felt more controlled and more intimate. Though it also means you need to micromanage each character to get the most out of them. There is no such thing as simply throwing more bodies at the foes that spring up in this game.
Probably the greatest change from Blue Dragon to Plus is that everyone and their grandmother has a Shadow. These once-prized and rare spiritual reflections now pop up in unexpected places that, in part, set off the first thrust of the story. This shadowy proliferation also suits the gameplay well since Shadows now feel like standard arsenal instead of a Limit Break (which may put some people off, admittedly).
Visually, the sequel retains the same Dragon Ball-flavored graphics of its predecessor. While the cartoony style may have seemed a little out of place on Microsoft’s big white box, a softer graphical style fits is at home on the DS. The graphics are bright and fun and the Shadow animations are smooth (the character animations are tiny and distant so it’s hard to comment on them).
The story is told through beautifully rendered cutscenes and “pop-up” dialogue sequences that have become a mainstay of both the DS and popular RPG lines such as the Persona series. And the story is good! Very good, in fact, even when it wears its anime roots and tropes on its sleeve. Blue Dragon fans are rewarded not only by the return of Shu and his compatriates but the reimagining and repurposing of some other returning characters (and some brand new characters as well). Blue Dragon Plus really opens up the world established by the first title without ruining what was attractive about the original. No small feat for any sequel but Blue Dragon Plus pulls it off.
All in all, Blue Dragon Plus is solid though unremarkable gameplay experience that is hindered by a couple frustrating control issues. But if you dig into the story, it’s enough to keep you going—so if you’re a gamer who plays for the story, and doesn’t mind slogging through repetitive gameplay, then Blue Dragon Plus will certainly pay off
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Review by Jason Blair