Previews// Blue Dragon Plus

It's a Japanese game, right? So, there are twists and turns.

Posted 3 Feb 2009 17:56 by
The two schools of game reviewing:

1) The reviewer must have been immersed in the genre/IP since ever in order to bring a depth of understanding to the review.
2) The reviewer should be fresh to the genre/IP in order to bring no expectations or prejudices to the review.

In the case of Blue Dragon Plus for the DS, I fall into the second category. I've not played the Xbox 360 'precursor' that set Japan abuzz but failed to light up the rest of the world quite so much. Nor, it must be said, have I played many JRPGs.

So, for you chaps who feel that only Category 1 reviewers are qualified, you might like to move on. For the rest of you – who might like a fresh perspective – I've got to admit to struggling with this at first. Then I began to smile. Then I laughed. Then I found that a good couple of hours had elapsed since I inserted the cartridge and powered up SPOnG's smart red DS.

To set the scene, the game takes place after the events of the Xbox 360 outing. In case you're intending to play that one – here's a spoiler that you might like to avoid: your merry band of friends have to take on the rather Davros-looking evil ancient, Nene, who you didn't kill first time around.

Now, when I say, “You and your merry band of friends”, I'm being slightly ingenuous. It's a Japanese game, right? So, there are twists and turns. Some of the those twists see friends becoming not so friendly.

I am thoroughly gejin in my appreciation of narrative – the Metal Gears still have a tendency to confuse me, and don't get me started on Prince Ōnamuji and his two deaths and that rabbit. This lead me to sit through the many cut scenes that occur within what is essentially a sort of real-time sort of turn-based combat RPG outing with my jaw locked in dropped position and a hint of dribble occasionally falling (in some haiku form) to my screen. In short, there is a great deal of 'plot' to take in and, unlike western narrative, with its predictable beginning, middle and end, you need to keep your wits about you to follow it.

Going back a second to the RPG element - I've got to quibble (or maybe cavil) with this. Sure, there's levelling up. Sure there are skills to 'learn'. However, each of the characters from darling little Shu via the grandfatherly (and Asterix the Gaulish) Fushira to the fiesty (but a bit thick) Marumaro and sweet little Kluke are all fully formed. You also have to control them simultaneously.

In précis, if I may, you get to control a group nominally lead by King Jibral. This fella strikes me as being a tad on the young side to be a king, but that's probably because I've watched Ran a few too many times. As I've said, you have to take on the evil ancient, Nene who, now I think of it, is more like the Mekon than Davros. Oh, by the way, the world in which you live is one of two worlds that were one world... Oh, and those worlds are split into “a myriad” of cubes. See, see what I mean? Confusing.

Anyway, Nene – for some reason that I'm certain has great meaning – tricked members of the merry band into swallowing his soul in the form of light orbs, and this brings me to Shu.

While I attempted to identify with Jibral, the game appears to want you to inhabit the role of the perky, young Shu. He has a catchprhase. His catchphrase is “I won't give up!” This often means that you – or rather I – will find any opportunity to chuck him and his shadow into the thick of the action. This can be excellent strategy – he's as keen as mustard. It can also be a very decent stress relief; simply as you force him and his shadow to fight insurmountable odds before being so crushed that you have to start from the save point is enough to take me to some calm, koto-playing, sand garden of the mind.

“His shadow”? Yes, but not in the tedious Casper the Friendly Ghost kind of a way. Nope, these shadows have all the appearance of, in Shu's case, a blue dragon. This will leap out on cue when you select a Shadow Skill to use in battle. Other shadows include a killer bat, a Minotaur, a phoenix, each of which comes – apparently out of the back of your trousers – armed with a special power to be wielded with precision.
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