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Blue Dragon Review (Xbox 360)

Blue Dragon

After being on the market for two years, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console still lacks a solid RPG lineup in its video game library. Earlier this year, Microsoft published Mistwalker/Artoon’s “Blue Dragon” in Japan. The title was well received by Xbox 360 owners in the land of the rising sun, so it was just a matter of time before the RPG would make its way to our shores. The big question was whether or not the game would translate well to North American audiences.

The Blue Dragon journey begins in the fictional villa of Talta following the annual appearance of mysterious purple clouds that bring about chaos and destruction in the form of a land shark. But this time around, the game’s main protagonists Shu, Kluke, and Jiro decide to take the matter in their own hands and attempt to fend-off the threat.

Shortly after a brief confrontation with the shark, our youthful characters are dragged into a scenario involving a mothership captained by the ruthless Nene. The heinous blue skinned commander soon reveals to our heroes that he’s the mastermind behind the attacks on their village. A battle ensues after the revelation, which leads to the overpowering defeat of Shu, Kluke and Jiro to the hands of the nefarious Nene.

Subdued, our adventurers break away from the anarchy and attempt to escape the mothership, but are soon overwhelmed with its technology. Out of nowhere, a female voice instructs the trio to each ingest a sphere that will grant them the power and ability needed to escape the ship. Shu, Kluke and Jiro consume the orbs which results in their shadows morphing into ghostly creatures with unique abilities. With their newfound powers, our heroes set off to defeat evil Nene and his mechanical army led by Mecha General Szabo.

On the down side, the game’s story might be too over-the-top for gamers not accustomed to the world of traditional Japanese RPGs. The overzealous characters and offbeat story line can make it difficult for people to get sucked into Blue Dragon. But gamers familiar with Square Enix’s early “Final Fantasy” and “Dragon Quest” games will feel right at home, but don’t expect a story that’s appealing and as memorable as titles from those two franchises.

The inclusion of the shadow creatures is what sets Blue Dragon apart from other RPGs. Each character’s shadow has the ability to unlock and switch classes thus enabling the ability to use different sets of skills. Gamers can raise their classes and learn different skills by successfully defeating enemies and gaining shadow points (along with the traditional experience points gained by the characters). Like every other RPG before Blue Dragon, leveling-up your character/shadow gets increasingly complicated as the game progresses.

An interesting aspect of this game is the ability to change our shadow’s class at any time outside of a battle. Skills gained can be carried over to other classes by simply adding them to your skill roster. In theory, this means that any skills can be carried over to a particular class (sword master skills can be transfered to black magic skills and vice versa). A nice addition as your characters do not need to adhere to skill sets usually reserved for certain classes.

Blue Dragon was developed in tandem by Japanese game studios Mistwalker (a studio founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi) and Artoon. Sakaguchi created the game’s story and acted as Blue Dragon’s producer. Dragon Quest fans will immediately recognize the Akira Toriyama designed characters (Toriyama was not only responsible for the character art in Dragon Quest, but he’s also the creator of the famed Dragon Ball series). The Square Enix RPG similarities are more than influential, they’re more like an attempt to lure fans of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest to the the Xbox 360.

One of the game’s strong points is its phenomenal soundtrack which was composed by yet another Final Fantasy alumni, composer Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu’s score is compromised of classically styled symphonic melodies that we’ve grown accustomed to over the years through games like “Final Fantasy VII” and “Chrono Trigger”. But what sets this apart from other titles is the cheeky boss battle music featuring 80’s styled heavy metal music sung with high-pitched intensity by Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan (the song’s titled Eternity, Google Gillan and Blue Dragon to get a taste of it).

The original Blue Dragon might not end up being a classic, but it’s a strong start to a franchise Microsoft Game Studios will be building up over the years. With the development of an animated series and a Nintendo DS game in the works, the Blue Dragon franchise is bound to become a household name. In the meantime, Blue Dragon for the Xbox 360 might just be enough to calm your Japanese RPG cravings for the time being.

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