BLUE DRAGON – Review
BLUE DRAGON is a videogame developed by Mistwalker and Artoon, published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360. It was directed by HIRONOBU SAKAGUSHI.
Wellâ€¦ this game sucks.
So, you’ve made the jump, hm? Maybe you clicked it by mistake or maybe your mother told you to, but maybe, just maybe, you are really interested in this game and want to know exact why and how exactly Blue Dragon sucks. If that’s the case, you might just be the same kind of masochist I am.
Honestly though, Blue Dragon is schlock and you should not waste your time on it like I did.
I suppose that after playing Deadly Premonition, a good game badly developed with some hints of greatness, I’ve become more permissive with games with a Metacritic Score deficiency. Reviewers found problems with Blue Dragon alright, but the game did get praises from some places. Andrew Fitch in his review from 1up addressed the claim Blue Dragon was allegedly Microsoft’s Final Fantasy. Three years later, considering how we know how much of a mess Final Fantasy XIII actually became, I thought this would be actually a cool time to play this game and put things into perspective. Besides, the game was cheap.
Blue Dragon‘s failure is something that should have been investigated. It’s a pity the pinnacles of our so-called game journalism didn’t have the balls to confront the people involved into the making of this game and investigate why a game that supposedly had all the right ingredients ended up being so bad. Playing Blue Dragon feels like watching an inside out version of Mel Brooks’ greatest comedy, The Producers, but instead of Zero Mostel trying to make the worst play ever conceived, with all the wrong ingredients, and ending up with a Broadway hit, he does the opposite. Blue Dragon is Summertime of Hitler.
If there was ever a game made by artists, this was it. Akira Toriyama, Nobuo Uematsu and Hironobu Sakaguchi are the Three Goddesses of JRPGs: Maiden, Mother and Crone. The fact Blue Dragon ended up being such an uninspired creation is either a severe blow against the auteur theory, a worrisome warning for us to place the works of its renowned creators under a new light because we have overestimated them or simply a bitter reminder that the prime of these old masters are gone. From the 3, Uematsu gives the least mediocre performance. In Blue Dragon, he mostly copies from his previous works, but if there’s someone whose body of work is worth copying that someone is certainly Uematsu. Toriyama’s designs are cute but not memorable in any way, thus enforcing the shallowness and blandness of Sakaguchi’s characters. Toriyama’s design is still imprisoned in his previous works: it not hard to see why people compared the villain Nene with Dragon Ball‘s Frieza (also drawn by Toriyama). From the 3 masters, it is Sakaguchi who experiences the biggest fall, by delivering not only a primitive and sometimes flawed game design, but also a feeble and inelegant story.
Let’s start with the game’s name, shall we? It’s called Blue Dragon, after one of the protagonist’s magic shadows. One would think that the shadow of the Blue Dragon has special role to play in the game; however, despite the shadow’s prominence in the game’s plot, they carry no weight in the gameplay other than removing the need for the characters to use weapons. The Blue Dragon shadow, as well as all the other shadows, has no personality. It is a non entity. So why is the game called Blue Dragon? The sad answer is that these blue shadows are the only distinct feature of the title.
Moving on to the characters, we have a party that consists of classic archetypes: the courageous hero (Shu), the smart sidekick (Giro), the mother figure (Kluke), the oddity (Marumaro) and the cool silent mysterious mercenary (Zola). We never get to actually know these figures as they, especially Marumaro and Zola, are never fully developed. What we know of them derives from our own familiarity with these archetypes. These characters are as flat as they come and the only reason they stand at all is because of their reliance on clichÃ©s.
I must confess I initially thought Shu had some kind of mental retardation, which was enforced by the fact he is said to be 16 years old but acts and looks like 10. He is the courageous one, so he’s obviously the main character. He expresses this “courage” by yelling “I won’t give up!” all the time – sometimes in circumstances so outlandish that makes the game involuntarily funny: like the time he is falling to his death and is still screaming about his unwillingness to quit.
The game starts with your village being attacked by some monster. This monster appears once a year when ominous purple clouds take over the sky. We first take control the protagonist’s grandpa because… er… I really don’t know why we control the old guy. In fact, the game throws this same superfluous mechanic again during the game’s ending: you control some characters only for the sake of giving 3 steps and initiating another cutscene. Why? Who knows?
Anyways, after that, we are introduced to our heroes Shu, Giro and Kluke (they are obviously the only people foolish enough to fight the creature). It’s the battle of monkeys throwing rocks at tanks and soon enough they are all captured by the villain’s ship, hidden among the purple clouds. He’s causing them, of course. That’s it: in less than 15 minutes the mystery of what is happening to the village is solved before it’s even properly given to us.
That’s when we meet Nene, a mean old guy who claims he set the monster loose just to hear the people scream. But hey, maybe that’s Sakagushi’s satire of Japanese society! Young and foolish teenagers should naturally battle old folks. Old people are inherently evil – but they can’t help it! It’s just their nature! Considering Japan’s economy problems and how their prime ministers keep being replaced because they don’t have what it takes to make the critical decisions needed to lift Japan out of its 15 year long crisis, Sakagushi’s pessimistic view on the elderly kind of make sense, right? On the other hand, maybe that was just making an extra effort to see something beyond the simplism of this robotic, flat conflict. However, despite knowing Nene is a pretty shallow villain, I still don’t know whether that’s good or bad. The game is from the children’s perspectives after all, so I guess that’s how they view Nene: a sadistic old man who envies the young – which is pretty much how I myself saw any old man I disliked back when I was a misanthrope teen that pretty much knew everything.
Anyway, back on track. We meet Nene and he was, as expected, too strong to be beaten by three. So we are cast away somewhere. Our mission now is to return to the village. By then you already discover how the traditional layout of Blue Dragon works: you get a couple of arenas filled with monsters to fight and treasure chest to open and your reward for moving on are new cities or the eventual cutscene where, like in most JRPGs, the most interesting stuff from the script takes place. Except when it doesn’t. More than once our reward for beating a monster area is… another monster area! Blimey!
The plot of Blue Dragon is so often on autopilot, that one senses Sakagushi snoozed off here and there, leaving blatant plot holes. For instance, after 11 hours of gameplay, at the end of the 1st disk (the fact Blue Dragon has 3 disks to tell such a measly story seems more like a marketing ploy than anything else) I had just saved a city from Nene, who managed to get away (of course he did). Where did he go? asks Shu. Jiro replies Northâ€¦ perhaps. There. That was the cue for my next mission objective. At the start of the 2nd disc, you are tasked in going north after Nene, despite the fact Jiro wasn’t even sure of that and under the baffling assumption Nene would never dare to turn his ship and go somewhere else. Overall the plot involves going after Nene and irrelevant save this village moments. I never felt I was part of a quest per se, but merely reacting to the villain’s shenanigans. Finally, after the Big Reveal at the end of disc 2, the plot feels like shaping itself up. Unfortunately that never happens and the bulk of the 3rd disc is as fragmented as chasing Triforce pieces at the last act of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Then the game rolls its final boss, the final form of the final boss and the credits. An attempt to surprise players with a betrayal is also carried out, but it is so poorly handled and inconsequential, I actually felt ashamed for Sakagushi.
While playing, I really did my best to have a positive look on Blue Dragon. Of course, ultimately, the game is the equivalent to discovering someone added raisins in your favorite pie, but there are some charming things in it. For instance, I liked their Moon Laser concept â€“ which scarily makes sense considering the moon always shows the same face; I also enjoyed the French voice acting (I found the game unplayable in both Japanese and English dubs), despite the strangeness of having kid-like characters (both appearance-wise and maturity-wise) sounding like adults; I was initially amused by Sakaguishi’s odd fixation with poo and by the robotic female voice that announces everything that happens, like saying playable after a cutscene is over (but then that started to annoy me and I turned that feature off) â€“ despite never figuring out why a game would ever need such a thing. Lastly, there was a cutscene that really caught my attention, one that showed the party mocking each other. It was a bit silly, sure, but it was one of the few moments the game cared to make these characters more believable. I enjoyed the moment, almost melancholy, as it only drew attention to the barrenness of the rest of the plot.
Overall, Blue Dragon is a muddled mess. The plot is disjointed and hackneyed, the settings are incongruous and unimaginative, the characters are 2-dimensional and the gameplay is aged and merely functional. On the other hand, if you just had a frontal lobotomy, Blue Dragon might just be the best thing ever since your Indian friend ran away.
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