Blue Dragon PlusESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Category: Real Time Strategy, RPG
Developer: Brownie Brown
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Dual Screen Support
Touch Screen Support
I have to admit that I have never been the biggest RPG fan, but I have had the chance to dabble in the genre now and again. In 2007 we here at GameBoyz had the chance to review Blue Dragon, a fairly solid RPG on the Xbox 360. This game had a very JPRG feel with cute characters, established formulas (e.g. story and battle) and a very Japanese feel to it. It didn't sell as well as people thought it might, but overall it was a pretty good game. Since that time the Blue Dragon IP has made the transition to an even smaller screen then that of your your HDTV in the form of a sequel onto the Nintendo DS. Blue Dragon Plus has been recently released to the masses and after taking this portable version for a spin I would have to say that I am somewhat impressed with the final result.
The visuals in Blue Dragon Plus are definitely a strong point for the game and should not disappoint any fan of RPG’s. The characters are sprite based and placed upon 2D environments which, when everything is combined, is presented in a pseudo 3D world. All in all it works really well. A little research into who did the character designs led me to learn that they are done by Akira Toriyama who was the artist in Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest as well as the creator of Dragon Ball. That is an impressive resume indeed. What I noticed is that the character design was quite impressive and really did suit the DS hardware. The environments that you explore throughout your adventure are varied and quite diverse. Don't get me wrong, they don't hold a candle to those found in any RPG's on the bigger consoles, but that being said the DS environments are pretty impressive.
Although the actual playable environments and character design are pretty impressive, the major highlight of this game are the cutscenes that are used to move the story along. The FMV actually uses both of the DS's screens to display the footage. Each cutscene is offered up in short snippets but these are great looking for the time that they last. I don't know what the total time of the FMV in Blue Dragon Plus is, however the total does seem substantial, especially for a DS game. This is somewhat extraordinary given the limitations of both the storage medium and hardware itself.
As I did with the visuals, I found I had to do some research for some of the audio to see who was behind the music of Blue Dragon Plus. My research led me to discover that Nobuo Uematsu was at the helm of the majority of the music. For those who are not in the loop, like me, Nobuo Uematsu is associated with working on the Final Fantasy series. I had a chance to experience the Xbox 360 version of Blue Dragon and as I played this sequel I did manage to recognize some of the music that Blue Dragon Plus put forth. This was somewhat expected given that it keeps some similarity and continuity for the series. The quality is pretty solid and it sounds pretty great considering it is coming out of the DS's small speakers. Of course headphones are even better. In terms of the overall quality of the music you can tell that there are some quality differences between the FMV music and the in-game music you hear. The latter sounds like it is utilizing the hardware to play the music as you play the game (like composing on the fly), where as the FMV music sounds like it was pre-recorded and only reproduced via the speakers. That being said, the quality differences between the two does not affect the overall gameplay experience and all the music lets you enjoy what unfolds in front of you.
In terms of the rest of the sound effects, they manage to convey the on-screen action that takes place in the game such as epic battles, weapon attacks, summoning special attacks via Dragon Souls, and trekking across various landscapes and environments. There is no voice acting in game, and although some voice acting would have been appreciated it really doesn't take away from the experience. Given the amount of FMV via the cutscenes that is in Blue Dragon Plus I believe that voice acting may have not been possible due storage space used for the cutscenes.
As I admitted in my introduction to this review, I am not the biggest RPG player. However I enjoy playing games that are new to me and take me out of my usual gaming comfort zone, and any RPG can be considered one of those games. Again, as noted earlier on, I had the chance to look at Blue Dragon on the Xbox 360 quite sometime ago, so it was only natural that I took the Nintendo DS sequel for a run. However, what was clear to me was that I had no idea who developer Brownie Brown is. Well thanks to the internet and Wikipedia I have come to learn that Brownie Brown is a well known RPG development team on the Nintendo DS who seem to have some great games under their belt, including Heroes of Mana and Final Fantasy Revenant Wings. Their games have been well received by the DS owning RPG faithful and they have seemed to do a lot of things right. Well now Brownie Brown has shifted their talents toward the Blue Dragon original IP and they have made some neat changes to it allowing it to play quite well on the DS.
The story of Blue Dragon Plus follows the original games ending. For those who did not play the original, or those that need a reminder, the original ended with the world splitting up into cubes. Yep, it was quite strange indeed, but that is the way the Xbox 360 version wrapped up. Blue Dragon Plus does make light reference to this, however should you have not played the first game then you will most likely be somewhat lost during the events of this game. That does not mean the game is not worth playing, it only means that you might be confused now and then. What is clear though is that Blue Dragon Plus is your typical RPG where the time-honoured good versus evil plotline exists.
After playing through the game, and doing some research on various fan forums, I can safely say that Blue Dragon Plus feels very similar to games that Brownie Brown has developed in the past, and that is not particularly a bad thing. What is very noticeable is that the tradional JRPG feel has been left behind in favor of an RTS/RPG feel. So as I played this title I was not only getting some RPG love, but I was also getting a good fill of some RTS play as well. So what this means is that there is a nice mix of battles which are in real time and you also level up your characters during your gameplay experience. Of course given the RPG nature of this game you will manage such things as equipment, item and character skills.
As RPG's are not a genre I delve into that often, RTS games are even farther and fewer between. So I was hoping that the game allowed some simplicity when considering this fact. I noted that the game does allow for other characters in my party to auto-target enemy characters and actually make their way over to them to attack. This was a much appreciated factor for me as it allowed me to focus on specific characters while the computer AI was able do its part too.
There is a very strong use of the touch screen this time around, and something that should be expected given that this game is released on the DS (Editor's Note: DUH!). You tap on the various characters and lead them on their assorted battles against the numerous enemies you come across. Although you do not have to direct different members of your party you will find that you have to direct the special attacks that specific individuals have towards the specific enemies you wish to attack. This is accomplished by selecting the specific individual you wish to use the special attack on and then select the special attack from a sub-menu. This system is also utilized for using various items and casting spells as well. Overall it works quite well.
The touch screen control definitely gave Blue Dragon Plus its' RTS feel and it took me a bit of time to become accustomed to this style of control/gameplay. However in the end it was very doable and I was able to grasp the mechanics after a short while. That being said, if I had any complaint in this department it was that it could be a bit difficult to choose various units in the heat of the battle due to the fact that there can be a lot of characters on screen and the camera can be difficult to get control of. In an effort to control some of these issues there is a really neat "lasso design" that is implemented in the game. Here you can freeze the game's real-time battles, draw a free-form line around all the units you want to select, then un-pause and resume the game with these characters highlighted. Those who have played past Brownie Brown developed games may already be accustomed to this feature, but as this was something that was new to me, I found it a pretty neat feature to include in the game.
Once you have invested a few hours you will open up the ability to use robots in your battles. The robots can be customized using various items and through experimentation you can come up with some great fighting machines. These robots are disposable as well given that you can easily replace them. I found it added yet another level of strategy to the game given the ability to customize the robots, and the ability to use them as a buffer in your battles. It was nice to be able to send something disposable out into battle with no worries about their fate.
The games combined RTS/RPG elements feel like they have been simplified not only for the player, but also to accommodate the DS hardware as well. It is my opinion that this is not particularly a bad thing. The game, even with its minor hiccups feels very much suited for the DS and it allows for a wide range of gamers to play the title. That being said, it seems that is not geared towards the total hardcore RTS gamer given that this element seems dumbed down somewhat. So on that note, RTS-maniacs should go into the game with caution as it may not be what they expected. However, for me personally, I found the game had a pretty good mix of both elements which made the game quite playable.
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