Back in 2007 we all got excited over an Xbox 360 exclusive RPG from three of the genres most known names, the game didn't disappoint. Shu a young, cocky and determined young man along with his friends sought to defeat an evil old man named Nene who'd been terrorizing villages around the world, they succeeded and Nene was defeated but not before the world was split in two and a conglomeration of cubes sprung from its depths. Now one year on a new evil threatens to engulf the world in turmoil once more.
Blue Dragon Plus isn't your typical RPG, when considering writing this review I tried to categorise it by RPG subgenres, it has action RPG elements but you don't directly control the characters. It's not turn based as you can freely command your characters to move which made me think of it as maybe a strategy RPG, but most strategy RPG's are also turn based and your characters are locked to a grid and can only move on their turn. I pondered some more. The game can't be defined by any genre in place today which is exciting as it's something new, to best describe the game the term real time strategy RPG comes to mind. Almost like a mix of Final Fantasy and Age of Empires.
The game opens with King Jibral and Lady Zola observing the birth of an evil three headed shadow. The shadow appears from one of the cubes that fill the gap between the two halves of the planet. Fearing the worst Zola enlists the help of Shu and his friends to explore the cube from which this new shadow emerged. Along the way you'll encounter a plethora of characters from the first game, all with their own special abilities and attributes.
As soon as you've begun you'll jump into your first battle and your first proper look at what you'll spend 90% of your time doing in game. The battle will open to a 3D playing field on the bottom screen with a simplified map of ally/enemy placements along with any obstacles on the top screen.
Units can be selected either individually, all together or you can use your stylus to draw a circle around the units you want to select. This helps quite a bit if you only want to select certain units to attack say a wave of enemies they can without having to move everyone else. One thing I will say about this point and click movement of the characters is it can be extremely difficult to get a character to move into a position where they're needed, especially when I need Jiro to heal everyone but he cant move because every time I select a place to move him to the game selects the nearest unit instead.
Skills played a large part in the original blue dragon, the different job classes you assigned to members of your party helped add an immense sense of diversity and on occasion turn the tide of a tough battle. Blue Dragon plus has eliminated the job system so each character is stuck with whatever job class they already have assigned. This isn't too bad as there is such a variation in the units you control that everyone has a use.
The skills system has been replaced with the ability attach more than one shadow to your character, once they level up you'll see a pop up saying 'Capacity increased' that means your character can now utilise another shadow, shadows are picked up during battle and can be equipped to anyone who is compatible with that shadow. This works in the same way as the skills system from the first game in that in the first game if you decided to start developing other skills you'd gain abilities, same here. It is indeed a good idea because you can allow other members to utilise skills that only one or two members could before.
To activate a skill, let's say a healing spell you have to click on the character and at the bottom left of the screen you'll see a list of options, this is how you assign commands to your characters, the buttons to command the character are pretty small and on occasion it is possible to hit the wrong button thus activating the wrong skill, but the interface is basic and more importantly it works for the most part.
In most RPG's magic etc. had a penalty for use we normally see this as an MP bar, Blue Dragon plus has eliminated the MP bar and replaced it with a timed bar, this bar automatically refills once a skill has been used. I found it a little hard to get used to at first because when you're weak you want to use as many of your skills as possible to ensure you're victory, later on however when you command around 12 people you find that once you've finished activating everyone's skills the first people you activated are ready to use their skills again. The battles at times do have a rinse repeat feel about them where you'll face the same enemies but there'll be more of them or they'll be a different colour which implies they are stronger. It can get tedious.
The main level select screen is a map of the cube you are investigating with branches that split off in different directions. On occasion you'll be forced to split up your party in order to explore the cube, this is where the strategy starts to take effect as unlike in other RPG's when you have to split you'd always put your strongest people in your party because they'd be the only ones you controlled, in this game however you control all parties, this means you cannot form favouritism toward any particular characters because they're locked in a certain party. Saying that there are a few characters who aren't locked in the parties and can be freely transferred from one party to another between battles.
So most of the time you'll be fighting in battles but there are a few exceptions where you'll be forced to solve a simple puzzle normally involving coloured switches. These puzzles are a welcomed break from the repetitive and tedious nature of the majority of the battles.
The game is presented in 3D with 2D sprites. The textures for the battlefields are surprisingly sharp considering the DS's limited textures. The character sprites however are rather pixelated. This is only noticeable during in battle cut scenes when the camera pans around the characters, saying that though considering you are controlling 16 characters at once on screen with little to no slowdown the pixilation is forgivable. Magic spells are also presented in 3D though the more powerful versions are simply up scaled versions of the weaker ones.
The FMV's though a little compressed look wonderful on the DS's dual screens, using the same engine to render the cut scenes as the first game it really gives you a link to the original game, I just wish there was more of them.
As easily as it could have been to mess up what was one an amazing soundtrack Blue Dragon plus takes the safe route by recycling all the music from the first game, this isn't a bad thing as it fits perfectly with this game too and it gives you that sense of familiarity. One point I would like to raise is that the there is no voice acting in the game at all, not even in the FMVs. This is disappointing because as bad and over the top the voice acting was in the original game it did have a lot of charm to it, such a shame it's not in this game.
If you can remember playing RTS games in the past then you'll know that when your forces are greater in number or stronger you'll win no problem, and quickly too. In Blue Dragon plus however you're kept at roughly the same level as the enemies you fight so the battles can be very long, some of the more extreme cases can see a single boss fight last over 30 minutes especially if you're forced to lure the bosses one by one because there are too many to fight all at once. In my opinion the game isn't suitable for travel, instead it's perfectly suited to a lunch break as you can get a few battles done during that time and play the game at a leisurely pace.
The game boasts a 30 hour main campaign along with side missions, in asking the question "where does the reply value lie?" I drew a blank. The game is long and exhausting to play, by the time you're finished you'll be ready to move onto something else. Like many RPG's it's main strength lies in its story which isn't as deep or as involving as the original because it decides to focus on the former 'bad guy' and his true love, it feels like a chain of events, nothing more.
In the end what you have is a fun and addicting real time strategy game with an interesting combat system, coupled with a 30 hour main game that'll have you coming back until it's finished. The only real downside is that there's little replay value as the battles can get tedious. It has everything you loved about the original blue dragon but in a lovely little portable package.