Blue Dragon Plus is a role-playing game/real-time strategy game mash-up and portable sequel to the Xbox 360 original JRPG. The first Blue Dragon was a game that I’d hoped to check out when it was released in Winter 2007 — I was in a bit of an RPG drought at the time, and it looked interesting — but I got sidetracked by life.
When the chance came to review Blue Dragon Plus for the DS — a platform that I’d love to have another good RPG for — I leapt at it. And landed in something unexpected. From what I’ve heard of Blue Dragon, it was a fairly traditional, turn-based Japanese RPG featuring your standard cast of adventuring heroes out to save the world. Blue Dragon Plus, however, is decidedly non standard.
Objects in Space?
To start, forget your typical fantasy setting. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, all of the action takes place on a giant cube in space, which is threatened with destruction by bomb-carrying robots. An evil technosorcerer named Nene, apparently the villain from the original Blue Dragon, is back, but we soon learn that while he’s a threat, he may not be THE threat.
Characters gain their powers by eating small glowing balls called “souls”, which makes little sense to me, largely because I didn’t play the first game. What this game really needed was a short prologue summarizing what came before. Further, while I was expecting an RPG, what I got was something … different. Blue Dragon Plus ditches its predecessor’s turn-based combat for real-time isometric battles. Players control a small army of up to 16 heroes, which you can divide into two smaller groups. You can then use these two groups to explore the cube.
Several heroes have an arcane shadow that allows them to wield certain elemental energies (like blasts of wind, fire, and water) or shower the party in healing energy. These shadows are apparently the source of the game’s name, as the main hero Shu has a blue dragon . Melee combatants usually have special attacks they can do as well, allowing them to pummel their robotic enemies into pieces.
These battles are a challenge, and for the most part they make good use of the DS’s interface. You can use the stylus to lasso some or all of your party members, and then direct them to attack a particular target. You can also use the right and left bumpers to rotate the view, which is handy when a hero disappears behind a wall while pursuing his prey.
Some of the enemies have shadows of their own, which they can deploy to attack their enemies or to block your attacks. When one of these blocks occurs, a mini game launches that has players scribbling madly with their stylus to defeat the opposing dragon. Scribble well enough, and your attacks go off. Fail, and you lose.
The game features surprisingly good full motion video cutscenes. I understand there’s about 60 minutes worth of video in the game, which just amazing considering the size of a DS game cartridge. It’s good stuff, and it kills me that they didn’t use any of it for that missing prologue.
Unfortunately, the interface does have its frustrations. There’s no way to group heroes into combat groups (aside from lassoing them and splitting them up, but once in a fight, they’ll inevitably become muddled again). There were a good number of times when I wanted to be able to pull away my ranged attackers and let the melee monsters do their job (particularly when my ranged attackers were being pummeled to death by their enemies). I would have loved a way to lasso my heroes into groups, and then assign them to the DS’s A or B buttons (or the D-Pad).
As with most RPGs, players glean weapons, magical jewelry, and loot from their fallen adversaries, which they can use to either equip their heroes or sell to buy more impressive items. It took me a few passes through the interface to realize how to equip these items — armor and such is applied through the equipment interface, but you have to go to the “skills” interface to equip attack and healing items.
Like many of the JRPGs I’ve played, the level-up system is on auto-pilot; heroes gain experience from battles, and that XP is automatically applied to increase their skills and unlock new magical powers after combat. Personally, I love micromanaging this sort of thing; equipping new weapons and armor is ok, but I’ve found real customization comes from being able to control how I level up key characters. I understand that the original Blue Dragon had this capability, so I’m not sure why they removed it in the DS spinoff; I wish they’d kept it.
In the end, I had fun with the combat, and while Zelda’s a little bit more my style, I can easily see breaking out this game on my next transcontinental flight (which is why I wanted to get it in the first place). Combats can be tough, but they’re also fairly short, making this a game you can easily break out during your commute or over a lunch break.
Blue Dragon Plus is a Japanese role-playing game to is core, from the anime-style characters to its consumable dragon souls. If you’re not a fan of such games, there’s nothing here that’s going to change your mind. But if you do like them, and if you’re a fan of the original Blue Dragon game, it’s worth checking out.
- Blue Dragon Plus
- Designed by Mistwalker
- Developed by Feelplus and Brownie Brow
- Published by Ignition Entertainment
- Nintendo DS
- MSRP: $29.99
- Buy it from Amazon.com