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Blue Dragon no masterpiece but has certain appeal

  • Reviewed on: Xbox 360 (viewed on an HP PL4200N 42-inch plasma television in 720p mode)
  • Also available for: N/A
  • The Good: Lightweight but amusing narrative; simple turn-based play that fondly recalls RPGs of yesteryear; odd but appealing visual style
  • The Bad: Running up to every rock, tree, and piece of junk in the game to see if it contains hidden treasure is lame; its purposeful lack of sophistication will be a turn-off for players who get their jollies from the latest and greatest gaming innovations
  • The Verdict: It's not a masterpiece, but this Hironobu Sakaguchi-developed RPG will likely appeal to fans of the legendary game designer's early work

Microsoft's platforms haven't exactly been a haven for kid-friendly games, nor have they played host to much in the way of Japanese-made titles. Well aware of this fact (and conscious of the potential markets they're missing out on), Microsoft recruited legendary Japanese game designer Hironobu Sakaguchi, founder of the popular Final Fantasy franchise, to develop a pair of traditional turn-based role-playing games for the Xbox 360.

The first of these is the all ages game Blue Dragon (the other, an adult-oriented title called Lost Odyssey, will hit shelves late this year or early next), and while it doesn't quite live up to the pedigree of its designer, it is nonetheless a highly polished and wonderfully playable game that recalls the relatively simple RPGs of consoles past.

Anything grown-ups can do, kids can do better

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Maybe it's because I still feel a little like a kid myself, or perhaps it's just that I've taken the famous words "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future," uttered by Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, to heart (how geeky does that make me sound?), but I have a soft spot for stories about children saving the world.

The child stars of Blue Dragon have neither fear nor self-doubt-the world has yet to beat into them the distinctively adult idea that some things are impossible. And that's why, when a village comes under attack by a giant sand shark that rears its massive fin in a wave of death and destruction every year, the parents and grandparents are found taking refuge on the cliffs while the town's plucky children take the fight to the shark.

Of course the shark beats the snot out of them. But they survive and discover that their foe isn't really a shark at all, but rather a giant robot. They hitch a ride on it as it flies into the sky, where they meet Nene, its categorically evil owner, and start to understand what they're really up against.

The plot won't win any awards for originality or innovation, but if-like me-you've a penchant for children-preventing-doomsday RPGs, its gentle humour and wide-eyed idealism may strike a chord.

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Blue Dragon has an oddly appealing visual design that dabbles in all sorts or seemingly incongruous styles.

Character costumes, for example, are a strange mishmash of '50s dresses and hair ribbons and Sherwood Forest-esque tunics and tights illustrated in a distinct anime style. It works, though I don't expect it will become a trend in future games.

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The music is a similarly strange hodgepodge of old-fashioned Japanese RPG ditties and guitar-driven heavy metal tracks-complete with corny vocals-that creep in during big boss battles. It's a bit discombobulating at first, but somehow manages to fit the rest of the game's weird motif.

The only real disappointment in presentation is the world we explore, which is rather Spartan and not particularly interesting to look at. Most outdoor areas are marked by flat plains with little in the way of visually arresting flora or landscaping, while indoor locales are filled with mundane objects like cabinets and computer consoles that repeat themselves dozens of times over in each dungeon.

Exacerbating the problem is an unfortunate bit of game design that forces us to search these environments from head to toe for hidden treasures. Aside from the fact that this activity makes us spend an inordinate amount of time gazing at our lackluster surroundings, running into and rubbing up against every object we find is just really annoying.

Gimme that old-time RPG

I found Blue Dragon's battles to be curiously relaxing. For the first couple of hours there's little more to do than pound the A-button to order attacks for all party members. Things get more complicated and strategic as the game progresses and our characters obtain their titular blue dragons, but monster fights were, for the most part, simple, intuitive, and strangely familiar.

The reason, of course, is because Blue Dragon plays a lot like a Japanese RPG from the mid '90s. Fast-paced turn-based battles pop up constantly throughout most of the game, and the character building system is blissfully unsophisticated, tasking us to do little more than select the accessories and skills with which we arm our heroes.

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Yes, there are a few minor areas of innovation, like being able to coax fights between wandering monsters to weaken them before attacking, and the idea of having magical dragons rising up from the characters' shadows to do our fighting is kind of original, but the battles still feel traditional enough for a long-time RPG player like me to appreciate their old school simplicity.

An epically retro experience

There's little in Blue Dragon to appeal to players looking for the newest, slickest gaming experience around. However, if you're interested in a game that harkens back to RPGs of yesteryear you'll likely find yourself pleasantly occupied.

And for quite a while, too. Blue Dragon is the first DVD-based console title I've seen that requires not one, and not two, but three discs to contain its content. Needless to say, I've yet to finish the game, and with some players reporting 60 hour-plus play times I probably won't until sometime in early 2008. Perhaps by then I'll have tired of the game's retro vibe. However, at less than 20 hours in, I have to say that so far Blue Dragon is an agreeably old-fashioned RPG romp.

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About the Author
Game and Gadget Reporter

Chad Sapieha has been writing about video games and consumer gadgets for the Globe and Mail since 2003. His work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and Web sites across North America, and he has appeared as an expert on television and radio newscasts. More


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