As I mentioned a little over a week ago, I was really excited about the release of Hironobu Sakaguchi & Akira Toriyama’s Blue Dragon back in August of ’07, but when it finally hit store shelves my wallet was already hurting thanks to other purchases I’d made and I decided to hold off on the game while it recovered a little. There was also some negativity surrounding Blue Dragon in some circles, and while it did put something of a damper on my enthusiasm, a lot of the comments I was hearing just didn’t ring true, or seem all that valid a concern to me, so I made it a plan to wait until I could afford to pick it up and see for myself. Turned out to be a good decision because thanks to a little patience I managed to pick it up for ~ $8 a few days ago, brand new, sealed in the wrapper.
Well, yesterday afternoon I had a little free time and the Blue Dragon case was sitting there calling for me to open it and give it a quick spin…y’now, just to see what I was in store for. As I waited for the game to load I recalled the gorgeous screen shots I had been seeing for months and got really excited about the prospect of seeing Toriyama’s art style fully realized as a fleshed out world again (as was the case with Dragon Quest VIII) and as the opening sequence started I was glad to see that it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. The cut-scenes are fantastic, effectively capturing the wonder of Toriyama’s art in three-dimensions, and when I got control of Shu (the lead character) I was just as impressed with the level of fluidity and detail as I ran around checking things out. The three protagonists that you start off with are more interesting (and entertaining) than I was anticipating and in sitting down to play for “just a few minutes” I was glad to find that I had to convince myself to go ahead and turn it off. I managed to do so and went off to putter around the house…only to fire the game up again about an hour later! The story is engaging thus far (and really ramps up later I’m told) so I’m enjoying that, but I was also happily surprised to find that the game-play itself is really addicting. About an hour into the game the kids receive “shadows,” which are giant, monstrous, entities that rise up from the kids shadows and fight in their place (complete with nifty animations that flow very well into the combat itself) and these shadow guardians can be leveled up and put into specific job classes to raise stats in certain areas for more effective combat. These classes can then be switched, skills swapped, etc. to create a very well rounded attack machine. Somewhat related, one of the criticisms I kept hearing was that Blue Dragon was just too traditional an RPG (which isn’t a bad thing to me) and didn’t bring a lot of innovation to the table but I found that the ability to fight with the shadows, preemptively attack opponents, dash/back attacks, and grouping foes together for bonuses in battle a heck of a lot of fun. Additionally, there’s an attack meter that appears with certain skills that asks the player to try to hit the “sweet spot” on the bar that will result in a better execution of your skills. There’s also this trick where in grouping some of your enemies together to battle some of the monsters will enter a “Monster Fight” and begin picking each other off, which gives you time to take ’em all out, or deal with fewer numbers when all is said and done. That’s pretty durn innovative in many respects, and it’s certainly entertaining. Likewise, constantly racking up skills and unlocking new classes has served to make it awful difficult to walk away once I hit that next save point. All in all I played for about 3 1/2 hours yesterday, got the shadows to level 10 or so, and am itching to play as I type this up. So, as far as first impressions go, obviously I’m very impressed and hope that things only get even better from here. I’ll keep you posted.