Review: Blue Dragon Plus (Nintendo DS)

2009 March 17
by Vanir

We here at Stupid Ranger were recently fortunate enough to recieve a review copy of a brand spankin’ new DS game! And then I got busy at work and my kid got sick and then two weeks later I realize oh noes I have not done my review yet! Vanir sorry. Please excuse me while I rectify this situation.

Blue Dragon Plus is the direct sequel to Blue Dragon, a game that came out here in the States in late 2007 on the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, I’d never played Blue Dragon before, and it would have been a big help. Blue Dragon Plus plops you down right in the middle of things from the very start. You get a vague paragraph as each character appears about what they did in the previous game, but it’s all to the effect of “helped out to defeat Nene”. I felt like I was supposed to know more than I did to get what was happening, and that if I had played the original I would be perfectly comfortable.

The game’s visuals didn’t appeal to me much at first. Not that they looked terrible, far from it. The style in which the characters were drawn seemed somewhat kiddy, which put me off at first. (Which is weird for me, considering how many cartoons I watch.) I got the same impression at first from some of the characters, most notably Marumaro. I think maybe I was expecting something else.

The screenshots I’d seen made this look like a turn-based strategy game like Final Fantasy Tactics. It was a bit jarring at first when I discovered everything worked like that, but in realtime. I was having a lot of trouble figuring out how to keep track of my characters and make them move sensibly.

Admittedly, it took some willpower to get me through those first few minutes. And here’s my advice about Blue Dragon Plus: don’t give up on it too easily!

A few battles later, I’d discovered the buttons that select all your characters and figured out how to work the camera. There’s also a very helpful map on your top screen if you can’t find one of your guys. The game isn’t so much big on overt tutorials (the ones it does give are a little confusing), but what it is good at is putting you in situations where you learn the skills you need as you go. For instance, I got tossed into a really fun battle where four robots with different strengths and weaknesses attack all at once, and that helped me learn the individual capabilities of my party members.

I was very pleased to see that there are things to do on the battlefield besides beat people up. There are things on the battlefield to interact with that get used either in combat or as puzzles. For instance, I had to move one of my characters to a lever that controlled the flow of steam from a pipe, and then use my other characters to goad a bad guy into the steam to disable him. I really enjoyed that, it sets this game apart in my mind from your standard FIGHT MAGIC HEAL dynamic used in so many RPGs over the years.

The story also started getting better as I got through the game a little. I personally have trouble giving a crap about a story unless I get invested in the characters. Let’s just say until my robot friend is turned back from the dark side and we’re playing awesome robo-baseball back at the castle, I won’t be putting this game down anytime soon.

As I said before, the characters seem a little kiddy at first but you get used to them fast. Most everything is 2d sprites on top of 3d backgrounds, which works really well on the DS. I’ve hated this before on larger screens because it looks weird, but smaller it seems to blend well. Nothing blew my socks off but it’s a good looking game. (And if you’re into cutscenes, this game will NOT disappoint you.)

MUSIC: 8/10
It’s Nobuo Uematsu. Of course the music is good. Prepare for it to be stuck firmly in your head.

High learning curve at first, almost frustrating enough to make me quit. Glad I didn’t! Non-combat objectives make me very happy.

STORY: 7/10
Admittedly, I’m not all the way through the game yet. But it’s keeping my interest, and the aforementioned non-combat objectives during battle help drive the story home for me.

Yeah, I know the scores don’t average. It’s my review, I can do it however I want!
Basically what we have here is a good RPG that I’m a bit worried people are going to overlook. I wouldn’t wait in line out in front of Gamestop all night to pick this one up, but would I like to have this with me at the airport for 2d4 hours in between crappy airline snacks and flight delays? You bet.

Here’s a little widget with some Blue Dragon Plus stuff on it if you’d like to learn more about the game. Of special interest is the “Characters” button, which would have saved me from all sorts of confusion at the beginning.

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