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49 Reviews

Blue Dragon

Could Sakaguchi's RPG be the saviour of Xbox 360 in Japan?

Check out the full three-minute intro in the movie player on the right.

Import Review: Anticipation for this title has been huge, with pre-orders selling out across Japan. Now we see why - Twilight Princess isn't the only classic RPG released this Christmas. Here's why you should be excited for Blue Dragon's English-language release in 2007.

Blue Dragon finds the perfect balance between linearity and excessive freedom - it doesn't embarrass you by holding your hand, and yet it doesn't just leave you alone crying in the supermarket. Hironobu Sakaguchi (the FF creator and Blue Dragon mastermind) is as good a parent as Shigeru Miyamoto.

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The game's artwork is all drawn by Akira Toriyama. He's famous in Japan (and among the worldwide geek fraternity) as the crayon-wielder behind Dragon Ball, the Dragon Quest games, and legendary SNES RPG Chrono Trigger. Bizarrely, though, Blue Dragon's characters look like Nick Park creations. There's even some Park-ish humour: lead character Shu declares that the game's troupe of three playable characters should "Set out on a great adventure," when Kluke (the only female member of the trio) suggests, "Are you just saying that to sound cool?"

Blue Dragon runs in 1080p (if you have the pricey kit), but even in 720p (the not-quite-so-pricey kit we're playing on) it looks good enough to give our retinas an anatomy-defying orgasm. There are huge wilderness areas with lovely elemental effects on show, contrasting with intricately designed villages, towns, and bulbous spaceships. It's a world full of rich colour - but more importantly, it has a consistency that's rarely seen outside of Nintendo's finest Zelda games.

The great thing is, Blue Dragon has the looks and it has the gameplay. The battle system is a work of twenty years' fine-tuning, assuming that Sakaguchi still remembers what he got up to in the '80s. There are skills to learn, accessories to acquire (and these affect the attacks at your disposal), and levels to be upped.

Beyond the core battle system, which is perfectly playable and never tedious, there are even a few concessions made for the sake of Blue Dragon's overall balance. Instead of opting for random battles - which, having experienced them probably a million times or more, we can no longer abide - Mistwalker has very kindly enabled the player to choose when to fight. All potential enemies can be seen and, if necessary, avoided. Or you can run towards them, gung-ho, and fight for your life. (But Kluke might ask whether you're just trying to be cool.)

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The game also has a wonderfully clever system that lets you draw various types of enemy into a single battle. Choose your opponents carefully and it's possible to find creatures that will turn against each other, leaving you with very little work to do.

Blue Dragon's hook, and the explanation of its title, is that shadow spirits accompany the game's three main adventurers. And those spirits are blue. Very blue. And Shu is guarded by a Dragon Shadow. (Kluke has Phoenix Shadow, a bluebird; Jiro, the other member of the trio, has Shadow of Minotaur, a blue cow.) Once you're beyond Blue Dragon's initial stages, these guardian spirits take care of all the hard work in battle. It's your job to direct their actions.

Blue Dragon isn't merely an endless succession of battles, though. There's actually a great amount of stuff to see and do - three full DVDs' worth, no less. There are more than 500 treasure chests to search for, and they all contain valuable items, so the incentive is there to explore Blue Dragon's world. (It's so pretty, anyway, that there's no reason you wouldn't want to explore.) The 'c' word should also be mentioned: yes, cutscenes. There are plenty of them here, but unlike so many other RPGs that have bored us brain-dead with their movies, Blue Dragon's cutscenes are entertaining, relevant, and well acted. Each character has a distinct voice, and the voice acting is all first-rate. (Which actors Mistwalker will hire to voice the English-language version remains to be seen.)

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