There's something quite bizarre on offer, too - you can search nearly any item or object scattered around the gameworld. The prompts for them are invisible, but you just go up to things and press a to be rewarded with some gold, an item, nothing at all, or even some good bonuses, like extra stats and spells. Trouble is, there are some places where you expect it to work and it just doesn't, nor can you tell where you've searched before, so anyone looking to collect everything this way could be in for a fair bit of fussing and backtracking. But if that has put any kind of cramp on your enthusiasm, there are still other welcoming touches to ease it: the game gives you an auto-checkpoint just before boss fights, so you've no worry of being caught out cold by some unfair beast. And you can open up multiple warp points around the world - accessible anytime that you're not in a fight - to help you whizz your way around with minimal fuss. That last feature is very useful for chests protected by magical barriers; you'll come across them everywhere, and you can only open them once you've progressed far enough through the game. A load of trudging back over old ground would be misery-making.
We didn't find Blue Dragon to be at all difficult to play through (well, aside from the whole it's-in-Japanese thing; don't even consider importing if you don't know some of the language), provided you're willing to put the hours in and do some overtime levelling and really make the most of each of those skill categories. And even if you don't do that, your biggest problem will likely be nothing more than some spiky boss fights. The first disc will take you somewhere between 12 and 20 hours to decimate, depending on your dedication - climaxing with a huge battle packed with nearly a half-dozen bosses which feels like the end of the game, but is anything but. As for disc two, it's shorter, but plenty more interesting; as for disc three, we're not saying anything.
That's for you to uncover.
By the end of the first disc, though, you will have been thoroughly exposed to Blue Dragon's wavering visuals. Sometimes they're stunning (like the mural town, whose inhabitants are 'painted' to the wall and drift across it, or the great castle town where you'll hook up with Zola) and sometimes they're drab, but there's usually enough detail and imagination for it to all leave a lasting impression. Also, there's a persistent blur to the background, sometimes only a few feet in front of you, which seems to be a trade-off for keeping your character's immediate surroundings incredibly crisp. That perpetual fuzz may annoy some, and hurt the eyes a it, but we're more than happy when the foreground is as flawless to look at as anything out of the gorgeous Viva Piņata.
We've no complaints about the superb soundtrack either, though some may have fingers in ears when they hear the boss battle tune, a typically hilarious over-egged cod-rock tune with vocals provided by the lead singer of Deep Purple (No? Ask your dad - or that uncle who never married.) Bizarre, eh? But it's something you'll either love and want to download for your music collection, or simply cringe at whenever it fires up; either way, we hope it doesn't get chopped when the game's released in the west (mid-2007 for the US, shortly after for us). Different is definitely better than dull.
So, there you have it - the first proper Japanese RPG for 360. It's long, it's been very solidly put together, and it can get some serious hooks into you once you've settled into its role-playing rhythm, something that won't be for everyone, but that's good news, right? There's already plenty on 360 for those who to go round corners really fast or perform twitchy, heart-in-mouth headshots, and then some.
Blue Dragon definitely has the pedigree and quality to appeal to RPG gamers, however long they've been putting the hours in over the years, with enough peculiar touches to keep the old hands engrossed, even if it won't be the best they've ever had. And, if nothing else, this is definitely a very good, very promising indication of the no-doubt rosy things that should subsequently come out of the young but burgeoning relationship between Microsoft and Mistwalker.
You can see why it's done well in Japan: an utterly absorbing adventure that also successfully expands 360's games arsenal.
- Put together with expert confidence
- Home to a gorgeous soundtrack
- Around 40 hours to complete