Blue Dragon Plus DS
Published by: Ignition Entertainment
Developed by: Brownie Brown
Whilst it wasn't everyone's favourite RPG on the Xbox 360, I personally enjoyed Blue Dragon. Sure it had its flaws but it was, on the whole, enjoyable. Blue Dragon Plus for the Nintendo DS isn't based upon the Xbox 360 RPG, although it is set in the same world and does feature the same characters from that game. Blue Dragon Plus isn't a pure RPG. To be perfectly honest it's probably more accurate to describe the game as an RTS with RPG elements. The very idea of an RPG on anything other than a PC usually makes people wary that the experience won't be a pleasant one. Blue Dragon Plus is actually quite a streamlined RTS experience and it works quite well on the DS although that's not to say there aren't a few problems.
Those who enjoyed Blue Dragon on the Xbox 360 will definitely get more out of Blue Dragon Plus, at least from a storyline perspective. Those who didn't play the 360 will feel in the dark at times as the game doesn't do a good job of explaining previous events and those with no knowledge of the original game will occasionally be baffled by the game's storyline. One year has passed since the Nene, the main enemy in the original Blue Dragon, has been defeated. All is not well however as the Shadow of Balaur, a large and sinister three-headed dragon has appeared on one of the floating cubes that formed after the defeat of Nene. The game begins with Shu, Zola, Marumaro and Szabo heading out to explore this cube and they certainly get more than they bargained for.
Blue Dragon Plus is a single-player only experience and you're looking at over thirty hours of play time on offer. The game's campaign missions, quite a few of which are nicely connected with some impressive looking cutscenes and interspersed with dialogue, play out in real time. Although the battles play out in real time, the battles are never overwhelming although they are certainly quite challenging the further you go into the game. Just as in the Xbox 360 RPG you have to take care to use elemental attacks which oppose that of your enemies elemental alignment. There are certain enemies to which physical attacks do no harm and you'll have to use your character's skills on them to do damage.
Initially you'll control only four units, eventually rising to a total of seven before you gain the ability to put your units into squads. These squads can consist of humans and Mecha Robos (as well as Marumaro the Devee). At most you'll have four squads to move about the cube you're exploring and a battle is triggered when you move one of the squads into a location where enemies are. With a few exceptions, you can rearrange the composition of each of these squads. Each of the game's main characters has special abilities that you'll need to consider in battle. Fushira, Shu's grandfather, for instance is classified as a 'Powerhouse' as he has the highest physical attack and has the skills to boost a unit's power. Using his 'Beef Up' skill his attack power is doubled for three attacks. Of course his weakness is that he has a low defence so you'll need to protect him in battle. All of the characters in the game have these pros and cons and getting the blend right for each battle can be challenging in the later stages of the game. It should also be mentioned that whilst only a select few had a shadow in the original Blue Dragon, everyone seems to have one in Blue Dragon Plus which will seem strange to anyone who played the original game.
Keeping your units in good condition is essential and there are numerous ways of healing your units during a battle. Jiro is essentially a healer who can administer aid to your units. There are various types of potion in the game or in some missions you'll find healing stations scattered around which will heal your units when they're near to them. You have to be careful however because your enemies will try to destroy these healing stations. They will also attempt to steal the items which you'll find scattered around the levels. Although the action is real time the action does pause when you are using potions and selecting special attacks. Units will automatically heal at the end of a battle and it's here that they will gain experience they've earned, level-up and occasionally gain new skills.
Whilst the battles in Blue Dragon Plus are mostly fine, there are some problems that mean they aren't as enjoyable as they could have been. The maps are quite large and unit movement is generally slow. You can't instruct your units to move as a group which can lead to the quicker members of a squad engaging in combat sooner than the others which isn't ideal. There are some path finding issues that exacerbate the problem. You'd think that having your squad move from A to B would be an easy task and that they would all find the same route but that doesn't always happen. After giving your units an order they are automatically deselected. This means that you have to reselect them before issuing additional orders. In the midst of a hectic battle, where the need to issue orders quickly can be paramount, this can be frustrating.
At times it can be difficult to select individual units when your units and their enemies are bunched up. Let's say that you want Jiro in close enough proximity to Kluke and Fushira in order that his healing spell will affect both of them. Most of the time this is a straightforward task but there are moments, particularly during the heat of battle, when it can be a real effort to do this because you can't move Jiro close enough to them. Maybe some basic tactical formations should have been included so that you could keep Jiro protected and within range of all the other members of the squad?
Visually the game is rather pleasing. There are some decent, pre-rendered cutscenes on offer and even though the in-game graphics are naturally much simpler than those in the 360 RPG, they are certainly good enough for a DS game. The sprite-based characters are rather small but they still look rather pleasant (although they do appear to be very blocky when the camera zooms in on them). The visual highlight of the game is the quality of the shadows which look truly impressive. The game is played from an isometric view point and during the battles you can rotate the camera by using the L and R buttons. There are some pleasing presentational touches such as having a description of the main characters, displayed on the top screen, as you encounter them. When first controlling Shu for instance, you're give a small introduction, information on what kind of fighter he is and tips for how he should be used.
Blue Dragon Plus won't give deaf gamers any real problems. The dialogue in the game is text only with character portraits and names accompanying it so that it's clear who is saying what. Win and lose conditions are displayed in text prior to each battle. Pressing the select button allows you to display these at any time during the battle. The game's tutorial is delivered exclusively via text although the game is pretty easy to pick-up even if you decide to jump right into the main game. During battles you'll see icons above your units to show you of any status effects that are in effect. Where a unit's health drops to critical levels a beeping sound is given. There are no captions for this but you can see health bars for each of your characters so it's not too much of a problem.
At first I thought it was a strange decision to make Blue Dragon Plus more of an RTS game rather than a traditional RPG. In some respects however the decision makes sense as the DS already has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the RPG genre and it would have been more difficult for the game to have stood out. On the whole Blue Dragon Plus is an enjoyable game that fans of console RTS games should like. It does have its fair share of problems however and it's not a game that will satisfy those who were hoping for a game in the same vein as the original Blue Dragon. That said, if you enjoyed the characters in Blue Dragon and don't object to the game being of a slightly different nature, you'll certainly enjoy what Blue Dragon Plus has to offer.