Microsoft Blue Dragon

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Microsoft Blue Dragon
  • Microsoft Blue Dragon
  • Microsoft Blue Dragon

Pros

  • Awesome class development system, unique monsters and locales, long and wonderfully satisfying.

Cons

  • Spastic encounter difficulty, goofy hard rock cheese in boss battles, anime-style histrionics might irritate some folks.

Bottom Line

Blue Dragon is a great addition to any RPG fan's games selection. It's a tentative call, but even Final Fantasy regulars might be impressed.

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Blue Dragon delivers something that Xbox 360 owners have been clamoring for since the console's release: an exclusive next-gen RPG title that offers up an epic experience that's on par with any game with the word 'final' in the title.

There's a reason why this game has given the 360 such a lift in Japan: it is, without a doubt, a world class gaming experience.

The Beast Without

The characters in Blue Dragon, which were designed by Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball Z fame, adhere to classic archetypes, from a smarty-pants sidekick and soulful Mother figure to the mysterious mercenary and perpetually shouting munchkin weirdo, but they're rendered with such charming individuality that even the most jaded gamer won't resist their appeal.

The main narrative isn't filled with many twists and turns but even the expository cut-scenes are entertaining, even if they do suffer from occasionally awkward translations. The game world is also vibrant and expansive, with nearly every rock and bush acting as a home to currency, jewelry, and permanent stat bonuses. There are even some character diaries and imaginary novels hidden in furniture, just waiting to be discovered.

Pick Your Battles

The same oddball aesthetics that apply to the memorable main characters also carries over to the menagerie of goofy monsters you'll face on the field. Striped cats with extra eyes, two-dimensional malevolent murals spring to life, and a lazy bear who is just as likely to take a quick snooze as maul you are just some of the colorful examples. And while the graphics won't floor you with bump-mapped realism, they are vibrantly colorful, surprisingly inventive, and imbued with subtle cinematic flavor thanks to depth-of-focus and elemental special effects.

What's more, each monster type has its own natural enemies, and you can usually find a way to make this work to your advantage. Take on a handful of baddies at once, and a fight could break out between incompatible enemies; nasty rats will start gnawing on overgrown crickets instead of attacking your crew. There are even "field skills" you can equip that lure or repel creeps, or otherwise ease your travels. Also, there are no random encounters: when and who you fight is almost always up to you.

Class Menagerie

While the turn-based combat itself might seem too traditional in its old-school cast-or-attack simplicity, the change-at-will class system opens up a level of character customization that could, in and of itself, warrant weeks of play.

Experience points increase your base level, thus growing base stats and unlocking new jobs, but Shadow Points count toward your current career's rank, and skills earned in one profession carry over to others via skill slots. Earn high agility as an Assassin then flip that boost over to your work as a Black-Magic User. Open up additional skill slots as a Generalist, and fill them with the abilities you scooped up as a Sword Master. The freedom of this system is the true heart and soul of the game, and a large part of why you'll want to keep playing even after you finish the long and satisfying quest.

Fierce Creatures

On the one hand, there's no wrong way to build a party. On the other, this is chiefly because difficult battles are so few and far between, and that's where Blue Dragon's one minor frustration kicks in. The battle system is a blast once you've ranked up a few party members, but you'll find fights fall into only two categories: those where you tear through opponents like tissue paper, and those in which you suddenly start sustaining one-hit deaths every turn. There's virtually no middle ground, and that may well disturb players longing for a sustained challenge.

But complaining about bi-polar difficulty seems trifling when the combat, exploration, and storytelling are so addictively engaging, and memorable. Blue Dragon might not be sheer perfection, but it still delivers a truly exemplary console RPG experience by thoughtfully executing and expanding on longtime genre traditions.

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