Blue Dragon Plus Review

By D. F. Smith - Posted Mar 09, 2009

In this X-Play Review, Morgan takes a look at the new Nintendo DS game 'Blue Dragon Plus'. This RPG is a lot of fun, but is the horrible, boring and unskippable dialogue enough to drag it down? Find out in this review.

The Pros
  • Bold, cartoony graphics
  • Streamlined touch-screen interface
  • Combat scenarios are just challenging enough
The Cons
  • The story is predictable kids' stuff
  • Cut scenes are impossible to skip

Blue Dragon Plus ReviewA couple of years ago, Brownie Brown developed a game called Heroes of Mana. It was a handheld strategy-RPG brought about halfway into the brave new world of real-time action, and for a variety of reasons, it didn’t turn out all that well.

In storytelling terms, Blue Dragon Plus is a sequel to the Xbox 360’s Blue Dragon – it stars most of the same characters, and the plot picks up almost exactly where the 360 game left off. As a game design, though, it’s the heir to Heroes of Mana, with most of the major problems fixed this time around. In other words, it looks like a traditional strategy-RPG, but only so long as it’s standing still. When the battles start rolling, it moves and plays like an RTS game – or a drastically simplified one, anyway. The trouble with Heroes of Mana, for the most part, was that it wasn’t quite simple enough. Blue Dragon, though, is stripped down to the point where it’s easy to play with the DS interface, and that makes it a heck of a lot more fun.

Point, Click, Flight

To get a good idea of how Blue Dragon Plus works, think of it as a real-time strategy game with a lot of the extra strategy taken out. There’s nothing like base-building, resource management, or a tech tree to fiddle around with, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s more like a real-time tactics game – just send your forces out on the battlefield and guide them as they run around breaking heads.

A simple touch-screen interface delivers nearly all of the commands needed to win a battle. Tapping the stylus on a single unit moves just the one character, while drawing a circle around a group of units makes it possible to order them all at once. The touch-screen GUI provides a few handy shortcuts for using their special skills – the magical attacks made possible by their “Shadow” avatars – so there’s rarely any need to put down the stylus and fiddle with the face buttons.

As the game begins, the party includes just a small core of heroes, the leads from the original Blue Dragon. Eventually, though, Plus throws a fistful of different characters into the mix, with a very broad range of different abilities. There’s more than enough variation in the troops you’ll need to use and the ways you’ll need to use them to keep the game from getting too simple.

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A Lot Less Is More

Blue Dragon Plus ReviewNeither does it overcomplicate itself, though. What makes the combat work more than anything else is the stage layouts, which tend to be very simple, broad, and open. They have their share of obstacles and interactive bits and pieces, but only just enough to make things interesting. If the stages were any more complex with lots of barriers, elevation changes and varied terrain battles would move too slowly. You’d have to spend far too much time carefully micromanaging each unit’s movement. As it is, the pathfinding AI is never especially overtaxed, because the route between any two points on the battlefield is usually pretty close to a straight line. It’s easy enough to give a unit orders and let them go do their thing.

Watching them do it is surprisingly entertaining, if you can take a moment away from the chaos of command and control to appreciate Blue Dragon’s graphics. Akira Toriyama’s character designs for the franchise always seemed just a bit out of place on the Xbox 360. He specializes in simple, iconic cartoon characters, and seeing them rendered out of however many zillions of polygons in perfectly smooth high-definition 3D was a little unnerving. That’s way more fidelity than the original concepts needed or called for.

For a DS game, though, the Blue Dragon characters work perfectly. They’re the kind of designs that are made for presentation on a handheld, where the bold colors and simple detailing jump out of the small screen. The player’s party of heroes looks great, and the giant robotic bad guys look even better – the battles are full of huge, goofy-looking monstrosities to try and take down.

A Little Less Conversation

Outside combat, unfortunately, the game drags a bit. Blue Dragon Plus doesn’t have an especially interesting plot to drive it, but it still finds a way to fit a lot of cutscenes and dialogue in between each battle. Introducing the characters is helpful up to a point, because that provides some pointers on how to use the different heroes in combat, but the odds are good that a lot of players would rather just skip past the conversations and plot machinations and get on with slugging it out. (Sad to say, there’s no option to speed through any of the cutscenes.)

The gameplay end of things is interesting enough, though, that the narrative doesn’t need to pick up any slack. Blue Dragon Plus is a fine example of how to get real-time strategy right on a handheld – a game like this doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly ambitious to be a lot of fun to play. In this case, it’s the other way around.

Article Written By: D. F. Smith
Producer: Mike Benson