WARNING: Moderate spoil­ers below

Blue Dragon, a 2007 title for the Xbox 360, is a game that’s near and dear to my heart. After a videogame-less child­hood, the Xbox 360 was my very first con­sole, and Blue Dragon was my intro­duc­tion to “real” (in my young mind) video games, and to JRPGs in gen­er­al. And for an intro? It was not a bad one.

That is not to say that it is a flaw­less, or even excel­lent game. Microsoft, want­i­ng to make a smash-hit for its con­sole, pulled togeth­er a team head­lin­ing Hironobu Sakaguchi (fresh out of SquareEnix) for plot and devel­op­ment, Akira Toriyama for char­ac­ter design, and Nobuo Uematsu for music. Sakaguchi’s brand-new Mistwalker Studios, along with Artoon, devel­oped a 3-disc (!) game tout­ed espe­cial­ly for its graph­ics. The prob­lem with bring­ing a bunch of famous folks togeth­er to work on the same project is that the result is usu­al­ly medi­oc­rity. Did this game escape this fate? Not com­plete­ly. This game has flaws, some of them glar­ing. Some aspects are far bet­ter than oth­ers; some things aren’t quite as adver­tised by the devel­op­ers. Blue Dragon is not stel­lar. But it’s good. Not great — but good.

Let’s break it down into its parts.

CREATIVE (Plot, Characters, World)

The plot is indeed medioc­re. Nothing spe­cial. There are some intrigu­ing moments, but over­all the plot is just okay – not grip­ping, quite sim­ple. The pac­ing has def­i­nite errors – it slows down way too much many times, and it can make it hard to stick with the game. At oth­er times, the pac­ing is just fine and makes things worth­while enough.

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The char­ac­ters, how­ev­er… very sim­ple motives; some design recy­cling by Toriyama (see: main pro­tag­o­nist Shu’s hair vs. Dragon Ball. What is it about Toriyama’s love affair with spiky hair?); Marumaro’s roy­al­ly annoy­ing, screech­ing voice (don’t think you can escape it by chang­ing the voice lan­guage – it’s worse in Japanese); Shu’s shonen-spirited “I-WON’T-GIVE-UP!”-ness. In short – very meh. It is saved in part by the wom­en, Kluke – with her dreams of being a doc­tor and her being the roman­tic inter­est for Shu and Jiro –, and Zola – a scant­i­ly clad pirate-esque wom­an who, besides being the sex appeal, actu­al­ly pro­vides dia­logue inter­est with her cold and cal­cu­lat­ing per­son­al­i­ty. Yes, I real­ize, the­se are very poor rea­sons to be good char­ac­ters – but they are, some­how, bet­ter than the oth­ers. Which says some­thing. Add lit­tle to no char­ac­ter devel­op­ment (save Zola) and you’ve got lack­ing char­ac­ter design.

With the world-building, we’re final­ly get­ting some­where. Varied races, an impres­sive map with neat envi­ron­ments and loca­tions, an inter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal back­ground for the con­ti­nent, and unique mon­sters to fight (though recol­ors are employed a bit too often). It would be bet­ter if the bro­ken char­ac­ter design and aver­age plot didn’t dis­tract from it and bring it down so much. It’s hard for such a won­der­ful world to shine when you’ve got Shu con­stant­ly yelling “I won’t give up!” in the fore­ground.

AESTHETIC (Graphics, Music)

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With the graph­ics, here, final­ly, is some­thing actu­al­ly as adver­tised. For a 2007 game, the graph­ics are absolute­ly beau­ti­ful. The cut sce­nes are exquis­ite, the bat­tle effects awe-inspiring (espe­cial­ly once you get to the disc-3 mechan­ic of Corporeal Attacks – more on that lat­er). The ani­ma­tion team did well on this one. So well, in fact, that the sys­tem itself stops to stare at it. Lag is a fre­quent prob­lem with both cut sce­nes and bat­tle sequences because the con­sole can’t com­plete­ly keep up with the pro­gram­ming or with all the visu­al effects thrown in to the bat­tles.

The world may be drawn and ani­mat­ed beau­ti­ful­ly, but if it only didn’t tax the sys­tem so much, it would be so much bet­ter. I have had the game freeze on me (with my only option being to man­u­al­ly restart my Xbox) numer­ous times because the sys­tem lagged out, inca­pable of exe­cut­ing all of the demands placed on it by the ani­ma­tions and scene changes. The game real­ly could have used some work to make sure the graph­ics were more in line with the capa­bil­i­ties of the con­sole they were work­ing with.

My one issue with the graph­ics them­selves is that only the eye­brows real­ly move on the char­ac­ters in order to express emo­tion. Facial expres­sions are rather sta­t­ic and unchang­ing, and this can make the char­ac­ters seem strange, even inhu­man at times.

The music is gen­uine­ly well done. There are many love­ly, flow­ing piano themes, a favored tech­nique of Uematsu that actu­al­ly serves him well. In-game, the music does its job – it is just enough to make itself noticed, and then fades into the back­ground while enhanc­ing the cur­rent envi­ron­ment. Those with music the­o­ry back­grounds will appre­ci­ate the tech­niques and effects in the songs. The tracks for some of the speci­fic events are real­ly good also – for exam­ple, a song cute enough to give you instant dia­betes plays dur­ing the sce­nes after you save the Devee tribe (from whence Marumaro hails – and no, they don’t all screech like him. It’s lit­er­al­ly. Just. Him. Don’t head­desk too hard.).

The boss the­me, com­posed by Uematsu with lyrics by Sakaguchi, sounds real­ly epic at first, sung with excel­lent metal-screaming vocals by Deep Purple front­man Ian Gillan (the song is the same in Japanese – it’s in English, but it’s good English and not Engrish, as it were). However, the same epic scream­ing gets quick­ly annoy­ing if the bat­tle drags. Which is often, because how would it be a boss bat­tle oth­er­wise?

The final boss music isn’t shab­by either, and is more bear­able in the long-term than the reg­u­lar boss music. Of the three big names brought in to work on this game, Uematsu is clear­ly the win­ner.


Blue Dragon plays as a clas­sic JRPG with some new twists. There is no huge learn­ing curve need­ed to play this game. This is a bless­ing and a curse at the same time; the game has been liked and hat­ed in equal mea­sure for its sim­i­lar­i­ty to clas­sic play and for not being too crazy or tak­ing too many risks. Really, they’re both sides of the same coin, and you can inter­pret this how you please based on your own likes and dis­likes – i.e., your mileage may vary. Myself, I fall into the “I like it” camp. Compared to JRPGs I played after this one, it was just dif­fer­ent enough to be inter­est­ing, but I wasn’t tripped up by hav­ing to learn a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent and whacked-out bat­tle sys­tem, and what dif­fer­ences exist­ed were just intu­itive enough to fig­ure out rather quick­ly.

Combat is turn-based with typ­i­cal spell school divi­sions (black mag­ic for attack­ing, white mag­ic for heal­ing…). Where things real­ly get inter­est­ing is with the mechan­ic of Shadows. Each of the main char­ac­ters can sum­mon their shad­ow into a speci­fic mag­ic crea­ture, dif­fer­ent for each char­ac­ter, which acts as the means for their spell­cast­ing and great­ly boosts their attack and abil­i­ties. The Shadows also lev­el up sep­a­rate­ly, but alongside, the char­ac­ters: aside from expe­ri­ence (EXP) by which the char­ac­ters them­selves lev­el, defeat­ing ene­mies also earns you Shadow Points (SP), which allow your Shadows to gain Ranks (they synonym’d “lev­el”!) in any or all of 9 class­es, in a man­ner sim­i­lar to a Job sys­tem. Some of the­se class­es are log­i­cal (Black Magic…), some of them are inno­v­a­tive (for exam­ple the Monk class, which allows you to charge your phys­i­cal attacks sim­i­lar to how one nor­mal­ly charges spells in this game).

Besides grant­i­ng dif­fer­ent boosts to dif­fer­ent stats, the­se class­es give you access to dif­fer­ent schools of mag­ic, and also to unique Skills, some of which have effects in-town and oth­ers in the field. The Field Skills are real­ly fun. You can be invis­i­ble, you can throw stun bombs, and at its most inter­est­ing is the Field Barrier skill: sur­round your­self with a per­son­al bar­ri­er, just walk up to an ene­my in the over­world and the ene­my instant­ly dis­ap­pears (at the cost of not gain­ing EXP, although you still gain SP; this is great for late-game grind­ing for Shadow class­es. And no, it doesn’t work on boss­es; that’d obvi­ous­ly be too cheaty! As much as we wish it worked…). In the third disc, the Shadows gains a Corporeal Attack, unique to each Shadow, which once charged up allow you to inflict mas­sive dam­age. The Shadows fea­ture makes it so that your par­ty is high­ly cus­tomiz­able to your stan­dards, although with cer­tain Skills clear­ly bet­ter than oth­ers and cer­tain class­es being absolute­ly nec­es­sary (Black Magic, once again…), there is a ten­den­cy for your char­ac­ters to end up look­ing the same any­way.

There are no forced bat­tles, save for boss­es and some chests being guard­ed by crea­tures. Interestingly, there is even a mechan­ic which, by hit­ting the right trig­ger, the over­world falls still and a blue line forms in a cir­cle around you, giv­ing you the option to fight any or all of the ene­mies with­in its radius. If you fight mul­ti­ple ene­mies in a row in this way, you can roulet­te for buffs between rounds (exam­ples include increased Attack, Cooldown reset, or even heal­ing your Magic Points/MP/mana). Even cool­er is some­times, using this Encounter Circle, you may get two mon­sters who nat­u­ral­ly hate each oth­er and will fight each oth­er to death in bat­tle (known as a Monster Fight), mean­ing you bare­ly have to lift a fin­ger, at least for that round.

The abil­i­ty to tele­port (“Warp”) between impor­tant loca­tions is great, espe­cial­ly for the late-game sid­e­quests, and there are quite a few diverse mini-games, which range from stan­dard button-mashers to cin­e­mat­ic aeri­al dog­fights. The con­trols are flu­id and over­all excel­lent. The one real issue is that, as with the graph­ics, the sys­tem can’t always han­dle the load (espe­cial­ly with mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters charg­ing up spells, or large num­bers of ene­mies) and lag pops up all too often.


Despite the fail­ings of the indi­vid­u­al ele­ments of this game, it all comes togeth­er quite nice­ly. Blue Dragon doesn’t have a lot of per­son­al­i­ty or details, sad­ly; but it is easy­go­ing and has its own quaint charm. “Quaint” is a very accu­rate word to describe this game; it is not unique or spe­cial, but still enjoy­able in some small way. The defi­cien­cies in plot and char­ac­ter design brings the lev­el down a bit, and the pac­ing is very slow at times, but if you stick with the slow bits through all three discs, the over­all expe­ri­ence is reward­ing enough.

The last­ing appeal is where the crit­ics dif­fer from the actu­al game play­er; if a game comes togeth­er well, it sells and is liked bet­ter by the aver­age con­sumer despite any poor rat­ings by experts. The game man­ages to do just enough story- and world-wise to hook you in, even more so with all of the achieve­ments and inter­est­ing lit­tle disc-three side quests.

Oh yeah – the achieve­ments. There are tons of ’em. They range in dif­fi­cul­ty, some being easy (as in sim­ply max­ing your char­ac­ter lev­els and ranks, or just defeat­ing that side quest boss) and some being hard (a per­fect score on that mini-game? What?! Impossible!! *restart*). Hunt ’em all down, if you can; if you’re an achieve­ment hound, like me, you’ll be play­ing for a while.

For what it’s worth, this game did insane­ly bet­ter in Japan than it did in the U.S., enough to release two sequels for the Nintendo DS. Probably has some­thing to do with Japanese cul­tur­al­ly ingrained sub­tle­ty (a sub­ject I have per­son­al­ly stud­ied at length), and there­fore a sto­ry that seems slow-paced to us Americans says so much more to a Japanese audi­ence. The game still does enough to entice American audi­ences though, so it works.


This game was my first “real” video game, so I do have a soft spot for it. But if I were to com­pare this to friend­ships: this is the old child­hood friend who you like dear­ly, but is not your best friend who you do every­thing with. He has his prob­lems, and you know it; but every once in a while, you call him up and you have a nice chat and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy.

And then you go play laser tag with your besties that week­end.

I wouldn’t call this game a “must-buy” by any means. I’d total­ly under­stand if you nev­er got it. But it’d be a shame if you didn’t play it at least once, because it isn’t hor­ri­ble; in fact, I’d say it’s in the top quar­ter or third of JRPGs and of 360 titles (albeit near the bot­tom of its tier). And if you gave this often-overlooked game a pass, espe­cial­ly if you’re at all a fan of JRPGs or of any of the famous folks who worked on this title, you’d be miss­ing out on some­thing small but won­der­ful in its own way.

(Disclosure: The copy of Blue Dragon reviewed by the writer had been given to her as a gift.

Screenshots via Brandon Motz) AltariaConsoleConsole ReviewsBlue Dragon,ReviewWARNING: Moderate spoil­ers below Blue Dragon, a 2007 title for the Xbox 360, is a game that’s near and dear to my heart. After a videogame-less child­hood, the Xbox 360 was my very first con­sole, and Blue Dragon was my intro­duc­tion to “real” (in my young mind) video games, and…
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Indigo Altaria
Indigo Altaria has been a devo­tee of Pokemon since Gen 1, what­ev­er gave it away? Within the greater realm of geek cul­ture, her inter­ests include lan­guages, cul­tures, world­build­ing, and inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty.
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