The original Xbox played a lot of great games in its day, from multiplayer first-person shooters to stunning sports simulators. But there's one genre that has eluded Microsoft's consoles, and that's the traditional Japanese role-playing games. While a number of Western developers have stepped up to the plate (including BioWare with Knights of the Old Republic, Big Blue Box with Fable and Bethesda with Morrowind), for whatever reason the major Japanese RPG makers have decided to support the PlayStation brand over Microsoft's Xbox.
This unfortunate reality is something that Microsoft knows all too well. From the onset Microsoft has made it a priority to attract more Japanese companies to the Xbox 360, trying to do whatever they can to make their high powered console more appealing in the land of the rising sun. Two years ago Microsoft took their first steps in this difficult journey to win the hearts and minds of Japanese gamers (and those who love Japanese games), they hired famed Final Fantasy creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, to develop a number of role-playing games on the Xbox 360. After much hype and waiting Microsoft has finally released their first major Japanese RPG, a cute, if not overly generic, adventure game called Blue Dragon.
Blue Dragon tells the story of three kids (Shu, Jiro and Kluke) who inadvertently go on an epic quest after their small town is destroyed by a robotic land shark. Ignoring their parent's wishes, these three kids decide to do something about this menace and trap the metallic beast ... but not everything goes as planned. After a botched attempt to get to the bottom of the land shark mystery, Shu and gang are introduced to Nene, a creepy old man who with strong magic skills and the ability to manipulate machines. Unfortunately these three kids don't stand a chance at defeating such a powerful magic user, no matter how hard they try the short daggers and fists just aren't going to cut it.
Thankfully somebody is looking out for these three kids. Shortly after meeting (and being defeated by) Nene, the three kids are given these weird glowing orbs that they are supposed to swallow. Against their better judgment, the three kids decide to eat those glowing orbs and see what happens. Did the kids pass out from radiation poisoning or get high? No, instead their shadows turned into giant, powerful blue dragons that could take on just about any opponent that gets in the way.
As you can imagine, the blue dragons are the one thing that sets this game apart from the rest of the Japanese role-playing games. For the most part this game plays exactly like Final Fantasy and a lot of other RPGs from that part of the world; you roam around a map and get into battles against fantastical enemies. Once you're locked in battle the game turns into a standard turn-based affair, each character will choose how they want to act (be it attack, magic, defend, use an item, etc.) and you'll have to put up with the enemy's turn every so often. Where this game differs is in who is actually doing the attacking. For the most part these kids aren't fighting the battles themselves, instead they let their shadow dragons do their dirty work for them. When it's somebody's turn their blue dragon (which is different depending on which character you're using) magically pops out of their shadow as if it was a summoned creature from the Final Fantasy series. From there you can use the dragon to punch the enemy or use magic.
Despite the fact that it takes awhile for the game to actually get going, Blue Dragon has a fairly simple premise that never gets too complex or convoluted. Most of the game is all about you tracking down Nene and defeating him once and for all, something that is apparently easier said than done. Like all role-playing games, Blue Dragon tends to veer off into side missions that have very little to do with your ultimate goal. From time to time you'll have to get yourself out of a sticky situation (such as finding a way out of an old underground hospital), saving a town, or helping a cute little bat-like creature save his family by finding the right medicine. These various missions are standard stuff for the role-playing genre, but some of them just feel like artificial ways of making the game longer than it needs to be.
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