Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge advocate of Mistwalker’s original Blue Dragon. The game is still one of my favorite JRPGs of all-time. While the series continues to find releases, none of them have been a true sequel to the game in terms of gameplay. The second title focused on tactical battles, and now the third outing changes the formula once again to focus more on real-time combat. Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is yet another attempt to bring this lovable universe to the mainstream, and while everything here works for the most part, it still falls short of reaching that classic status.
The story brings back your favorite characters such as Shu and Kluke, but this time around you will be taking on the role of an entirely created character. The premise revolves around your arrival to the kingdom only to suddenly realize that everyone has lost their ability to use their shadow power except for you. The original cast joins up with you and embarks on the quest to figure out why their shadow powers have been stripped. The story moves along at a plodding pace after the initial setup though once again further distancing itself from the original lore of Shu and company.
Of course all of this can be attributed to the biggest change that Awakened Shadow makes to the series: multi player. This latest DS outing allows you to team up with your buddies over a WiFi connection and tear through dungeons together. Everyone gets to bring their own created hero and overall the concept works well enough to help Blue Dragon stand out from the herd. It also helps that these quests are bite-sized in nature giving players a chance to jump right in and back out of the action in a moment’s notice. You really begin to understand the structure of the game at this point, and if you knew that coming in the game becomes a lot more enjoyable.
Giving credit to the developers there is still a plethora of activity to be found within the single player aspect of the cartridge as well. Tons of quests featuring various characters from the universe give you something to work towards as you unlock new playable characters. The core story is also well thought out if not a bit trivial as you can tell the developers were really straddling the line between making a compelling storyline and leaving it open for multi player. The biggest accomplishment though was the character creation and how well it was implemented within the game world. It isn’t like most games where your mute protagonist goes along with the main characters regardless of what happens; instead the team has fleshed out your creation with dialogue and even attitude to accompany various situations.
The combat as I mentioned is more action focused but still retains some of the RPG elements you would find in any other game of its type. This creates an awkward combination that is both frustrating and fun. For instance I really enjoyed being able to control my characters in real-time, moving around the battlefield and performing attacks. Unfortunately a lot of the logistics behind each attack are determined by factors outside of your movement. For example dodging an attack bears no change on the damage you take if the hit connects because it has already been decided before the move. Think of it as real-time combat ala Mass Effect and you get the idea. While the core mechanic feels like it is working like any other action/adventure game, the stuff behind the scenes is still being decided by the roll of the dice.
The other area where Awakened Shadow excels is the item management. I am not sure about you, but one thing that drives me crazy in RPGs is collecting endless piles of useless junk. Most of the time you sell it, other times you trash it to make room for more junk but most of the time it just gets in the way. Blue Dragon remedies this with item fusion. This allows you to combine items together to create more powerful ones. For instance if you have ten low-level items, you can combine them with your high-level one to create basically an ultimate item. This makes carrying around all that useless crap you usually never use more worthwhile.
On the visual front Awakened Shadow is definitely a good looking game. Character models look like the cartoony representations you remember from the 360 version, and the bright colors really help when playing on a smaller screen. Some of the dungeons are downright impressive and the expansive outdoor environments really take on the persona of the series. The music continues to impress with Nobuo Uematsu’s tracks bleeding over into the third outing. The entire package seems well put together and definitely light and bubbly much like the Blue Dragon series should be.
Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is yet another solid effort in the series. The change of pace is nice and shows that the developers are really trying to find that one genre where the series can truly shine. While it may not be completely sure whether it wants to be a solid single player experience or a multi affair, what is here is solid. As long as you know what you are getting into before diving in, you won’t be disappointed.
Review copy provided by publisher.