Blue Dragon: Plus
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-03-17 Nintendo DS Strategy/RPG E (Everyone) Brownie Brown / Ignition

What began with 2007's Xbox 360 release of the first Blue Dragon title exploded into a product lineup spanning various media outlets: anime and manga immediately followed the release of the video game proper, along with the expected toy line and even a trading card game that was released last year. Further expanding the franchise's reach is the sequel Blue Dragon Plus, an RTS/RPG mash-up for the DS.

Continuing from the first title, Blue Dragon Plus follows our heroes Shu, Jiro, Kluke, Zola, and Marumaro (along with various other secondary, albeit playable characters) on their journey to defeat the returning Nene (the main villain from the first title), as well as the numerous mechanical and organic creatures that have begun to take over the universe.

There is little in the way of back-story offered for those who may be unfamiliar with the first title. You are instead given very short character descriptions (which also serve as overviews of each character's skill set) and sent on your merry way of defeating everything in sight. This chapter in the story is of course fleshed out over the course of the game, which can easily take you a couple dozen hours, but those expecting numerous flashbacks to the first game to help them get their bearings will be disappointed.

Conversely, the game's tutorial does a much better job at getting you up to speed by thoroughly introducing you to basically every command you will be in control of during gameplay. With the soul of an RPG and the gameplay of an RTS, Blue Dragon Plus performs quite well.

Everything gameplay wise can be controlled via a few taps of the stylus. Tap on one individual character, and you are given the choice of moving them around the environment, attacking one individual enemy, opening treasure chests, healing, or summoning their Shadows (if the character comes equipped with one). Shadows, for the unfamiliar, can be equated to Limit Break attacks in the Final Fantasy series, or any sort of super powered attack that, once used, must be allowed to charge back up.

Seeing that you are in control of multiple characters at once, a few "all or nothing" options are located at the left side of the screen that allow you to command every unit (whether currently onscreen or not) to attack an enemy of your choosing, to move to a particular location and so on. You also have the option of choosing smaller groups of units by drawing a circle around them with your stylus, thereby commanding only those within the circle.

That being said, one command given to the entire group will obviously negate an earlier command given to an individual (say, opening a treasure chest on the other side of the field) if it has not been completed by the time you make your next command. This is unfortunate, as shifting your focus may cause your solo character to abandon its current quest in favor of attacking an enemy, and by the time you figure out what happened, you've already wasted a lot of time.

Furthermore, character movement around the field is slow, and a bit dodgy in environments with multiple raised areas or small openings. That is, if another character is standing in the way, your other characters will attempt to get around them, but often fail, and continue to walk into walls or into corners in an attempt to find another path. This can be avoided altogether by commanding each unit individually, but this of course takes much more time and forethought, which some players may not wish to deal with.

Either way, at any one time, with so many player controlled units on screen at once, it is fortunate that this issue (even if left to occur on its own) isn't a large negative as there will always be multiple units who aren't blocked by the environment and who can do all of the work if need be.

Once you complete a battle, the RPG elements take over, with each surviving unit earning experience points and new abilities, along with various items and funds being awarded that can be used to buy new equipment, healing items and so on.

While each battle plays in the same basic way, strategy does play an ample role in defeating bosses or larger groups of enemies, as certain elemental monsters have weaknesses and strengths that must be taken into account (fire being susceptible to water as an example), and which can easily turn the tide of war. That is, if you, in a clueless rapid tapping state, start wasting your magic on fire spells when facing a fire creature, you'll quickly find yourself screwed when facing a larger enemy and all of your magic reserves have been depleted.

Along with the ease of controls in every other aspect of the title, viewing the battlefield is just as simple. You can either manually drag your viewpoint to whichever spot your desire, or you can use L and R to rotate the playing field a full 360 degrees, a helpful addition when facing massive enemies that block your view of your army.

In term of the actual look of the game, the graphics here are of the standard DS quality. Your characters are downright tiny with the only way to tell most of your human characters apart being their hair (especially where the female characters are concerned). However, the game also sports surprisingly high quality cutscenes (mainly depicting the rise and subsequent fall of a boss), which are incredibly similar to those you'd see on any console RPG, and which, along with an impressive soundtrack, add more depth to the experience.

The dialogue however is understandably text based, and unfortunately is presented alongside some irritating sound effects put forth to distinguish one character's voice from another (higher pitched sound effects for female voices and vice versa), but in the end cause more of an annoyance than anything else.

All in all, despite its few flaws, Blue Dragon Plus is a solid title with intuitive controls and a satisfying storyline, made even more so for those who have played the game's predecessor. But playing the first game isn't a requirement, and for those who decide to give Blue Dragon Plus a chance, they'll likely find the game to be as enjoyable and fulfilling as longtime fans of the franchise.

Special thanks to Susan Hale and Ignition for providing a copy of this title.