Here we have a full-length role-playing game from Hironobi Sakaguchi’s studio, Mistwalker, in Hawai’i. There is footage of Sakaguchi, who helped create the Final Fantasy series in Japan, going to Hawai’i to oversee development of Final Fantasy IX at a satellite office before the development of Blue Dragon. Perhaps he took such a liking to the place that he opened shop there. Blue Dragon, ever so succinctly, is an RPG in the style of a Final Fantasy game in almost every way, right down to Nobuo Uematsu composing the music. However, this is indeed, a game independent of the Final Fantasy series. Blue Dragon is a little more kid friendly than the other big Mistwalker endeavor, Lost Odyssey. This is the first Sakaguchi game I finished, and I was mightily impressed, though no one single moment during gameplay was especially noteworthy.
Shu, Jiro, and Kluke are all children from the same village when a series of Land Sharks attack. We learn Nene, a villain bent on ruling the world, was behind this occurrence. Nene isn’t the worst evil villain out there, but here begins the story. Marumaro (or just Maro) joins and leaves your party in different moments of the game, though he initially only wants to save his own kind. Similarly, Zola enters your party somewhat randomly. The characters are fun–Jiro is a deep thinker, Kluke is caring. There is a very mild love story where player action determines if Kluke falls in love with Shu or Jiro (though truthfully she falls in love with neither). The rest of the plot has you ridding the world of evil.
We aren’t pushing the boundaries of 3D rendering or lighting tech, but this is a huge upgrade from PlayStation-era Final Fantasies. The Xbox 360 is two generations removed from the PlayStation era. Polygons are crisp, though frequently reused, and ground and wall textures are reused frequently as well. The lighting is basic, but gets the job done. The soundtrack is by the great Nobuo Uematsu, though he too has his own studio now. There are hardly any pre-rendered cut-scenes – scenes born out of high end CGI video and not in the game engine – but we haven’t avoided them altogether.
Here are the basic motions. Battles in dungeons and the overworld will increase your level. Treasure chests and enemies give valuable items and gold, and gold in town buys items you missed in the dungeons. A night at the inn restores party health. The game doesn’t feel streamlined like Ever Oasis, for example, but this is the style of RPG Sakaguchi-san has become good at making. There’s a town and dungeon in which murals come to life, and a castle town appearing as though it belongs in Dragon Quest XI.
Toward the end of the game, you arrive in the town of “Kelaso”, where frame rate drops are common. Xbox 360 was an era before frame rates were counted much. There are Christmas lights and strange dwarf people. You have plenty of time to level your characters to 99, though there’s a dragon I still couldn’t defeat after everyone was at the top level. Also nice are a few “mech” shooting stages where you take down enemy bases. The final dungeon and final boss are quite good. Actually, the final dungeon is the best in the game, and I don’t think I can say that about other games. The final boss is good, too, requiring a level of strategy. Mistwalker also made Lost Odyssey on Xbox 360, and The Last Story, before creating the mobile phone game Terra Battle, which sadly was a bit of a cash in. Goes to show running an independent studio is hard work. Rumor has it there is a new iOS game in development, true to Sakaguchi’s RPG roots, with Apple as the publisher. Blue Dragon is still an impressive endeavor, though the gamer would be better off visiting the Final Fantasy series for exemplary role-playing games.