Blue Dragon Review: A severely underrated masterpiece

Blue Dragon Review: A severely underrated masterpiece

Embark on an extraordinary journey into the vibrant world of Blue Dragon, a captivating RPG that weaves together a tapestry of innovative gameplay, a compelling storyline, and a cast of characters that leave an indelible mark on the gaming experience. Developed by Mistwalker and featuring the creative genius of renowned designer Hironobu Sakaguchi and composer Nobuo Uematsu, Blue Dragon stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of RPG classics. In this review, I, Brighton Nelson, will delve into the game's remarkable battle system, delve into its scattered yet enchanting narrative, celebrate the diverse and lovable characters, and explore the captivating music, art, and customization systems that make this title a standout in the RPG realm. Now, without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... a Blue Dragon Review: A severely underrated masterpiece.

Battle System - 10

This game has one of my favorite turn-based job systems to grace an RPG! It takes significant influences from the CTB system present in Final Fantasy X, with each character taking turns based on their agility stats, with every character acting individually, and with the ability to see several turns in advance. These have always been my favorite battle systems, as they are much more tactical than ATB or traditional turn-based systems. However, an incredible twist makes this battle system unmatched by other CTB systems—the charge system. This allows you to charge attacks to make them stronger or to delay a spell to a certain point in the turn order. This will enable you to charge a healing spell after a deadly foe's most formidable move. You also have the option to be less tactical and go for straight effectiveness over efficiency by charging the meter fully or hitting the sweet spot on the meter to conserve MP. On top of all of this, you can approach engaging in battle itself in a variety of ways! You can simply First Strike an enemy or mow them down with the instant-killing Field Barrier for reduced reward, but there's so much more. You can attract enemies, repel them, and stun them with Attract Aura, Repel Aura, and Stun Bomb. You can also use the impeccable Encounter Circle to enter multi-wave battles in which you get buffs between each encounter at the cost of more challenging encounters, or certain enemies can trigger Monster Fights, memorable encounters where two groups of monsters antagonize one another in a climactic war in which you inevitably have to pick a side. There's also one more thing that makes these battles so interesting—the characters do not physically attack but instead attack with their Shadows and accessories, which is such a fantastic idea that is done very well. Later in the game, you also get Corporeal moves, which make the Shadows come to life and dish out an enormous amount of damage, and restore the user to full MP. These battles are phenomenal and full of new and exciting ideas, and I'd love to see more games implement a system like this. In the end, this game has one of my favorite battle systems of all time—it's remarkable how incredible it is.

Story - 10

This game's story may be scatterbrained at times, but the individual moments and vignettes are much greater than the sum of their parts. This game has three main arcs, yet each arc has a ton of fantastic arcs within them. This game is full of twists, turns, and revelations, and while Nene can feel stereotypical at times, he is still an imposing villain, and his henchmen Szabo and his lackeys are super fun characters. This game gets so utterly bizarre by the end that it was hard for me not to fall in love with the story in this game. The story beats in Talta Vlilage, the Road to Jibral, Flying Fortress, Baroy Town, Ancient Prison, Pachess Town, Nene's Fortress, Devour Village, and Noluta Village are all up there with some of my favorite story moments in RPGs—they are just that captivating and entertaining! While this game seems bright and fun on the outside, this game has so many deep, dark themes that make the adventure incredibly emotionally charged. While the story seems to be the most controversial part of this game, I adored my time with it.

Characters - 9

I'll get it out of the way right off the gate—Marumaro and the Devee can burn in the fiery flames of Heck. However, I basically adore the rest of the characters in this game. Shu comes off as stupid and hot-headed at first, but he eventually becomes fantastic throughout the game and stands as one of my favorite JRPG protagonists. Jiro also starts not-so-great, feeling like a rather dull character, but the more his character, the more I fell in love with his laid-back personality. Kluke (a name that feels like a merger between puke, clucking like a chicken, and my beloved Uncle Luke) is a decent, soft-spoken character who is rather dull, but she lends herself to Shu and Jiro's brotherly rivalry and camaraderie very well. Speaking of that rivalry over Kluke, I think Jiro should end up with Kluke, and Shu should end up with Sahlia (this can happen in Awakened Shadow, but not many people play that game), but I digress. And then there's Zola, a very compelling character and an essential spice character that contrasts nicely with the younger nature of the rest of the cast. While I wouldn't say I like Marumaro, he does a great job of making Zola a more intriguing and lovable character. Let's say she's involved in many of the game's most shocking moments. Nene is also a great villain who doesn't need a dumb redemption arc—he's just a compelling, evil purple dude through and through (Blue Dragon Plus goes a different route with his character, although I believe that was done well, so I don't mind). And then there's a superb supporting cast—Szabo, an interesting right-hand robotic man; Yasato, an innocent, cute robot who should be protected at all costs; Toripo, a quirky shopkeeper that always gets caught up in the stupidest situations; Fushira and Jiro'ss parents, loving family members who get great moments to shine; King Jibral, a kindhearted king who helps his people and is not afraid to get his hands dirty and charge to the frontlines; Hineto, a simultaneously annoying and lovable character; and best of all, Sahlia, a character that is the catalyst for my favorite moment in the entire game. All in all, as much as I despise Marumaro most of the time, I enjoy the other character so much that I couldn't justify giving this game any lower of a score.

Music - 10

This is currently my second favorite soundtrack composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, who already writes some of the best video game music of all time. This game has many phenomenal area themes, with the Cave, Cavern, and restored Pachess Town themes being some of my favorites. The battle and boss themes are incredible, and nothing prepared me for one of the best moments in my gaming career: the first time the boss theme, Eternity, played. Not only is it my favorite video game boss theme, but also one of my favorite songs of all time. It is such a bop, and it hits different. Years after playing this game, its battle and boss themes get stuck in my head all the time, as well as unforgettable songs like Zola's Theme and the Baroy Town theme. This soundtrack is outstanding and easily one of my favorite video game soundtracks ever written.

Art & Graphics - 9

The graphics in this game draw lots of inspiration from Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Quest... and quite frankly? I love it. They aren't necessarily my favorite, top-tier RPG graphics, but Blue Dragon's graphics are certainly up there. This game takes an impeccably timeless art approach, making it beautiful even over a decade later. These are those types of graphics that don't age, and I'm certainly not complaining about that. While I can see Lost Odyssey (my favorite game of all time) looking dated in 50 years, I can't see this game taking a hit in a few decades. In the end, while I like more artistic 3D graphics or pixel art better, this game still looks great and has aged like fine wine.

Customization System - 10

Outside of Fantasy Life, which is too distinct to count, this game has my favorite job system of any game I've played. I haven't played too many RPGs with job systems, but I prefer this game's system to any of the Final Fantasy or Octopath Traveler games. This may come as a surprise, as this game only has nine job classes, but there are many reasons this is my favorite traditional job system. First of all, every job has a ton of depth. There is the Sword Master job, a well-rounded job with fantastic stats that dishes out significant physical damage but can also use powerful Sword Magic (super strong, single-target magic damage), mow down rows of enemies, and absorb HP/MP with their attacks. There's the White Mage, who has healing, status-restoring, and Shine-series light magic, as well as HP-regenerating/buffing and item-based side abilities. There's, of course, the Black Mage, which can dish out colossal magic damage! However, there's a unique spin on the Black Magic in this game. Unlike most games, each of the elemental spells are vastly different! Wind magic hits one enemy for mediocre damage and has a cheap MP cost, but it can be charged to hit every enemy on the screen. Fire magic (Flare) can only hit one enemy, but it can be charged to dish out massive damage—more than any other element. Water and Ground hit a row of enemies and a screen of enemies, respectively, but cost much more MP, and, in Ground's case, can't hit flying enemies, balancing it from not being a direct upgrade from Wind magic, which is fantastic for clearing out groups of flying enemies. There are also two other more unique elements: Shadow and Extract. Shadow can often dish out more damage than Flare, and it has a slight chance of instantly killing the enemy, but it costs much more MP and is unreliable to charge. Extract magic is also very inconsistent to charge, but if you pull it off, you can restore heaps of HP/MP to the caster. As cool as Black Magic is in this game, there are still six more fabulous jobs!

There's the Monk class, centered around dishing out the most physical damage in the game with charged physical attacks, AoE physical attacks, counterattacks, and manipulating enemies on the world map. There's the Assassin, a class based on acting fast, stealing, hitting twice with each physical attack, controlling enemies, sneaking past enemies, and striking sick deals at shops with Negotiate. There's the Support Magic class, which, while unnecessary in Normal Mode, is a phenomenal class in Hard Mode, as it can buff and debuff friends or foes to completely manipulate the flow of battle. Passively, the Support Mage can learn abilities to increase spell durations and double-cast magic. There's the final magic class, the Barrier Magic class, which creates shields necessary for superbosses and Hard/Impossible mode play. Shield and Shell buff defense and magic defense, respectively, and the Wall series blocks singular incoming attacks. There's also the Resist series spells that block status ailments and the Trapfloor series, which imbues the party with magical counterattacks that suppress oncoming physical damage. There's the Guardian class, a hearty class that can tank damage like no other, using Total Guard to become the meat shield for the complete party and overclock their HP with Endure, which uses MP as HP. And then there's the most unique and important job of them all: the Generalist. This job is awful, as they have no stat buffs like the other classes, but they teach the two most valuable skills in the game—they let you equip unique accessories and gain up to eight additional skill slots, allowing each character to have a total of ten skill sets. Yet the game is still balanced, especially if you play in Hard Mode. This is what Final Fantasy V and other Final Fantasy games are truly missing—actual, unrestricted customization. There is no "one skill slot" BS like in Final Fantasy V; this game lets you customize your characters exceptionally. Want a Guardian with Total Guard, Absolute Counterattack, HP +50%, Endure, Ressurection, Accessory +3, Magic Fence, Charge Defense, Magic Defense Up, and Berserker? You've got a remarkably power tank. Want White Magic, Barrier Magic, Support Magic, Double Cast, Spell Duration +50%, Double Item, Enhance Item Effect, Regenerate MP, Quick Magic Charge, and MP +50%? A fantastic support characters. Want a Red Mage hybrid with Sword Magic, Mow Down 2, White Magic, Black Magic, Absorb MP, Absorb HP, Double Cast, Charged Attack, Critical Hit Lift, and Boost Critical Damage? Go for it. Want a full-out Black Magic DPS? Go for Black Magic, Regenerate MP, Quick Magic Charge, Double Cast, Accessory +3, Boost Max MP +50%, Support Magic, Speel Duration +50%, Absorb MP, and Ressurection. Want an overpowered physical attacker with some utility? Equip Double Attack, Charged Attack, Critical Hit Lift, Boost Critical Damage, Loot, Treasure Hunter, Long-Range Attack, Attack Amp, Berseker, and Accessory +3! While those weren't always my exact setups, those were rough setups for Marumaro, Jiro, Shu, Kluke, and Zola, respectively. With how much customization is available due to the Generalist class, this is my favorite traditional job class system of all time.

Locations - 10

This game has my favorite towns and dungeons in any RPG I've played. With tons of optional dungeons and two optional towns, beautiful locales, and intriguing dungeons, this game has terrific locations. Highlights include the Flying Fortress, Nene's Fortress, the Primitive Cube, the Shuffle Dungeon, the Ancient Prison, the Ancient Hospital Ruins, and The Forest of the Dead, as well as fantastic towns like Devour Village, Baroy Town, Talta Village, Jibral Castle Town, and Pachess Town. And that's just a glimpse into the impeccable location of this game. I remember every location in this game vividly, and I can't even say that about some of my favorite games of all time. And for that, this category deserves a perfect score.

Sidequests - 10

This game has some of my favorite, if not my favorite, optional content of any RPG ever made. With two optional towns, eight optional dungeons, twenty-five optional bosses, seventy barriers that hold secrets behind them, tens of hidden equipment pieces, a customizable airship with pieces across the world, multiple lands to explore, spells to learn, vases to acquire, and Nothings and stat boosts to collect. Seriously, the sidequests in this game are all engaging and absolutely unforgettable. Just writing about these quests makes me want to tackle this whole game again in Impossible Mode. I could talk for hours about how outstanding these sidequests are, but for brevity's sake, I'll stop here.

Quality of Life - 6

Why is it that this game and Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, two of my favorite games of all time, are super frustrating sometimes? The biggest problem with this game? The utterly obscene amount of missable items, enemies, and achievements. It makes the game super disappointing. Also, with the free DLC being hard to download these days, many people will miss out on the much-needed difficulty settings, as this game is much too easy on Normal Mode, even for first-time players. Also, without the DLC, there's never a way to locate Nothings, which can be incredibly annoying, especially when replaying the game without the DLC. However, this game makes grinding and fast travel straightforward, so I can't dock too many points. While this game certainly isn't as frustrating as awfully egregious games like Tales of Symphonia, this is one of those games that will haunt completionists for years if they only play through the game once. For the average player, it isn't that bad, but this game is not for the faint of heart.

The Verdict

Fun Factor: 10
Overall Score: 94%
Letter Rating: S+

Many people say this is the definition of mediocre, and some say it is a masterpiece—I definitely align with the latter group. This is one of the greatest games of all time, and I've replayed it more than every other RPG save the original Final Fantasy trilogy and Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch—it's that awesome. With a fantastic combat system, unique locations, and a bonkers story, what's not to love about this tremendous RPG? I'd recommend it to any RPG fan, especially those who love Final Fantasy V, Dragon Quest III, or any other classic job-based RPGs or over-the-top, charming stories.

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Blue Dragon (Xbox 360)

Primary Version: Blue Dragon (Xbox 360)