Platforms: Xbox 360
Few RPGs that don't bear the name ‘Final Fantasy' have had to carry the same weight of expectation as Blue Dragon. On the one hand, this was the game that was going to sell the Xbox 360 to Japan. On the other hand, with character design from Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Quest), music from Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and game and story designs from Hironobu Sakaguchi (director of Final Fantasy I to V) it was also being heralded as the game that would tear the future of the genre from the hands of Square-Enix and drag the Japanese RPG into the high-definition era. In terms of the first goal, Blue Dragon was only a qualified success. It might have sold under 200,000 copies in a nation where a new Dragon Quest sells millions, but that's still a whole lot more than any other 360 title has sold, and at least Microsoft's game and console bundle was a sell-out. The 360 might still be a lame duck in Japan, but that's hardly one game's fault.
Sadly, in terms of the second goal, Blue Dragon is a major disappointment.
That's going to matter to some of us more than others. In the West, we generally like our Japanese RPGs in the late Final Fantasy style - realistic graphics, angst-ridden heroes, twisting plots with a lot of ambiguity and double-crossing, lots of ornate shiny armour and huge cinematic battle sequences. Blue Dragon, by contrast, is closer in tone and style to the pre-FFVII RPGs of Square and Capcom or Dragon Quest VIII. It has a clean, cartoon style, a lighter tone and a slightly silly sense of humour. Its heroes are the large-headed, high-spirited youths of Saturday morning anime, and its visuals follow the same general style. A lot of gamers are going to dismiss it instantly as ‘one for the kids.'
What might be worse, even on these terms Blue Dragon under-performs. It might have some beautiful, crisp HD visuals, but arguably the cel-shaded Dragon Quest VIII did a better job of creating a living, breathing cartoon world. When it's great, Blue Dragon makes dazzling use of high-resolution textures, HDR lighting, reflective surfaces and post-processing effects, but when it's bad - when you're stranded in a dull landscape high on muddy textures and low on environmental detail - Blue Dragon looks like a hasty HD port of a PS1 era RPG. And it has to be said that whoever came up with the depth-of-field blur effect massively over-egged the pudding. In some sequences, so much of the screen is out of focus that you'll start wondering whether you have the Mr Magoo P.O.V. option switched on.