And while the combat is turn-based, there is a certain real-time element. At the top of the screen there’s a strip of icons explaining the current order of attacks. However, certain attacks can be charged up by holding a button. This maximises damage as the gauge builds, and also allows you to score a critical hit if you release at the right spot. The downside is that you have to carefully balance how hard you hit by when you hit. Charging up delays your attack, which may mean that you run the risk of an enemy hitting you with a special attack and putting your character out of action in the meantime. The upshot of this is that, while you don’t have to worry about range or movement, Blue Dragon still involves more strategy than you might expect.
Cleverly, all the complex mechanics are drip-fed in during the early stages of the game, making Blue Dragon one of the more accessible Japanese RPGs around. Combine this with a nice, gentle difficulty curve, the ability to warp instantly between many locations and ample save points and you have a far less frustrating experience than Final Fantasy XII or Dragon Quest VIII, and one which might sit bitter with younger players or RPG noobs. In fact, Blue Dragon can be forgiving to the point of fault. Some areas become a grind of uninteresting, unchallenging monster encounters, and even many boss battles can be cracked on the first attempt with a modicum of skill. The game politely checkpoints your progress before each boss encounter (please take note, Square-Enix) but in fact the only reason to fear the boss is (please, no, don’t make me go through it again) the music.
Don’t get me wrong. As you’d expect from a name like Nobuo Uematsu, the overall standard of the score is very high, with a nice run of haunting melodies, big, bombastic battle tunes and grandiose themes. Sadly, for the boss battles we get a lumpen chunk of ‘classic rock’ with vocals by Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan that will make you cringe each time you hear it. There’s a bit about ‘memories of forgotten luuurrrvvvee’ that is possibly the most excruciating spot of cheesy metal I’ve come across since the glory days of Saxon and Manowar. I really hope that nobody out there takes that as a recommendation…