Despite this, and despite all my earlier criticisms, Blue Dragon works for the reasons that all good Japanese RPGs work: it has a good story, strong characters and a boat-load of charm. I know some people are going to dislike the fourth playable hero, Marumaro, a pot-helmeted, crimson-caped chubby runt who runs high with what you might call the Jar-Jar Binks factor, but even he proves endearing with time. And if the main characters and villains fall back on generic stereotypes, they are at least well drawn variations of the usual themes, with their own offbeat quirks and underlying virtues. The plot kicks off with a big opening, but doesn’t lay all its mysteries bare at once, and the action is propelled along with beefy cinematic cut-scenes, a decent script and lively voice-work. To be honest, I found Blue Dragon more instantly engaging than Dragon Quest VIII. Don’t throw stones, members of the RPG hardcore. It’s only one man’s opinion.
In the end, that might be Blue Dragon’s biggest problem. Some players are going to find it hateful, childish or painfully disappointing. Fans of Final Fantasy may find it utterly laughable, and some of the biggest fans of the Japanese genre are going to think it a bewildering waste of cash, time and talent. Yet if it is backwards-looking, and in some areas lacking in graphical finesse, Blue Dragon is also one of the most streamlined and enjoyable Japanese RPGs around. On the 360, that makes it unique. That’s why I’d urge anyone with an interest in the genre to give it a try – ditch your expectations, and you might just like what you find.
Don’t go into it expecting Final Fantasy. Instead, think of a big, brash, Japanese cartoon, stuffed with warmth and charm, and structured around some brilliantly engineered gameplay.