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Blue Dragon Plus

When released for the 360, Blue Dragon was a satisfying (if incredibly conventional) Japanese RPG for a system that at the time was lacking in the turn-based glory that consumers of the Rising Sun wholeheartedly enjoy. While it was a modest success, these days the 360 has more than its fair share of JRPGs, which may explain why Blue Dragon Plus -- the direct sequel to Blue Dragon -- is headed straight to the Nintendo DS. And on its way to Microsoft’s competitor’s hardware, it’s learned some new tricks.

At first glance, you might mistakenly believe Blue Dragon Plus to be a strategy game in the style of Final Fantasy Tactics, with little hand-drawn heroes and monsters arranged on an isometric 3D stage. But once the fight begins, everything starts happening in real time and you must feverishly put together your plan of attack, because those enemies aren't waiting for your turn.

You command your units around the field with quick but simple controls that rely totally on the touch screen. You tell your units where to go, who to fight, when to heal, and when to move to special areas on the map. It seems like your attention is constantly needed everywhere at once, but the game gives you some room for error by providing a high number of healing items. Also, as you progress through each map, the game occasionally pauses to let some part of the story play out.

Speaking of the story, it picks up one year after the first game, as Shu and his pals journey to the center of their world to make sure everything is still OK where they defeated the ultimate evil. In a big twist, the nefarious Nene isn't as vanquished as they thought, and trouble starts all over again. While it doesn't have the console version’s voice acting or so-bad-it's-good rockin' battle music, it does have a big dose of 3D cutscenes. It’s possible that the game’s first couple of hours are just unusually heavy with them, though, seeing as we haven’t yet had a chance to spend more time with the game.

We're interested to play more, especially after seeing Blue Dragon Plus attempting to shake things up compared to its more traditional predecessor. Hopefully it will give this franchise another chance at the big time. Expect to see more of its high-end presentation and simple but fast techniques when it releases early next year.

Dec 5, 2008

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