By now everyone's tired of hearing about the uphill battle the Xbox 360 has in Japan. But the upshot of it is the amazing games Microsoft is creating to try and lure Japanese gamers into the fold - after all, what's good for them is good for us too. Blue Dragon is the first to come from Mistwalker, a studio formed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the original creator of Final Fantasy.
This adventure isn't quite in that vein. The main character is a young boy named Shu. The village he lives in is attacked every 10 years by a violet fog - and a mysterious giant shark that swims through the land destroying everything in its path. Yeah, it sounds a bit silly, but when backed up by the cinematics of the 360, it's a lot more convincing. Shu decides to take on this menace head on, and that's where the adventure begins.
Unfortunately, the battle system wasn't ready for prime time just yet. As Shu faced off against the land shark, a battle menu - like you'd see in FF - popped up. The first option was “attack” but that was all we saw before the demo changed gears. What we were told, however, is that the blue dragon of the title is actually Shu's shadow; the struggle between light and dark is a big theme of this game. In the visuals, the bright areas are very bright and the dark areas are very dark - this contrast is also part of the gameplay. Shu can call this blue dragon out from within himself; it represents his courage. It also will allow him to use magical powers in battle. His companions have similar powers. The beast-like Marumaro can summon a sabertooth tiger, and another girl can summon a phoenix, while his friend Jiro can call forth a minotaur. The purpose of these powers? To take down the sinister Nene, who rules over the world and controls light and dark.
After the battle was cut off, we were able to see a beautiful cavern with coral growing from its walls. Shu explored with his friends and a desert town with funny-looking bulbous houses. The graphics are enhanced by a film-like depth of field, which makes the background scenery blur and fade while everything in front remains sharp. Sparkling water and excellent lighting make this a world that seems worth exploring. The intro video also showed Shu facing off an army of robots from inside his own personal airship.
Basically, Blue Dragon shows a lot of promise, but it's far too early to tell if it will live up to anything. From the graphics to the orchestral soundtrack to the character and monster designs, everything screams polish and tradition. But without a view into the battle system or the real meat of the story, we can't say whether this will be an adventure worth taking.
May 11, 2006