Blue Dragon - impressions

There's a lot of discussion about sucking in Japanese 360 gamers by putting RPGs on the system. But why should we care? Oh, right - they'll come out here, too, and when a lot of money is spent making high-quality games, we win (even if Microsoft loses). Case in point: Blue Dragon. It's a quality game, and though it's far from any sort of revolution in role playing, it's a cute game with a lot of personality and it's going to keep you busy for a good long while. What's there to complain about?

The most striking thing about Blue Dragon is the graphics. For one, because they're kiddie as hell - the main character is maybe 12 and so are his pals. OK. Precocious kids. We can dig it - it worked for Harry Potter. But a lot more exciting is the fact that the graphics really do use the 360 to paint an RPG with a whole new look. The characters are like action figures come to life; the world looks like it's filled with the kind of kick-ass plastic toys you'd throw around the room while making explosion noises when you were about six. If you can groove to the whole little kid thing, well, Blue Dragon executes on it.

Each character in the game has a shadow that takes the form of a powerful creature that fights on their behalf. Monsters that kick ass: we can deal with that, even if they're stapled to kids. The game's battles are the RPG stuff you've seen a million times before, fully turn-based. But each creature has a large pool of attacks to draw from, so hopefully there's some depth there. When the characters get really pissed off - or you pick the right option off the menu, anyway - the creatures come to life, becoming full-sized and absolutely rocking ass on the enemies. Both boss fights we saw ended with a single blow from one of the pumped up creatures. Let's hope that's not how it really works... that's like anti-strategy.

And like any self-respecting RPG in the past couple of years, the game features tons of cutscenes. We're less convinced, right now, that these are going to hold our attention. The game's creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi - aka Mr. Final Fantasy until a few years ago - promised that the story is touching, emotional and even made him tear up a bit. What we saw had plenty of action and was really well cut-together, but more or less amounted to 12 year olds shouting anime cliches at each other.

Blue Dragon is very obviously a conservative RPG that offers up turn-based battling, cinematic story, and dungeon exploration - the ingredients that have made up these games for years. But it's also a game that has had care and attention put into it, and that's exactly what makes the difference between an RPG worth playing and one worth ignoring. This one could really turn out; we'll find out next year, when it makes the journey to the US, and we can dig into it for real.