Blue Dragon has been around since 2007, with its initial release on the Xbox 360 seeing the title receive a moderately warm welcome - mainly because it was one of the first big Japanese made role playing games to be released on the Xbox 360. Blue Dragon then saw its first handheld release as Blue Dragon Plus on the DS, though it was more of a turn based, card style game. Now Blue Dragon is back on the DS with a real-time RPG titled Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow, and this new formula may just be the saving grace for the Blue Dragon series.
For those who haven't played previous titles in the Blue Dragon series, there is no need to worry here. The story stands out on its own with a full description of the world and characters as the story progresses without the need of any previous knowledge of Blue Dragon's lore. There is also nothing overly complicated that won't make any sense. The story is well translated from its Japanese counterpart with only a few odd translations from time to time, it isn't really noticeable.
The story follows a young character under the name and creation of the player's choosing. Awaking from an odd chamber, the main character aims to discover where he has come from with a little help from his friends that he discovers on the first cube where he awakened. Before going any farther, a little description may be necessary here. The world of Blue Dragon takes place on a world consisting of multiple cubes that float in the centre of a torn apart Earth-style world. Though the story itself is not incredibly appealing, it does have a decent hook that catches players fairly early and doesn't make the story feel like a chore. The presentation of the game is also well made which helps to hold interest. The worlds that are explorable vary quite well, with multiple cubes that appear almost entirely different visually each time.
The art style is also probably familiar to many, since it has been done by Akira Toriyama, the artist who has previously worked on titles such as Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest, and Dragon Ball. The design does shine through well, pushing the graphics on the DS to the top tier of detail in the character and world detail. The cutscenes are also fairly well done when rendered in game, though the pre-rendered cutscenes do come off as a little shoddy. The character models are fairly detailed, but the animation in the videos that play seem rather poor, though these types of cutscenes are thankfully fairly rare anyway.
The music also ties in well with the visuals of the game, with constantly differentiating kinds of music between worlds. It's also well orchestrated. Presentation in the visual and audio departments is actually very well done for what the DS system can do. Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow really raises the bar for classic RPG presentation on the DS.
As for the gameplay itself, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow uses a 3D real time combat system which allows players to use either the touch screen or buttons with no real penalty for using one mode or the other. Combat is done by either pressing an attack button or by tapping the screen, with defence and dodge moves set as either a button with the directional pad or by swiping the stylus on the screen. Magic is also involved in the game though the use of "shadows", which can be used to inflict heavy damage attacks or provide assistance through healing and stat boosters.
The combat is actually very well implemented and the friendly AI in the three person party is usually fairly clever in providing the proper support for the player, whether it be healing or a stat boost. The only problem is that teammates do not respond well to being attacked, so placing a heavy defensive focus on them seems to be a task at times, though the majority of battles are fought fairly smoothly. There are also no random battles and enemies are free roaming causing battles to flow seamlessly in between the dungeon exploration. Items are easy to come by, though many are low powered, but the item fusion system in the game offers a great way to upgrade currently existing weapons and armour into more powerful ones for a reasonably cheap price, provided the materials are there. There is also a lot of experimentation allowed in this fusion system and it means some pretty cool upgrades can be made when tinkering around in this addicting system.
The loot system really does hold the game together well and it creates a system that has players looting whatever they can get to reach that extra bit of power for their armour or sword. The ability to switch shadows also adds to the depth of gameplay by adding a new tactical stance. Characters don't actually level up in Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow, but the shadows that characters use do. This way players can switch teammates around for different advantages in battles without having to worry about them being too low levelled. The different shadows can also be used to boost certain stats such as defence or magic ability to either level out a character's stats or to boost the ones they are already good with. The battle system as a whole is very well worked out and a lot of fun to play around with.
All of this tinkering will help the player work through the story that spans about 30 hours if just playing the essential quests in the game. There are also multiple side quests as well as boss battles that players can go into to challenge their combative abilities against large bosses with massive health and attack power. Not to mention that multiplayer with up to three players is available to work through the quests of the game together.
All in all, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow offers some of the best traditional RPG gameplay on the DS, with a full fleshed battle system and great single and multiplayer options. However, there are problems with the AI sometimes and the story is probably not the most engaging. However, anybody looking for a fun RPG should not pass up on Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow.