In the Japanese RPG genre, it’s surprisingly common to have young protagonists that obtain the power to fight off evil, but also have their own insecurities and problems due to their age. But often these stories either take place in magical worlds or the narrative is heightened to an extreme that it doesn’t feel down-to-earth at all. So it was a nice surprise when Koei Tecmo announced Blue Reflection, which uses the trope of the heroines getting the power to fight evil, but still taking place in a down-to-earth setting. How does this approach fare out, however?
Blue Reflection takes place in an all-girls, Japanese high school and centers around the character Hinako. She’s a freshman who had the dream of becoming a star ballerina, but had those dreams tragically taken away by a career-ending knee injury. This makes her become distant to the world until due to a series of events, she is transported to the “Other World” where she has the potential to become a “Reflector” — essentially a Magical Girl who’s able to dive into the collective unconscious created by the minds of humans.
Dressed in a costume fitting the trope, she works alongside two other Reflectors to fight against creatures created by the negative emotions of their fellow classmates at the school. By doing this, they help stabilize the emotions of their classmates and are then able to draw power from them in order to fight against the Sephira, detestable creatures who want to end the world utilizing the negative emotions of the school’s occupants.
While at its core it’s a JRPG, the way in which they implement the game’s systems is novel and fits with the down-to-earth setting of taking place around a high school. Throughout the game’s chapters, there’s a usual loop of moving about the school, completing side quests and leveling up before the boss fight that awaits at the chapter’s end. The difference is in how you level up, however.
Instead of killing enemies to gain experience, you obtain stat increases by increasing your friendship with your fellow classmates, either by defeating the enemy that is representative of their negative emotions or just hanging out with them in the school. It all plays wonderfully into the aspect of Hinako becoming less distant by building bonds with the people around her, giving her the strength to save the school and in turn, the world.
Those who played Persona 3-5 may recognize this being somewhat similar to those games’ Social Link mechanic, but it feels less mechanical than those games were and better develops the main character. Because of this, it can focus more on the real-life dangers depression and a negative emotional state can bring — and why reaching out to people who are suffering and making their lives better can be such an important thing to do. It’s one of the few games I’ve played that feels authentic in this aspect.
Battles, outside of quests and the bosses, are entirely optional as you only obtain consumables or items that you can use to level up your combat skills. It’s a turn-based timeline battle system where you play a balance between attacks which deal straight damage and those which change the attack order. I also personally loved the dynamic camera angles in battles, which refreshingly used respective shots compared to what other JRPGs might have done with a magical girl cast of characters.
The graphics do suffer from some assets reuse later on, but the character models and the game’s UI are exceptionally top-notch with their animations, and fit in wonderfully with the magical girl aspect. This does cause some performance issues for those not playing on the PlayStation 4 Pro model, unfortunately. It’s not a deal breaker and if you played some of Gust’s Vita ports of PS3/PS4 games, you’ll have an idea of what you are in for here (although nowhere near as bad).
The music has that typical Gust flair, being a bit more similar to the Atelier titles than the sci-fi games like the Surge Concerto titles. There’s a heavy reliance on piano, which fits in nicely with Hinako’s initial mood, with no music or just minor ambiance playing when necessary. The battle themes are quite upbeat in nature, fitting the “magical girl” motif. The one downside in the audio is that only main story scenes are voiced, with the other scenes being text-only.
This also plays into another aspect — the lack of an English dub. Over the past few years, Koei Tecmo has been voicing less and less of the English lines in their dubs, with Gust title Nights of Azure lacking a dub altogether. This wouldn’t be entirely bad if there was subtitles for the ambient chatter in the school, but they left translating this out entirely and thus the English version feels like it's missing something if you don’t understand the Japanese language. The localization has some faults also, with compound words breaking and overflowing onto the next line, or different names/references being translated differently depending on the scene. It feels like the game could have used a second pass of proofreading, which is a disappointment considering the great narrative hook the story employs.
As far as fan service, a known entity in modern-day JRPGs, there is some, but it’s minor — especially if you ignore the optional paid DLC. There’s a few moments in the base game depending on how you read into it, but the paid DLC is mainly costumes which are exceptionally more revealing, and if you want to play the optional DLC event scene, you are forced to buy the “Season Pass” to get it.
Even with its flaws, Blue Reflection is easily one of the best Gust titles and hearkens back to the thoughts I had playing Ar nosurge, another game where the narrative rose above the issues the game had and elevated it. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, this is easily worth playing for the experience and to reflect upon it.Blue Reflection was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Copy provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|The narrative is a refreshing take for the genre and the Magical Girl trope.|
|While there's some fan service in the main game, it's not prevalent at all thankfully.|
|The music fits the game's mood perfectly, and the character models are of exceptionally high quality.|
|The mere presence of fan service might turn off some who were interested in the game.|
|Performance issues in certain areas on the non-Pro PS4 model.|