Derivative. Simple. Uninspired. After the first six hours of playing Blue Dragon you may well find yourself responding with, 'Yeah, and?' The criticisms levelled at this game (this review being something of a response rather than an analysis) seem to be built on misinformed expectations. Being the herald of JRPGs on the RPG destitute 360 platform, made by a creative team unmatched in the industry, people subconsciously set their sights to the sky. Apparently, these sights had a shopping list full of specific objectives that had to be met in order for it to be anything approaching a success. Whispers of Chrono Trigger's dream team reforming whipped up irrational fantasy of what might be coming; the splintered Sakaguchi now owning his own production company encouraged theories of an experience more Final Fantasy than Final Fantasy had been for years. And all we got was Blue Dragon; dumb, pretty and a whole buggerload of fun.
The visual presentation of Blue Dragon is perhaps the least contentious aspect of the package. While faultless in terms of design (a university thesis could be written on the unanimous appeal of Akira Toriyama's simplistic art style) the technical prowess of the game rarely astounds the player. It serves its purpose to a T, unquestionably, but there have been more spectacular examples of RPG visuals on PS2 games. But, as with most of Blue Dragon's intentional restraint, flash is not the point. As a cohesive whole the game stands proud with the best of them in being consistently outstanding with its production values.
The gameplay, however, is where many players will feel tested. While archaic in many overt ways, Mistwalker have sympathetically applied a number of modern design ideals to Blue Dragon's battle system to sooth the burn. Battles are turn-based and menu-based, but their instigation is entirely at the disposal of the player; no irritating random encounters to whinge about on comment sections and forums. The introduction of a field of attack - a sort of circular radius triggered by the left trigger that engages battle with all enemies within its circumference - makes tackling numerous enemies at once quite painless. Moreover, if you battle more than one set of monsters at a time Blue Dragon provides a slot-machine of stat boosts between each battle to help you on your way. The battle system makes little effort to innovate the classic model, looking to refine rather than redefine, but it sits perfectly within the whole ethos of the game.
After searching through your first poo, avec charming 'squelch squelch' sound effect, it becomes clear how to assess the achievements and failures of Blue Dragon. Obvious aesthetic similarities aside, Blue Dragon is more like Dragon Quest than Final Fantasy in that it, simply, is completely populous in its intentions; perhaps even to the point of being childish. No mature convoluted storyline; no fiddly battle system; no stats overload. Blue Dragon is a streamlined compilation of all that is pure about the genre and as a result a very enjoyable, albeit derivative, experience. If you come to play the game in the mind-set of a twelve-year-old with an eye for refined design values, then Blue Dragon is a worthy purchase. Come stamping towards it demanding Innovation, Drama, Emotion (befitting for its prodigious creative team) then seemingly you've missed the point. Blue Dragon is the Saturday morning cartoon of JRPGs; intensely charming, moreish in base, hard-to-articulate ways, but ultimately entirely disposable.
7 / 10