Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is the third game in the series and the second on the DS. It takes place two years after Blue Dragon (setting it one year after the events in Plus), and the events have little to no relation to those in the first game. I hadn’t played that game before, but Awakened Shadow took care to explain what I needed to know, so I was never lost. For example, if the game said that everyone now has Shadows, then that would mean that originally, only a select few did. In this aspect, it can be considered player-friendly.
The protagonist was a newly introduced character; he’s completely customizable, from his hair style down to his eyebrows, and you can also choose his gender. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to refer to him as a “he,” but rest assured that there is a female character available.
To me, the story was more like an epilogue of sorts for Blue Dragon. Some sub-stories are drawn to a close, like the result of the relationship between King Jibral and Zola, while others are explored and then left open, like the triangle between Shu, Kluke, and Jiro. I especially found Torippo’s backstory amusing since it was an homage to Akira Toriyama, the artist behind Blue Dragon. The other stories generally assume you have knowledge of the characters such that you care enough to play through all the optional quests.
The events of Awakened Shadow take place during a time when everyone could use their Shadows. However, after the appearance of a mysterious machine that seemed to suck everyone’s Shadows away, no one can use their powers any more. In addition, monster levels have risen and mysterious doors leading to powerful monsters have appeared. The only person who can use Shadows is the main character, who seems to have been asleep in an Ancient device when all this happened and only just woke up. The catch is, he can actually “share” his Shadow with the people fighting alongside him.
Most of the people who join your party are recurring characters from the main story. Everyone from Shu to Marumaro appears; in fact, I believe that almost all the characters usable in Plus are available in Awakened Shadow. However, since all of their Shadows were sealed away as well, all of them will have to rely on the main character to provide them with their powers.
Basically, the protagonist has a protean shadow that can take the shape of one of three forms (at least initially) — Dragon, Phoenix, and Minotaur. He can be equipped one of those forms, and then the other two will be split between your party members. Eventually, more Shadows will be unlocked (there’s a total of 6 types), each with their specialties.
Shadow sharing is done automatically. Each character has an affinity to a certain Shadow (sometimes, it’s the same one as in the other games, like Jiro and the Minotaur, but usually their affinities are changed because there simply aren’t that many Shadows in this game). The Shadow that character works best with is the game’s way of telling you how to best optimize a character’s innate stat with the stat bonuses given by each Shadow. Depending on which characters you have in your party and which Shadow you’re currently using, they will automatically be assigned one from what seems to be a list of preferences.
For example, if you have Jiro (Minotaur) and Kluke (Phoenix) in your party, and you’re not using either of those Shadows, both of them will be assigned their respective partners. If you’ve equipped the Minotaur Shadow, while Kluke has the Phoenix, then Jiro will automatically get the Dragon. On the other hand, if you have Shu and King Jibral, both of whom have an affinity for the physically-powerful Dragon Shadow, in your party at the same time and you’re not equipping that specific Shadow at the moment, one of them will get the Dragon (the one who was added to your party first) while the other gets shunted off to another Shadow.
This limitation of only being able to use one of a specific Shadow at a time (can’t have two Minotaurs on your team at the same time) means that you have to pay attention to the party members you include in your team. If you want an offensive character, you’d need to choose a person with high attack and equip him with a Shadow with high attack as well. Sometimes, I like to equip characters with high magic with the Minotaur instead of the Phoenix because the former is the only one with healing capabilities.
Skills are specific to a Shadow, so anyone equipped with a certain Shadow can use that one’s skills. This makes matching affinities even more important because having a Shadow that only uses physical attack skills on a person with high magic and low attack is just not a good idea. The only exception is the protagonist, who can use all the skills from all the Shadows, but can only equip one Shadow. He can equip a certain number of skills at a time (this number increases through the game) and only those skills equipped can be used in battle.
As for leveling, your characters don’t level up. Your Shadows do. This means that if you want to continually use more than three Shadows through the game, you’ll have to switch in and out. Luckily, there are sometimes EXP drops from enemies that grants experience to any Shadow you have, even the Shadows not in your party at the moment (which one gets the EXP is determined by a roulette). This also means that you don’t have to worry about character’s experience levels, though, so in the end, the system made grinding easier than it could have been because there are a lot more characters you can choose for. I wouldn’t want to have to train that many characters.
Also, new Shadows are unlocked as your Shadows level up, encouraging you to use all of your Shadows periodically in battle. This isn’t so bad, considering that each Shadow comes with a nice skill set. The Dragon focuses on physical attacks, Phoenix on magic, Minotaur on healing, Heracles [Beetle] on defensive spells, the Mecha Robo on buffs, and the Devil on status effects. My only gripe is that I wished there were more Shadows available; judging from what I’ve seen of it, it seems like there were a plethora of Shadows for each character in Plus. This dearth of Shadows probably has to do with the main plot of the story; since all of the characters are “sharing” Shadows from the main character, only those that he has are usable. Maybe that’s why?
All of Awakened Shadow is told through a series of quests. Some of these are character quests that, as mentioned before, help expand on the returning characters’ stories. Others are story-centric and work on the central plot about the main character’s mysterious past and his tie to the sudden disappearance of everyone’s Shadows. Which members you bring with you doesn’t really affect the dialogue in most of the events, although some have a required member or two.
Aside from quests, there are also several doors that appear through Neo Jibral and its proximity. These doors each lead to the Otherworld (which may look familiar to past Blue Dragon players) and a boss that is very difficult to beat. Thankfully, before you enter, the game shows you the level of the boss behind the door and allows you the option of leaving.
The bosses are all very tough and are definitely the real challenge of the game. The rest of the experience isn’t too hard — despite the fact that I die every so often from random enemies, I don’t feel like I’m being repeatedly creamed in spite of being I’m on level with the monster. I was very grateful that these doors were optional, despite the fact that the in-game dialogue didn’t make it sound like it.
To challenge these beasts, there are two main things you need to do. The first is level your Shadows; the other is to build good equipment. Building equipment is done at Yasato’s house after you finish his quest early in the game, and is done by bringing materials to him for him to combine. These can be any equipment, armor, accessory, or random resource items you find or get from defeating enemies (and enemies absolutely love to drop items. They’re very generous).
Each piece of equipment — weapon, body armor, head armor, accessory — has a grade as well as a maximum stat. An item with D-rank not only has a lower base stat than one of B-rank, but also a much lower potential for stat increases. If you max out the stat through upgrading, the only way to continue upgrading that item is to increase its rank by combining it with a special item. For example, if I max out a rank D Jibral Sword, the only way I can make it stronger while keeping it a Jibral Sword is to combine it with a C-rank Apple. This way, I’d get a rank C Jibral Sword. This way, you can continue using the equipment you’ve had from the beginning of the game should you so choose.
When you combine two items of the same type together, you don’t get a new combination; instead, you power up your original item. For the armors and accessories, this means another item of the same type; the resulting, powered up item is the first item you chose. For weapons, it’s a little more complicated. There are 3 categories of weaponry — one-handed swords, two-handed swords, and “fists,” which includes tonfas, claws, katars, etc. Weapons can’t be combined between categories. One-handed swords can only be combined with other one-handed weapons, etc. Other than that limitation, it works the same as in armors; the first weapon chosen is the weapon that’s going to be powered up.
You can also add elemental powers to items by combining certain gems to weapons and armors. Luckily, all the modifications you make get carried over to whatever product you’re making.
As for combining to create new items, you’ll find recipe books periodically through the game. These unlock combinations for you and based off these you can build new items. Most of these end up being much more powerful than the equipment you find in the maps, and it’s well worth the time to play around with the resources you’ve collected to try and build up good equipment.
I liked the combination system, although I was kind of miffed by the fact that even though it seems like there’s thousands of combinations you could make, most of them are really just a way to upgrade what you already have. It was also kind of fun to see your character’s appearance change with the equipment you have, although some of the head accessories were, bluntly, kind of dorky.
The game system was my favorite part of the game, since the story wasn’t anything particularly original. The controls were fairly intuitive — I preferred using the buttons, but the entire game could be controlled through the touchpad. However, the camera was a pain and has actually caused me to die a few times. Quite honestly, I’m not sure if it’s a problem with my DS, but the camera is jerky and nonresponsive to me. Another thing that’s been the death of me was the AI. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t really trust them with the Minotaur Shadow. I would like a responsive healer that doesn’t take a two-second break after every action like the AI does, thank you very much.
While I don’t feel like I grasped the total experience because I’ve never played the original game to this series, the game was an “OK” expenditure of time. I wasn’t thrilled or distressed or shocked by any part of Awakened Shadow, but I wasn’t completely appalled by the game either.