Blue Archive is one of those games where connecting to and liking its characters is critical. The gameplay is fine and the stories are okay and all. But what pulls people in and gets them attached is finding virtual people they like. Fortunately for it, NAT Games did a good job of trying to get players attached both via gameplay and art.
Part of the reason the Blue Archive characterizations come across so well is how it handles its stories. For example, in the story mode you are working with preset teams for each storyline. In the initial one, we follow the Abydos’ Foreclosure Task Force. It’s a group of five young women—the only students left at the school—fighting for it. So when you go through those story quests, you only have Hoshino, Nonomi, Sherika, and Shiroko on your team of strikers and Ayane offering support. It means you connect to even the people you don’t have. You get accustomed to their behaviors.
It also helps that the Sub Stories function in a similar sort of way. Once you get past barriers to entry, you’re treated to a storyline focusing specifically on certain characters from different schools. While some of these involve clearing certain Mission Stage levels, others also require you to get at least one of the characters who show up in that tale. You’re getting these super focused stories of the students in their element.
Speaking of their element, the perspective of Blue Archive is rather unique for a game about sending units of heavily armed young women off to fight. While there are serious stakes and war games, there’s a slice-of-life feel to everything. The color schemes are rather bright and vibrant. In the case of some characters, it’s even very poppy. (Saya and Shiroko are great examples.) It feels like a daily life sort of game, except daily life for these students can involve fighting against rivals and other students.
But what really makes Blue Archive stand out is the design for its chibi avatars. When you pull for characters, see them in stories, or go to their pages, you see their full-size art. Upon putting a team together, reading loading screen comics, or heading into a fight, there are their more diminutive forms. Each of these designs is quite accurate. It also features animations and actions that show off who they are at a glance. Nonomi hugs her machine gun, complete with oversized heart, if you win a match. Saya’s “Voila, My Masterpiece!” EX Skill sees her taking one of her poisonous experiments and chucking it at an area… with her rodent friend attached. Ayane flies in a drone with supplies. When Yuuka uses her Q.E.D. skill to create a shield for herself, she first works out calculations. Junko gets “hangry” with her Hunger Frustration EX Skill, and before she lashes out we see her drop the dango she is about to begin eating. With these animations and behaviors, we see them preparing weapons or interacting with characters or things in certain ways that help establish who they are.
The result is a cast that can be quite expressive. With its stories, character designs, and animations, NAT Games attempts to show what each of the Blue Archive characters is like. And depending on the character, it can be incredibly effective.
Blue Archive is available for Android and Apple iOS devices.