I’ll readily admit that I have never played Blue Dragon on the Xbox 360, but it still came to me as a surprise that the next game in the series is a real time strategy game. Well, it’s sort of a real time strategy game, but I’ll get into that later.
Blue Dragon Plus comes to us on the Nintendo DS with isometric viewed battles and full-motion, gorgeous CG cut scenes completely with orchestral music. This really is a game for Blue Dragon fans — which makes me wonder why they strayed from the turn-based RPG genre and went with an RTS.
If you’ve played Heroes of Mana or Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, you’ll feel right at home with the gameplay in Blue Dragon Plus. The stylus is used for most of the game, letting you draw a circle around the units you want to command, tap a button on the screen to select all your units, or tap directly on the unit to select just that. After selecting your units, you can tap a spot on the map to move them there.
This is all fine and dandy, but the size of the DS’s screen and how precise you need to be makes the battles frustrating. For example, Shu has a skill that lets you strike enemies in the first three squares in front of him. The way to efficiently use this is to position him in front of a group of enemies in a line, which is tricky if you have lots of other units around him and want to select just him. And if a unit is in the spot you want to move Shu to, you’ll have to select that unit, move it out of the way, and then move Shu to the newly vacant spot.
When skills are used, time freezes. This sounds like a good idea because you can keep an eye on the efficacy of a skill, but the pause in time breaks the flow of the game. There were several times I was watching my units attack in real time only to have it pause, wonder what’s going on, and then realize that an enemy is about to use a skill. Either straight real time, or complete turn-based would have been my preference for this game.
The story in Blue Dragon Plus is secondary to the gameplay. It’s roughly about an enemy that got defeated in the first game coming back and well, being evil again. All this is presented in fantastic CG cut-scenes, but after watching a few, I ended up skipping the rest to get straight to the fights.
When the fights go smoothly, the game is enjoyably great. Units move slowly enough that the action doesn’t overwhelm the screen. There’s enough diversity in the units to assure different tactics work, and the gaining of new skills makes leveling up rewarding. It’s unfortunate that with so many things going for it, Blue Dragon Plus falls short in the most crucial area: the controls. Because being able to properly select units and move them is so integral to the game, I can only recommend this to people who are patient and have a steady hand.