Blue Dragon

microsoft's big-budget role-playing flame has set 360 alight in Japan. but should you care?

Here we are, then - the first proper Japanese RPG to hit 360. While we've had Enchanted Arms (neat and quirky, but hardly an epic, and so obviously an early stab at 360 role-playing) and some other small-fry Japanese outings that will never reach these shores, Blue Dragon is the first aiming to be in a similar league to Final Fantasy: a gargantuan gameworld, enough cut-scenes to completely fill the mag's coverdisc, and grand boss fights that arrive on an almost hourly schedule. Oh, and it's 1080p-enabled, which helps to explain why it's a game that needs three whole discs.

In terms of the big-name renown involved in Blue Dragon's making, and how much weight it'll carry for long-serving adventure fans, it's the J-RPG equivalent of Elvis getting together with Michael Jackson and Princess Di to make a porno staged on the set of Friends. The developers involved can boast the original Sonic the Hedgehog and the creation of Final Fantasy on their CVs. The soundtrack has been composed by Nobuo Uematsu, responsible for most of the stonking music that's gone down in the Final Fantasy games over the years. And the characters have been designed by artist Akira Toriyama, responsible for the Dragon Ball Z characters, and those of trentfillion-selling outing, Dragon Quest VIII for PS2. If the aim was to capture the hearts of RPG players not interested in 360, this is about as great and tempting a setup as you could possibly want. Has it all paid off? Mostly, yes, and especially in Japan, where it's become the fastest-selling 360 title to date. It's an RPG that, in some ways, is more generic than having ready salted crisps and a glass of water for supper. But, in others, it's got plenty of colour and slick ideas that have clearly been toiled over in a manner that such an epic game demands. The problem (well, it's not really a problem...) is that it's still just an RPG, and any of you out there who've long been turned off by turn-based battles and other perennial features will see no great revolution here. But you may be intrigued, so don't stop reading just yet...

The plot is hardly a shocker: a band of youngsters rise up against a threat that's terrorising their home village, only for it to result in them embarking on an adventure which sees them saving the world. But once the game's slightly ploddy intro is out of the way, and each of the game's heroes (initially it's just Shu, Jiro and Kluke, who are later joined by the slightly mental short-ass Marumaro and royal vixen Zola) have received their iconic shadow-creature forms, you're off, and Blue Dragon starts to unfurl nicely. While fights are underpinned by age-old turn-based mechanics, there's more to it all than first appearances suggest.

For starters, while exploring the world, you can see your enemies, and so can usually choose whether or not to start fights with them, instead of simply having to roam and grit your teeth, being flung randomly into a scrap. There's more, too - you can even attack, paralyse or scare away enemies before they've even got close enough to try and lunge for you. You can attack more than one nearby group at a time, if you like, pausing the game and selecting just who and how many of them you'd like to attack at the same time; the benefits of this are that the more fights you chain at once, the more temporary stat bonuses your team get between each confrontation, and there's even the chance that, brilliantly, the monsters themselves will start in-fighting. On top of that, each character's shadow can be assigned a skill category that unlocks new powers as you level it up, and you can swap between any of the categories as much and as often as you like while keeping those unlocked powers. So there's some satisfyingly roomy customisation to be had, as you select just who gets equipped with what, to best suit how you want to fight.

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