We're big-time strategy fans, and it's nice to see a DS game that's as dedicated to those of us who enjoy a good RPG as Blue Dragon Plus is. One of the reasons for this little game's appeal is the work put into it by Final Fantasy vets Hironobu Sakaguchi (who wrote the storyline) and Nobuo Uematsu (who composed the music). They've stuffed 30 good solid hours of gameplay into a well-paced single-player campaign.
If you aren't familiar with the earlier Blue Dragon game (and we weren't), it's probably because the original didn't do so well in the North American market when it was released for the Xbox 360 in Fall of 2007. A quick search on Wikipedia brought this up:
Blue Dragon follows the story of five friends: Shu, Jiro, Kluke, Zola, and Marumaro, as they travel across the world to confront the evil King of the Grand Kingdom, Nene.
The reason the original was not so popular, from what we can gather, is that it was turn-based rather than a true RTS, an error that is corrected to good effect in Blue Dragon Plus.
Blue Dragon Plus, btw, is not (thank god) a card-swapping game, or a Pokemon clone, though it does have traditional Japanese anime characters. The gameplay is pretty straightforward if you are used to RTS strategy games (if not, you're going to want to use the tutorial to get the basics down). The game does a good job incorporating some really pretty cut scenes into the game to get you up to speed on the storyline, which goes something like this:
You are Shu, who apparently triumphed over Nene, that evil king sorceror guy who was causing trouble in the original, only now some new stuff is stirring up (there is a long cinematic intro to the game to give you that, "Wow, the world is in real trouble if we don't do something," feeling of foreboding). It seems that, just for starters, a huge, three-headed dragon has it in for you.
Luckily, you've got your gang hanging with you, ready to fight alongside with their "blue shadow monsters".
A lot of the early game is just pure fighting, without a lot of exploring or treasures or even puzzles to figure out until you get past the initial battles. When you do get the chance to explore, you'll want to take the loot you've earned and split it up among your characters. Besides just being common sense (you'll have a more balanced team), you will end up splitting into smaller groups before the game is done, so it is to your advantage to gear everybody up and balance out their abilities as best you can.
There is no spoken audio in the game, though you have narrative in the form of text cut-scenes, like the one pictured at the left).
Blue Dragon Plus run-down:
The Good Stuff
Cut scenes and cinematic artwork are first-rate. Gorgeous.
Each character is unique, with different skill sets.
RTS rather than turn turn-based play.
Lots of gameplay, including battles galore and tons of loot to re-distribute among your characters (approximately 30 hours).
The not-so-good Stuff:
There's a lot happening on-screen, which makes it hard to zero in with your stylus.
All the action on the little screen means that, despite their unique abilities, it's hard to discern which character is which, so that you can pick out the right one(s) to help you win your battles.
Blue Dragon Plus (DS) released on Feb. 24th, and it retails for $29.99. Right now, you can catch it at Amazon for 27.99.