Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is another game I kind of bought off the shelf without doing all too much research into it. It looked quite cool. It turns out considering I have no friends who are sad enough to own a DS and actually buy games then I would probably have been better going for the original release of this series. But that's beside the point. I also didn't realise that this game was really a direct sequel to the previous games in the series and that although you can play it without any understanding of what has happened previously you will find yourself an awful lot less confused if you actually bother to buy the original games first. But we all learn these things through mistakes!
If I'd have actually bothered to look into the series before just deciding to buy because it had a pretty picture of a blue dragon on the front, I probably wouldn't have bothered. And this is because the overall assessment of the Blue Dragon series is that it's not a bad series, but it's always, without fail, one step away from great. One of the main complaints hurled at them is that they haven't found their niche yet because they keep trying so hard to fit into someone elses, with the original Xbox game being an amalgamation of every JPG known to human kind and Blue Dragon Plus on the DS being a rip off of Heroes of Revenant Wings they've never managed anything actually original. Can this one prove any different?
Well, as I mentioned previously this one starts as a direct sequel to the previous DS game and although your character is new to the series none of the other characters are. But anyhow, after customising your appearance with some very impossible hair styles, you wake up in a place that looks a lot like a lab having - surprise, surprise - lost your memory. So, you're an amnesiac who looks like a bit like a twassock...well, we're not winning any stakes for originality at the moment anyway.
Everyone in the town has mastered their shadows from the previous games, until of course you arrive and with a flash of light nobody except you can use their shadows anymore. So the established crew from the previous game; Shu, Kluke and Jiro being the main three, join up with you to try to figure out the mystery of why the shadows have disappeared and how you can get them back. And of course, where you came from and why you have no memories.
But one of the main issues with the game is that the plot is all but forgotten very early on as you end up running errands for characters who really don't seem that concerned by their predicament. This is compounded by the arrival of a load of magic portal doors in the town which have bosses inside them. This at the time feels like a main plot device, but it just ends up being yet another excuse to include a set of mini-quests.It's disjointed and there seems to be a lack of continuity; I know if I'd just lost my main method of defending myself I'd be a little bit perturbed...but quests with no relation to the main plot seem to take precedence and so it takes forever to find out which way the not so original plot is heading.
The gameplay itself is ok. You manoeuvre around using the D controls and you use the A button both to attack and to activate your shadow attacks. The problems come when you start trying to use the B button and the touch screen to dodge moves and to block as then the entire controls system gets very sluggish and you start struggling to do anything without getting killed. It's often much easier to completely ignore that the touch screen controls actually exist and just do the entire thing with attack and 'RUN AWAY' kind of mentality.
But much of the gameplay just involves you running around doing inane mini quests for characters and collecting more characters that you can use in your battles. Nobody actually seems to care that much about the disappearance of their shadows once the original hoo-ha is over. The reliance on mini-quests and fighting through world maps is also made more of an irritation by the fact that your allies are as thick as two short planks (yes, the AI leaves a lot to be desired). Unless you massively over level for each new set of monsters or new boss then you will quickly find that your companions are dead on the floor within seconds and you are trying to do all the work on your own.
The only real redeeming factor is that you can customise your weaponry and armour and mix old weapons into new stronger weapons...this does add a nice touch to it, but overall it's not quite enough to make up for a mediocre plot and mediocre gameplay if we're honest about it. But at least you don't have to simply sell your old equipment for a fraction of the price, and it does add a couple extra hours of gameplay in as you fiddle around with different combinations.
The graphics aren't bad but they aren't spectacular. The sound isn't bad but it isn't spectacular. In fact I seem to be saying that a lot here. The whole thing comes across as rather mediocre. The cut scenes are quite pretty on occasions and the enemies are varied and again well drawn, but there is nothing here that leads to the eye and says 'I'm special!'. To be fair I did appreciate that the 3D efforts for the characters was quite impressive, but unlike some of the recent games I've played it just didn't stand out. I quite appreciated the ability to be able to customise my character so that I had a certain say in what I looked like, but to be honest that's about it. There's nothing anything deeply memorable about anything.
And here is where I think the game was set up for. It was not set up for a single player adventure through the game world, it was set up a multi-player experience. They have included both local wireless and Wi-Fi Connection multi-player support and the disjointed, stand alone quests make a lot more sense if you consider them as an excuse to have a multi-player adventure with friends for a couple of minutes. And I suppose if you buy the game looking for that, knowing that's what you're buying, then you won't be disappointed. But the problem here is that they are selling the game to a generation who are used to and quite happy with the single player RPG experience; particularly on the DS. Personally I have no issue with multi-player being included or not, but I expect it to be included as an extra, a choice and something to enhance the game. I don't expect it to domineer the game and make it a rather lacklustre experience to play if you have to play it as a single player.
I have very little interest in the multiplayer experience. If I want a multiplayer game then I'll start up the Xbox - so far this urge hasn't yet hit me. I even play the Xbox as a single player RPG experience. I've been born and bred on the likes of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Pokemon which offer a real single player experience as you travel through the game world. The focus on multiplayer lets it down here because they haven't catered for the many players who actually want an RPG world.
It's not a bad game. Let's be fair, it's actually quite enjoyable to play for short snatches before you put it away to find something more engaging. But it's disappointing because they have overshadowed a plot which could have been entertaining and engaging if it hadn't ended up being so shallow and disjointed. The focus on the multiplayer experience is all well and good, but that only works if you provide a certain amount of meat for those of us poor souls who don't have friends to work with. And this just didn't materialise.
It's a solid attempt at what could have been a good game. It just doesn't quite reach the mark, so perhaps in keeping with the family tradition Blue Dragon has yet again managed to provide a 'not quite up to scratch' game. At the very least they needed to have offered gamers a half decent plot which isn't forever interrupted by mindless quests, but even this appeared to be too much for them. It was created by several well known studios including Mistwalker and tri-Crescendo so it has the potential to be up there with the best of them. Unfortunately it seems, even the best of creators can screw up sometimes. If the characters had properly developed personalities this may have actually carried the game, but without these the plot just isn't complex enough to actually carry it.
I have to admit, I might also be slightly peeved because typos irritate me and the typos in this are somewhat uncountable, particularly if you add the grammatical errors into the equation. And I'm not even talking minor errors here and there, I'm talking major, glaring, in your face grammatical errors. The least of all being the fact that the game never actually bothers to figure out whether you are male or female and so resorts to calling you 'them' or 'those'.
This is what can be called a solid hit right in the middle of mediocrity. It's not bad, and I promise I'm saying this for the last time now, but it's not much more than a couple of hours of amusement here and there. Possibly if you play multi-player then this might just about be a half decent game, but for the majority who buy a DS RPG looking for an engaging single player world this isn't worth the effort.