Blue Dragon Plus is not, as its title might suggest, one half of an unfinished Japanese role-playing game equation. This comes as somewhat of a disappointment. How cool might a game called Blue Dragon Plus Final Fantasy be? Or, say, Blue Dragon Plus Dragon Quest? Then, though, we'd have to work out the answers to those equations, the results of our Frankenstein mathematics. So, Blue Dragon Plus Final Fantasy Equals Blue Fantasy, which sounds like some kind of porn film. And Blue Dragon Plus Dragon Quest Equals Dragon Dragon, which sounds like an ill-conceived kung-fu flick.
No, Blue Dragon Plus is neither of those things. What is it is a somewhat unexpected DS real-time role-playing game that acts as a quasi-sequel to Blue Dragon, the super cute 360-exclusive JRPG from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. No porn. No kung-fu.
Perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised to find the game in existence. Yes, Blue Dragon on 360 wasn't the success Microsoft hoped it would be, but there's a popular Blue Dragon cartoon on the Cartoon Network in the US. Blue Dragon Plus, then, is, in a round about way, a licensed game, with as much in common with hardcore JRPG games on the DS as Spongebob Squarepants.
For the uninitiated, Blue Dragon centres on Shu, a young boy who looks like you'd imagine a young boy JRPG lead to look. Shu and several of his friends possess the ability to control phantom shadows that are tied to the their masters' feet. They're a bit like the summons in Final Fantasy, except instead of appearing from the sky, or the bowels of the earth, they're, well, your shadow manifested into a powerful monster.
Blue Dragon Plus is set one year after the events of Blue Dragon. At the end of that game, Shu and his mates defeated the tyrannical remnant of the ancients, the evil big bad boss Nene. During the fight, the world split in two and ended up consisting of loads of cubes that exploded from its depths.
One year on, King Jibral notices a mysterious cube, and the shadow of a three-headed dragon attached to it. This is bad. Very bad. And so, it's up to Shu and co, and their phantom shadows, to save the day.
If Blue Dragon on 360 seemed like an awkward fit, Blue Dragon Plus on the DS fits like a glove. The cute art style makes more sense. The Akira Toriyama character design and Nobuo Uematsu soundtrack more fitting. The real-time combat in joyful merriment with the DS touch screen stylus controls. In short, it feels as if Blue Dragon's come home.
It rekindles memories of Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, Square Enix's somewhat experimental real time combat DS RPG. The game follows a typical pattern - story, dialogue, then a combat situation. When a battle starts enemies begin moving toward your party members, hell bent on reducing your hit points to nil. You control movement of your party members by first touching their symbol and then touching a point on the map. To attack, activate a party member then touch an enemy. This is Blue Dragon Plus' combat at its most basic.
It gets much more complicated than that of course. There's a good deal of micro-management involved, with individual character special abilities and powers. Each character has strengths and weaknesses, too. Fast moving characters who are weak in combat are best sent darting across the map hunting down treasure, for example. High health characters are best used for "tanking" enemies. High damage characters need to be managed so they're not tied up fighting off more than they can take.
Like Revenant Wings it works, and is fun. Things get very complicated, too. The combat eventually ends up pitting legions against each other - you can control up to 16 humans and mecha robos to fight against the enemy horde. Reassuringly for hardcore JRPG fans, the single-player campaign promises over 30 hours of game play, which sounds just about right for us.
The DS is quickly becoming the number one console for JRPG fans, given the support giants like Square Enix are showering it with. The control scheme stimulating developers, breathing new life into a genre that's struggling to keep up with modern tastes. That Blue Dragon Plus could end up bettering its more illustrious predecessor might surprise some, but it really shouldn't.
Blue Dragon Plus is due out for Nintendo DS in March.