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access_time May 30, 2021 at 11:42 PM in Features by David Poole

Bring it Back | Blue Dragon

It’s Sunday, and that means it’s time for another Bring it Back retrospective. Last week, we checked out Suda51 and James Gunn’s Lollipop Chainsaw, but this week we’re shifting gears a bit. With the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Dragon Quest franchise, we decided to look at a different “Dragon” series. Interestingly enough, this one also involves character designer Akira Toriyama. Of course, we’re talking about Mistwalker’s Blue Dragon series! The series has dabbled in various RPG genres, though it’s been over a decade since the last game, so now it’s the focus of today’s retrospective.

Blue Dragon was one of the original projects meant to help make the Xbox 360 an appealing console to the Japanese market. Announced even before the Xbox 360 name was finalized, the game would be published by Microsoft as Mistwalker’s first game. This would be using the dream team of original Final Fantasy director Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest character designer Akira Toriyama, and even Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Ueamatsu. The game would also be co-developed by Artoon, who at the time were best known for the Blinx games. The game was targeting a 2006 release, and despite rumors of a delay, it made it to Japan by the end of that year on three discs (the first Xbox 360 game to be on multiple discs).

It would release in other regions in August of the following year. Despite having many big names attached, including Sakaguchi, the game was directed by Artoon’s Takuya Matsumoto. After previously directing Blinx 2: Masters of Time and Space, this Blue Dragon would be his next venture. The biggest challenge for the team at Artoon was adapting to a new genre. Their previous games were mostly action titles, so moving into a turn-based RPG was new territory for them. With the help of Sakaguchi’s supervision and writing, they were able to develop a cohesive project.

The entire concept of Blue Dragon is the idea of ordinary people gaining a new ally in the form of magical shadows. By swallowing light orbs, these people would become shadow wielders, gaining newfound powers and strength. This is where Shu and his friends, Jiro and Kluke, come in. After falling into the hands of the villainous Nene, the three heroes are thrown to their supposed deaths. Fortunately, through the work of a miracle, they discover three light orbs as a mysterious voice tells them to swallow them. After a few pushes, the three eventually swallow the orbs and gain new magical shadows. Shu gets Blue Dragon, Kluke gains Phoenix, and Jiro obtains Minotaur. With their newfound strength and abilities, they gain the power they need to defeat Nene and his machine army.

Blue Dragon plays like a traditional turn-based JRPG in a lot of ways. Enemies will roam the map and chase after the player, and interacting with them will start a battle. The magical shadows grant special magic and abilities, giving the characters a fighting chance. Throughout the journey, they’ll encounter more allies, including Marumaro and Zola, who also wield magical shadows. The five continue their adventure until they would eventually get their fight against Nene, who is attempting to absorb their shadows for himself.

With a story spanning three discs, of course there’s a lot of events to unfold. Interestingly enough, the game doesn’t use cel-shading, instead opting for more traditional rendering. However, Blue Dragon does offer English voice acting, which gives it extra points for presentation. The game gained pretty positive critical reception, and even sold pretty decently in Japan. Considering the Xbox 360’s lukewarm popularity in the region, it was still a big win. Despite this, the franchise would continue with a different platform. One that was more popular in Japan.

The Blue Dragon series would transition to the Nintendo DS thanks to co-developers Brownie Brown and feelplus. Blue Dragon Plus would turn into a real-time strategy game in a story that takes place one year after the events of the first game. After the events of the first game, the characters discover a cube that awakens a shadow named Balaur. This mysterious three-headed shadow would be the new focus of the plot as our heroes go on yet another journey. Releasing in 2008 in Japan and 2009 in other regions, this sequel didn’t get a lot of notoriety unfortunately.

It’s really quite unusual too, because there was such a big push to make the series big. In 2007, Pierrot would produce an anime series for the franchise. Not only did it get an English dub thanks to Viz, but it also managed to reach 102 episodes. For a video game anime series, that’s no small feat, and it’s rather impressive to see. Despite this push, the series still had trouble gaining attention.

In 2009 and 2010, the series would make one final push with Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow. The series would transition once again to a real-time combat system, with additional development from tri-Crescendo and Namco. Releasing on the Nintendo DS as well, this sequel would take place a year after the previous game. Instead of playing as Shu and his friends, the game offers a new protagonist that players can customize. This protagonist can be either male or female, and the previous protagonists act as AI party members. One more interesting element is that shadows are no longer exclusive to a specific user, meaning anyone can summon any shadow. With shadows disappearing and your new protagonist waking up during the event, we get yet another new adventure.

While it’s been more than ten years since the last release, the gaming space has changed quite a bit. Japanese games are getting bigger audiences, and new platforms are performing in unexpected ways. Consoles like the Nintendo Switch give a lot of games a large audience to pull from, and social media gives more marketing opportunities. While the Blue Dragon series isn’t the first RPG to come to mind for revivals, it would be great to see a new game. It’s this reason that makes us think it’s time to Bring it Back!

While it’s been roughly 15 years since the original game, the game is still playable on the current Xbox. Thanks to backwards compatibility, gamers today can play Blue Dragon on Xbox One, Xbox Series S and Series X. While the original is a Microsoft published title, it seems like Mistwalker is the rights owner to the series. This means there’s a chance that the original can get a port to other platforms, potentially Switch or PlayStation. A new port with visual enhancements might give the game a new life. It might even be a good idea to give it a cel-shading makeover to give it a more stylish look.

With an updated port, the series can enter the spotlight once again to garner interest in a new entry. The question would be whether the game should continue after the events of Awakened Shadow or not. If it does, it would be best to make an accessible entry that doesn’t require much story context. Bring back all the talent from the originals and you have a potential winner in the books. There are a lot of games that didn’t get the appreciation they deserved during their original release. Giving Blue Dragon a second chance just might be what Mistwalker needs.

What do you think? Were you a fan of the Blue Dragon series? Would you like to see the series return on new platforms? Perhaps even with a visual update? Let us know in the comments below! Also check back next week for our next feature, where we look at a specific Capcom property.

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