Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi founded the game studio Mistwalker in 2004. He’s still trying to figure out what gamers want from him. Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is his third pass on a universe he co-created with Dragonball Z artist Akira Toriyama—it’s a world crawling with monsters, embedded with ancient secrets, and populated by young heroes eager to deal with the latter two. While Sakaguchi has stuck to his guns with regards to character and setting, he’s been experimenting with the form of the RPG—desperately searching for a way to play that connects with contemporary gamers.
In Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow, he toys with the hack-and-slash of action games and finds a good fit. Fighting takes place in real time, and requires a modicum of strategy. Players whack with one button and block with another. Spells are charged and triggered on the touch-screen. Encounters aren’t random; to engage a creature, you simply walk up to it or burn it with magic from a distance. Apart from equipment and a couple of customizable skills, players have little control over their party-mates, but the bots do an admirable job of dealing damage and throwing heals when needed.
The format carries over nicely to multiplayer (over the Internet or local wireless), where players can outfit their characters to handle more specialized roles and tackle tough monsters for better loot. But the game requires you to have known friends playing the game, severely limiting chances to play online.
A killer item-crafting-and-upgrading system keeps the game’s loot flow compelling. But the game’s localization and pointless voice acting detract from the customization. Who needs voice acting in a portable RPG, anyway? Sakaguchi succeeds best when he dabbles in role-playing classicism. The game’s first moments (in a predictable castle setting) unfold predictably, with wandering, tutorials, and plenty of villages to chat up. But when players finally board a Mechat flying machine and the game world opens up, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow manages, in spite of format and flaws, to instill a sense of wonder. And that’s exactly what we’re after, Sakaguchi.