Blue Reflection Review – School Life Is A Dangerous Thing
Blue ReflectionSeptember 26th, 2017
Developer Gust is mostly known for the Atelier series, but in recent times, the team tried to expand beyond their most successful series with the creation of new IPs. Nights of Azure, while enjoyable, is kind of hit-and-miss, and the same can be said of the team's next new property, Blue Reflection, despite the new game being somewhat better in certain aspects than the team's 2015 action role-playing game.
Blue Reflection's setting belongs to a typical Japanese genre known as Magic Girl, which involves schoolgirls discovering some magical powers that can save the world from destruction. In the Gust-developed RPG, it is Hinako Shirai to discover that she is a Reflector - a magic warrior who has the power to explore a mysterious land known as Common to stabilize humans' emotions and collect Fragments, which increase Reflectors' powers. The ultimate battle for the Reflectors is the defeat of the Sephiroth, powerful otherworldy beings that aim to destroy the world, beings that even have the power to manifest into the real world. Following her first outing into the Common, Hinako gets acquainted with Yuzuki and Lime Shijou, both Reflectors, who explain the battle their kind has to wage, as well as something that will bring Hinako to join the fights. Once the threat is over, Hinako will have the chance to have any wish granted: as she was forced to give up on ballet due to a knee injury, it's easy to understand which wish she will want to be granted.
Blue Reflection's story seems to have been influenced quite a bit by the latest entries in the Persona series, and not just for the school setting, which also influences gameplay considerably. The mysterious Common is said to be born from human subconsciousness, which sounds like the Palaces from Persona 5. The whole "exploring-the-Common-to-stabilize-emotions" is quite close to some Persona 5 story elements as well. Even the Reflectors' transformations, while steeped in the Magic Girl genre, also bring the Phantom Thieves change of outfits in mind. As such, the story is far from being the best we have seen in any JRPG: it's enjoyable, especially for those who love typical Japanese anime storytelling, but it's quite far from being groundbreaking.
Characters, while enjoyable, are also quite tropey. Hinako is your typical shy schoolgirl with a shattered dream, Yuzu the overly-happy girl and Lime the more grounded one. Hinako's schoolmates, who play important roles during the course of the game, are also quite tropey, ranging from the admiring and nerdish type to the love-sick one and so on. Players have the chance to learn more about them by completing optional side-stories, so, at the very least, all important characters receive a good amount of development. Like already stated, it's nothing particularly new or groundbreaking, but it still helps in making the game enjoyable, especially if expectations are kept in check.
The story isn't the only Blue Reflection feature that has been influenced by recent Persona games, as much of the game's progression feels similar to the Atlus developed games. During the course of the game, Hinako will have to complete certain tasks which grant points that count towards chapters' completion. Most of the times, the biggest task is to explore the Common to stabilize someone's emotions, but there are others that have to be completed. Undertaking tasks will move time forward, leaving Hinako with limited time to undertake tasks and participate in a variety of activities. After school, it's possible to invite a friend to places like movie theaters and cafes, increasing affection and unlocking more events. Night activities involve taking a bath, studying and stretching, with the latter two providing stats bonuses for the following day. Like in the Persona games, time management is key to see everything that the game has to offer.
Two aspects where the game breaks away from the Persona series and other Gust-developed games are the battle system and the related RPG mechanics. Blue Reflection employs a turn-based system where the three main characters and enemies take turns to execute actions. All come with a WT, which can be kept track of in the upper Timeline bar, WT that can be altered by using the right skills. Except for regular attacks, all skills require MP, which can be replenished in battle with the glorified defend command called Ether Charge.
The character leveling system is probably the most interesting feature of Blue Reflection. Doing away with a traditional EXP system, the game uses Growth points to increase stats, which are not obtained by winning battles, but by completing tasks. These points can be freely in 4 different attributes - Attack, Defense, Support, and Technic - which influence which stats increase the most. Dependent on the attributes levels are also skills, which are learned when certain attributes reach specific levels. Skills can also be further improved by Fragments, which may grant lowered MP cost, increased damage and more. With these systems in place, players have quite a bit of customization possibilities, which sadly don't end up mattering too much due to game's incredibly low challenge level. Even on Hard, most battles are a breeze, a shame considering the leveling system has a lot of potential.
Boss battles, while easy, are, at least, very well crafted. During these battles, the three Reflectors will be supported by the other side characters, with some cheesy support attacks that are well suited to the game's setting. These battles also require a little more of strategic thinking that regular encounters so they're quite welcome to break the monotony of battling regular mobs.
One area where the game does quite well is the presentation. While graphics are not exceptional and performance is quite uneven, with weird drops during cutscenes where there's not much going on, the interface and menus are quite stylish and dynamic. The art style also gives the game a rather interesting atmosphere, with a melancholy that seems to permeate everything, likely trying to represent Hinako's current state of mind. The soundtrack, the first one composed solely by composer Hayato Asano, is also quite good, with quiet and energetic pieces highlighting some of the most important sequences of the game quite well. The lack of an English dub can also be seen as a strong or weak point, depending on the player's preferences: in a Japanese school setting, listening to characters speak Japanese seems definitely appropriate.
Despite the similarities with the Persona series, Blue Reflection does have some features that make it stand out from the competition, such as the leveling system. Sadly, the excessively stereotyped characters and story, while still enjoyable, and the very low difficulty level prevent the game from being a must-have for all JRPG fans. Gust fans and those loving typical Japanese stories, however, will find plenty to like.
PlayStation 4 version tested (copy provided by the publisher). You can buy it via Amazon.
As a brand new IP, Blue Reflection does its job well and may serve as a good foundation for a sequel, with an enjoyable (albeit not all that original) story, good character development, a unique leveling system, and a stylish presentation. Sadly, most of the game's features resemble too much those found in the latest Persona games and, as such, the game doesn't feel very unique, while the low difficulty level prevents the RPG mechanics from reaching their full potential.
- Very good menu design and presentation
- Enjoyable story and good character development
- Excellent soundtrack
- Unique leveling system...
- ... which fails to shine due to the very low difficulty level
- Tropey characters
- Too much influence from the Persona series
- Setting may not be for everyone