Blue Relfection: Second LightOctober 25th, 2021
PlatformNintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC (Steam)
This review took a long time to make. Why is that? Well, it's because I wanted to be more thorough when analyzing this game's strengths and weaknesses. Blue Reflection: Second Light is a game that's seen as a sort of reboot/sequel to the original Blue Reflection. How does that work? It does away with many controversial aspects while bringing some new takes in the JRPG scene that may or may not benefit it way more in the long run.
Here's the deal. I studied Blue Reflection to know what I was up against and found out that the first entry in Gust's Magical Girl Simulator series wasn't really received that well. While Blue Reflection had some good qualities, most people often disregarded it because of its constant reliance on fanservice. It wasn't hated, but it just didn't make much of an impact on the scene.
With Second Light, Koei Tecmo and Gust hope to push that away and bring a more fun experience that doesn't rely on how much skin characters show. Some people might see this as "unnecessary censorship", but I believe that JRPGs can be seen as fantastic when they hold their own weight through gameplay and memorable story beats, not by how much skin the female cast shows.
Let's start with the topic I mentioned that was controversial. Fanservice is kept to a minimum (it doesn't mean it's completely gone) in Blue Reflection: Second Light. This essentially will allow serious JRPG players like myself to focus on the more personal character moments without having to feel creeped out about the concept of watching a bunch of high schoolers showering while having a conversation.
Moving from that, the game also has doubled down on a more diverse cast that extends between NPCs and playable characters. In other words, you'll be able to take control of more characters and get to meet them on a personal level, be it through their Heartscapes or by exploring the environment. The game focuses on emotional beats with an air of mystery as the girls essentially appear in the world without their memories, and it's up to Ao and her sunshine gang to find out why they lost their memories and see how they can return to the real world.
The main story overall is nothing we haven't seen before. The main protagonist is a character who struggles to find her real identity and gets trapped in an extraordinary world, where she becomes the leader of a group the game calls Reflectors. Ao Hoshizaki essentially goes through a journey helping other girls trapped in the school by restoring their memories and using her own powers to find out what happened in this place and how these girls wound up there.
As Ao explores the school with her friends, her group of companions grows in numbers with each memory they gather. Memories also manifest themselves in what's known as Heartscapes. Heartscapes are mysterious spaces that exist outside of the school Ao and her friends are trapped in. Each Heartscape has its fair share of monsters that Ao and her friends will have to fight against while attempting to find Memory Fragments that belong to somebody in her group.
As you might expect, the plot's mystery unfolds and questions begin to rise as Ao finds out more about the place she's trapped in. How did she get there? Who are these companions that appear after someone remembers something? How does one become a Reflector and why is Ao one of them? These questions, however, take a bit of a backseat to focus more on the relationships between Ao and her friends.
Ao has the chance to explore the school and build her relationships with other cast members. Players are driven to build up relationships between Ao and the other girls that reside in the school. This will, in turn, increase their power through Talents that can passively aid the party during combat individually or as a group.
In the school, Ao can also use the game's crafting system to create school buildings. Using materials you collect from the battles, the game's characters will be able to collect materials to build facilities that can grant the characters some neat stat bonuses or add some spicy modifiers that remind me of the suicide builds in games like The World Ends With You.
As you progress through the story and meet more characters while building more facilities, Ao can also go on dates with other main characters. This allows her to learn more about the other girls and what they think about the current situation or just hang out in one of the facilities. The game really wants you to focus more on building facilities and relationships rather than fighting monsters in the Heartscapes.
However, this doesn't mean that the combat isn't fun or that it's lackluster. In fact, I believe this is the most fun aspect of the game. Blue Reflection: Second Light's combat can be seen as a more refined way to play from what World of Final Fantasy brought. The game's Gear system focuses on waiting for characters to get EP to attack. Spending EP increases their Gear level and grants the girls access to more attacks and also speeds up their EP recovery gate.
At Gear 3, the characters gain access to their Reflector forms. Not only is their recovery speed increased, but the intensity of their attacks is also much higher. At this point, the characters also get access to some incredible boosted versions of her attacks or healing spells. It's important to balance how long you wait until you perform your next set of actions and what your enemies are doing since there's a risk-reward situation between how much EP you collect and how long you let the enemy stand by.
Players can knock down an enemy, causing them to lose all collected ether, allowing for a massive advantage in battle. However, the same can happen if the enemy pressed your player character too much. Suffering a knockdown will make the character lose one of her gears and also lose all of her collected EP while leaving her vulnerable to attack. While there are some spells that you can use to get a character to stand back up, it's often better to just avoid getting Knocked Down altogether or switch characters to stay in the fight while the knocked character recovers.
As the player builds up combos of attacks and offensive spells, they can downright stomp some incredibly powerful foes. Of course, the game's difficulty will always scale and make achieving the knockdown status harder. However, when you do manage to beat a boss so hard they get knocked down, you'll have access to what's known as a One-on-One Attack.
In this part, one of the characters will leap forward and face the boss directly. From here, the battle becomes a back and forth where you can perform attacks, counter enemy attacks or perform supportive actions like healing spells. This part of the game can be quick because it also puts the player at risk of losing HP for that character. So, it requires some finesse and game sense to get through these sections unscathed while dealing as much damage as possible.
Learning the ins and outs of combat is essential to make quick work of the enemies in Blue Reflection: Second LIght. However, if you think that this is going to be a smooth experience because you dominate the combat, then you're sorely mistaken. The main problem I have with Blue Reflection: Second Light is just how damn monotonous it can get in the early game.
This is made abundantly clear when you're expected to build facilities as part of sidequests or to gain access to more dates to get more TP. In order to have important things such as being able to start quests from Second Gear, I had to beat certain sidequests that required me to grind for materials in Heartscapes I've already beaten.
I would have less of an issue with this system if there was a way to gather resources quickly during the early game. Unfortunately, no such solution exists, and thus, my enjoyment of the game decreased whenever I had to essentially turn "Auto-pilot mode" just to fight a bunch of enemies repeatedly so I could get the resources to finally craft the thing this one character wanted me to build...So I could gather enough TP to get those abilities that make combat smoother.
Not helping is that in some of the character interaction sequences (especially in dates), the cast feels like they're reading lines off a script for a terrible anime rather than interacting as the literal human beings they're supposed to be. Granted, this game takes place in a version of Japan where every male is a fucking asshole that deserves to be punched in the face at least twice. So, maybe the bland acting between the girls is their way of coping with the abuse and traumatic experiences they go through.
Needless to say, I was bored while reading some of the interactions between the girls. Every time I found myself with a plot point I didn't like (and there were a lot), I was constantly predicting the twist in the plot. "Oh, let me guess, the father of the girl was expecting the girl to do a thing because he's so thirsty with power". Then, I saw the confirmation happening as soon as I collected one of the memory shards.
At the very least, some of the interactions made me even feel some sympathy for the characters. The story between Rena and Yuki, for example, is one of the most tragic of the bunch. Not only because of its implications (which I'll leave off for now as it is a bit of a complicated subject) but also because it's a tragic story of a tense relationship that ended abruptly by things beyond their control. So, there clearly are going to be different stories that will move different players in this game.
Another thing that absolutely made me lose my marbles were the Stealth sequences. In some sidequests (and at some point in the main story), Ao and company will meet with enemies that are "too powerful for them to handle". Thus, they have to essentially avoid the monsters and their fields of Vision through Search Mode.
This could work on paper if it weren't for the fact that monsters often have random walking patterns, which often means they will have a lot of instances where their sightlines end up crossing up. So there's a lot of tedious trial and error involved in the Stealth sections, which makes it even more frustrating when a particular Stealth mission ends with the cast fighting off a bigger demon anyway.
We're getting to the end, so I'll tackle just one more aspect. The visuals and music of this game are some of the absolute best I've seen in a while. Blue Reflection: Second Light has some incredible music that combines techno beats with orchestral. Of course, I am a sucker for techno music, especially during boss fights.
The game runs at a smooth 60FPS and you bet that it can also run at resolutions of up to 4K. It's a beautiful-looking game with varied environments which I believe can work as a screensaver. I mean, it was to be expected as the game has an integrated Photo Mode so every angle of the places you explore has to look just as beautiful to match.
Blue Reflection: Second Light is an incredible magical girl adventure that takes place in a world where all men are pigs and every woman is a teenage high schooler facing a dreamy summer vacation experience where they get to kick some major monster butt. The game's high points certainly outweigh the low points. However, you'll definitely know those low points when you get to them.
I would recommend this game to players who want to focus more on the characters than the impending high-stakes plot that often accompanies JRPGs. While there's a big plot going on, it isn't the main focus of Blue Reflection: Second Light. The game looks beautiful and it's a rather straightforward experience with fast-paced combat sequences that are a breath of fresh air in the JRPG space.
Do I think it's a magnificent game that outdoes the first game in every single way? Well, it certainly has taken steps over the original and became a far more recommendable RPG. However, there are still some sequences that can drag. Overall, this is a step in the right direction for Gust games. I can only hope that the next game becomes even better.
Reviewed on PC (code provided by the publisher).
Blue Reflection: Second Light builds upon many of the positive aspects while updating its combat system to be accessible for a broader JRPG fan audience. This is a step in the right direction that, while it may have some painful lows, also has some incredible highs that make for an overall great experience.
- Excellent visuals and music
- Innovative ATB-like system for combat
- Reduced fanservice which allows for a more focused experience
- Some incredible dynamics between members of the main cast
- Stealth Sections. All of it's a con.
- Fights can become repetitive when grinding for resources
- Some character interactions are bland and boring
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