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A niche gem

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    Blue Reflection

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    A niche gem

    Blue Reflection, an RPG that’s sort of like a blend between Persona’s social side and the genre of magical girls popularized by Sailor Moon. This is quite the hidden niche gem, not really standing out but impressive for anyone who’s a fan of the style. I picked this one up out of curiosity from the whole ¡°Sailor Moon meets Persona¡± description that follows this game. I expected an okay game, maybe a fairly good one. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as great as it wound up being. This isn’t going to convert anyone who runs away at the mere mention of anime, nor is it going to wow anyone who’s not a fan of turn-based games, but for it is this game is quite exceptional. Well, a good portion of it is.

    Blue reflection follows the story of Hinako, a Japanese schoolgirl and aspiring ballet dancer who suffered a knee injury that threatens her future dreams. Upon returning to school, she is suddenly thrust into a magical realm where she is physically fine and has supernatural capabilities. A pair of sisters, Yuzu and Lime, inform her that they are all reflectors, guardians of emotions whose duty is to safeguard people’s emotions when they run rampant and let evil creatures loose in the realm of emotions. With a threat that’s pouring over from this realm- known as the common- to the real world, the trio undergo a journey to save the world. It sounds like something written up from a child’s imagination, but it’s told surprisingly well and has some good moments. There will be no awards for amazing narrative, but it’s better than one might think from the premise. There’s a strong focus on coming to terms with emotional development during teen-hood, something that is very symbolic in the games focus on a world that is powered by the emotions of people. It may feel clich¨¦ at times, but clich¨¦s become clich¨¦s because they work as long as time and effort are put into them.

    It takes a while to warm up to the main character, Hinako, who spends a lot of the first couple hours mostly looking dumbfounded and acting startled at everyone she meets. As time goes on, however, you really start to feel for her and her struggles. A lot of the side characters in this game tend to have rather extreme personalities, for better or worse. Some come across as likable and passionate, while some come across as more disturbing. I wouldn’t say subtlety describes the story or the characters, aside from a select few. The main trio of Hinako, Yuzu, and Lime are written well enough and have some really nice moments through the game. Hinako’s background serves as a good motivation for her and the sisters have an interesting sense of mystery about them. Is this among the greatest stories in a game? Absolutely not. It is engrossing, however, and some of the heart-to-heart scenes between the girls can be quite touching. Things can get quite emotional as the story progresses, including an ending that honestly pulls at the heartstrings a little bit. It’s a generic foundation that’s really livened up through its execution. Just tone down a couple of the extreme characters, because some of them are really weird. I mean, we’ve got an aspiring journalist who assumes that you’re an alien from outer space since you came in halfway through the school year. She would make the most hardcore conspiracy theorist say ¡°man, calm it down a little.¡± When the story focuses on the narrative of Hinako, Yuzu, and Lime, it’s at its best.

    This games style has reminded me that photorealistic graphics are not the be-all-end-all of visuals in this medium. High resolution Is certainly nice but it’s the style and art direction that lends charm to a game. Blue Reflection nails that in its magical realm. The visual layout of the various realms you teleport to are absolutely stunning, each reflecting a particular emotion a fantastic manner. The realm of joy is a brightly lit meadow, the realm of sorrow has a quant feel with an endless body of serene water, the realm of anger is like a fiery volcanic area, etc. Not only are these areas impressive to look at, they also do a good job reflecting their emotion in a symbolic manner. It might seem straightforward with things like fire representing anger but it’s a nice touch. Just as impressive to look at are the effects that accompany your attacks in combat, which are quite a stylized spectacle. What this game lacks in graphical horsepower it more than makes up for with its style and creativity, and it really is a marvel to behold.

    If there is one weak point in the visual department, it’s most definitely the framerate. This game doesn’t seem particularly optimized, and for some reason there can be random framerate drops and stuttering. What’s really odd is that it seems to happen at random regardless of what’s actually going on. A battle can run smooth as butter but then a cutscene with a couple characters talking gets jittery for a couple seconds. It’s not game-breaking, but it’s definitely noticeable and a bit annoying at times. Otherwise, the visuals are quite solid.

    Just as solid as the visual department is the soundtrack. The music in this game caught me off guard with how good it is. There’s a strong vibe of calm and serene yet energetic displayed through the soundtrack. The overworld music is quite subtle and soothing, never intrusive but lending itself nicely to the beauty of the game. The main battle music is rather catchy. It’s upbeat yet calming in a way. Most importantly, it never gets tiresome no matter how many battles you endure. I never would’ve expected to enjoy the music as much as I did but it really grew on me.

    Blue Reflection’s combat system was surprisingly addictive. I expected it to be a pretty typical turn-based JRPG system with maybe a few quirks here and there, but despite its familiarity it feels quite fresh and engrossing. There are a lot of little things that enhance the fighting. For one, items cannot be used in battle; you have to consume items before a battle to get their effects. In general, battles seem rather isolated and contained in an interesting way. After each battle health and magic are completely restored, but the battles themselves can sometimes be tougher than your average JRPG battle. Instead of worrying about grinding to the point of wasting magic and items, it’s more about each individual battle. The turn-based combat utilizes a timeline at the top of the screen, where whoever reaches the center next gets the next turn. What makes it really interesting is not only that certain attacks result in a longer wait between turns, but that certain attacks have a knockback effect that can push enemies away from the timeline and give you an extra turn ahead of them. This allows for some strategic thinking, wondering when and where certain attacks are best utilized. Magic points, referred to as ether in this game, can be used up fast, and you have to go into a defensive mode where the character waits a long time as they regenerate. Although at first a bit irritating, I liked how I had to tactfully think about using and regaining magic instead of just popping an item to regain everything. In general, there can be a surprising amount of thought required in tougher fights. This game is never exceptionally hard, but you aren’t going to win every fight just by mashing the attack button constantly. Tougher enemies can really hit hard, and the lack of items during battle makes you stop and think about how to utilize your turns.

    Further enhancing the battle system are emotion fragments called shards you earn throughout the story which can enhance your ability, sort of like equipping accessories. You also have supporting teammates that do not actively fight in battle but can aid in boss fights by occasionally attacking alongside your main trio or otherwise enhancing their abilities. Performing certain actions increases your reflection, which allows you to attack multiple times in one turn when built up high enough. This definitely isn’t your average turn-based fighting system. It has a lot of little quirks and mechanics that add depth and strategy, but despite how many of them there are it never feels too complicated. It’s surprisingly simplistic for everything going. Just equip shards to whatever character you want for their powers, link supporting characters to your main party, and you’re good to go. There’s even a crafting system, which is very simplistic yet a nice little addon. You can combine regular items into more powerful items or combine items to enhance your shards for greater abilities. A small feature that works quietly in the background, never standing out but occasionally making things a little more interesting.

    The game also provides experience based on mission and objectives completed, rather than experience for every fight. This almost completely eliminates the prospect of grinding, keeping the pacing smooth and never forcing you to repeats several battles just to level up. That might be another thing that makes the battle system so much fun; it never feels like you have to grind out battle after battle just to raise your stats, and as a result battles never seem to be forced or overbearing in their frequency. The leveling itself allows for some customization as you put upgrade points into one of four categories that dictate a character’s statistics. Aside from dictating stat growth, you also unlock different abilities depending on how you level up each character. Once again, it’s a neat little way to allow for some customization and thinking without being overly complex. That’s what makes the combat in Blue Reflection so fun; all the additional mechanics are implemented in a way that the gameplay feels fresh and unique and yet incredibly familiar. Most of these aspects have been put into RPGs before, but the way they are all put into this game together is exceptional.

    Then there is the aspect that pulls this game down some, and that’s the social side of the game. Blue Reflection is one of those games where you spend half your time fighting minsters and the other half worrying about school and helping classmates. This is where the whole ¡°Sailor Moon meets with Persona¡± tagline comes into play. While a couple of the classmates you meet are interesting and well-developed, the whole school simulation side is lackluster. It tries to go the route of giving you a social media app for chatting but it’s largely irrelevant aside from some occasionally funny dialogue. Sometimes you can chat with a friend and invite them somewhere or choose how you respond to their conversations, but the actual effect this has on the game feels minor at best. Any apparent choice the game lends you during the story seems trivial, and occasionally pointless. It’s the classic case of picking option A or option B and it never seems that important or detailed.

    In general, the school side of the game feels like the weaker half. The design of the school feels a little generic compared the mystical beauty of the common realm, and the time spent there never feels that engrossing unless it revolves around helping someone out as a mission or the bond between the main trio. The cutscenes and story progression are done well enough, but actually walking around and doing school activities is not quite as fun as the combat in the game. It can feel more like busywork. Unless I’m talking to characters in a meaningful way to progress the story, I’m never all that interested. This aspect of the game isn’t horrible, but it’s a little mundane and nowhere near as good as it could’ve been. Other games have pulled off the implementation of a school life alongside the bigger picture, but it’s not to be here.

    Blue Reflection is still very much a niche title. If one isn’t into the genre of magical girls or they aren’t fond of anime-style games, this is not likely to change their mind. For what it is, however, it’s a surprisingly good game that offers some great combat, nice visuals, an impressive soundtrack, and even an occasionally touching narrative. It could use some work on the school and social of things, as that’s a very hit and miss area. It also could’ve used some better written side characters, ones that aren’t quite as extreme in their personalities. In spite of that, however, it’s definitely worth playing for anyone that’s a fan of the style or the genre.

    +Really stunning graphics in combat and the common realm
    +Surprisingly good soundtrack
    +Incredible combat that feels familiar yet unique
    +The story has some really touching moments with the 3 main girls
    -The school side of the game is lacking in both design and gameplay.
    -Some of the side characters are a little too flat or extreme.

    Final Score: 8/10

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