Here’s a confession: I have not beaten the game I’m reviewing here today. I had a lot of hope for Awakened Shadow when I picked it up months and MONTHS ago. The original Blue Dragon for Xbox 360 may have been a little kid centric, but it was one of the best old school RPGs I’ve played for the 360 so far. Blue Dragon was wide open for a sequel, since the battle between the plucky group of magic shadow wielders and the ancient Nene had some long-lasting effects on the planet, and I also figured Blue Dragon had something to prove, since it got rather mediocre scores the first time around. I was sorely disappointed. It’s not that the plot or premise were terrible, it’s just that this game was so incredibly half assed I couldn’t bring myself to spend more than a few hours with it.
The plot of Blue Dragon Ascended Shadow takes place a few years after the first game, so be prepared for spoilers, probably. The game begins with two ancients, similar to Nene, wake up out of an extended slumber and promply begin plotting and scheming some bullshit plan or something. They quickly decide to go check on “it” (and yes, the quotes are added every time they talk about “it.” And they call “it” “it” even in times when it makes no sense to refer to “it” as “it,” as if they are being deliberately mysterious even though they are the ONLY TWO ASSHOLES IN THE FACILITY) and then go trekking off through some underground lab to do just that.
But then that stops, and you instead take control of a customizable lad or lass who is woken up out of a sleeping pod with no memory of anything. The game gives you this option, I thought, in order to make you feel more like the hero, but its kind of spoiled when the hero in question actually has speaking parts. Dialogue will pull you further and further from your character, because that’s not what you’d say in that situation. It’s not what anyone would say.
So, off you go, eventually finding an elevator and make it to the surface, where you find Neo Jibral Castle Town, which will act as the base of operations for the whole game. After the events of Blue Dragon, just about everyone alive learns how to use freaky magic shadows. Just before your hero arrives, something happens and everyone loses their shadows, I don’t know or particularly care why.
Then you meet Shu and company. The playable characters from the first game. Here’s where I first noticed the half-assery. Shu’s first lines were fully voice acted. Fine. Then my character responded… in just a block of text. The… hell? And then Shu responded with another voice acted sound bite.
This happens several times. The game can’t be bothered to voice act everything. And also, for the record, it can’t be bothered to determine if your character is male or female. You will be referred to as They a lot.
From there, its off to meet new friends to recruit into your party (more on that in a moment) and off to find out a great destiny, blah blah blah, and maybe find out what happened to all the shadows. You will befriend numerous Blue Dragon universe characters whom you can bring with you on your adventures, but you’re the only one who gains levels because you’re the only one who still has a shadow. The shadow also stretches to your companions, so you can use three different ones per battle, but it’s still technically just the shadow of your main character.
Who, for the record, is dead on in figuring this out. “Oh hey I guess you guys were sharing my shadow,” he or she will say early on. “This has never happened before in recorded history, but I’m really okay and calm with it and everything is normal.”
Combat is also rather clunky. You can use shadow abilities by charging up your attack, and selecting the spell you want to use, but for the most part you just hack, slash and block your way through anything. The problem here is that enemies are a bit on the relentless side. You’ll die a lot. Especially considering your allies have some terrible AI behind them, wherein they also die a lot.
The one redeeming part of the game is that it makes an honest effort at customization. You can combine items, power them up, find new gear and deck your character out with whatever weapon or armor you’d like. The only problem I had with this system is that Dragon Quest IX did the same thing, but much, much better. In a lot of respects, Blue Dragon Awakened Shadow is very similar to Dragon Quest IX, except it seems the DQ team actually cared about making a good game, and the BD team was more interested in what was on TV. Also, the fact that Blue Dragon was hell-bent on making every single character annoying and terrible was pretty awesome too.
There is another Blue Dragon game out there: Blue Dragon Plus. But after playing Awakened Shadow, I think I’ll just let this series just keep on sleepin’.