I play pretty much everything Gust develops, so in anticipation of next week’s Blue Reflection: Second Light – I decided to prepare by powering through the original.
Okay, I won’t deny, I went into this game expecting to love it. The aesthetic is totally my style – a slice of life Japanese high school with an urban fantasy magical girl theme. Half of the game takes place in the real world and the other half in an alternate world called the Common. When you’re in the real world, you’re going through the usual high school drama, having fun with your friends, and just living life.
When you’re in the Common, you’re defeating demon-like enemies, hunting down items for crafting, and delving into the “truth” behind some of the problems facing the characters in the real world. It’s kinda like a cross between an Atelier game and Persona, with the lighthearted story and character interactions of the former, but the darker, psychological stuff from the latter. There’s even some yuri undertones thrown in there.
On the surface, it’s all fun and games, but the game loop revolves around you meeting new characters, getting to know them and their underlying psychological problem, and diving into the Common to investigate said problems – eventually earning their friendship after which point they will assist you in battle. The entire thing is wrapped up in a larger story, but the main focus here are the individual character arcs.
And yes, aesthetically the game is some top-tier stuff. Not so much the actual graphical quality, but rather the game world, the character designs, the enemies and bosses, and the music – the last of which is so good on its own that I was already familiar with it far before getting into this game. It’s got that same vibe as an Atelier game, with a nice mix of laidback, whimsical slice of life stuff and these way more fast-paced battle themes that are easily some of the best from any Gust game.
On paper, this all sounds great. I love Atelier and I love Persona, so it should have worked. Problem is, it doesn’t. Characters are introduced so quickly and dealt with just as quickly that you hardly get to really know them or care for them at all – and that’s the bulk of the story. There are bond events you can do outside of their individual arcs, but these came across as filler more than anything – like you could have swapped in ANY of the characters and it would have had the same effect. It is like they were written as templates and the specific character only inserted afterwards.
Even beyond the story, filler is what ultimately kills this game. Each story chapter has you go through the little character arc and then you are subjected to a “free time” chapter, where you must do repetitive side quests to grind enough points to progress to the next chapter, only to repeat it again during the next chapter and so on. When the side quests are literally ALL variants of “kill x of this enemy” or “collect x of this item” in the same three or four areas, it quickly becomes a chore.
So not only are the character arcs shallow, but then you got this free time stuff taking up the other half of the experience – not a good combo for a 20 hour JRPG. It’s like they had all these good ideas for a JRPG and could not figure out how to break outside of the traditional JRPG formula. It goes: dialogue, mid-boss, dialogue, boss, dialogue, free time, and start over again. There’s nothing in there to shake this up, it’s just this extremely structured formula all the way to the end.
I will give the game some credit through – the combat is at least pretty good as far as turn-based JRPGs go. It reminds me a lot of the earlier Atelier games, where the party size is small, but each member is given a bunch of different moves to use. There’s a mix of support abilities, single-target spells, multi-target mega attacks, and, of course, flashy finishing moves. An entire other layer is added in the form of the “ether” mechanic, which allows you to do actions outside of your own turns like guarding right before an enemy attack.
It’s not the most in-depth system, but if you like the turn-based Atelier games – you’ll probably like this combat too. That said, it comes with one major downfall: it’s too easy. I played a good chunk of the game on medium before swapping to hard and even then I still managed to clear most encounters in just a few moves – before enemies were even able to get off one attack. Even the bosses you can cheese by continuously slapping them with knockback moves. It wasn’t until I got to the final boss that I actually got party wiped for the first time.
I guess on one hand, yeah this is more of a laidback, comfy JRPG, but there should still be at least a little bit of challenge for those that want it. There is no proper new game+ either, so you’re just kinda stuck with it as it is. In fact, the only thing new game+ appears to do is allow you to skip text, a feature that for some reason they decided to leave out of the main game. And this is a feature it desperately needs, as there are so many cutscenes and so much dialogue to this game that if you do end up dying and having to reload, it is an absolute pain having to sit through hit all again.
Even when in battle, you are unable to skip or speed up any of the animations, a lot of which can last more than five or so seconds so it does get a bit old seeing them over and over. The quality of life in general is lacking here, with the game preventing you from saving in a lot of scenarios, no cutscene pausing or skipping, no auto saves, and no auto battle or ability to setup custom battle commands. It’s pretty much just a straight port to PC with none of the usual extras we get with other modern JRPGs.
And on the topic of that port, this game is a bit demanding for how it looks. I mean, it doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t look any better than literally any other PS4 JRPG but for some reason demands 100% GPU usage of my RTX 3080 Ti at 1440p. I have no idea why it needs so much, but it at least didn’t stutter or drop frames on my system, might take some configuring for other cards though.
For those going in without a controller – don’t. In typical Koei Tecmo fashion, there is no mouse support, so you have to control both movement and camera with a keyboard and it just does not feel good to play. Absolutely not a game I would recommend if you do not have a controller to play it with.
Otherwise, I did not run into any issues outside of this one bug where I fell through the level and lost maybe thirty minutes of progress (which would have been solved had the game let me save where I wanted to). So it’s not the worst Koei Tecmo PC port, but I wouldn’t say it’s a good one either, just mediocre. It’s been out since 2017, so any and all hope for updates to fix it now rest with modders.
Blue Reflection, unfortunately, is more style than substance. While the aesthetic and music are some top-tier stuff, the story and overall game design are just not up to par. When the game isn’t rushing you through character arcs, it’s dumping mountains of repetitive filler content onto you – content that is required to progress and takes up a solid chunk of the overall game time. A shame, because the foundation for a good JRPG is there (the battle system is really cool, for example), but the content is just lacking. I’m hoping that the sequel coming out next week (which I will also be taking a look at) can fix up some of these problems.
Quote: Blue Reflection, unfortunately, is more style than substance. While the aesthetic and music are some top-tier stuff, the story and overall game design are just not up to par.
Blue Reflection retails for $60 USD on Steam and is also available on PS4.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.