The original Blue Reflection felt like an experiment. They had all these good ideas for a JRPG, but likely did not have the time or the budget to really fully realize said ideas. It was for that reason that I ended up giving it a negative review just last week. So, I went into this sequel expecting maybe some minor improvements, but nope – it is hardly even the same game anymore.
Okay – so I’ll start with what is perhaps the biggest question behind this game: “Do I have to play the original Blue Reflection first”. The short answer is “no, but it’s still recommended if you want the full experience”.
Second Light features an entirely new main cast of characters and the story is mostly told without being too reliant on the first. I say mostly because yes, the cast from the first do eventually make their way into this story, but it’s done in a manner that you would be able to understand even without being familiar with them.
In fact, the game as a whole feels like a soft reboot for the series – designed to get a bunch of newcomers into it without requiring the knowledge from the first game, yet still leaving some nice tidbits here and there that only fans of the original would pick up on. This extends to the anime adaptation as well: Blue Reflection Ray. That finished airing a little over a month ago and served as a spinoff of the original game, introducing characters that do eventually make their way into this game.
I myself did not actually finish that anime (it was painful enough to get through just the first couple episodes), yet I had no trouble getting to know the characters from it in the game – so again, you can just start from Second Light and be completely fine.
Okay, now the combat. Despite how simple the combat in the first game was, I kinda liked it. It was effective and perfectly matched the game’s laidback, slice of life feel. Second Light, on the other hand, completely throws that combat system out the window for an active-time battle system – similar to what we got in the recent Atelier Ryza games.
Battles are far faster as a result and with the changes to the ether system, they only get faster the longer you’re in a battle. The MP system is removed entirely and now attacks, skills, and items all consume ether, which is regenerated at different rates per character depending on their stats. You’re able to swap between the three characters at any time during battle and issue commands that way or you can toggle the two side characters to “auto” and retain control of just your main character – a nice quality of life feature.
All that said, I am a bit torn on this system. It is a completely different feel from the previous game and, while cool in theory (just like Ryza), it does come with some problems. Mainly, it’s that it takes away a lot of the variety that the first game had with regards to its skills. Whereas in the first game, I was constantly scrolling through my different attacks and figuring out which best to use in a given fight – this game it is 95% of the time just going to be one of my basic attacks. I would enter a fight, spam A throughout the entire thing, and call it a day.
You would think – okay, just up the difficulty, but that is not really an option here. Hard difficulty is not unlocked until you fully clear the game once, so you have to do your first playthrough on normal and I found it to be a bit too easy. Even after I intentionally kept myself underleveled by avoiding a lot of the enemies on the map, I still had no trouble clearing each and every encounter I ran into – party wiping maybe three or four times total across the entire game.
Around halfway into the game, I stopped caring to even figure out the best party composition, which skills to unlock, and even what moves I was using – it hardly mattered with how easy it is and with how the ether mechanic is designed. Just keep spamming those basic attacks and you’ll build up your combo quickly, which in turn allows you to do more damage with your next basic attack and so on. The only thing to really shake this up was whenever I needed to guard an enemy’s mega attack to prevent my combo from being broken or whenever I needed to heal.
The combo system in particular feels like it is designed to encourage frequent use of these low level skills to build it up quickly, which in turn discourages you from saving your ether and waiting for it to build up to use a bigger attack. Even in boss fights, you can get by simply by using the same attacks over and over, with the added mechanic of actually needing to use your items to keep your party alive. In fact, later in the game, boss fights were more so me figuring out what item to use next rather than what skill.
Boss fights also introduce a “one on one” battle mechanic, where if you manage to knockdown said boss by attacking it enough, you’ll be thrown into a one on one with whatever party member last hit the boss. These battles take place in real time and, again, are a cool addition, but with some flaws. Differing attack animation lengths on both characters and bosses make it difficult to figure out who exactly you are sending into these one on ones and it is also difficult to figure out the proper timing for attacks, dodges, and parrying because again, animation lengths vary wildly and it’s more of a trial and error affair.
Finishing up the game, I couldn’t escape this feeling that the battle system was just underutilized. It has all these cool mechanics, but the low difficulty and emphasis on building up combo quickly leave it feeling a bit repetitive – an overall downgrade from the first game.
And – fortunately – that is where the downgrades stop. Because literally everything else about the game has been VASTLY improved from the original. I am positive that the devs saw the success of Atelier Ryza and were like “okay, let’s take that, and try to make a new Blue Reflection in that style” while keeping what makes the original unique.
Take for example the level design. In the first game, it was some hot garbage – mostly small groups of pathways and platforms. In Second Light, they went all out. Now there are multiple areas per biome, movement options outside of just… walking, and some actual exploration elements, even if on the lighter side. Some areas may have an object that you can’t remove until you have a certain tool, for example. The new areas are also far more dense, with more detail put into individual buildings and the overall geography being much more varied.
That, combined with the fact that each area has its own set of enemies and items to gather, emphasize the new crafting system – another massive upgrade from the original. You now have access to a mountain of items to craft for battle and a bunch of other material that ultimately feed into the new “school development” feature. This feature has you straight-up creating new buildings and other objects to physically place around the school – each granting some sort of buff (usually in battle). It’s a simple, yet fun feature to play around with that aids in making the side content much more bearable this time.
Because in the first game – the mandatory filler side quests are what ultimately killed the experience for me. Having to do fetch quest after fetch quest just to get to the next chapter was some incredibly boring stuff, so I was very happy to see that done away with entirely in Second Light. Now, side quests are just that – optional side quests. That said, they’re also more varied. Aside from the usual “craft this for me” or “kill this enemy for me”, a lot of them now have you build unique school development stuff – stuff that you actually can use outside of that individual side quest.
There are even some side quests that straight up expand on individual characters by having you explore different areas with them to unlock their memories. You sometimes have to do some boring stealth missions, but it’s at least much better off than the filler that the first game had. There are dates too. You’re able to ask the different girls out to visit different areas of the school and these too are improved from the original game and actually add a bit of character to each, well, character. And as for those yuri undertones in the first game? Well, let’s just say that they might not simply be undertones in this one.
And of course, the story – perhaps the biggest upgrade from the original. It still has the same overall school-magical girl theme told across different character arcs, but there is FAR more focus placed on a larger, more connected story instead of just rushing things right at the end like the last game. Character arcs are almost immediately tied into this bigger story and the game does a great job balancing out character development with this larger mystery.
The game as a whole takes a darker tone than the original, taking place in an alternate world where only the school exists and characters having no memory of how they got there. The pacing starts off slow, but ramps up around the halfway point once you start realizing the truth behind this world. It doesn’t go completely overboard either – in fact, it might actually be a bit too slow. Perhaps this is just because the game is longer (this one took me just over 30 hours whereas the first took just 20), but I felt like they could have shaved off a bit towards the end to make it flow better.
There’s a lot of extra dialogue that isn’t entirely necessary and the story has this bad habit of going over the same plot point over and over, oftentimes overexplaining itself and leaving nothing up to interpretation. Granted, some might enjoy this, but for me it did bring down the story a bit. Still an interesting story for sure (and definitely better than the first game), but not quite at the level that I would call it anything more than just “good”.
Then there’s the quality of life features – yet another massive upgrade. Auto battle, cutscene skipping, instantaneous loading between different areas, map markers, auto saves, sprinting, improved fast travel, item sorting – improvements across the board that make the game far more playable.
And of course, the aesthetic. Just as with the first game – it is some top-tier stuff. I am a huge fan of the urban fantasy magical girl aesthetic and Second Light only expands on the first game in this regard with the improved world detail and upgraded visuals that bring it more in line with the recent Atelier games. It’s definitely not a shining example as far as actual graphical quality, but the setting, character designs, and overall theme are solid.
The music, while still good, I did not find to be quite as good as the first game. It’s still got that nice mix of laidback slice of life stuff and more energetic battles themes, but it just doesn’t quite reach the quality of the first – which, granted, was kinda setting the bar really high to begin with. The studio recognizes this too, including some of the tracks from that game into this one.
As for the PC port, it’s actually pretty good. The first game somehow used 100% of my RTX 3080 Ti even with the fps capped to my monitor’s refresh rate, but this one ran just fine at 155 fps without turning my computer into a jet engine. There are far more graphical options to change this time too, so there is ample room to finetune settings if you need to.
One recommendation I will make – do disable the game’s depth of field setting, it is WAY more aggressive than it needs to be. Otherwise, the only other problems I had were with the game always launching in windowed (which you can solve by hitting F9 at the main menu) and a game crash about two hours in. I didn’t lose much progress due to the new auto save feature, but any crash is worth mentioning.
And surprisingly, the keyboard and mouse controls are actually NOT garbage this time around. A bit unusual, given it’s a Koei Tecmo release and all, but there’s actual mouse support in the menus, on the field, and it doesn’t feel like it’s just emulating a controller. I still used a controller myself, but it’s one of the few Koei Tecmo PC ports where the keyboard and mouse controls would be a viable alternative – I had no problems with them during my testing and they are rebindable too.
Blue Reflection: Second Light is an overall improvement over the first game in almost every regard. A more fleshed out story, a bunch of useful quality of life features, much better visuals, vastly improved level design, a decent PC port – it’s got a lot going for it. Unfortunately, the combat is a bit of a mess and the game is far too easy, making a lot of the new combat additions redundant. That, and while the story itself is interesting, it doesn’t come without its problems. Still, I had a good time with it in spite of these faults and would recommend it if you like Gust JRPGs.
Quote: Blue Reflection: Second Light is an overall improvement over the first game with regards to story, level design, and visuals, but it does not come without its problems – notably with its combat.
Blue Reflection: Second Light retails for $60 USD on Steam. It is also available on PS4 and Switch.
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.