Blue Reflection, the latest game from developer Gust, is a magical story that focuses on friendship, emotions and growth. Taking on the role of Hinako Shirai, players will soon discover that the world is not all it seems as they become a “Reflector” and are tasked with protecting the world and those within it. From ordinary school girl to magical Reflector, Blue Reflection is a tale of emotional bonds and what drives people forward.
The story for this title is the main driving point and is where all of the game's progression and grind can be found. Both in the real world and in the magical world known as The Common, every action you perform is all in aid of your fight against the evil Sephirot. With friendship as your power the bonds you develop with the many different characters in the game will be key to your success. Though perhaps a bit common in the JRPG world the story of Blue Reflection is engaging enough that it keeps you interested in the world and its characters. That said the game does have a few bad translations found throughout though these don’t take away from the overall writing.
As Blue Reflection is focused on the growth of the characters for social interaction and the bonds of friendship that they create, you will find that battles take a backseat. Now that isn’t to say that battles are far and few between as in fact most of your time is spent in them. The issue is that you won’t actually gain any experience from battles and your health and magic is refilled after each encounter. It’s a step away from the traditional gameplay loop of grinding away in fights to level up your characters as now your focus is on the story and characters. At first this felt very alien to me, not having a bar of progress that I could watch fill up over time but soon enough I was thankful for the change.
Experience points are replaced with growth points which are earned through a number of actions. These include developing bonds with other characters, completing quests, requests and winning important battles. They can also be earned through random events that might happen throughout the day. This is also how you can gain permanent buffs to some of your characters stats such as HP or Luck. How you spend your evenings will impact the following day and raise the chance for these events to take place. For example, I spent one evening studying for the following day, this resulted in me understanding the lesson and therefore I was rewarded with additional HP. The closest comparison that can be made to this system is the likes of the Persona games and how you can develop your characters outside of battles, expect in Blue Reflection you have no time limit.
Battles are still fun mind you, with them taking place in turn-based fashion. The turn order of both your party and the enemies scrolls along the top of the screen allowing you to know who will be acting when and in what order. Should you want to change this then making use of attacks that cause knockback will help you shape the flow of the fight. Otherwise it’s a case of learning your enemy's weakness, picking the right attack and going all out. The Overdrive function is a nice feature as it allows you to chain a number of moves and unleash them as one long attack. Sometimes this can really help you finish off a battle or cause a large amount of knockback. In boss battles you will be able to call on the help of your friends and make use of quick time like events to have them join in and perform additional actions. What this all results in is a battle system that is surprisingly detailed and a lot of fun with some visual effects that impress.
Unfortunately the PC port of the game is not without its faults. For starters there is a serious lack of options to allow you to fine tune the game before launch besides the resolution and windowed option. I was unable to play the game full screen as when in this mode it would display on a different screen, even if not present. Regardless, the visual quality of the game is rather impressive with some nice textures, colours and stunning special effects. The same cannot be said for the animation and performance as both run into some horrible issues. The game crashes at random with no clear clue as to what might have caused it. Movement animations too look unfinished and it is possible to glitch some of them out, but battle animations hold up well. It’s a playable title but it isn’t without its faults and that really puts a damper on the whole experience.
As mentioned, the visuals of the game are a bit all over the place. There are some stunning moments thanks to the lighting and effects that are used but some of the shadows can glitch out at times. You will also see all of the game's environments fairly quickly as the bulk of the game unfolds in the school games and the common. Each of the four zones within the common are representative of a different emotion - happiness, fear, sorrow, and anger - and though each looks different in style you will explore all of their areas in no time. The same goes for the city as well, besides the few random cutscene locations, there is nowhere to explore outside of the school grounds. It feels unfitting for the title that you will focus on friendships so much but actually finding ways to spend time with the different characters is rather hard. The same can be said for the music of the title as well which, though of a good quality, is lacking in variety. I only ever encountered two different battle themes during my time with the title and it became old fast.
So where does this leave Blue Reflection? On the one hand it’s a nice change of pace to the normal JRPG you might pick up and play. At the same time though there are so many features that feel underdeveloped or missing that it really makes it hard to give the title a strong recommendation. That is without the performance issues as well. In truth, if you can overlook the game's problems and really invest into the characters and the story, then you will enjoy your time with Blue Reflection. If however you have concerns about the games faults then you would be safe to avoid it until a patch is - hopefully - released. It has plenty of interesting ideas such as the way characters grow and level up but again, it all just falls short.
Blue Reflection is one of the few times where I would say that it would work better as an anime rather than a game and honestly, I rarely say that. Shame really that is has to be about Blue Reflection.
BLUE REFLECTION (Reviewed on Windows)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
Blue Reflection is one of the few times where I would say that it would work better as an anime rather than a game. It has a lot of good ideas and systems at work but sadly none of them are fully developed and poor performance ruins the experience.