Another day, another JRPG to review. It should hardly be surprising at this point, but Japan manages to output a hell of a lot of RPGs on a pretty much weekly basis. Last week it was Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, this week we have Blue Reflection, a game all about cute girls going to high-school. Oh, they also turn into superheroes and fight emotion monsters during their off time.
Blue Reflection is a surprisingly successful blend of Persona 4 and Final Fantasy X and is also the final entry in Gust’s ‘Cute Girls Festival’ project. This project also featured Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey and Knights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon, both games which heavily featured ‘cute’ girls as their protagonists, and Blue Reflection is no different. The story follows the ‘adventures’ of Mika, a high school student who finds she can no longer follow her passion of ballet after she suffers a serious leg industry. On her first day of high-school, she is accidentally transported to a mysterious pastel-coloured world where she can finally move freely again. After being introduced to mysterious twins Lime and Yuzu, she is tasked with saving the world, and so her adventure begins.
The main crux of the gameplay is turned-based, menu driven combat in a style you may be familiar with if you’ve played games like Final Fantasy X. All of the combat takes place in the pastel-coloured world known as ‘the Common’, a world where emotions can take physical forms as demons. Whenever you’re here, you wear a brightly coloured costume and explore in a traditional RPG way, picking up items and fighting random monsters.
The other side of the gameplay coin is social interaction, which takes place in the all-girls high school. This is the element of gameplay that is similar to Persona. Basically, you can talk to the different girls and make friends with them, which can help you power up your different abilities and also literally level up your character. The game shuns the normal combat=xp dynamic, meaning that no matter how many demons you beat up, you’re only going to get items for it. Instead, every time you hang out with a friend, you’ll earn a friendship point, and once you have enough of these, you get your level up.
Even the levelling up is handled in a different way. Instead of directly choosing a stat to level up or getting a default upgrade per level, you choose one of four areas to allocate your level up. These four areas dictate how your stats grow and also which new abilities you unlock. This level up system does a good job of making things more interesting than the standard systems which are so played out these days. Since you have 3 main characters, you can level up each person in different ways so you can split the focus on each person; i.e. one character focuses on strong attacks, another focuses on technical abilities (like adding or removing status ailments) and the last person can focus on defensive capabilities.
The social aspects of the game being so closely tied is a bit of a double-edged sword. While it does help to make the social aspects feel less tacked on, the social aspects can be a bit hard to grasp, and that can give you disadvantages in combat and levelling. These social elements effectively consist of two separate event types. The first is standard dialogue options where you are given two choices, and if you pick the right one, a ‘feelings’ meter goes up. The second is the option to invite your friends out to different places in the world, increasing your friendship points with them.
There is a lot of high school drama in the game, which makes sense because it’s a game about an all girls high school. This is fine if it’s what you’re into, but it does mean the game struggles to convey who it’s trying to appeal to. Obviously, at first it seems like teenage girls are the market; who else would be interested in teenage girl problems and drama? However, the sheer number of scenes with barely concealed nudity or underwear shots mark the game as being aimed at a predominately male audience.
Honestly, what really sealed the deal as far as the game’s target demographic goes were the transformation scenes. Anyone who has ever seen Sailor Moon will be familiar with the scenes where the girls’ clothes disappear and they float around as their costumes appear magically on their body. In this case, it is also combined with bouncing boobs and cheeky up-skirt shots.
The difficulty curve is a little strange in places. On the normal difficulty settings, you’ll probably not find many stopping blocks. You tend to gain levels at a pretty constant, measured pace. However, once you get to some of the later points in the game, the boss fights can get pretty challenging, and thanks to the game’s avoidance of classic XP systems, you wont be able to just grind your way through these gaps.
The game is at least well constructed, and clearly it knows what it is trying to do. Everything in the game has a tendency to be painted in pastel colours and goes very much for the ‘Kawaii’ aesthetic, which is very popular these days. Clearly, the game is for people who are into cute girls in frilly costumes fighting off monsters.
The music is actually an interesting blend that you don’t hear very often known as classic crossover. It’s basically a blend of classical instrumentation, such as pianos or violins, with EDM music, in this case usually dubstep. Obviously, it’s a very niche style and may not appeal to everyone, but it at least feels different to the sort of music you may be used to hearing in video games.
At the end of the day, the game does enough right to make up for any of the shortcomings that it may have. It also does enough stuff differently to distinguish itself in an over-saturated JRPG market, even if the laser precise demographic it is aiming at does limit it a bit.
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita, PC
Release Date: 29th September 2017