Blue Reflection is a turn-based Japanese Role-Playing Game with a rather novel approach to gaining character levels.
Genre: RPG, Anime
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: 26 Sep, 2017
Blue Reflection is the story of a lovely young ballerina who sadly injured her leg and lost her ability to dance. Fortunately, by a twist of fate and through the power of a magical ring, all is not lost. She is able to gracefully slip from reality and take on a new and exciting life as a Reflector, a magical girl that is able to freely move about unencumbered by her injury. Using her newfound magical powers, she quietly enters the disturbed minds of her fellow classmates and carefully and compassionately aids them in escaping from their own personal soul-wrenching demons.
Impression of the game
Let’s start out by talking about the gameplay. The bulk of the game finds you living the life of an out-going young woman happily enrolled in her local high school. You spend your time dealing with various high school-related issues such as: attending classes, making friends, fighting demons with your magical power, playing games and chatting with friends on your cell phone, collecting crystalized fragments of friendship bonds in order to craft friendship rings that can prevent time from stopping, you know, the usual high school girls’ life in Japan. While classes are phased through automatically to give the impression that the girl is really attending a school, you don’t actually have to sit through lectures in the game. Discussions will occur with the various characters and then you are typically left in a free roam position. That generally allows you to wander around the school with a list of missions you can complete. Some missions just involve talking to other people and picking out what to say from a short list of options but be careful, other times it will take you into a battle zone.
If you wish, you can also temporarily ignore the missions and just play a pet-raising style game on your cell phone. You make decisions on what actions you want to take with your pet and it will evolve accordingly until it is ready to enter the “Dark Cave” and meet its fate. At the end of each day, just prior to going to bed, you are given a few options on what you want to do. Sometimes, like it or not, what you pick will impact what happens the next day. For the most part that just means the first scene you see the next day may be impacted. I know when I opted to prepare for the next day by stretching, I had a pool scene the next day where my girl gained three extra defense points. Replaying the options, except opting to take a bath, led me to miss that scene and missing out on those points. This suggests that while the differences are minor, your choices do matter. The same applies when choosing your dialogue option while talking to someone. Sometimes it will yield affection points and/or a different item depending on the option you chose. This game involves a fair amount of walking about and talking, and the story can get a bit confusing or silly at times, but that is something any fan of JRPGs should come to expect at this point and is part of the charm of the genre.
Let’s discuss a little more about movement in the real world before we tackle the combat in the game. Here is one of my biggest complaints about the game. It’s something I feel I should mention early on just because it is a bit of an odd design choice and not one I am comfortable with at all. You have no control over the camera when in the real world. I tried with the keyboard and mouse, I tried with my gamepad, the camera control buttons do not work. I checked out the forums and that seems to be the case for everyone. I’m not entirely sure why this is, and it is something you will get used to in time but it is a bit off-putting early on in the game. This isn’t just an awkward camera angle issue or something like that that can sometimes plague a game, no this is a pure fixed uni-directional camera. The camera only faces one direction, if you are running up the screen, great, you can see where you are going! If you are running down the screen you can’t really see anything in front of you until you are right on top of it. It would be nice if one day they patch the camera so that, even if you can’t freely rotate it, that it automatically situates itself behind the player character rather than just being fixed in the one spot and always looking in that one direction regardless of the direction the character is moving. Once you ignore the odd camera choice, the movement controls in the real world portion of the game are quite fluid.
When in the “Common” which is like an alternate dimension battlefield that allows the protagonist and her mysterious citrusy friends to utilize magic to fight demons and find fragments, the camera works properly. You are able to freely rotate the camera however you want in order to survey the area you are in. This is why it seems like an odd choice to have the camera fixed in the real world as the fluid camera dynamics exists on the battlefield and therefore are coded into the game already. I’m sure they had their reason for the fixed camera angle, I’m sure it’s a good reason too, but I still don’t like it very much!
Rant about the camera aside, the graphics in this game are remarkably good for a port. The character models are highly detailed with intricate designs and ornaments to supplement their good looks both in the real world and in the Common. In the real world, they are mostly wearing school related uniforms, but in the Common, they are wearing impractical but visually stunning outfits. The key students that you should interact with stand out from the more generic students simply through their more unique appearance. As for the environments, the school looks remarkably like your average school with classrooms, bulletins posted to bulletin boards, general clutter in each of the rooms, cafeteria, library, clubrooms, and students hanging out and idling away their time between classes. For the Common, there are several different zone themes to enjoy that are tied to the emotional state of the person whose mind you are basically entering. Each one is starkly different from each other, although you will be entering each zone multiple times throughout the course of your game and typically they will pretty much have the exact same layout as the last time you were in that particular theme zone. The creatures in the zone are tied to the zone they are in for the most part so while there might not be that many monster types to fight, at least each zone has their own style.
As I think it adds a lot of interest, one thing I should mention before moving on is the fact there is a weather system in place in this game as well. Depending if it is a rainy day or not, will depend on who you can find outside. For added realism, the developer went so far as to make white shirts become translucent, that is to say, clingier and somewhat see-through if they get wet, much like they would in real life. That’s a nice touch that is often overlooked in games.
Let’s talk more about combat. Combat in this game is heavily dependent on the difficulty setting you are playing on. If playing on easy, just spamming the basic attack will quickly end each of the battles. If playing on the hardest setting, you actually need to focus and try hard in order to survive your encounters, at least early on. The normal difficulty seems to feel like a nice balance between the two, but of course, I play on hard just because I like to torture myself enough to draw out battles and slow down my progress significantly even though I had a deadline. I actually just found it way more fun to be calculating in my battles than to just breeze through them. Here is the thing though, the level up experience system in this game isn’t tied to battling. Unless you are specifically told you have to defeat a certain enemy, you technically don’t have to engage in battles when in the common. The only advantage you get is you get a few items drops from the battle and of course the fun and excitement of doing the battle itself. The level up system is actually tied to you completing missions and progressing your relationships with your fellow students and friends. We will talk a bit more about that system later though, for now, let’s get back to the battlefield! Combat, as mentioned earlier, is turn-based. At the top of the screen is a double ended bar that shows each character’s turn relative to everyone else in the battle. Depending on what spells or attacks you use, you can delay your enemies turn from happening when it is scheduled. There are a wide variety of effects to choose from while in combat as well. There is the simple and basic no-cost attack that you can perform, or you can spend MP and cast some more devastating or helpful spells. If you are up against a large number of foes, why not cast a nice AOE spell and hurt them all. Have a particularly hard-hitting enemy? Focus it with a strong knockback to prevent it from getting a chance to ravage your heroines. Out of magic? Well, either have a friend cast an MP restoring ether spells on you or use Ether Charge to regenerate some MP. If you are battling a boss, you might even wish to use your Overdrive ability once it is charged up in order to unleash a longer string of attacks and potentially launch a powerful cooperative technique before the enemy gets a turn. Additionally, while combating a boss in the real world (not the Common), your support character friends will make suggestions to you to help ensure you won’t miss chances to recover or use your Overdrive. The combat system is actually quite complex despite it simplistic first appearance.
Let’s talk a little more about level ups and other systems in the game. First off, as your friendships and missions progress you will earn growth points. In a system similar to that of Nights of Azure, you can pick one stat to increase per point you have. Once you reach a certain combination threshold, you will unlock new spells to use. There is a guide to what is unlockable available on the growth screen so you can pick what you want to go for. Each growth point you spend is classed as you gaining a level, and how you spend your point will impact how your character develops in terms of her overall stats. As you unlock more powerful or different spells, the level up process doesn’t end there. Your spells can be leveled up as well though augmenting them with the fragments you collected throughout the game. You can equip each fragment to one spell only, but you can move the fragments freely as you customize your characters, you are never locked in once the fragment is used. The level ups don’t even end there though! While in the Common, you will find crafting areas that allow you to make usable items from the random items you have found while adventuring in the Common either from killing foes or from collecting sparkling treasures on the map. The crafting system also allows you to level up the fragments as well depending on if you have the right materials to do so. Additionally, you can craft useful items to aid you in your combat as well, it isn’t just about augmenting fragments, but I personally think you should prioritize leveling the fragments you use most first.
While not in the common or otherwise on a mission, you can whip out your cell phone and have yourself a little fun with it. There is a minigame for you to passively enjoy, as well as a music player that lets you enjoy all the music you have unlocked in the game so far. A rather interesting feature on the phone has to be the conversations you can have with your friends. Auto-corrects, typos, image and text spams will plague you as you converse with your friends just like they do in real life. It actually makes the game far more immersive and real feeling. I’m a bit sad that the conversations are typically pretty short, but each chapter tends to unlock new dialogues for you to enjoy so it isn’t so bad. Again, much like real life, depending on how good of a friend you are will impact you later on as having enough affection with your friends will unlock things for you in the future. This means for your own sake, you really shouldn’t be just focusing on rushing your way through the chapters and randomly clicking through dialogue options. Besides just the main heroine’s story, the game actually focuses on the life of several other students. Each one has her own interesting life and backstory for the most part, and each one has her own neuroticisms that keep them being interesting. This game has enough stuff going around outside of the main story and gameplay that it really helps make it feel like you are actually living your life as a high school girl in Japan. Well to a certain extent anyway.
The sound in this game is a mix of quality soundtracks and sound effects with Japanese voice acting. While I prefer to be able to understand what the characters are trying to say to me, I have to admit I did enjoy the Japanese voice acting. Sure, I had no clue what they were saying, and maybe, I would have enjoyed it more if I could, but still, I was able to glean enough of out of it to firmly grasp everything that was going on. The atmospheric sounds, such as when it rains, helps to keep you feeling like you are actually in the game world and not just a person looking through a screen at it.
Other than the lack of camera controls in the real world, the controls in the game worked very well. The controls were fluid, responsive and intuitive. Everything was doable with just the gamepad without the need to use your mouse unless you really wanted to. The character’s jumping seemed to work well although it wasn’t really something you needed to do that often. Any time you seriously needed to jump would either be indicated by a feathers icon that would automatically perform the jump for you when interacted with or look like obviously broken ground. There were a few times where I found myself getting stuck on the environment in places that looked like I shouldn’t get snagged, but even then, it was nothing that a simple jump could not fix. Even navigating the phone was simple with the gamepad.
So, should you consider getting Blue Reflection? That depends on what you like. If you are a hardcore fan of the Magical Girls genre, then it should be right up your alley. If you are looking for a JRPG in a similar vein to Nights of Azure or the core Neptunia series, then you should find this game fun as well. If you are hardcore JRPG fan, you might find the action to be a bit lacking as the game spends more time focusing on conversations and story development then it does in battle, but the battle system is quite complex for a game of this type, so it definitely still has that going for it. The fixed camera angle while in the school is really the only complaint I have about the game other than perhaps, even on hard the combat gets a bit too easy later on. This could be due to how powerful you become if you carefully build your characters to support each other. All in all, Blue Reflections is an interesting experience that you may wish to try for yourself if you ever felt like living the life of an angsty Japanese high school girl!