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Jahanzeb Khan
24 Sep, 2010

Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow Review

DS Review | Also known as Blue Dragon Quest.
When the original Blue Dragon came out on the Xbox 360 back in 2006, it was billed to be the platform’s premier RPG franchise. Both gamers and critics appreciated Blue Dragon for being an old school Japanese RPG that was brought to life using modern technology. As solid as the game was, it was far from being an extraordinary AAA hit but there was potential for it to become a big franchise. Unfortunately the series didn’t really take off after that impressive debut, as what followed next was a forgettable Nintendo DS sequel called Blue Dragon Plus, which was a generic and uninspiring strategy RPG title. There was even a spin off anime and manga series and now in 2010, Mistwalker bring us the third title, called Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow.

Awakened Shadow takes place two years after the events of Blue Dragon, which concluded with Shu and his friends defeating the evil Nene and somewhat saving their world. We say ‘somewhat’ because their world was literally split apart into small cubes, although the inhabitants are doing just fine living in them. Unlike the first Blue Dragon, where only Shu and his companions had the power to summon their Shadow, in Awakened Shadow everyone (and we mean everyone) has a Shadow summon. They now live in a world where people rely heavily on their Shadow powers to get by, but things soon change as a strange light in the sky saps everybody of their Shadow powers and this links to the awakening of one mysterious character who serves as the protagonist of the game.

In Awakened Shadow you play as your own custom made hero. Once you choose the gender, the game allows you to customise the appearance of your hero in terms of hairstyles, eyes, lips, etc. The customisation options aren’t particularly deep and offer very limited selection of styles and parts.

  
A good hairstyle is the key to victory!

A good hairstyle is the key to victory!
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At the start of the game, your hero awakens in a mysterious underground lab belonging to the Ancients (which is what Nene is) and has no recollection or memories of the past. As your hero comes out of the lab, and enters into the Jibral Kingdom, he/she will soon be acquainted with past Blue Dragon protagonists Shu, Jiro and Kluke, and soon meets just about everyone from the past games. While everyone has lost their Shadow powers, your custom hero still wields that power and can also lend some of it to nearby comrades. The plot of the game revolves almost entirely around your hero and as the story progresses you will learn more about your hero’s past and relation with the Ancients. The plot barely sounds interesting but anyone who has played the original Blue Dragon will find it to be a nice follow up, and the ending actually ties things up nicely. Which brings us to a problem: if you are not all familiar with the Blue Dragon franchise or its back story, then you won’t find the plot and characters of Awakened Shadow to be very compelling or interesting.

Awakened Shadow is a pure action RPG where combat takes place in real time. You can block, dodge and dish out combos much like in an action game, and so battles are based mostly on skill rather than luck. Then of course you have your Shadow summons which allows you to perform a variety of skills (magic). Using a Shadow skill requires you to hold the attack button to fill up a bar and then perform magic using magic points. After performing a skill there is a short ‘waiting period’ before you can use a skill again, and so there is a bit of strategy involved as well. Overall, the battle system of Awakened Shadow certainly is fun, easy to grasp and action packed.

Awakened Shadow allows a party of three characters (including yourself). You will have complete control over your custom hero with the other two party members being A.I controlled. The A.I of the game is a mixed bag, sure they can be extremely aggressive on the offense and know the right skills to use, but on many occasions they will end up switching to ineffective skills and even suddenly coming to a complete stop and doing absolutely nothing. On defense side of things they are utterly hopeless, especially when it comes to blocking and dodging but at least and they are able to cast defensive/healing spells properly.

  
Party A.I can be very annoying.

Party A.I can be very annoying.
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The game has twelve recruitable characters from the Blue Dragon universe with each being able to equip certain types of weapons and armour, each having their own unique characteristics in terms of attack, defense, skill, etc. and each specialise in one of the six Shadow types (but can use any Shadow type). Just like with past Blue Dragon games, when you level up you actually level up your Shadows, with the characters merely serving as a vessel and taking care of the melee combat side of things. Each Shadow differs greatly in terms of basic statistics and skills, for example, the Dragon specialises in combat while the Minotaur specialises in healing/curing spells. So in terms of characters and Shadows, Awakened Shadow has plenty to offer and allows for some interesting combinations.

What’s cool about the equipment in this game is that they alter the appearance of your custom hero, something that is slowly becoming a norm in RPGs. The interesting thing is that you won’t be spending much time purchasing equipment (or any item for that matter) from stores because for the most part you will be collecting loot from battle and then combining them at the forge to create all sorts of new items. You can combine similar items to create a superior variant of the item and as you collect new recipes you can create all sorts of interesting things.

The world in Awakened Shadow is spilt into cubes and each one is either a very small town or a large dungeon-like environment where you plough through a series of floors/levels. Awakened Shadow uses a quest-based structure where you take on a variety of quests to progress. Completing these quests allows you to progress the story, gain rare items, unlock secrets and gain new allies. There are also several doors scattered all over Jibral kingdom, with each featuring a boss battle. These are purely optional, but completing these challenges gives you many useful rewards. Awakened Shadow feels like a dungeon crawler for the most part and there is no open ended over-world as you simply travel between cubes from the map menu. The larger locations are repetitive dungeons and the town areas are small with nothing much to do or see.

  
No Blue Dragon game is complete without the great poo.

No Blue Dragon game is complete without the great poo.
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One of the biggest issues in Awakened Shadow are the difficulty spikes, and these are more evident in boss battles. In some dungeons you will have no trouble defeating ordinary foes but then by the time you reach the boss, you are so underpowered that it takes but a few seconds to get knocked out, and this then forces you to spend a great deal of time level grinding. It also doesn’t help when the A.I of your party members fails to behave the way you want it to. That being said, it pays to not just level up but also employ clever tactics and having a bit of luck.

Overall, Awakened Shadow is a pretty dense adventure with plenty to do, battle and collect. Ploughing through the main quest takes around 30 hours but there are also plenty of optional boss battles. The game also features the use of Wi-Fi for some co-op battles and adventuring.

Awakened Shadow is a fully 3D game constructed almost entirely with polygons and some sprite effects. The quality of the 3D graphics and special effects are pretty much similar to what we have seen in other 3D RPGs on the DS (best example being Final Fantasy IV) and the amount of detail in the textures and animations is on par with most 3D games on the DS. Famed manga artist Akira Toriyama returns once more to provide the character designs and is he is actually referenced quite strongly in the main quest. The game recycles the soundtrack of the original Blue Dragon and most of the tracks will sound familiar to fans, it even includes an instrumental version of the boss theme ‘Eternity’.

  
Fear an owl in your eyes showing ya what chicken see.

Fear an owl in your eyes showing ya what chicken see.
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Custom heroes, full 3D graphics, Akira Toriyama, co-op multiplayer options, 3rd person battles…all of these elements can be found in another 2010 DS RPG, none other than the impressive Dragon Quest IX. There are just so many similarities that Awakened Shadow almost feels like Dragon Quest IX with a different skin. Awakened Shadow imitates Dragon Quest IX in just about every possible area but in the end whatever Awakened Shadow does, Dragon Quest IX does far better. The games only really differ in terms of the battle system, with Awakened Shadow offering a hectic action game like experience and Dragon Quest IX offering a sound and strategic battle system.

Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is actually a pretty decent 3D action RPG for the DS with plenty of substance. However, there are some glaring problems such as the annoying A.I and the odd difficulty spikes, but the biggest issue is that Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow requires you to actually have played the first game on the Xbox 360, because otherwise the story and characters will not be very compelling to you. Finally, the game has too much in common with Dragon Quest IX but doesn’t have the same level of quality. And so, while Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is a fairly good DS action RPG, you’re probably better off just playing the far superior Dragon Quest IX instead.
The Score
Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is a well-made 3D action RPG, but unfortunately, it ends up feeling like a poor man's Dragon Quest IX. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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4 Comments
3 years ago
Is DQIX really that great? I love me some FFVII and Chrono Trigger, so how does DQ compare?
3 years ago
I believe it is, but you would probably get more out of it if you happen to already be a DQ fan or an RPGer ... or you can con someone you know into playing cooperatively. I can't recall my exact total hours, but I had roughly 110 hours on the clock once I was finished with the main storyline, and there's a lot of quests to unlock and post game content to keep you going back. I would go as far as to say that it's one of the best DS games.

As for Blue Dragon, I don't think I'll be buying this game. It's really sad, but it seems like this series has turned even more mediocre than the first game was. I enjoyed the first game, but it wasn't a stellar experience for me, more an enjoyable romp through an old school RPG with a graphical upgrade.

Great review, though, Jahanzeb! I think you were pretty spot on with how I interpreted the game.
3 years ago
I enjoyed the first game, but this was a bit to linear for my liking....

Agree on the diffculty curve as well, the boss tends to kill you quite quickly, while the enemies before him go down with a couple of hits....
3 years ago
Man I swore off Blue Dragon from the demo for the first one that came packed with ME1. It just seemed really incredibly generic.
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  15/06/2010 (NoRelease)
Publisher:
  Namco Bandai Partners (Atari)
Genre:
  RPG
Year Made:
  2009
Players:
  1

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