Game name: Blue Reflection
Release date: September 26, 2017
Price: US$ 59.99
Available on: Steam
Developer: GUST Studios
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
While the PC gaming landscape has evolved a lot since the late 2000s, we still lack quality JRPGs, and the best exponents of the genre are ports of last generation classics. Japan is still averse to the notion that game developers can make money on our platform of choice, with acclaimed franchises such as the Persona series avoiding Steam as if Valve‘s digital distribution service had the plague. Luckily for us, this doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience a JRPG dedicated to depicting life in a high school besieged by fantastic foes, as Koei Tecmo has decided to release GUST‘s Blue Reflection on PC and PS4 simultaneously.
Setting, characters and story
Playing as Hinako Shirai, a surprisingly relatable high school student who is trying to cope with her inability to return to ballet dancing after a serious injury crippled her leg, we’ll explore Hoshinomiya Girls High School, meeting new friends and getting reacquainted with faces from our past.
After a few introductory scenes, we’ll learn that Hinako isn’t a normal high school student, as she is able to enter an alternate dimension known as the “Common” and powered by emotional energy. Two quirky but friendly classmates, Yuza and Lime, will quickly become best friends with our character, as they are also Reflectors, human beings with the ability to use the energy created by other people’s emotions, and since they’ve been doing this for far longer than we have, they’ll quickly teach us how to tap into the Common in order to be able to defeat an ancient enemy that threatens our world.
Our ultimate goal is saving the known universe, but along the way, we’ll have to enter the Common to solve problems that while not as life threatening as an invasion from another plane, will nonetheless require a lot of tact, and could affect other people’s lives. You see, while Hinako’s newfound powers make her a special figure, she never stops being a high schooler, and bonding with her classmates is what keeps her human. Our job as a Reflector means that we’ll have to stabilize our mates’ emotions through Common expeditions, lest they become uncontrollable and affect the rest of the school negatively. As the story progresses, we’ll experience events that reveal other characters’ emotions and hidden thoughts, letting us see the world from different perspectives.
It’s during these moments that Blue Reflection shines, as the game’s depiction of Japanese high school students’ daily lives can be surprisingly candid and realistic, avoiding the usual cliches that always threaten to pop up in this kind of title.
Between missions, we’ll also be able to engage in friendly banter with our classmates, go out with them on trips to the movies, a cafe, the shopping mall or the library, for example, or participate in online chatrooms, discussing recent events and creating more opportunities to bond with the rest of the students. Not all the characters are as fleshed out as the merry band that forms the core of Hinako’s group, but even minor characters can offer interesting pieces of lore or chit chat that adds to the immersion.
Hinako’s leg injury plays an important role in the story, as our character will not only have to battle evil forces intent on our world’s destruction, but also her own inner demons.
Our time with Blue Reflection will be divided between real-world sessions and Common sequences, where we’ll be able to fight powerful enemies and deal with our classmates’ emotional issues. Real-world segments are relatively straightforward and they work like adventure game scenarios, tasking us with meeting other girls and doing the kind of things a regular high schooler does. Aside from going out and bonding with our classmates, we may also choose to play a minigame in our phone, or study/practice gymnastics/bathe (with the first two of these activities rewarding us with stat bonuses and the latter acting as fanservice).
Common sequences are combat focused, as this alternate dimension is full of enemies to defeat. As usual in modern JRPGs, we’ll traverse the world on foot, and our foes will attempt to attack us the moment they spot our character’s avatar in the field. We can choose to either avoid them or attack head on, which will generate a transition from real-time exploration to a turn-based battle interface.
Blue Reflection‘s combat system may not win any awards on the innovation department, but it does the job well enough. While battles happen on a turn-based scenario, we can affect the way they unfold in various ways, since there’s an action meter that tells us when it’s our turn to attack (or the enemy’s). Unleashing special moves will knock back our foes, delaying their involvement in the action and letting us take the initiative. Of course, these abilities require a special resource, so we won’t be able to stunlock our enemies to victory. Carefully managing our MP will be the key to victory, although I found most of the combat encounters to be a bit on the easy side.
As we advance through the story, our powers will grow and we’ll have to fight massive beasts that will require far more strategy in order to defeat them. Thankfully, we can enlist the help of up to twelve “normal” students who will act as a support team, providing buffs, healing our characters or even adding new attacks to the mix.
Defeating enemies won’t reward us with experience points (since the level up system is tied to story advancement) but we’ll get item drops that can be used to craft useful stat-boosting consumables or to fortify special items called Fragments that drop after we’ve stabilized the condition of a student going through emotional trouble. Applying these Fragments to our characters’ skills will add even more effects to them, permanently upgrading our abilities and even changing the way they work. It’s a system that might take some time to get used to, but the game’s pace works on its favor, letting us learn new features at a steady pace and never overwhelming the player with useless information blurbs.
Graphics, sound and performance
Few games are as visually pleasing as Blue Reflection, even though we won’t find groundbreaking special effects or ultra HD textures on GUST‘s latest. Instead of relying on cutting edge technology, the renowned Japanese developers set out to create an art style that perfectly conveys a feeling of pictures in motion, with delicate colors bringing the world to life and bombastic battle scenes punctuating every fight. The soundtrack provides the kind of quality we’ve come to expect from GUST, and while I wasn’t a fan of the voice work, I wouldn’t say that I hated it.
Performance wise, I don’t have any complaints (both my test systems had no trouble keeping 60fps, even during taxing battle sequences) but as usual with Koei Tecmo’s PC output, there are a few issues with the port’s quality, as some graphical effects that were present in the PS4 version of the game are missing. Pre-release information had people fearing we’d have to settle for a Vita port, but luckily that isn’t the case here. Tutorials suffer from low-res assets but everything else seems to be directly lifted from the PS4 version.
Blue Reflection will not revolutionize the JRPG genre, but its tale of magical high school girls fighting an otherworldly invasion is far more grounded than I expected it to be. Players looking for an endearing adventure backed by an entertaining combat system and a gorgeous art style won’t be disappointed with GUST‘s latest release.
8/10 (Very good)