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Blue Reflection Review - Magical Girl or just Mundane?

Blue Reflection is one of the latest RPG's from Koei Tecmo that focuses on the Magical Girl genre. Developed by Gust, this RPG centres on Hinako Shirai - A Ballet dancer who due to an unfortunate leg injury, can no longer dance with the grace she once possessed. Through a series of events, she ends up meeting two Magical Girls who gift her with their ability and in this world, her leg appears to be unharmed. Will she recover in reality and more importantly, will the story get any more interesting than this?

To begin, Blue Reflection is a bit of an odd one. It doesn't adhere to the typical RPG formula where you'd normally fight to level up and instead rewards you for building relations and maintaining bonds with your classmates. Doing this gives you Growth Points. Growth Points are the only way you can level up and though certain missions will give you one as a reward, the only real point in fighting Demons (the enemies of Blue Reflection) is to try out your new moves and farm any materials they may drop, which you can use to level up your fragments.

Fragments are your move upgrades. Every few levels you'll gain new moves and each of these can be upgraded with the many fragments you'll collect over the course of the game. To obtain these, you'll need to calm the emotions of your classmates by jumping into their area of the common and defeating the Demons surrounding their fragment. If you're wondering what the common is, it's a manifestation made real by the strong emotions of an individual, only accessible to the Magical Girls of Blue Reflection, namely Hinako, Yuzu and Lime, who are the three main protagonists of this RPG.

Each move has multiple slots allowing you to equip a number of fragments equal to this. Some moves have three slots while others will have only one, but it does give you a good amount of choice when choosing which ones to power up the most. The only real downside is that you'll more often than not, find several moves for each character and stick with them for the majority of the game.

Like any RPG, each move has its own individual animation and although they're all rather colourful, the animation behind them is often lazy at best. This is a recurring problem I noticed throughout the game. On the surface it may look pretty and sure it's even got a great deal of charm, but there's no real level of excitement ever. The animations are lazy, the story lacks depth, feels incredibly slow and with framerate issues during all combat areas, it's doubtful you'll find yourself immersed within this world.

Now, the framerate issues don't make the game unplayable by any stretch. The graphics are nice and the soft colour palette, contrasted by neon costumes, environments and creature designs truly make for a lovely looking game. The problem is the game engine just can't seem to handle these visuals too well, with cutscenes and gameplay segments often suffering judder-y animation problems. This to me, suggests Blue Reflection should have spent more time in development as it feels like a rushed release, which is a shame because a little more time spent with the QA team could have done wonders for this little RPG.

The costume and character designs are nice and with a bit more effort, the animations for each move would have been far more enjoyable to watch, but any potential that was there has been wasted due to previously mentioned issues. When I play an RPG I like to fully immerse myself within the world. I like there to be a challenge. I want to love the characters and I want to feel compelled to keep playing and yet, Blue Reflection sadly doesn't manage to accomplish any of this. It's often too easy and with slightly lengthy attack animations, at times you'll wish there was a fast-forward button (like Rush mode in the Persona titles). You can easily get through any fight in the common with little to no skill at all, so when the bigger, much harder bosses known as Sephirot come about, you're in for some trouble, as these actually do require some level of skill and are often too hard in comparison to what the player had by that point, already grown accustomed to.

On the subject of Sephirot (above), their designs are actually pretty cool. Generally a cross between something mechanical and something else not quite organic, these monstrous creatures are dark by nature, almost Gothic and remind me a little of the more epic creatures found within the Puella Magi Madoka Magica animé series, which I feel Gust were trying to replicate here. During these battles, each Sephirot has their own gimmick, but with classmates backing you up with health, attack, magic and speed buffs as your supporters, you have no need to switch up your tactics, because though at times difficult, I found each of my Sephirot encounters became a simple test of endurance. Their attacks can hit hard, but most of these beings just have a lot of health to get from, as you fight to protect your school. Though why they're targeting the girls school and not the rest of Japan, is still a mystery to me.

Some of the music in Blue Reflection is really nice to hear, and at times even reminded me of both Final Fantasy X and XIII, but with the standard battle theme always playing the main theme music, the game can really grate on you. Each track varies between calm, restless and ominous, but never fully remains to one genre. This isn't inherently bad, but with dubstep thrown in, the music doesn't always feel as though it belongs to this game.

That brings me to another issue. Blue Reflection seems to have some kind of identity crisis going on. It doesn't quite know what it wants to be. I mean on one hand, it feels like a very girly game, with a demographic targeting that of a 14 year old school girl, but with some carefully censored, softcore fan service, fairly transparent clothing and battle music geared more towards rave-goers, it's really not clear what kind of demographic Gust were going for when developing this game. If anything, I'd hazard a guess they were targeting school girls, but at the last minute decided they wanted to appeal to a broader audience and felt the best way to do this was to include fan service for the guy gamers out there who like to perv over younger looking girls, which is something typical of Japan and not always something western gamers find appealing.

Overall, Blue Reflection is a nice game. It has a lot of charm and at times, feels quite lovely, even relatable, but with so many issues, an uninteresting plot and an apparent identity crisis, it wasn't the game for me and though I'm always open to trying out new titles, there are far better RPG's out there. With better gameplay mechanics, better animations and an interesting plot, Blue Reflection could have been a much better title, but instead we're left with a game that has no real sense of direction or understanding of what it had set out to accomplish.

If you're a 14 year old school girl new to gaming, then I think you'll find some enjoyment here, but if you've played your fair share of RPG's and are looking for something modern, exciting, stylish and fun, you're better off picking up Persona 5.

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