Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Blue Reflection is a new IP from a familiar developer in the JRPG community, Gust. Best known for their popular Atelier titles, I went into Blue Reflection without knowing much about the game. After having spent a significant amount of time with it, I am happy to say it is a fantastic experience and one that I hope garners future titles in a series.
At a glance, you have the somewhat typical ‘magical girl’ formula found in numerous animes. The specific name for her type of magical girl is a Reflector, and before long she finds new friends who share the same gift that allows them to explore a parallel reality called The Common. These monsters are threat enough in that they feed off of the emotions of others, but before long a more sinister conflict begins to present itself to Hinako and her friends.
There are some pretty common themes found in popular animes such as Sailor Moor, and even here in Western entertainment. One of the immediate parallels that came to mind was the popular Buffy the Vampire series. The personalities, cultural references and content seem to have nothing in common, but Blue Reflection spends a great deal of time allowing the player to explore the duality of Hinako and her friends’ lives. They have this special power that allows them to protect others from a threat they are completely unaware of, all of the while they attempt to live the lives of typical high schoolers. It is a theme that has been found and popularized in other games like the Persona series, and there is some Persona to be found in the gameplay structure of Blue Reflection as well.
We join Hinako in her first day at a new school. She is a one time ballet star who suffered a serious knee injury that ruins her dreams. This is already a pretty sad setting when you think about how youth are so often brought up being told they can do anything they put their minds to – but in this instance the body was what failed Hinako. This coupled with her new school and the pressures of academic responsibility and having a job make her battles in The Common almost seem easy by comparison. At least there, she has a more straight forward path as she battles obvious enemies – but daily life comes with a variety of pitfalls that magic and weapons can’t help her to overcome.
In truth, while the majority of your time is spent in The Common, it is the daily life that I found more interesting. It helps that the pacing here is better initially, where as the more mystical elements of the game are thrown at you in rapid fire fashion once your new friends are introduced. That being said, the exploration of the school and the social interactions are fun, but they are rather linear. You are along for the ride, not necessarily impacting the destination. There are malleable aspects to Hinako’s day to day life, but not to the level of detail and variety found in the aforementioned Persona titles.
When the game shifts to The Common, you have a more familiar JRPG experience. Gone are the gray and white uniforms and stone school walls as the environment of The Common adopt more orange hues and the girls costumes become far more striking in color and short in design. Enemies and environments are pretty fantastic, with vivid use of colors and imaginative landscapes. The combat itself is nothing overly unique, but it is well thought out and executed as you navigate turn-based battles by using standard attacks and a variety of support skills and specials that use MP. You have a Reflect meter that can be charged that allows an overdrive state that grands additional actions during the turn. There are some truly entertaining and flashy big battles to be had here, and while I never felt particularly challenged by the combat, I was however frequently entertained.
More akin to some Final Fantasy titles than traditional JRPGs, you earn ability points for instead of experience (linked to objectives rather than monster kills), that can then be spent on various attributes. There is also a heavy emphasis on crafting, and as one would expect, as you get further into the game your material variety increases as do the number of crafting options at your disposal. I imagine that this will appeal to RPG fans who dislike grinding, as the need for experience points is not anywhere to be found here. This certainly helps with the pace of the game, though I can’t help but feel that some more depth in the character progression and combat would have appealed to me more personally – but then I am one of those people who does not mind grinding nor very detailed stat development and skill trees in characters. What is here is good, if not perhaps the deepest of systems on both counts.
I won’t get into the story at all, but I was once again somewhat reminded of Persona by the somewhat episodic nature of the story. A new girl will be met, and due to reasons only the Reflectors understand, the girl suffers some sort of collapse as the creatures drain her emotionally. This creates missions or episodes that would feel right at home in an episodic anime as the girls take on these seemingly smaller challenges that start to then build into something larger and more sinister.
Blue Reflection does a really nice job of mixing some familiar elements from a lot of popular inspirations, all of the while giving the game its own unique sensibilities along the way. This is a more approachable JRPG than most that come out this way, and while that accessibility does cost Blue Reflection some depth in a handful of areas, the end result is a pretty fantastic package that I hope to see more of in the future.Score: 8 / 10