Blue Reflection Review – GUST´s Magical Girls
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release: 26th September 2017
The developer GUST is known mostly for their 20 years old Atelier series, a wonderful JRPG franchise full of cuteness and love. So, unsurprisingly, there had to some change in their games. That´s why Blue Reflection came into existence, a game as beautiful as all GUST ones, set in the everyday life of a high school girl and her secondary magical girl life. Can this outdated concept become a unique masterpiece once again or does it fall short on its promises?
In the past Hinako loved ballet, sacrificing everything else to become better and better. Yet, when she has an accident during her practices, making her unable to dance ever again. Robbed by the only thing that gave her life sense, Hinako fled from school and her life. Now, she finally attempts to step back into society. Unfortunately, nothing goes as planned and she quickly finds herself becoming a … magical girl. With her newly found magical girls friends Yuzu and Lime they have to not only free others from their burdens but protect humanity itself.
Despite the initial cliché overload, magical girls are way too overused nowadays, Blue Reflection can actually deliver a pretty good story. Similar to the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Hinako and her friends can dive into other students feelings to free them of their burden or bad feelings. Personally, I really like such concepts because they´re hard to execute but are able to deliver a truly emotional story. Sadly, Blue Reflection fails at several essential parts.
On the one hand, the game never gives the characters or their liberation enough screen time. Every chapter around a new character lasts around 30 minutes, that´s not enough time to develop a persona without using tons of clichés. Especially since the battles are included in this time. At the beginning no one feels truly unique or worth connecting too. During the 20 hours long campaign they can develop quite good personalities though, it just takes way too long to be effective.
On the other hand, a lot potential is simply given away. For example, every time Hinako fights against the bad feelings of someone, they always take place in the Common, a world consisting of 4 sub worlds. Rather than building individual, metaphorical ones, GUST preferred to oversimplify the central point of the game. Combined with the unexpected happy story about building friendship, only gaining some dark vibes by certain monsters threatening humanity, Blue Reflection has a lot of good ideas and potential but an´t use it to its fullest. The ever-present giant bosses aren´t characterised enough, the actual feelings not expressed enough and the whole build-up takes too long. Still, it´s a fun magical girl story.
The way the plot is presented to us is beautiful though. As expected from GUST, Blue Reflection looks pretty great, featuring an own artstyle for the characters and environments. Surely the textures, emotions or overall effects are nothing special and average for a ps4 JRPG but the artistic vision of GUST has a lot of impact. The whole game just feels and looks like a magical girl world, colourful and cheerful. Along the amazing music it´s definetly a joy to experience. Even the UI is stylised according to the artstyle, leaving it a bit messy sometimes but very unique at the same time.
The Common, the world Hinako and the other magical girls travel to if they want to free a girl of her burdens, also profits from the great artstyle. Featuring some great enemy designs and stunning environments from time to time. Naturally, Blue Reflection forces us to fight against said enemies in a rather classic turn based combat system. Every character has a different speed at which they progress in the timeline. Their progress on the timeline determines their next move, same for the enemies.
The different attacks consist of pure damage dealers, AOEs, support moves like healing or status removers and magic. Depending on the class and level-up each girl has their own weaknesses and strengths, a damage dealer is pretty slow for example but obviously hits heavy. Nothing too special at first glance. However, there´s quite something going on beneath the hood.
On the one hand, there´s the Reflect counter, that can activate a mode in which the girls can execute additional moves without waiting for their next turn and reducing the MP cost of their actions. Risen by enemy attacks or certain moves, it´s an extremely valuable meter in boss fights to land more hits on their weak spots. On the other hand Blue Reflection offers a very fast and streamlined experience. After every fight the HP and MP fully regenerate, resulting in a removal of healing items and not interrupting the flow of the fights. I really like the smooth, fast exploration. I didn´t have to worry about my stats after an encounter and could just continue my journey, even though it may be a bit too streamlined for some people.
The level-up system is also quite unique and heavily influenced by the story. Since its Hinako´s main duty to help other people, level-ups are earned with growth points. Those are given away if Hinako gets closer to her friends or helps others. So, experience and fights basically became meaningless to earn new levels. A two-sided sword. It´s certainly refreshing to not worry about getting enough XP or grinding, having guaranteed levels in a well-balanced pacing. Sadly, the system takes quite a big motivation away from the side fights and leaves the question, why offering level-ups at all, if they are controlled by the game and beginning stats of the characters? Every girl has fixed start attributes, have own little skills for their intended path and gain power accordingly. Lime is a damage dealer for example, she has a lot damage skills and big starting damage, so why should I skill her into a tank?
Blue Reflection´s side quests and free time activities aren´t nearly as interesting though. Between every chapter different quests need to be fulfilled, like talking to someone, helping someone etc. Casual stuff. Lasting around 20 minutes they may not be annoying for themselves but throughout the game they add up, making them more and more repetitive and boring. Some options don´t even have a remarkable impact or influence anything. They just seem like time-stretchers. Other pointless activities are heart warming, surprisingly. Reading text chats between Hinako and her friends, feeding a tamagotchi … they don´t fulfill a purpose other than entertaining and building a believable high school setting.
At the end, I enjoyed Blue Reflection. The plot about Hinako and her magical girl friends is set in a believable high school, circulating about an interesting topic about helping friends overcoming their burdens. Unfortunately, the short chapters, expositions and somewhat needless “greater evil” attached to the story drag it down like big, hefty weights. Combined with the classic turn based JRPG combat, which suffers from two-sided systems and a pacing clustered with side missions, Blue Reflection might look stunningly beautiful and has interesting ideas and moments … but isn´t a great game. I had fun with it, I enjoyed my time but it´s just a pretty alright JRPG, carried by the mighty GUST name.
[A Review Code was provided by Koei Tecmo Europe]