Monday, April 21, 2008

A Solved Problem

I recently picked up Blue Dragon for the 360 (this is not the US cover art) for cheap at Toys R Us. While I'm not a real fan of JRPGs, for $15, I figured it'd be worth checking out what Microsoft hung their hopes of Japanese success on.

It's a strange game. It's obviously a JRPG in the traditional JRPG mold both mechanically and narratively. It tries to do a couple things differently, but the differences are so insignificant that they may as well not have existed at all.

The rendering style is somewhat unfortunate, as well. They took some sort of sub-par Akira Toriyama character designs and made them into a plasticky 3-D that only serves to make them even more generic-looking. While in hi-def, it has a distinctive, clean look, the characters just aren't as memorable or interesting-looking as the (still generic) characters from a cel-shaded game like Dragon Quest VIII (also Toriyama-designed characters).

One bit where the game does something really nice is that it has a very unusual depth-of-field effect. Combined with the relatively spare, clean aesthetic design, the game definitely has a unique look to it - the problem is that it's a really unique-looking blandness that still feels boring. It's nice that it's a contrast to Final Fantasy's excessive business, but still not all that appealing on its own.

The big problem for me, though, is that it suffers from one frustrating design failure - you can only save at predetermined save points. This is totally ridiculous, because there are only two reasons to have predetermined save points:

  1. You don't have enough memory to save the game's current state in a complete enough fashion - this is obviously untrue, as many other 360 games allow you to save anywhere, and honestly, Blue Dragon doesn't even save that much info.
  2. You want to create a specific risk-reward balance - by having save points spread apart, you create an escalating tension the further the player is from a safe haven.
While I can sort of academically understand point 2, it SUCKS when someone invites you to play another game online, and you have to run around like a jackass looking for a save point or lose an hour's investment of time into the game. Worse still, this is a problem that *already* has a solution - allow the player to save & quit. When the player resumes the game, the temporary save file is destroyed, meaning the player can't restore to that state - they can only restore to the predetermined save points. Essentially, this allows the player to indefinitely "pause" the game at any point, but only save where the game allows them to.

Why Blue Dragon doesn't allow this is completely beyond me. It's technically within their grasp. At this point, it's almost purely a design failing. Is there something I'm missing? I just can't see any reason to ever have a save structure like this, when the temporary save & quit solution has existed for years and years. Lunacy.

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