The incredible success of one game can lead to the creation of other me-too games, resulting in a sort of subgenre popping up as different studios produce various takes on a similar idea. Persona 3 is a great example of this; shortly after being released to critical and popular acclaim, we steadily saw the creation of an entire subgenre of slice-of-life RPGs that combine everyday school life and the supernatural. Some of these were a little iffy – Mind Zero and Tokyo Xanadu spring to mind – while others were solid games in their own right, like Gust’s Mana Khemia. Koei Tecmo is taking their own step into this particular ring with the lovingly-crafted RPG Blue Reflection.
Hinako’s ran into a bit of a rut in her life; after an accident left her with a permanent knee injury, she’s no longer able to pursue her passion of ballet dancing. She’s resigned herself to a normal life as a normal high school student. Fate has other things in store for her, however, as within ten minutes of starting that normal life she discovers that she has mysterious powers and can enter another, hidden world. Classmates Yuzu and Lime, who share these abilities, inform Hinako that she’s a Reflector – a monster-slaying magical girl who can travel between the real world and the world of mankind’s collective unconscious, the Common. The Reflectors grow more powerful by empathizing with others, and it’s their job to use this power to battle the monstrous Sephira that seek to destroy our world.
If you’re of a certain age there’s a pretty good chance you watched Sailor Moon as a kid, guys and girls and everyone else alike. That’s basically what you’re getting with Blue Reflection; the overall aesthetic brings to mind the saccharine pastels of that legendary franchise, from character designs to monsters to the overall theme of becoming more powerful by working with and understanding the people around you. Standard fanservice aside, it remains…well, mostly wholesome throughout. Generally speaking, the game is about taking the usual slice-of-life tropes and merging them with a Persona-style adventure into the characters’ inner world.
This means that the game is divided between exploring the girls’ high school, getting to know other students and helping them solve their problems, either traditionally or through the mass slaughter of monsters in the Common. Again, if you’ve played one of the recent Persona games you’ve got an idea of how this works, though unlike those games Blue Reflection isn’t timed so it’s entirely possible to complete the game in one go. It’s also not an especially difficult title; experienced JRPG-ers will almost certainly want to crank the difficulty up to Hard as otherwise the battles tend to be braindead spammy affairs.
Combat and exploration alike are fairly standard for the genre. You’ll run around the Common, collecting items and getting into fights when you encounter one of the visible baddie icons on the field. Blue Reflection’s battle system is somewhat similar to the Grandia series with a focus on delaying enemy attacks with properly-timed attacks; there’s also an interesting take on character development that allows you to guide how characters level up based on what kind of skills you’d like them to learn and which fields you’d like them to excel in. Further, characters’ attacks can be customized using Fragments earned as rewards for successful Reflector-ing, and during the (incredibly impressive) boss battles against the Sephira the girls can team up with non-empowered classmates to lay the smack down with team attacks. All in all, it’s a surprisingly deep system that impressed me as the game went on.
It’s clear that a lot of time was spent on the game’s look and feel; in particular, and I realize this is an odd thing to notice, this game may have the most stylish and usable UI of any game I’ve ever played. Whoever did the interface design for this one deserves a medal. Graphically this is a lovely title; some noise has been made about resolution-related issues on PC, but I played on that platform and found the game to look very nice regardless, so this may be the usual sort of overreaction we’ve come to expect in the modern era of games. Aurally, Blue Reflection really shines in the music department with some of the best tracks to come out of a JRPG since…well, Persona 5, which wasn’t that long ago. The only big complaint I had is that the localization probably could have used a little more time in the oven; typos and text wrapping errors were fairly common, lending an unprofessional feel to the writing.
We’ve become used to mostly seeing new Warriors and Atelier games out of Koei Tecmo, so it’s interesting when they produce a new IP like Nioh or Blue Reflection. This is a well-made JRPG that’s going to appeal to fans of the genre with its interesting combat system and fantastic presentation. There was clearly some love put into this one and it shows.