From the opening cutscene, it's apparent that Blue Reflection is a special game. Gust, famous for being the creator of the Atelier series, have crafted a title unlike anything it's done before and really unlike anything that I've seen in all of video games.
The final game in the "Beautiful Girls Festival" that included the recent Atelier Firis and Nights of Azure 2, Blue Reflection has absolutely no relation to them outside of coming from the same studio. The game begins with a Japanese high school girl on her way to school on her first day there.
Blue Reflection - Perfect for an Anime Adaptation
It's immediately astonishing how much it looks just like a 3D slice-of-life anime, with stunning graphics like realistic lighting and a colorful recreation of this small commuter town. The high school, is brought to life in accordance with what actual schools in Japan look like, complete with all of the classrooms, a field, and little details like club rooms.
Main heroine Hinako is a former famous ballerina who will never be able to go back to ballet dancing due to a knee injury. Subtle nods to this are given even in the opening scene, as Hinako gingerly walks through the front gates, each step gently filled with the emotion and poise of an experienced dancer.
Tiny details like these that you can easily miss are sprinkled throughout the JRPG. Stand in one place for too long without doing anything and Hinako will make a remark like "man, I'm tired". If you have an immediate objective and attempt to go elsewhere, she will stop and say to herself something like "y-you can do this!"
Her fully realized personality and character is the focal point of Blue Reflection's relatively simplistic but entertaining story. Just as she returns to school after recovering from her career-ending injury, she is conveniently introduced to two girls that grant her the ability to become a magical girl.
The crux of the plot is to travel to the collective unconscious and rid other girls of their bad emotions by defeating demons until the world is free of their grasp. Hinako's motivation in this is that completely defeating them will grant her the wish of being able to dance again.
It is a story that has been done time and again if you are an anime or manga consumer, but having the ability to experience and explore its living world is a dream come true. It does become repetitive and predictable, as you quickly realize every chapter and interlude is like a standalone episode.
Blue Reflection - Episodic JRPG Action
The cycle goes: you encounter a new student in the all girls' school, slowly get to know her, witness her emotional collapse, go to the other world to piece her fragments back together, and accumulate her as another supporter or friend for the next incident.
Though the formula rarely deviates from that, there is something charming in the individual stories, whether it's the falsely accused thief or the aspiring journalist crushed under the weight of an already decided future.
In the other world called the Common, Hinako awakens to her magical girl powers - complete with the occasional transformation sequence - that allow her to run and jump free without concern for her debilitating injury. Along with her two companions and up to four supporters per girl, they battle the demons in classic turn-based action.
Battles are flashy, with an insane amount of choices of what to use every turn. Blue Reflection gradually introduces new mechanics over the first few hours, from skills to overdrive to supporter abilities, and more. Weaknesses are important, with four possible elements to use.
You can even manipulate the order of turns with skills and buffs that knockback an enemy's turn or speed up your own. These options are largely left up to you to choose from, as leveling gives you a growth point that can be distributed however you want across the four attributes. Reaching certain ranks in each attribute (or a combination thereof) unlocks new skills for combat.
Though the choice is vast and seemingly endless in battle, the enemy types are not. Leveling only gradually improves your stats, so you will continuously fight the same dozen enemies in the same four emotion areas. Despite the fact that each time you go into the Common it's randomly generated, there is an issue of repetition both inside and outside the Common.
The very few boss battles that come at major turning points in the story would help the monotony of everything else if they were more common, but that's not so. These fights are against gigantic, lumbering masses of horrific creatures unlike any else in the game are a breath of disgusting air.
Typically having multiple attack points like a cannon or wall that can be defeated to weaken the main section cause you to rethink everything you know. Outside of the impressive boss battles, the game is notably easy - especially if you do all of the side missions - even on the hardest difficulty, so these challenging and extremely long fights are a welcome change of pace.
Blue Reflection - Extracurricular Activities
You might be thinking "this sounds a lot like Persona" and you wouldn't be totally wrong. In-between saving the other world, you go to school like a normal high school girl. You go to class, meet friends, and complete optional objectives. At home, you can decide how you spend your evening, whether it's taking a bath or studying. These can affect your stats like raising your defense or MP.
After school each day, you can meet up with any of the girls that you've previously rescued and raise your feelings with them by going on dates and encountering the occasional relationship cutscene. Even beyond that, there are collectibles to discover on campus, side missions to do, and smartphone minigames to play - like a monster raising sim and a jukebox complete with the entire Blue Reflection soundtrack.
An unfortunately controversial aspect of this game that you will notice as you play is the fan service that's persistent throughout the entire game. For those that don't watch much anime, fan service is when the camera lingers on a butt or chest for far longer than necessary during bath time. Or, an unnecessarily long and potentially uncomfortable shower scene sure to shock you. Little tidbits like that are sporadically there, many of which aren't really able to be skipped.
Blue Reflection - Conclusion
Visual novels and other titles like Sword Art Online: Lost Song have attempted to capture anime style in video games , but none have done it quite as well as Blue Reflection. In this magical girl Persona-like JRPG, you play as the lost and broken former ballet dancer Hinako.
The tale of her and the other girls she saves from emotional trauma is compelling, helped along by the beautiful animation. The enemies and routine from chapter to chapter can be extremely repetitive, but the story and additional content make it well worth it. Blue Reflection is a hidden gem that any anime and JRPG fan will not want to miss this year.
Cody Perez is an Editor at Game Revolution. You can follow him on Twitter @SoulcapCody.
A PS4 copy of Blue Reflection was provided by its publisher.