The mind of a teenage girl. One full of hopes, dreams, anxieties and powerful emotions. This is the landscape that Gust’s newest original game Blue Reflection aims to capture. Nearly a third of the way through, the game has offered enjoyable turn-based combat and a narrative-driven experience that has let me get to know the girls of Hoshinomiya High School as their magical girl story unfolds.
It wouldn’t be a Gust game without cute girls embarking on adventures full of heartfelt friendships with sapphic overtones, and Blue Reflection delivers those expected tropes wrapped in a seemingly innocent magical girl package. The story follows an accomplished dancer named Hinako Shirai who lost her ability to dance ballet after an accident damaged her knee. After recovering, she begins her life as an ordinary high school student at an all-girls school, only to find that her life without dance isn’t so ordinary after all. She and two other girls have the ability to turn into “Reflectors". They become magical girls complete with pretty costumes and powerful weapons that they don to enter the magical realm of “the Common” and help solve the emotional problems of their classmates by defeating demons and empathizing with their issues.
Of course, this leads to strengthening the bonds of the all-powerful “magic of friendship” and introspective musings into Hinako’s own mental state. To capture these abstract concepts in video game form, the experience is broken into two worlds with two different types of gameplay. One is the real world where players will be faced with making friends, helping them with their problems and strengthening your bonds, all done primarily through simple dialogue options that will affect the game in small ways. Befriending classmates and having a better relationship with them in the real world will increase your effectiveness while fighting in the other magical realm creating a nice synergy between the two different types of gameplay.
The other world is called the Common, a magical realm made up of humanity's collective emotions. Here, players will combat personified negative emotions and engage in your typical RPG business of crafting, fighting and leveling up. Combat includes well-known and well-executed mechanics like a dynamically changing turn order and support characters that help out those on the battlefield. These give players more choices and the ability to strategize, breaking up the monotony of navigating menus. The different characters and combat situations seem balanced yet, judgment will be reserved until the final boss fight.
There is also a world-threatening evil called the Sephirot that bridges the gap between the two worlds, and defeating this villain is the ultimate goal of Hinako and her fellow Reflectors. However, compared with navigating the intricacies of high school society, helping your friends confess their feelings to their crush and managing your social media accounts, a world-ending evil doesn't always seem like the highest priority. In this regard, Blue Reflection aptly captures the life of a typical teenage girl with its naive selfishness, big dreams, and intense emotions.
Although these girls are saving the world, the scope of the game is intimate. It revolves around a group of friends at a small school and players will get to know the manageable cast of characters well. While combat deals with dangerous demons and an increasing list of powerful magical abilities and attacks, the heart of the game seems to stay focused on the central cast and their adolescent concerns. It's this focus on high school friendships and Hinako's journey to find meaning in a life without dancing that gives Blue Reflection its charm.
Combat and story aside, the user interface looks slick, is easy to navigate and use. In fact, the overall graphic design for the game is one of its best features. The graphics are shinier (literally) than the developer's previous games, which gives the characteristic big-eyed petite girls a doll-like quality that adds to the game's innocent feminine charm.
Not to speak ill of Gust’s other titles, but Blue Reflection sees the developer putting a lot of time and effort into presenting their new ideas. The theme is cohesive and well woven into the tight narrative and for those who enjoy the magical girl genre and turn-based RPGs (like this ex-ballerina otaku reviewer with a fondness for JRPGs), this will be an enjoyable play. My only complaint so far is that the camera angle can’t be adjusted in the real world but can while in the Common and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for that limitation. We’ll see if these good vibes last through to the end of this magical emotional journey.
Our Blue Reflection first impressions were conducted on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PC via Steam.