Developer GUST relied on their expansive Atelier series until they introduced their original ARPG Nights of Azure last year. The new venture was successful enough to garner a sequel and give the company the ability to create another original title, now released as Blue Reflection. This magical girl themed turn-based RPG is a unique narrative-driven game that proves GUST doesn’t need to rely on Atelier games anymore. Intertwining themes of ballet, friendship, and emotions this game conveys a clear narrative with feminine flair and solid gameplay.
Blue Reflection is half high school simulation and half magical girl turn-based dungeon RPG. Players will meet ex-ballerina Hinako Shirai and her two new friends Yuzu and Lime as she begins attending Hoshinomiya Girls High School. These young ladies are more than cute freshman, they're also Reflectors with the ability to transform into demon fighting superheroes in an alternate dimension. The girls are attractive and likable, as is the design of their costumes (hey that’s very important) which will appeal to fans of the magical girl genre.
Voiced in Japanese with English subtitles, the translation is good albeit with a few typos for the observant reader to catch. The user interface has easy to navigate menus and the graphic design is crisp, clean and pleasant to look at. The music is well suited to the events of the game and GUST was proud enough of the result to make the tracks accessible to listen to via an in-game music player. The character design is reminiscent of GUST’s other works with well proportioned young ladies with over-large glittering eyes and interesting colored hair. Although this game may be one of the developers best products, the animation is still wooden, giving the plastic textured girls an extra doll-like quality that is at times charming and at others off-putting.
The magical girl half of the game is your standard turn-based dungeon RPG. Enemies wander around a relatively small dungeon and interacting with them will initiate a battle with a random collection of foes. Thematically these enemies are the negative emotions of mankind personified as demons. The design of these demons are creepy cool headless creatures of nightmare and the fights with them are well-balanced and fun. Some menu based turn by turn combat can be bogged down with too many options that are difficult to keep track of or conversely have too few options leaving combat a tedious chore. However, Blue Reflection manages to find a sweet spot in between those two pitfalls, giving players a nice selection of offensive, defensive and utilitarian abilities available among the three main characters. There is enough room for strategy and personal play style without getting buried in choices.
Adding a bit of complexity to the straightforward fighting are various other combat elements. These include support characters and additional actions players can choose to allocate resources towards between turns such as a guard move and the ability to speed up your turn in the battle order. All these mechanics introduce themselves gradually so players will be sure to understand and use them effectively. However, they arguably could be made available sooner just so that players got a chance to use them longer. As it is, the last mechanic isn’t introduced until the final act of the game.
All in all, the combat in Blue Reflection is well executed with a dynamic turn order that adds just the right amount of strategy to turn-based combat. With three difficulty modes, grinders and speedrunners alike will find enjoyment in the dungeon portions of the game. Completing the provided missions will get you the needed materials and experience to progress through the game, but those who are extra thorough can slay demons to their heart’s content before moving the story forward.
The high school simulation half of the game is entirely different, consisting of chatting with friends on social media, going on outings after school with friends and relaxing at home. An effective recreation of a teenage girl’s life, these parts of the game are filled with cutscenes and are where most of the story takes place. The actual gameplay in the real world may not be as interesting as in the alternate dimension dungeons but Blue Reflection manages to make these mundane things compelling with its heartfelt story.
Truly narrative driven, the game nicely links the two different worlds and gameplay together by allowing players to strengthen their bonds with friends. Based on who you choose to spend time with, you will gain different perks for combat. Players will likely find themselves picking their favorite friends and wanting to spend time with them learning about their quirks and side stories. These relationships are what will motivate you to play the game through to the end, even more than triumphing over the final boss. The fact that fostering these relationships are so important to the overall gameplay is an interesting mechanic and one of the game’s failings is that it doesn’t impart on the player just how crucial they are. One could essentially “grind” their relationships with certain characters to a higher level if they were careful to do so, or just skate by on the bare minimum. Yet, the flow of gameplay and tutorial prompts while in the real world don’t make it clear that you could focus more on relationships and some players will likely miss out on the full content available because of this.
The least well-integrated element of the game is the section at the end of the day where the player can select something for the protagonist to do at home before bed. These choices can affect what happens the next day and what bonuses they will give your characters stats. but they don’t really have an impact on the story. The way the choices manifest in the game isn't always made clear, which makes them seemingly unimportant. In addition, because there are so few choices to make during these sections, players will find themselves going through the same tedious dialogue and animations over and over again. Luckily they don’t take up very much time and do give you little bonuses for going through them. This isn’t as annoying as the fact that you can’t manipulate the camera while in the real world despite being able to in the other dimension. Perhaps this decision was meant to impart the weakness Hinako feels in life after her accident and her contrasting power while in her magical girl Reflector form, but it’s doubtful. And if that is the case, it’s more frustrating than poignant.
The story of Blue Reflection isn't incredibly unique (there are plenty of manga and anime about magical girls with strong friendships) but it is an enjoyable story well told for those that like the genre. It focuses on how human connection is ultimately more fulfilling than any achievements a person can attain in their life and how Hinako finds meaning in life after her dreams of becoming a ballerina are dashed. The ending could be a bit divisive among players but is certainly a twist worth playing through to the end for.
Mushy touchy-feely elements aside, the game also makes sure to give a fair amount of fan service the developers know their audience desires. From getting caught in the rain with a white blouse to locker room changing scenes, those that wish to will find plenty of opportunities to screenshot their waifus. Still, the game's innocent tone make these fanservice-y scenes more playful than pornographic.
A unique blend of high school life simulator and magical girl turn-based role-playing game, Blue Reflection successfully creates a cohesive narrative about the importance of human connection through the lens of powerful adolescent emotions. The game rolls all the tropes of shojo manga, magical girl anime and classic JRPG’s up into one fan service filled extravaganza complete with the magic of friendship, pretty costumes, challenging bosses and the occasional shower scene. The gameplay is solid but it’s the story that makes Blue Reflection stand out as one of GUST’s best titles. Earning that shiny end boss trophy will feel good but watching that final cutscene may just make you shed a bittersweet tear.
Our Blue Reflection review was conducted on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation Vita and PC via Steam. For more about the game, be sure to check out our First Impressions of the title.
Blue Reflection has minor issues here and there but it tells its story well with likable characters, well-integrated mechanics, solid combat and a unique magical girl style.
- Likable Characters
- Well Told Story
- Solid Combat
- Unique Enemy Design
- Can't Change Camera Angle for Half the Game
- Home Sections are Tedious
- Vague Relationship Mechanic