Developed by Gust Co. Ltd. Published by Koei Tecmo Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (also available on Steam and Vita)
Blue Reflection is a new role-playing title from Gust, who are known for their long-running Atelier series as well as Ar Tonelico, Ar Nosurge, and Nights of Azure. Gust frequently creates stylized adventures that prominently feature female characters, and Blue Reflection embodies all of their strengths. Unlike Gust’s fantasy and sci-fi inspired work, Blue Reflection revolves around a fictional all-girls high school and draws inspiration from present day Japan. However, the characters travel to otherworldly locales in order to overcome threats, solve problems, and protect the status quo. While Blue Reflection is a relatively straightforward take on the role-playing genre, its execution is fresh, marvelous, and entertaining.
Blue Reflection follows Hinako Shirai as she juggles responsibilities at Hoshinomiya Girls’ High School with unfathomable adventures. After a crippling injury undermines her ballet dancing aspirations, she becomes despondent as she prepares to attend school. Her ordinary life completely changes once she stumbles into The Common, an ethereal alternate dimension spawned by human emotion. The mysterious girls Yuzu and Lime teach her how to transform into a Reflector, a magical girl capable of harnessing emotional energy and stabilizing erratic circumstances. The three girls strive to help their classmates and form powerful bonds that can help combat looming threats.
The game primarily follows established Japanese role-playing game conventions with a linear narrative. Much of the game’s narrative is told through cutscenes that portray Hinako’s interactions with her classmates. These cutscenes are generally well paced and full of amusing character interactions. Hinako can then explore the school and talk to a wide variety of characters, complete quests, and advance the story. Hinako, Yuzu, and Lime regularly need to enter The Common to complete objectives such as locating items and defeating foes. The party engages enemies in turn-based combat, and it can access a range of Attack and Support skills and a few other options that boost battle effectiveness. Acts like dealing damage, healing, restoring magic points, and exploiting enemy weaknesses feel familiar. Despite the game’s straightforward combat. the magical girl motif leads to over-the-top skills with appropriately extravagant names.
However, it also defies conventions with a few experimental mechanics. For instance, the game actually lacks experience and gold, which is a bit shocking. Instead, completing quests grants stat upgrade points and Fragments that boost skills’ effectiveness. Players can freely mix and match Fragments with different skills, which is an entertaining customization process that can lead to new battle tactics. The game also tangentially takes a page from Gust’s Atelier playbook by allowing players to obtain plenty of materials while exploring dungeons and defeating enemies. These materials can be used to craft supplementary items and upgrade Fragments’ effectiveness. The game’s longform boss battles provide a fair amount of opposition, but players can access an expanded support system that leads to even more customization opportunities.
Gust continues to create a set of interesting environments that lead to a fun experience. Players can freely travel through Hoshinomiya High School, and each space seems believable with plenty of compelling details. Exploring offices, classrooms, and outside fields is surprisingly captivating. While the dungeons’ walkways are relatively narrow and rigidly constructed, the overall vibrancy and set design are breathtaking. These dungeons compellingly juxtapose mundane objects with extraordinary motifs. Placing street signs next to strangely ambiguous crystals creates a mysterious atmosphere. While players can expect to revisit environments from time to time, each visit is nonetheless wonderful.
Another Gust hallmark is providing a fantastic soundtrack throughout the entire experience, and Blue Reflection’s tunes do not disappoint. They utilize a whole range of instruments ranging from violins to high tempo electronic beats. The main battle theme utilizes a whole range of disparate instruments that is simultaneously eccentric and catchy. The tunes accompanying school exploration and chatting with classmates also feel appropriately soothing.
Many of the game’s visual and mechanical touches create a more enthralling experience. The game’s user interface consistently uses an elegant diamond motif, which is pleasing to experience across battle options and system menus. Furthermore, Hinako’s phone contains its own takes on mobile gaming and sticker-based messaging. These messages are not only highly relatable but are also quite funny. The school itself is also full of an incredible roster of characters, and every non-playable character has a descriptive title. One of the most interesting touches is that the 3D character models recreate the charm and soft details of Mel Kishida’s character art. It is incredibly fascinating experiencing how Gust’s 3D models have increasingly matched their marvelous character designs. While it might have been nice to see a wider range of facial animation and expression, it is still excellent experiencing such art in a 3D space.
At times, a handful of aspects slightly mar the experience. For instance, the game has a few spelling and syntactical errors, and the line breaks sometimes occur at strange positions. Fortunately, the text is always readily understandable. The way the game introduces new functions such as item synthesis can also feel somewhat arbitrary and out of the blue. Players can eventually make fun tactical choices between each turn in battle, but until then the slight delay between turns can feel strange. Sometimes the sheer number of skills can seem overbearing as well, and it can take a while to sift through lists in battle.
Blue Reflection showcases Gust’s ability to create stylized role-playing experiences full of lively characters and captivating moments. The extravagant magical girl themes, skill customization, and well crafted aesthetics lead to an entertaining take on the Japanese role-playing genre. Gust’s craftsmanship helps keep the experience fresh even though the game flow feels familiar. The game creates relatable situations through the use of real-world inspired locations, extensive character dialogue, and otherworldly themes. Blue Reflection’s unique take on tried-yet-true genre conventions caters to genre veterans and newcomers alike.