Drama in an all-girls high school, magical girls and demons bent on the subjugation of the mortal realm! There is a lot to unpack in Gust's latest game - Blue Reflection - let's get started.
Hinako loved the ballet; it was the focus of her life until an accident meant she could no longer dance. This injury prevented her from starting high school with everyone else and in the days before her return she had been living as if already dead. Upon her return Hina is met by an old acquaintance from her previous school. This young girl is terribly excited to have a chance at being friends with Hina and goes off the deep end - time freezes and an ominous aura surrounds the girl... and Hina finds herself being pulled into another world full of bright colours and surreal landscapes dotted with familiar items from our world!
This is The Common, a world formed from human emotion where everyone's feelings coalesce into a physical landscape that Hina, and later her friends Yuzu and Lime (Yuzu is a fruit very similar to a Lemon), can enter in order to alter the emotions of those around them.
Within this realm there are also the demons, beings who feed off of heightened emotional energy, energy like that being produced by Hina's friend back in the real world who went 'Rampant' with overwhelming excitement at being Hina's friend in this new school. These strong emotions take the form of a crystalline fragment within The Common, once found Hinako discovers she has the ability to quell these emotions through gaining an understanding of how the Rampant individual feels.
This is where Blue Reflection
finds its strongest feature - the story of Hina building friendships with the girls in her school through learning to understand them. They are all at the age when hormones rule them and cause emotions to run high. She doesn't always get what is going through another girl's head at first and is sometimes even reluctant to get involved, but ultimately she always finds a way to connect and through those connections she grows in power as a Reflector - the specific name for Magical Girls in this universe.
Sadly there are a number of things marring what would otherwise be an excellent story. First among these is poor localisation that is littered with spelling mistakes, missing or repeated words and generally bad grammar.
Second is the sexualisation of these girls; from camera shots that linger on chests and bottoms to barely concealed nudity during a shower scene. Usually this is just attributed to 'fan service', something that is expected from a RPG of Japanese origin, but here it feels completely misplaced in a game aimed squarely at a young female audience. But my main issue with this is their ages - the main characters are all fifteen years old, which might be 'fine' in Japan, but in the UK and America it is definitely below the age of consent and whilst there is no explicitly sexual content it still feels uncomfortable to watch.
My third and final major gripe about Blue Reflection
comes in the form of the large boss fights, the Sephira. They all look amazing and feel like a Lovecraftian version of the Angels from Evangelion
. However, there are only five of them and you fight four of them twice. The second time around the fight is a little different, but not enough to feel like an altogether new enemy. It's a minor fault, but it feels like padding rather than the clever design Gust probably thinks it was.
On the plus side the combat in Blue Reflection
is top notch turn based/active time battle that steadily ramps up the available mechanics as the game progresses. As each turn is taken you have a number of abilities to choose from, some of which can extend the time enemies need to wait before taking their turn, or you can choose big-hitting moves that push your next turn further back on the timeline.
Each girl has her own damage types, strengths and weaknesses. You can buff your allies and de-buff the demons, and in the later game you get the ability to use multiple moves in a single go thanks to the Reflect gauge, and doing this three times in a single move will trigger a super devastating move. The animations and effects for the girl's moves also help sell the combat with loads of flashy particle effects and neat choreography.
is a visual treat. The character models are shaded in such a way that they come somewhere between the cartoony shading of anime and realistic as light plays over skin and clothing. The real word buildings are dull looking, but this serves to heighten the vibrant atmosphere found in The Common. However, the set dressing within the various classrooms in the school is packed with charm and minor details that will feel nostalgic to anyone with clear memories of their high school days, even though this school is set in Japan.
The Common couldn't provide a better contrast to the real world locations. Each zone is based around a different emotion; from a sunken city to an overgrown forest with a perpetually setting sun and from a lush glade to lava-lit basalt corridors.
Each zone is made up of smaller sub-zones that connect via loading screens. You run through each looking for particular demons to slay to fulfil quest objectives or farm materials. Main story missions seem to complete randomly, or when a certain amount of enemies have been defeated or chests opened. The good news is that combat is mostly optional because it rewards no experience to level up the girls, just materials to use in increasing the rank of equipment. Levelling up is done through completing story objectives and making progress in your social life in the real world.
Finally I have to mention the soundtrack - it is mostly fantastic with a mix of hauntingly beautiful piano work and pop-tastic electronica that blends some wonderfully uplifting orchestral riffs. Koei Tecmo has smartly uploaded some of the tracks to their YouTube channel and I highly recommend giving them a listen, especially 'Overdose', which is a battle theme that features some of my favourite melodies from the whole soundtrack.
scratched a very specific itch for me. I'm an unashamed fan of Sailor Moon
and Cardcaptor Sakura
, and having a good turn-based JRPG that really leans into the whole Magical Girl thing is brilliant. I just wish it hadn't marred the story with inappropriate or unnecessary fan service. It is hard to recommend broadly, but if you can put aside the cons there is a lot to love and within each girl's troubles you'll find at least one that you can relate to, no
matter your age or gender.
+ Wonderful story-focused on understanding others
+ Visually beautiful character models and lighting
+ Excellent music that will stick with you
+ Fun turn-based combat that never loses its welcome because you don't have to grind.
- Sloppily edited English localisation
- Gross fan service wasn't required
SPOnG Score: 7/10