Title: Blue Reflection
Platform: PC, PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release date: Out now
Price: Steam: £50/$60, PS4: £50/$60
TL;DR: Soft core porn disguised as a magical girl game.
Family Friendly? It absolutely isn’t, but click here anyway.
I picked up this game because it looked like fun. Magical girls fighting monsters with big swords! Colourful outfits, making friends, and a cheesy plot with some dramatic moments thrown in, fun for all the family…! Come on, I’d just slogged through 106 hours of Persona 5, I love this kind of thing, shaky plots and slightly questionable outfits aside. That’s a JRPG staple, I thought to myself. I can ignore that, like I do for 99% of the games in my collection.
What I got instead was a hollowed out husk of a game that for some reason charges £50 for a “JRPG,” as deep as a puddle, yet insists on drowning me with really skeevy fanservice, the focus of which being “high school girls,” who could genuinely be mistaken for 12 year olds.
Blue Reflection is your run of the mill magical girl game, where teenagers in gauzy outfits flit around with cutesy weapons and kill big ass monsters to save the world, and also get a wish at the end of it for their trouble. If you can’t tell the difference between this and the multitude of other, identical games and anime like it, that’s basically the way this game goes throughout. There’s very little actual original content in this – it’s all very tropey, clichéd, and doesn’t even have the saving grace of being a well told story.
Hinako Shirai is your average Japanese schoolgirl. She’s miserable and depressed because an unspecified accident crippled her, and she can no longer dance. She has nothing left to live for, and drags herself from school, to physio, to home, and has totally given up. And then one day, two mysterious “transfer students,” show up, and she gets transported to the Common, to fight monsters borne from rampaging human emotions. The two girls (which the game explains that even though they’re identical and the same age, they’re not twins, and is promptly never mentioned again), are Yuzu and Lime Shijou, and they’re magical girls. So now Hinako has to be one, because if she does, she’ll get her leg fixed!
Now, to be serious for a second, I quite liked her motivation for becoming a Reflector, their name for magical girl. It’s quietly selfish – “sod the world, I want to dance again!” It would have also been a nice way to have a disabled protagonist that isn’t for obvious token diversity points, and actually has plot relevancy – I could really be rooting for Hinako if they’d shown this properly. Show me this crippling accident. Show me Hinako struggling with day to day life and her depression. Show me her going to physio and doctor’s appointments instead of just mentioning it offhand.
It’s a great initial idea, but this has no impact on gameplay or story other than Hinako collapsing in a heap when she tries to dance, in the same animation every single time, because budget was the least of this game’s issues. A big point of her fighting in the Common was that she was able to run and move freely, but in the real world, she doesn’t even limp, for crying out loud! This is coming from someone who had 22 years of a foot deformity to deal with – you limp when that hurts! It might have well not have existed at all.
The only vaguely unique idea this game has is that when human emotions get out of control, they go rampant, and solidify into Fragments, which can be stabilised by a Reflector connecting and empathising with the human host. These Fragments can then be equipped and used as passive/active abilities in battle. So, to get stronger and fight off these monsters, which the translation can’t decide are called “Sephira,” or “Sephirot,” Hinako and co solve the problems of their schoolfriends, making friends and collecting Fragments, all whilst awaiting the next giant monster battle.
The plot is shallow and full of holes. No one has any character development aside from their first initial Fragment mission – they go rampant, Hinako sympathises with them, and they realise the error of their ways. They each get their one token character trait, but otherwise, they’re all pretty generic. Apparently you can level the other nine girls up through inviting them out after school, much like Persona 5’s Confidants, but this is very poorly implemented – I had no idea there were actual stages to it, because the game never tells the player. The game generates random places (by this, there’s five locations) that you can go to after school, and it’s a very basic “this is what we did,” sort of screen – you never see anything more detailed than one initial location shot. These can also be levelled up and maxed out, but the game never indicates this – you have to go out with them enough times to get to one specific location, and then you’ll presumably get a Fragment for your trouble.
The story itself seems to oscillate between slice of life and fantasy. There’s a whole lot of focus, for example, on a play the school is putting on, and we never actually see this in the ending, so why bother spending about six hours of plot on it? Aside from the social stuff the player has to activate, the characters never interact with each other apart from Reflector stuff. They’re all very flimsy archetypes, and the narrative thread the game is trying to weave about the Shijou girls really isn’t given enough weight to have merit. A good example comes midway through the plot; spoilers ahead if you actually intend on playing this.
It comes to light they lied to Hinako about getting a wish. She just has to fight the Sephira because she’s the chosen one. And what does Hinako do? Scream, cry, get really, really mad? Nope. Nada. Nothing. She’s desperate to dance again, and yet this plot point is dropped without a second thought.
There’s also not really a bad guy to this story. The Sephira are bad guys because something something gods creating humanity, and then you see the god later on, but the main story is weirdly devoid of conflict, except for Mao for approximately five minutes, who was played up to be a bad guy with really strong powers, then joined the rest of the gang, albeit unwittingly. Any remotely interesting backstory is told in a garbled, two minute scene, and rearranged, this could have been a good story, but presentation of everything – gameplay, graphics, and plot – is just flat out bad.
This doesn’t look like a PS4 game; it looks like something you’d find in a mediocre PS2 game. Whilst the aesthetics are nice (it tries to pull off a soft, feminine, doll like character model) they’re obviously very limited, and has a lot of same face problems going on. There’s also tons of graphical glitches, which is mostly hair clipping through things (Yuzu’s plaits being a particular offender), and while we’re at it, an unacceptable amount of translation errors for a game being sold for £50. It can’t decide between “Lime,” and “Raimu,” for example, and while the former works paired with Yuzu’s name… why Anglicize it? I mean, we’ve already got Hinako and Yuzuki, was Raimu too much? Yet there’s tons of times where the subs will call her Raimu. Then there’s the grammatical errors, the plethora of spelling mistakes, and this gem, which I promise is 100% unaltered:
As for gameplay, there isn’t much of it. You either go to the Common, the school, or Hinako’s house, and you can’t even move around in that last one. The school is your usual “go and talk to people,” deal, only you can’t study, join clubs, or do anything remotely school-like. Combat is one of two things – one of the four Common zones, or a boss fight, on the school field. Though you only get Fragments from main characters (the nine NPC friends), you need to accumulate points and level up to trigger the next boss fight – padding to make up for the lack of plot, essentially. This is the slice of life stuff – a girl is upset for some mundane reason, and Hinako has to empathise with and fix them. This rarely furthers the plot; it’s usually finding out a bit more about Hinako’s groups, or fixing the woes of one of the other school kids.
To get these points, you clear missions that your friends give you, and they’re either “kill a x amount of this specific enemy,” or “make these items and talk to someone.” You’re then dropped into one of the four zones (Anger, Fear, Sorrow, or Happiness) which are genuinely gorgeous, yet linear and tiny set pieces. You can run across one in two minutes, and dodge enemies with ease – you can teleport into another identical map if the enemy you need isn’t there, but otherwise, that’s all there is. It gets repetitive, very quickly, and the only up side is that you can complete most missions within about five minutes. You can also choose to build your characters, so putting points into HP, MP, Speed etc, but I levelled everyone equally, since no one appears to have any particular role.
It’s your run of the mill turn based combat with a bit of a twist – see the timeline at the top? Based on where your team, or the enemy, ends up, you attack first, and some of your attacks can knock the enemy further down the timeline, especially if you use the right kind of attack. This would work great if the MP cost wasn’t so stupidly limited; two heavy hitting attacks from Yuzu, and she’s done, forcing me to recharge to get it back, which leaves me completely vulnerable to enemy attacks, and will end up killing you. It’s not even a case of MP management, because the only way to do damage is to use the heavier attacks. Getting MP back means draining the Ether gauge, which was a neat little mechanic, because you could also recharge HP, and set up a guard barrier this way, great for boss fights.
Speaking of the boss fights, the game gives you “supporters,” to use, which are the 9 NPCs you befriend across the course of the game, giving you various buffs or attacks throughout the fight, though they also run away at inopportune times which are apparently random. My biggest gripe about the combat, though, is that it’s too damn easy. I literally spammed Grape Wave for the majority of the battles, because Yuzu is a beast and can wipe out everything in one hit; I shouldn’t be able to win battles with one eye on a book. The only “difficulty,” was occasionally grinding for items needed for a quest, and that didn’t take long. There is a little monster raising mini game, a chat feature, and a “Find Chihiro’s teddies,” quest, all accessible on Hinako’s smartphone, only I’m fairly sure the last one is bugged, since finding Teddy doesn’t even let you interact with him.
The absolute worst thing about Blue Reflection, if you weren’t put off enough already, is the absolutely abhorrent fanservice. I know this is fairly standard in JRPGs, and I’ve come to expect it; I’m not a complete prude, and usually eye roll a bit and forget about it after a while. This game, however, squarely sexualises its main cast that genuinely look like 12 year old girls. Look at Lime’s costume above – it’s really pretty, until you notice the side boob and that it’s cut the middle of the dress completely; Hinako’s dress has no back, to the point you can see her ass crack. Really.
And it’s not just the magical girl costumes. There’s a ton of weirdly sexual camera angles, including opening on a shot of Hinako’s backside while she’s in a swimming pool, panning up to show her legs and skirt, and one particularly egregious example where she’s been knocked flat on her back, and her skirt has been rucked up to her waist, showing underwear and all. Then there’s the conversations about Shihori wanting to swap underwear, Kei suggesting they all go topless, multiple scenes of Hinako in the bath that serve no purpose (the other activities at least give stats), conversations in the school showers, and multiple scenes like this:
They’re not really played for laughs, just there, over and over again. And while I’ve come to expect this from JRPGs, this quickly became flat out uncomfortable – who exactly is the target audience for this? These girls look way too young for all this kind of thing, and it was surprising when I realised I couldn’t rotate the camera in battle to show off Hinako’s panties (various attacks of hers, and other supporters, still show them), until I found out this had been dummied out in the English version. The Japanese version also has this feature in the dressing room, if you bought the DLC.
Oh, and all their shirts turn see through when it rains, because of course they do.
If this didn’t have the fanservice in there, I would have just written this off as a poor game. If I’d paid £20 for this, I could be more forgiving. In conclusion, it’s not worth the money or the time, because the plot goes nowhere, and the insistence on sexualising young girls gets real squicky, real fast. It had the interesting potential and could have come to a heartwrenching conclusion if it hadn’t been so confusingly, badly told, and incredibly shallow in every aspect of the game.
If you want one positive thing, the battle and boss music is actually superb and really beautiful, as is the concept art, which you can see in the game’s menu after you complete it. Just… nothing else.
• The soundtrack is fast paced, dancey violin tracks that are a delight to hear.
• The costumes, in theory, are very pretty, like Hinako’s gossamer wings, as are the environments.
• The monster designs are badass.
• The plot literally goes nowhere, and has no payoff.
• Continuously skeevy sexualisation of girls who don’t look anywhere near legal.
• Model clipping, translation errors, repetitive battles, no English dub, and a shallow social link system, all yours for £50!
Blue Reflection is rated PEGI 16 for nudity of a sexual nature, sexual images and/or sexual innuendo, and non realistic violence, and T for Teen for mostly the same reasons. It’s not family friendly.
Disclaimer: This review is based off a retail copy of the game purchased for the purpose of this review.