I'm gonna try to rate this game the best I can, as I've never written a review on a game before. I suppose I should start with some background; Blue Dragon was created by Sakaguchi, Uematsu, and Toriyama: The RPG Dream Team. This is the same coalition that made Chrono Trigger, which is widely regarded to be the best RPG of all time. Personally, I've never been too keen on RPGs. They seem like a neat genre, but the huge timesink turns me off. Blue Dragon strangely intrigued me though...
So, Blue Dragon is a very basic RPG. This isn't to discredit it, however; Blue Dragon's design principle was to streamline the basic RPG formula as a whole. If you research the history of RPGs and go back to the very first Dragon Quest game, the same idea was strived for there as well. Streamlining is often conflated with simplicity, and simplicity is treated as undesirable in the eyes of veteran gamers. So what does Blue Dragon do to streamline basic turn-based mechanics? Well for starters, there's mechanics like field skills and the encounter ring. Field Skills are abilities that allow you to do things like; instantly kill previously fought enemies with the field barrier, or hide from enemies by turning invisible. Helpful "power-ups" that are indeed useful if you're going for all achievements for this game. The encounter ring is a fairly large enclosing you can summon at will that groups together each enemy in the ring. This also pauses time. These are examples of 'streamlining' basic RPG gameplay to make the process less meandering; There are a few design quirks this game has that stain that idea though.
For one, this game follows the generic RPG trope of having large dungeons where everything looks the same. Structural layouts are hardly any different and you're only able to memorize dungeons due to enemy layout, which isn't easy to cultivate. It's not easy to remember the unique layouts of enemies and paths because the compass is almost functionally useless. For whatever reason, the compass used shifts it's north arrow whenever you enter a dungeon. If the compass was consistent on the field, this wouldn't be an issue, but on the field, the compass swings rapidly back and forth and isn't very useful. Secondly, the class system. I really love this class system, I looked at how other RPGs handled team members, and this is by far my favorite system. There is one, horrible thing this game has done though; The Generalist class. The Generalist class has no reason to exist. In this game, you level up classes in order to gain new skills. You are essentially forced into grinding the Generalist class as early as you can though. This is because the Generalist class is the only way to allow your character to gain more skill slots and equip special accessories. This is clearly a design choice meant for adding baggage and could've easily been implemented to a character's regular leveling system. Excuse me if this sounds like whining on part of a few game mechanics; but when you realize that you'll spend 40-110 hours with this game, small flaws on paper become massive, glaring issues.
Blue Dragon attempted to spice up basic turn-based gameplay in order to make the game more appealing. What the developers did was add a progress bar. Similar to Grandia, all characters on the field take turns on a progress bar. Multiple things dictate who goes first, agility being the main factor. However, in Blue Dragon, most attacks are ones you can charge. Employing the basic risk/reward design principle, charging an attack or spell takes more time, and whether or not you can afford that depends on the situation. I like this because, in conjunction with how ruthless certain postgame bosses are, it adds a sense of urgency even when you're above a recommended level facing a certain boss. In terms of game balance, I'd sell it's alright. Like everything else with this game save for graphics and sound, it's just 'OK'. There are many basic spells you can cast, Magical and Physical attacks have their strengths and weaknesses; There's nothing outstanding or negative you could say about this.
On the Graphics and Sound side, Blue Dragon is one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360. It also has one of my favorite soundtracks- in video games ever. Uematsu is a total beast, and this is possibly his greatest work to date.
This review is rather long at this point, you may be wondering about the story- I haven't mentioned it yet because there really isn't anything to talk about. Characters, for the most part, remain entirely static, delivering lines that are essentially just observations the player could make for himself. It's a generic RPG story, from "Back in Ancient Times, everyone used Magic" to "lol magic war" all the way to the game's conclusion. I actually liked the ending, it's a very odd ending. The ideas and concepts are definitely cool though, although this game is still missing it's 'hook'.
As for Achievements, I don't recommend achievement hunting! This game has items you can completely miss, and the only option is to start a new game plus run or new game altogether. You have to be prepared for basically everything, yet there are boring grinding achievements thrown in there as well. It took me 90 hours to complete both the monster record and the item record, the hardest achievements to actually get. The complete item record entails getting every accessory, every shop item, and every key item. That last part is difficult due to certain NPC sidequests being hard to actually understand. The Complete Monster Record involves beating two optional super bosses, the Golden Mecha Robo and the King Poo. These are two achievements that are worthy challenges, and I had a lot of fun getting them...
What wasn't fun was grinding for a total of 27 hours though. It was the only way to Max Rank all Classes and all Levels. These aren't good achievements mainly because you have to go for far out of your way to get them- and they aren't even fun or conducive at all.
Overall, Blue Dragon is a very middling game. I still really enjoy it for Toriyama's art style charm, it's music, and it's narrator:
raNK UP! NEW SKILL