Blue Reflection Review
Blue Reflection is one of those rare original IPs from Gust we don’t see a lot of from the veteran developer. Set at Hoshinomiya Girls’ High School, it tells the story of a freshman named Hinako Shirai. All her life she wanted to be a ballet dancer, but after a tragic accident robs her of her dreams, she becomes reclusive and hides her emotions from the rest of the world.
Things start to change when she meets a pair of twins who soon become her best friends, the cheerful Yuzu and the astute Lime. She soon discovers the existence of a mysterious parallel dimension called the Common where mankind's inhibitions lie. She finds out she can freely move around and shape this world using only her imagination.
There, Hinako and her friends must work to resolve the problems her classmates have been experiencing in the real world, but with this power brings its own serious perils. By wielding the power of the Reflector bestowed upon her by her best friends who turn out to be magical girls, they are able to grant wishes so long as they defend their homeworld. It is in this world Hinako can gain new strength to help her now-treasured friends and fight in the Common.
While it has its moments, don’t expect a lot of originality with the plot. It’s filled cliches and tropes inherent to the “magical girl” genre, including a cute little transformation scene. It’s an angle where emotions translate into the amount of power they wield, which plays a big role in the direction the plot goes. I did find myself connecting with some of the characters, so I give the game credit for doing that much.
So let’s talk a bit about what you can expect at the beginning. As soon as you open the game, you’re presented with a launcher that gives you access to the game’s settings. From there, you’re able to change the resolution, the language (English, Japanese, and Chinese), and controller or keyboard input settings. That’s about it. The in-game settings only let you change the sound mixing, camera controls, and difficulty level. It’s a barebone set-up that doesn’t take advantage of the PC hardware, but it has become par for the course for these types of games.
As you roam around the school, you are given an opportunity to speak with the other students and faculty. Unfortunately, the different areas located around the school and the Common (where almost all the battles take place) are small, so there’s not a lot of exploration to indulge in. I had no trouble getting to the end of the game in a hurry with its simplistic challenge even on the Normal difficulty. But in the meantime, you can participate in the social media app "FreeSpace", play around with a neat pet-raising simulation minigame, and more.
There are also these things called “Fragments.” These pieces represent people's emotions, and it's a Reflector's job is to keep them safe from demons known as the Sephirot. When you obtain one of these Fragments, they can be attached to player skills (think of them like filling slots) to provide passive effects such as lowered MP usage and higher elemental damage. As I mentioned, there are only a couple ways to get these things, so this doesn't leave a lot of room for personalization.
That is the basic routine: Yuzu and Lime give you a critical story objective, but you can do whatever you please before completing those tasks. Every chapter has you meeting and solving the problems of a few of your classmates.
Hinako can also head into town at the end of the day and go shopping, see a movie, or grab a bite to eat with her friends. This gives you the chance to raise the affection level of other students who help you find Fragments and unlock special cutscenes.
In its defense, Blue Reflection doesn't need a lot of improvements because it has this unique, yet beautiful art style similar to the recent Atelier entries. It straddles the line between an anime-styled approach and real-life visuals that has become Gust's signature. I will say it does a far between job representing Mel Kishida's original concept art, which is a big bonus in my book.
To me, the better the developers are at recreating a character designer's vision, the more appealing and incomparable a game is in a genre filled with clones. Blue Reflection does a really good job standing apart from the crowd with a slick presentation supported by cinematic cutscenes. And while the models themselves can sometimes come across look like dolls, this look fits for most of the students.
This attention to detail carries over to the soundtrack, of which I'm a huge proponent of. As I ran around the school, there's a peaceful ambient song being played that felt like a nice, warm embrace. It knows when to change it up to hit just the right note for what's being presented. Gust always does amazing work with their music, and every moment of this game supports that notion.
This leads us to the turn-based battle system. As the only three Reflectors in existence, Hifnako, Yuzu, and Lime will always be your three core teammates on the field.
Each has their own unique abilities that play a very important role in combat, and as is the case with many other modern RPGs, there are ways to manipulate your turn order to gain the advantage. You can even call upon some of your student friends to assist you in combat. Certain monsters can also drop materials that can be crafted into consumable items containing permanent stat bonuses.
You won’t earn experience the old-fashioned way. Instead, it’s all based on reaching specific milestones in the story and from completing side-missions. When a character levels up, you can assign a Growth Point into either Attack, Defense, Support, or Technic. You can see whether putting your points into certain categories will unlock new skills, so this is a fun way to customize each person's individual combat style.
Just like the rest of the game, Blue Reflection offers an incredibly gorgeous interface during encounters. Everything moves around according to your inputs in a way that feels aesthetically pleasing. Even the camera orients itself in such a way to give each action some nice flair. Screenshots don’t do it any favors; once you see it in motion, you’ll know exactly what I mean. But that doesn't mean the game is always technically sound.
Playing on PC, the framerate can be all over the place. Not only is there stuttering when you're walking around outside, but things get downright choppy during transformation sequences. The game could really use a patch to fix these problems because from what I've heard, they also exist on the PlayStation 4 version.
Another problem is the 2D art assets appear to be stretched. It's not immediately obvious until I started looking at the PS4 screenshots we had on file.
Apparently, after doing some research, it seems the Steam version could be (keyword "could") using upscaled 1280x720 (720p) files, whereas the PS4 version uses fully rendered 1920x1080 (aka 1080p) files. The only logical explanation is that a PC version was decided upon at the last moment, leading to unoptimized assets. Of course, it's possible I may be mistaken and my eyes are playing tricks on me, but there are appear to be some quality issues including aliasing that caught my eye.
At least the 3D character models look nice and detailed. According to the Steam forums, this was also apparently a thing with the PC version of Atelier Firis and its lack of post-processing effects upon release, but I can't personally speak for that one.
Otherwise, Blue Reflection offers a lot of highly attractive traits worth appreciating. It is certainly Gust’s most visually impressive game to date with a clean and stylistic UI that gives it a strong sense of identity. The music and voice acting are also brilliant, giving the adventure much-needed gravity.
Coupled with a deep combat system showcasing a penchant for choreography, and there’s plenty to enjoy here. However, it is hindered by lower quality assets on the PC side, uneven performance, an unbalanced difficulty, and a story that never quite escapes its overly-explored foundation.
Despite these qualms, those who are fans of Gust’s library will love what Blue Reflection offers. It's clear the developers had a lot of fun experimenting with this game, and one can hope this inventiveness will extend to their future catalog.