Man. Blue Reflection was a game I had been excited about since its release in Japan over a year ago. I avoided all gameplay footage that I could (but what I had seen was fantastic!), and resorted only to cutscene and promotional details to decide on the game once I heard about its English localization. And God, I hadn’t been that hyped for a game in so long. An RPG where you play as a magical girl (known as Mahou Shoujo in Japan) masquerading as a regular high school student, and having to juggle both elements of her life. I have been wanting a game like this for ages! And this was it, I couldn’t wait!
Some history for those not of the weeaboo clan, when something in Japan is considered a part of the Mahou Shojo genre, it typically involved a middle-high school aged girl suddenly gaining the ability to transform with reused animation sequences into a magical warrior who fights some monster of the week, or in some of the darker cases, themselves. It’s an interesting genre with a ton of potential; think Sailor Moon, Magic Knight Rayearth, Madoka, Cardcaptors, etc. One of the famous examples, Madoka, took the usually lighthearted and sweet nature of the magical girl genre and used it to trick audiences into watching this horrific, violent combat anime, and it’s surprisingly considered one of the best of the genre.
Video games, to my knowledge (other than weird, crappy ports of an anime or something) have never exploited the idea of Mahou Shoujo themselves until Blue Reflection, and the potential was literally limitless. It could’ve been the next Persona, it could’ve been better than Persona 5, one of the best games to come out of the last decade. Just picturing the game, I thought to myself “the loading screens could be the transformation sequences! It could play on popular tropes and twist them around creatively in ways only video games can! Maybe the sequences could be minigames! You could recruit other magical girls to your side and that’s how you get party members! You could have to manage keeping up in school a la Persona, while making sure to take time to patrol or transport to the magical land or wherever the magic came from! Each girl could have a different theme (as they often do), and that could determine their combat powers in the RPG segments! This is going to be the best. Game. Ever.”
And MAN did hype hit me hard.
Visually the game looks stunning, at parts. During boss sequences there is no denying the game pushes out fine graphics and very creative monsters, however during the Overworld sequences, your walk sequence is awkward, the cutscenes are very stoic and everyone just looks like painted dolls rather than cute anime girls. The dialogue can get a little cringy, which by the way, cannot even be selected in English, the subtitles have frequent misspellings, and the scene transitions are just… atrocious. Characters teleport all over the place, across the room, back to the front of the room, outside, inside, wherever the conversation needs them to be, they just poof there, and it’s so jarring and takes you right out of what little narrative there is.
Now, it’s not all bad. The three girls you control (yes, only three, ever, in an RPG), Yuzu, Lime, and Hinako (the main character) look gorgeous in their magical girl forms, and when Hinako has to destroy the big bad monster of the arc, the sequence is usually cool and very satisfying. That being said, combat really… isn’t. It’s essentially pick the attack that would hit the most guys at once and spam it. Haven’t lost a battle yet with this method. There’s some kind of charge meter on the HUD during battle that’s supposed to represent how powerful the girls are and how many actions they can take, and you can have one girl sit out a round just to charge this meter, which was a good idea at first but never came into play for me during my playthrough. I can say I maybe used it a handful of times, and that’s such a shame. It tries to use a gauge on the top to tell you the order of who will fight, allowing you some strategy behind who to attack, but again I never felt the need to use it with the game’s simplistic and frankly too easy combat.
What hurts me most is I saw someone’s vision here. Someone had a great idea, someone had great designs, someone had great art, and just didn’t have a great way to implement them, and it hurts my heart to see art pieces like this one suffer to that. Blue Reflection could have been an amazing game. It could have given birth to copycats, or inspire games similar to it, adding more Mahou Shoujo content into the aether of video game media, but I’m afraid the critical failure of this game is going to do the opposite. I fear this is the only Mahou Shoujo game I’m going to see in my life time and no one will ever take the risk again without it being attached to something as big as Sailor Moon to even consider it. I’m usually a huge fan of Gust’s simple, relaxing RPG style too in their Atelier series, but something about it just doesn’t work here and it hurts to say that. I can only hope Gust or even another studio picks the genre back up, because this is so much unexplored territory here in the video game space that I would love to see, and I’m sure many others of the weeaboo clan would too.