Blue Reflection (PlayStation 4 Review)
Blue Reflection is a title that is probably going to get—or probably has gotten—a lot of comparisons to the recently released Persona 5. Both use relationships and the human conscience as tools in their narratives, following the regular day-to-day activities of their respective protagonists. However, both titles are different in their execution, with Blue Reflection taking a more modest approach.
Following an injury, the talented Hinako Shirai can no longer do ballet. Now rather empty and goalless, Hinako finally attends the Hoshinomiya Girls High School. It’s at this school that Hinako becomes a magical girl—akin to Sailor Moon—who must protect her classmates’ fractured emotions from preying demons in an alternative world that represents the collective conscience of the school. Ultimately, the end goal is to defeat the Sephirot that are causing the problems so that Hinako can be granted her wish of being able to return to ballet.
Much of the narrative is actually somewhat aimless, much like how the protagonist begins the game herself. Hinako will often meet someone new and eventually witness them going emotionally berserk. By collecting their shards, the protagonist develops a further understanding of both her new friend and herself, forging a whole new bond that will enhance her magical girl powers. Between these story encounters, players can participate in all sorts of social events until they report to party members Yuzuki and Lemon Shijou and progress to the next chapter. Until the report happens, time actually remains in a sort of bubble that doesn’t move forward. This gives the impression that the story meanders a lot.
Players can spend time with each of Hinako’s friends and can do karaoke, visit tombs, or go shopping. There isn’t very much participation in these events, and most of them unfold in the visual novel style. Spending enough time with each character will improve their bond with Hinako, rewarding her with an additional shard. Shards can then be used to enhance any party member’s skills, such as providing health recovery or boosting damage. There’s room for a little creativity here, and it’s possible to mix together somewhat game-breaking combinations of shards and skills. This is actually kind of fun to do.
A fair chunk of the game is set on school grounds, where Hinako can arrange days out with her friends. Briefly, Hinako may also spend some time in the real world at home where she can prepare for the next day, sleep, or bathe. While preparing will often result in an appropriate, additional scene at school that can enhance Hinako’s battle attributes, bathing only serves to give Hinako a moment of relaxation and reflection—ultimately offering the player advice on what they should do next. In anime-esque titles like this, it’s all too easy to be creepy. However, Blue Reflection often surprisingly innocent in its approach. Fanservice is pretty light here. It’s not entirely non-existent, but it’s light for a title like this all the same.
In dungeons, players will find a number of roaming demons and loot. Items can be combined to produce better items, or consumed to improve the effects of the collected shards so far. Bumping into or attacking enemies will launch players into a new battle scene where characters will take separate turns. Each enemy will often have their own weaknesses that can be exploited. Most attacks will consume SP, and will each have different recovery times that provide an opportunity to be a little tactical. It’s possible to chain knockback effects with low recovery actions to prevent slow or low-health enemies from taking turns. Building enough ether, often with a charge action, will also provide additional effects. Most importantly, having enough ether can unlock overdrives—actions that enable the player to combo actions for increasingly lower recovery and SP costs. Chaining this with shard-enhanced actions can be rather rewarding.
As a low budget title, Blue Reflection keeps its ambitions in check. The scale of the story isn’t particularly large, and it’s pretty easy to tell where corners are cut in the game as a whole. For example, cutscenes will often cut Hinako sitting down at her school desk to avoid the need for an appropriate animation. Blue Reflection also suffers from some performance issues. Normally, this reviewer wouldn’t really penalize titles for this too much, but these issues could often be headache inducing. The frame rate would be sporadic, even in simple scenes that were mostly dialogue with little movement. Coupled with the rapid cuts and lack of some animations, Blue Reflection can sometimes have a really stilted flow. Surprisingly though, it does actually look fairly good.
There’s some nice graphic work here, and it’s hard not to notice how particularly well the hair is presented. It’s a weird detail to draw attention to, but it comes somewhat close to reflecting the rather pretty 2D artwork for the title. The UI elements are also rather stylised, reminiscent of the mobile phones that’s often a key part of any high schooler’s life. The real world is also depicted in moody blues, with a lot of focus on lighting and shadows. There’s a really calm atmosphere to the game.
Sadly, there are some localisation issues. There’s sometimes inconsistencies in the writing, and dialogue is mired in typos. It doesn’t feel like there was very much time spent on editing here. Blue Reflection is voiced entirely in Japanese, so this draws even more attention to the errors in the subtitles. It’s not great, but a common trend in videogame localizations tends to be that there isn’t enough time spent in editing. A common solution is to throw an army of editors at the game, but the low budget means this likely wasn’t something that could happen.
Honestly speaking, there’s nothing spectacular about Blue Reflection. It’s rather modest and quaint, but that also gives it some charm. If it weren’t for the performance issues, it’d be difficult to fault it very much.