Review – Blue Reflection: Second Light
My nerd status runs deep, having been an integral part of my upbringing. Hell, one of my earliest memories is fangirling over Sailor Moon. Something about it resonated with me and grabbed my interest in a vice. Perhaps it was the all-female cast, or maybe my crush on Sailor Jupiter. Whatever it was, Blue Reflection: Second Light attempts to mimic the former point with its playable cast. This game’s the very definition of girl power, but before any scuffs echo out, maybe read over this review. Full disclosure; I came in expecting a disaster – a game that struggles to capture the imagination. Well, hush my mouth because what we have here is a plot full of genuine curiosities. For folks familiar with Gust developed titles, the gameplay is lifted straight out of the Atelier franchise. With the first Blue Reflection being divisive, will the second be less so?
JRPGs have a subset of tropes that the literary aspect often chooses from. The most predominant one of the bunch is amnesia, which holds firm here, albeit with a twist. You see, the playable character isn’t afflicted by it at all. On the contrary, as it’s the supporting cast that suffers. Neither of them can recall their past or why they woke up in a school that is not only surrounded by water, but isolated from reality. Throughout the adventure, I was journeying to uncover everyone’s memories and unravel the mystery behind this world. And let me tell you, the mystery is bloody fantastic. I was enthralled every minute I’d put in, curious of the next reveal. As more came to light, my intrigue grew further because I had to know what happened next, and that, my friends, is an investment due to a good story.
Another cliché utilized is most prevalent in anime – the power of friendship. We witness this group of girls band together, despite the inability to remember a thing about themselves. Bonds and relationships develop right before our eyes. One of them even shows resistance to the idea, although pretty flimsily. Regardless, all this contributed to adding that little sprinkle of realism to immerse the player into the in-game universe. I couldn’t help but feel an adequate connection to everyone. What truly stood out though, is the individuality of these teenagers; they’re all unique, from the girl with an unhealthy addiction to food to another that’s quirky. She, specifically, had me smiling more times than I care to admit. The narrative here is the epitome of feel-good wholesomeness, and watching their conversations left me content – it was quaint.
Now, what I suspect to be divisive is the way the story unfolds. Blue Reflection: Second Light is a telenovela – a soap opera that depicts the companionship between the Ao (the main character) and the others. As a byproduct, there’s a hefty amount of slice-of-life elements that can prove quite tiresome to some. Simply put, there’s a lot of reading about frivolous detail and if you don’t care for fleshed-out characters, expect the tedium to creep in – discussions happen regularly. For example, girls approach you at random intervals during the plot, sporadic interactions cement relations, and there’s dating. Yup, this includes a bit of fan service, but it’s not gratuitous and comes off as high-school flirting. It’s awkward and yet charming in its reliability. The game does imply lesbian situations, but those appear more like playfulness between close friends instead of romantic connections.
Apart from cozy dialogue, there’s the surprisingly dark subject matter. It touches on lesser themes such as bullying and pushing loved ones away, but then it delves into heavier topics like exploiting children. While never fully exploring the ramifications in disturbing detail, it’s still a contrast to the softer side of Blue Reflection: Second Light. Fortunately, I don’t foresee this ever being troublesome. Sure, it adds angst to the plot, but despite that, it maintains a welcoming feel. Instead of genuinely upsetting me, it had the opposite effect, hooking me. I’d eagerly enjoy the excellent banter and facial expressions. At times, it was like watching an anime due to their exaggerated body language. The superb voices helped, too, and because of the stellar inflection, cadence was rarely absent. I never did burst into laughter, but I certainly had hearty chuckles.
Blue Reflection: Second Light has a good amount of intricacies that help make for entertaining gameplay. Before I get into it, however, let’s revisit the dates. See, these aren’t there just to offer up extra exposition. They serve a purpose, and that purpose is gaining Talent Points that are then used to buy abilities, permanent stat increases, and crafting perks. So, I highly suggest getting to know your “classmates.” Now, this is where the creepy factor slithers in as there are opportunities to choose what to say. Some options are perverted, but most are sweet gestures. Based on the response selected, a reasonable reaction nets you a higher output of points, while a bad one results in an inconsequential outcome. There are extra events to trigger while frolicking with a specific girl, too, but through testing, those seem like padding disguised as character development – appreciated, but they quickly grt tedious.
Because of the JRPG flavouring, it’s inevitable to encounter sidequests, so expect plenty to do here. From the not-so-popular fetch quests to cooking, annihilating odd atrocities, and again, crafting. Speaking of, that mechanic comes straight out of the Atelier franchise. From having to traverse the different areas for material to crafting becoming a focal point of the game. In an interesting twist, those previously mentioned Talent Points can be used to purchase special building perks. See, to create an item, four girls must work in unison. Naturally, the finished product gets an effect – in this example, it restores a tiny bit. Now, say you assign a few ladies bestowed with particular benefits to development. The result becomes more potent. In other words, partake in dates to manipulate and create pretty nifty items that not only temporarily boost stats but also heal a decent bulk of health.
The battle system is also inspired by Gust’s Atelier series, with Ryza being the most notable influence. Much like in that, it determines combat order by character portraits sliding along an action timeline. Once it reaches a certain point, whoever touched it can proceed. Now, here’s the remarkable facet about that because it uses what’s known as Ether Points. To accumulate these, strike down your foes, and if you desire to speed up turn progression, skill usage is the ticket. It’s a fun concept and periodically the girls will enter new gears. See, abilities require a specific amount of EP. With every gear shift, the combined collected points increase. If, say two thousand are gathered, you can either chain two skills or utilize a powerful one. The fluency of successive attacks as these teenagers obliterate their enemies is a joy to watch – just saying.
You know the Sailor Moon shoutout I made in the introduction isn’t random. It’s a neat feature of Blue Reflection: Second Light and occurs once the gear switch reaches a threshold. Each girl undergoes a full-body transformation and has their stats bolstered across the board. Rest assured that, while these happen frequently, the sequences can be disabled, mitigating any momentum breaking. While on that topic, one issue that spits in the face of preserving adrenaline is One-on-One combat. It’s precisely what it sounds like and jumps into a slow-pace face-off. I won’t be dramatic and say it’s arduous, but there’s no denying that it’s pointless. It’s out of place and feels more like it was haphazardly thrown in to convolute the mechanic. Thankfully, these happen only during boss encounters, but it’s missteps like this that prevent a better score.
And now for the most anticipated coverage – the grinding. To obtain materials and get stronger, the primary method to do so is jumping into combat. Thankfully, encounters aren’t randomized, meaning monsters roam the overworld freely. So, it’s entirely possible to weave through the trenches undetected. To further prove that point, there’s a specialized stealth mode that shows the perspective distance of foes. By studying movement patterns and time between cycles, it, and I reiterate, means that dodging is viable. As a masochist, I chose to charge into warfare with my weapons drawn and murder everything in cold blood. Due to consistent respawns, it took no time before it became a massive slog. Please don’t take this blurb as a negative and, instead, view it as a cautionary tale. It’s best to let the girls channel their inner Solid Snake sometimes – sans cardboard box.
Okay, may I touch on the unique way characters are unlocked? It plays into the story wonderfully, as well as into the amnesia trope while freshening it up, so it doesn’t come across as bland. Of course, with every recruit (and there are a few) there’s backtracking thanks to the sidequests acquired from them. You’d expect frustration due to having to do so much, but one thing nullifies that – fast travel. Blue Reflection: Second Light recognizes the amount of returning to previous spots needed and mercifully, throws us a bone. I’m grateful for that because areas tend to have multiple levels, and most sidequests happen within the deepest depths. So, it’s helpful that instead of retracing my steps, I’d just open a menu and press a button. There’s no monotony or repetition, just the want to do more.
Both shadows and lighting effects left me genuinely surprised. Despite the jagged edges, they were more than sufficient in providing a sense of realism to the world. It isn’t until the visuals proper that it becomes abundantly clear that the fidelity matches that of early PlayStation 3 titles. Level environments particularly showcase this fact with modest foliage and landscape. Although, I must commend the meticulous detail that went into the objects found within the school. Still, everything maintained a dated look and it extended well into the character models. I do appreciate that each girl has a distinct appearance. They look great, albeit slightly blurry when viewed from afar. Facial expressions and their movements were organic and smooth. The only stuttering I noticed was in combat when many struck at once. One detail I must point to is when it rains, clothing gets noticeably wet. Never change, Koei Tecmo.
While the gameplay in Blue Reflection: Second Light is a treat, the story is why it’s worth your time. I was left guessing up to the bitter end and blindsided by twists – to the point of audible obscenities. It’s so damn intriguing and had me extending my bedtime. I had to see how scenarios would unfold. Sure, the humour is an acquired taste, but even in those instances, the characters are bloody endearing. I couldn’t help but smile like an absolute dork. The localization is well done but suffers from trivial mishaps like the wording. Above all else, the dark subject matter helps balance the bubblegum aesthetic while giving the narrative another dimension. You know, there’s something seriously addicting about a title with crafting, and that holds here. By all accounts, this sequel is superior to the original game and I’m excited to see what’s next for this franchise.
While graphically, it resembles an early PS3 game, the inherent charm is undeniable. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, but I liked it. The lighting effects certainly help.
Classic turn-based combat is just as fun here as it is elsewhere. Some of the facets, however, such as speeding up your frequency of attacks, isn’t implemented in an impactful way.
The music matches the cozy feel of the game itself. The voice acting is very well done, with inflections that made cadence easy to pick up. However, it fails to utilize music to amplify emotion.
I’m a sucker for good old turn-based combat having grown up during the 90’s. The crafting is fun, as well as the grinding itself. What aided this the most was the intrigue of the story.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Blue Reflection: Second Light is available now on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Blue Reflection: Second Light was provided by the publisher.