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Puberty is a heckuva drug. But no matter how hard it is to be a normal teenager, no one has it tougher than the teens in Japanese role-playing games. Blue Reflection is the latest JRPG from publisher Koei Tecmo and its subsidiary, Gust Studios, and it features a lot of melodramatic youths and girls with secret magic powers. It’ll be available in North America on September 26 for PC and PlayStation 4.

Although Blue Reflection stars a lot of magical girls wielding swords and flinging spells, when I played the demo, it lacked the actual magic you get when a story really clicks. It relies too much on tropes, including that of magical girls — girls who fight evil with sparkles and magic, often while wearing frilly get-ups — which are a staple in Japanese anime.

It’s set in a familiar high school environment and follows Hinako Shirai, a ballerina who suffered an accident and can no longer dance without pain. With the help of two classmates, Yuzu and Lime, she discovers that she has the power to enter people’s collective unconscious and transform into a Reflector. As a Reflector, she gets a wardrobe change — the aforementioned frilly get-up — and she can use emotional energy called Ether to combat demons.

Yuzu and Lime are also Reflectors, and explain that monsters called Sephiras have been attacking people’s collective unconscious. In order to power up enough to defeat these big baddies, the Reflectors have to go around and try to stabilize their classmates’ emotions. This means leaping into the Common, a fantasy landscape that represents the intersection of people’s unconscious minds, and retrieving Ether fragments.


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Blue Reflection doesn’t do a good job of explaining why all this matters — it does say vaguely that if a person’s emotions aren’t stabilized, they can die, but that threat is so abstract as to mean nothing. In the demo, there’s no explanation as to why these monsters are attacking people, why the Common matters, or why these high schoolers are the ones who have the power to stop it all.

It is kind of interesting that the way Hinako stabilizes Ether fragments is by using empathy. Basically, she has to take the fragment, listen to the emotions contained within, and accept them. What’s less interesting is that there isn’t actually any gameplay attached to this; Hinako is on autopilot whenever she stabilizes the fragments.

This is my biggest complaint about the Blue Reflection demo. It felt like it was 80 percent cutscenes and 20 percent actual gameplay. For every five minutes I spent wandering around the school halls and talking to characters, I watched 15 minutes of cutscenes. In some games, cut scenes feel like a reward. After you complete a task or a battle, you get some more of the story.

However, Blue Reflection doesn’t do a great job of establishing its characters, so it’s hard to care about them. Hinako suffered from some kind of dancing-related injury, but she walks around just fine. Her speeches about how much she loved ballet just come across as melodramatic. Two of the times I went into the Common to fight demons was because of characters who were going “rampant” with their emotions — but even these occasions were underwhelming.

One character was somehow overwhelmed by her admiration for Hinako, and another was freaking out about writing a love letter to a boy she liked. It isn’t explained why these are enough to cause their emotions to get out of control to the point where superhero teens have to enter an alternate dimension and stabilize them.

The turn-based combat in the Common was OK. It uses a “timeline” system that shows at the top of the screen whose turn is next. Attacks with knockback can delay an enemy’s turn, and I can see some fun strategy emerging later on when you’re faced with multiple enemies. There just wasn’t enough of combat.

To be fair, the demo only covered the prologue and chapters 1 and 2, so maybe Blue Reflection turns its tropes on their heads later on and dials back on the cut scenes. As it is, though, it’s hard to look past its lackluster story and its dearth of gameplay.


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