Released yesterday on PC, Blue Reflection is an exploration of the relationships young women forge and the personal growth that comes from sharing experiences with friends, all in the form of a stylish magical girl role-playing game. Beats the hell out of ninjas in bikinis with water guns.
It's a very strange couple of weeks for Japanese games in the West. We have Danganronpa V3, the latest entry in Spike Chunsoft's high school murder adventure. Then there's Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash, a spin-off of Tamsoft's clothes-ripping, chest-bouncing ninja action series, in which the high school ninjas take turns spraying each other with unapologetic innuendo involving moisture.
Blue Reflection, developed by Gust, offers a vastly more realistic look at the life of young women.
The game stars Hinako Shirai, a student returning to school after a lengthy absence. Once an incredibly accomplished ballet dancer, an injury leaves Hinako unable to dance. She isn't in a very good place when she arrives at Hoshinomiya Girls High School, overcome with her own emotions and those of her classmates.
But Hinako soon discovers she has a unique means to deal with these rampant emotions. She is a Reflector, a person with the ability to enter the Common, a parallel dimension powered by emotional energy. She and her new friends, Lime and Yuza, transform into powerful magical girls capable of capturing emotions and harnessing their power.
The ultimate duty of a Reflector is to protect the real world from the Sephira, enormous creatures capable of transcending the barriers between dimensions.
But not every problem is as big as a Sephira. Sometimes a fellow student finds themselves crippled by overwhelming feelings of inferiority or hopelessness. Even positive emotions such as joy can grow out of control. At times like these Hinako and friends can take a quick jaunt into the Common and work things out. In the video below we see the group taking a quick side mission to deal with a student's urge to skip class.
The battle system starts off pretty basic. Allies and enemies take turns using attacks or abilities. A meter at the top of the screen features player and creature icons that slowly move inward. When they reach the center, the player can act. Certain abilities can push foes further down the line, delaying their actions. It's a nice little system.
As lush and gorgeous as the magical world of the Common can be, Hinako's interactions with her classmates in the real world are what's really entertaining. Much like protagonists in the Persona series, Hinako spends her days navigating school life, building bonds and meeting new friends. She helps them deal with their thoughts and feelings, while they do the same for her, helping her overcome the miasma she's been under since her injury took ballet away.
Hinako learning how to chat using her phone is great.
Blue Reflection is at its best when the two worlds collide. At one point early in the game, Hinako is challenged to a swimming competition by a well-meaning but overbearing classmate.
In the middle of the fierce competition her Reflector powers activate, and she finds herself in the Common (fortunately time stops in the real world when she and her friends enter the alternate dimension). After some searching and a few monster battles, she finds her opponent's fragment, a piece of feeling formed by strong emotion.
Absorbing the fragment into herself, she gains insight into her opponent's competitive spirit. There is no malice, just the joy of competing with a worthy opponent. Back in the real world the competition ends, but a new friendship is just beginning.
Blue Reflection is available now for PC via Steam. Check out the official website for more info.