Today, I tried out the demo to 'Eternal Sonata' (a.k.a 'Trusty Bell' in Japan) - a JRPG much in the same vein as 'Tales of Symphonia' and also gave the 'Blue Dragon' demo another run through.
My conclusion, is that whilst 'Blue Dragon' draws me in greatly with a promise of a very lengthy game, great artwork from Toriyama and direction from the Father of Final Fantasy, Sakaguchi, and music from the legendary Uematsu.. Despite this, I'm inclined to agree with James Mielke.
Blue Dragon is boring. Yes, boring.
It looks beautiful (though I agree with Edge magazine, that Toriyama's art doesn't work as well in 3D without cell-shading, his characters looked better-off in 'Dragon Quest VIII') and the cut-scenes are of exceptional quality (as is the whole graphical feel of the game - especially in HD) and whilst I enjoy it's complex battle system and the timing elements involved (If you haven't, you really should check out the demo on Xbox Live Marketplace) - it really does seem rather, well, dated.
Basically playing in a very similar fashion to an old 'Dragon Quest' or 'Final Fantasy' game from 15-20 years ago, with a few extra bells and whistles thrown in, 'Blue Dragon' doesn't offer that much in the innovation department. It's turn-based battles are very formulaic and don't give the player much of a scare or thrill, it all seems quite by-the-numbers.
Eternal Sonata, or what it really should be called, Tales of Chopin (j/k), is another tremendous looking JRPG. It's combat is nothing short of superb and I found myself experiencing something I hadn't felt in quite a long while in this genre - I was having fun?!
The battles, which take place in real-time, allow you to strategically position yourself near or far from your opponent. Hits to their back take away more HP than front attacks - but you have a limited amount of time in which to take your turn.
My problem with this game though is the 'World Map' areas.
Eternal Sonata looks amazing, it's vibrant, colourful, full of life.. It's like a videogame equivalent of Walt Disney's Fantasia.
So then why did the developer decide it was a good idea to position the camera in a 'Final Fantasy VII'-like manner? Whilst 'Blue Dragon' has a movable camera so that I can view all the locations from whichever angle I like, 'Eternal Sonata' decides to force me to view things from the perspective they want me to view it from.
Sonata took two steps forward with it's superbly fun battle system but another two steps back with it's camera.
The 'Eternal Sonata' demo is currently only available on the American and Japanese 360 marketplace - but well worth checking out.
Ultimately, (and I may well change my mind) I feel like I would probably rather purchase 'Eternal Sonata' than 'Blue Dragon' - I don't think I quite have the will to battle through 3 discs of tedious fighting and generic looking characters to find out about something I genuinely don't care about. I think it's 90 hours long, is that right?
Sonata? 30 hours long and one disc. 1/3 of the length of BD but probably three times as much fun.
My gripe with both games though is their lack of 480p non-widescreen support.
Don't developers understand that if you don't have a widescreen TV it probably means it's either old (at which point small text is not a good idea) or it's small (so big black borders at the top and bottom of the screen aren't really going to help the situation!) - I remember reading that 50% of PS3 owners are still playing in SD - I'm sure that the percentage of 360 owners in SD can't be that different?
Right now though, I won't purchase either game on release. I really don't feel that versus such heavyweights like Halo 3, Fallout 3, Virtua Fighter 5, Bioshock (more on that in the next article) that Eternal Sonata or Blue Dragon are worth the £40 entry fee. £20? Certainly. Well then, I'll wait six months after their release and enjoy them all the more then..