The magical girl genre is a robust one in Japan. Series like Card Captor Sakura, Magic Knight Rayearth, Pretty Cure, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Sailor Moon have given us some idea of what to expect when young women are tasked with protecting others. Which makes it a bit odd that we do not see many games with original characters and storylines exploring the premise. This makes Blue Reflection an unexpected delight. It is a gorgeous game that borrows from both the magical girl and Persona formulas to tell a heartfelt story.
Hinako Shirai’s life is changing in so many ways. An accident took away her ability to dance, weakening her knee and leaving her in constant pain. She even had to start high school late, due to the injury. But the biggest change happens on her very first day of class. As she is heading to the teachers’ offices, she comes across Sanae, a girl who went to school with her before. Something… happens to Sanae. An aura surrounds her and her behavior changes. Her emotions run wild, Hinako ends up pulled into The Common, an alternate reality and finds herself fighting demons to protect and stabilize Sanae’s emotions. Suddenly, she is a Reflector, one of the few capable of fighting Sephira and the demons around them. Mysterious sisters named Lime and Yuzu introduce themselves as fellow Reflectors and tell her the entire world is in danger because of these monsters threatening humanity.
We aren’t just saving the world, we are saving the girl.
This new responsibility gives Hinako something important: a purpose. When she learned she was unable to continue ballet dancing, she felt like her life was over. She began isolating herself from other people and fell into a depression. Now, she is in a role where she can only succeed if she connects with other people, making an effort to spend time with and understand them. If all the Sephira are defeated, she might be able to wish for her knee to be healed so she can dance again.
How this is all conveyed and portrayed is one of the reasons Blue Reflection shines. Gust clearly paid attention to the artistry and design of shojo manga series. There are dynamic camera angles that focus on characters’ faces, the environments, movement between spaces and other things that are designed to highlight how ordinary or extraordinary a situation is. Each of the young women is dealing with typical problems. They may be afraid for their future, angry about change, concerned about love and worried about friends. While there are occasional spelling errors, the general message is a good one and the dialogue often rings true.
Hinako in particular is a perfect heroine. Because of her situation, we really get to see her grow throughout Blue Reflection. The game begins when she is at her absolute worst. She deals with constant pain, has lost her dream and is alone. But in each chapter, she gets a little better. In the introduction, she realizes how self-involved she may have been since she doesn’t even recognize Sanae. She makes a point of remembering her after. When Rin first asks for advice, Hinako is blunt and her words trigger a situation where Rin is sent into a state where she needs to be rescued. This makes her realize she needs to be more considerate. The reaction of her former rival, Sarasa, makes Hinako realize she can not give up and needs to find a new purpose. We aren’t just saving the world, we are saving the girl.
This means there is a certain balance to Blue Reflection. Hinako’s time is split between the real world and The Common, where the demons and people’s emotions appear. During the day, she will need to interact with people. While the fixed camera angle employed while exploring here is frustrating, a handy map lets you see immediately where friends and potential friends are present for conversations, hangouts and side-missions and teleport to the exact place you need to be. A FreeSpace app on your in-game phone lets you read texts with friends that may unlock more opportunities to prepare or play with a virtual pet. These missions reward you with points that can be used to improve Hinako, Lime and Yuzu. All in all, it’s a very relaxed and generally safe space. Sure, there is an occasional Sephira attack with giant monsters, but most of your time here is spent getting to know other people to make you stronger.
Blue Reflection is a game that knows what it wants to be and does everything possible to deliver on its promises.
The Common is the typical JRPG area. Hinako runs around otherworldly spaces that are beautiful, but honestly rather small. For some reason I can’t comprehend, they are often divided up into chunks, requiring her to go to glowing circles to teleport between each area. This segment may call Gust’s Atelier series to mind, as there are gathering points for materials that can be used for crafting and wandering enemies that can be struck for an early advantage in battle. There are also very few standard enemy models, which keep getting recycled. While it would have been nice if things were a bit more open and diverse, that’s really the only qualm I have with this segment (and game).
Battles are handled in a rather interesting fashion in Blue Reflection, offering tweaks on turn-based affairs. Hinako, Lime and Yuzu do not need to worry about equipment. Instead, special attacks they earn through character growth are the key to success. Each attack may have a certain attribute, like heart, slash or strike, attached to it. So you need to take into account the sort of attribute when attacking, rather than element, when it comes to enemy weaknesses. Since almost all of these skills use MP, this means every match is a delicate balance. You need to occasionally use Ether Charge to replenish energy. You might have to use abilities with knockback properties or the Overdrive skill to give you extra actions to influence turn order. Using Supporter skills from allies, when applicable, can give you an extra punch. It makes things feel a little more strategic, since there are more factors to control as you fight.
The way leveling works in Blue Reflection is both strategic and makes those relationships you’ve been building all the more rewarding. There is no experience earned here. Instead, every major encounter and mission rewards you with growth points and Fragments. The former lets you improve the stats of Hinako, Lime and Yuzu. These points can be put into Attack, Defense, Support and Technic. These boost their HP, MP, attack, defense, speed and luck, but more importantly add more skills. Each ability requires a certain number of points in each category. So when you are building up a character to act as an attacker, supporter or tank, you are actually picking and choosing a build that influences their strengths and weaknesses. As for Fragments, these bits taken from positive encounters with other characters lets you add effects to each of the girls skills, making their attacks more capable and comprehensive. Since Fragments can be swapped, you can constantly be working on the perfect party.
Blue Reflection is a game that knows what it wants to be and does everything possible to deliver on its promises. When Gust and Koei Tecmo said we are going to see Hinako go from a broken girl to a strong woman, we absolutely see her take every step toward becoming a better person. When these companies said the interactions in the real world will influence The Common and Sephira battles, and vice versa, we actually get to see aiding others make Hinako, Lime and Yuzu stronger and the other students and world recover because of these Reflectors’ influence. As Hinako learns to connect with other people, we do too, and that’s a very magical thing.