Disclaimer – A review code for Blue Reflection: Second Light was provided by Koei Tecmo.
Anybody who has interacted with me since the year of my birth will know that I am not a fan of most anime. I find the tropes irritating, the visuals unappealing, and the depiction of their characters questionable – especially when it comes to games. Needless to say, it came as quite a shock when Blue Reflection: Second Light landed in my inbox and I ended up enjoying it. I don’t even recognise myself in the mirror anymore.
Enter The Anime
But enough of that, what is Blue Reflection: Second Light? It’s technically a sequel to 2017’s, Blue Reflection, but fear not, Second Light seems to be a self-contained story that doesn’t require intimate knowledge of the original to understand. I cannot stress enough how story-focused Second Light is, so I won’t go into details as to what is going on, or what ultimately happens.
That being said, you play as a Japanese College girl trapped in a mysterious school filled with other Japanese College girls who all have amnesia. There’s a strange app on your phone, a weird island across the sea, and a mystery to be uncovered. It takes a ridiculous, bordering on ludicrous, amount of time for the story to actually get started, however. The game is split over 11 chapters, and I kid you not, seven of them are glorified character introduction arcs. It takes 15-20 hours for the game to actually kick into gear.
Surprisingly, this isn’t a bad thing. A lot of time is dedicated to building up the characters you will be adventuring with. Each chapter dives deep into what makes each character unique, the struggles they have endured getting here, and to the game’s credit, they inject tiny bits of intrigue that relates to the grand scheme. It’s a slow, deliberate build-up that ultimately delivers when all is said and done.
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The best part is, just about every character is likeable. I was well and truly fooled when everyone seemed to just be an anime character trope, only to blossom into something so much more. It’s a real slice of life journey mixed with serious, world-ending themes to keep things going. It well and truly got its hooks in me and is one of the main reasons to play the game.
This is a game, however, so it needs to be fun, otherwise what’s the point? Thankfully, Second Light is an excellent JRPG that is carried by a fast-paced and in-depth combat system. You go into battle with three characters, with a four-character tagging along as your support. Each character, like their personality, has a radically different set of skills, and therefore, play styles. Considering the size of the roster, you can really fiddle with your party composition and tackle each threat differently.
Battles are turn-based but use an active-time system similar to Final Fantasy or Child Of Light. Once a character’s bar has filled up, you can use an ability to smack an enemy. Enemies also share this bar and will attack you once they reach the end. Naturally, you want to smack them to death before they get too many hits on you, and there are plenty of ways to do this.
Hods Of Combat Depth
Firstly, knockback. If you crump an enemy with an attack they are weak against, such as piercing, then they are bumped further down the timeline, delaying their turn. If you attack an enemy enough times before they activate, you can trigger a knockdown, which incapacitates them for a significant length of time. All attacks on a knocked-down foe are critical hits, so you are encouraged to use it often. Not only do you deal more damage, but you receive less as a result.
Then you have the Gear system. Every time a character uses an action, they build up an invisible meter, once that fills, their Gear ranks up. Bumping up your Gear rank lets your character act sooner, but also grants them new abilities. As another, more tactical bonus, you can delay your attacks and unleash combos by waiting until your bar fills up more. Do you risk delaying your strike so one character can unleash two or three attacks in quick succession, or do you play more reserved and attack as soon as you are able?
The final piece of the puzzle (without going into spoilery territory) are the transformations. If a character reaches Gear level three during combat, they will transform. This increases all of their stats, changes their abilities, and ramps up their activation timer even more. All of this combined gives Blue Reflection: Second Light a wonderfully tactical combat system that has a real sense of escalation. Fights start pretty fast but only get faster as they progress. Bosses in particular are fantastic as a result. You always start on the back foot, but it’s only a matter of time before your characters ramp up and turn the tide.
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Killing enemies grants EXP, and this is used to level up. This is the most obvious way to gain power, but Blue Reflection has a bunch of sub-systems that tie into each character’s progression making it much more than hitting stuff to get buff. There’s a surprisingly in-depth crafting and building system that applies large buffs to various characters. These upgrades can then be, well, upgraded, for even more benefits. Sure you could kill 100 demons, but why not build a juice bar instead?
Then we have Talents. Talents are gained by spending Talent Points (TP), and these can’t be acquired through combat. TP is gained by spending time with your mates back at school. This could be something as simple as completing a Side Quest. You can also participate in the Date system, which allows your character to spend time with one of the supporting cast. This helps develop characters narratively but also grants a big TP boost. Spending TP unlocks new attacks, new passives, and new crafting opportunities.
Messing around with these systems might seem optional, but they really aren’t. The benefits gained, both mechanically and narratively, are far too great to ignore. Thankfully, most of it is great. The Dates are fun, crafting encourages exploring when you are out and about, and the Side Quests, whilst a bit mundane, are well done. Not to mention your character will only gain TP if her relationships with everyone else progress. It’s like a hundred tiny hooks are trying to drag you towards the side content – and it works.
Some Big Niggles
It’s a shame that the game feels a bit too padded. The game is 40-hours long, but it really shouldn’t be. The amount of side content the game drops at you all at once can be overwhelming. Some levels feel like they go on a bit too long, and have no narrative or even mechanical reason to do so. The last 10-hours or so ends up being a giant retread of the entire game, and it sucks. The game feels like it’s wrapping up and then drops a double-digit time sink out of nowhere. At 25 hours, Blue Reflection: Second Light would have been perfect. At 40? It’s just too long, and there’s not enough here to justify it.
Visually, Blue Reflection: Second Light is a pain in the arse. It runs at a fairly steady (but not rock-solid) 30FPS on PS5 with no Performance mode to bump it up to 60. The game is also a huge fan of post-processing effects. This means gaudy bloom, oversaturation, and a heinous amount of motion blur. When I first started playing, I got a headache. I got used to it eventually, but those early hours were not pleasant. There’s also a decent amount of fan service that wasn’t my cup of tea. It felt out of place and, honestly, cheapened the experience.
This is a real shame because Blue Reflection: Second Light is rocking to stellar design. Character models animate well and look great. The UI is crisp and clean, which is something I really enjoyed. More importantly, the environments are out-of-this-world. Each “level” is this twisted dreamscape filled with bizarre architecture and unusual formations. Not to spoil anything, of course, but each level has oodles of environmental story-telling that screams creativity in a way that few JRPGs do. I was enamoured by the design, but man, the execution is impossible to ignore. The graphical issues mar what could have been a truly outstanding visual experience.
I also loved the music. It spends a lot of time just chilling in the background, with light strings or a piano arrangement filling the world with this surreal sense of calm and warmth. Similar to the visual design, however, it knows when to evoke emotion and tell its own story. It ebbs and flows giving each emotional scene a new weight. It’s even supported by a great cast of Japanese voice actors that sell the game’s story wonderfully.
Blue Reflection: Second Light does so much right, but is held back by some baffling design decisions. Unpleasant visuals muddy the beautiful locales, padding drags the story and gameplay through the mud, and the addition of fanservice just felt distasteful every time it cropped up. That being said, these issues don’t ruin the game by any stretch of the imagination. This is still a great JRPG that’s definitely worth playing.
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