Blue Dragon's mouthy Marumaro is one of the most annoying characters to ever appear in a role-playing game. He returns in Blue Dragon Plus, though his squeals have been tamed, which makes his noisy enthusiasm more charming than grating. In fact, this sequel to the Xbox 360 RPG offers a much better narrative in general, warmed with heartfelt character interactions and a few honest surprises. Sadly, the half-baked blend of RPG and real-time strategy elements is just as frustrating as it is fun, and though the game gets off to a good start, it eventually becomes bland and tedious. Like its predecessor, Blue Dragon Plus gets the job done, in a generic sort of way.
Marumaro isn't the only returning personality. Blue Dragon Plus throws every main and bit character into a blender, which ultimately works to the game's benefit. You'll spend less time with the ever-zealous Shu and his nondescript pals, and more time exploring other relationships, old and new alike. There are some new additions, but the most emotional and unexpected moments involve familiar faces, a fact that lends gravity to the game's ending sequences. The plot itself is less spectacular; it sends this motley crew through a cube world as they chase after an evil dragon called Balaur. However, it is brought to life in a series of lovely cinematics and sweeping orchestral cues. Unfortunately, one of Blue Dragon Plus's primary contrivances doesn't work so well from a story perspective: Almost everybody and their brothers can now summon a shadow. These shadows are the titular blue creatures, and in the Xbox 360 original, the ability to control one was an extraordinary talent. In Blue Dragon Plus, practically every character possesses one, yet Shu and company seem perpetually surprised when they encounter yet another shadow user. Their ubiquitous presence doesn't just make shadows old hat, but is practically a mockery of one of the original's few unique qualities.
This surplus of shadows may annoy Blue Dragon fans, but it serves the gameplay. You control up to four parties of four characters each as you slowly make your way across the cube and fight the various enemies that you encounter there. Yet though Blue Dragon featured rather traditional turn-based battles, combat in Blue Dragon Plus functions like a real-time strategy game in which you lead your units by selecting them and then choosing a target to attack or a spot to occupy. Other games on the DS, such as Heroes of Mana and Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, have embraced similar mechanics to varying degrees of success. Unlike in those games, however, you control only up to four units at a time in Blue Dragon Plus, and you micromanage each character's skills and items during the course of the battle.
On one hand, this smaller group of characters diminishes some of the frustrations those other games have wrought. Blue Dragon Plus's pathfinding works like that of Heroes of Mana: The map consists of an invisible grid of squares that character sprites must navigate as they move from one point to another, rather than freely moving from one location to another. This can make moving your heroes into the desired position occasionally frustrating, and the mediocre pathfinding means you have to keep a close eye on every character because party members can't always be trusted to follow your movement orders efficiently. Luckily, the limited party size keeps these frustrations at a minimum, and most maps are large enough to allow you room to maneuver.