Title (EN): BLUE REFLECTION: Second Light
Title (JP): BLUE REFLECTION TIE (BLUE REFLECTION TIE/帝)
Platform: PS4, Switch, PC
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Release date: 21 Oct 2021 (JP), 9 Nov 2021 (WW)
Official website (EN): https://blue-reflection.com/secondlight/us/
Official website (JP): https://bluereflection-tie.com/
Blue Reflection: Second Light is the sequel to developer Gust’s Blue Reflection (2017). Gust is mostly known for the Atelier series, a JRPG series which focuses on crafting, but they occasionally put out other games, and Blue Reflection was one of the weirder ones: Taking place in a modern day setting, Blue Reflection followed three magical girls as they fought to save the world. Though the magical girl genre is common in Japanese media, it is not represented much in video games, allowing for Blue Reflection to have a relatively refreshing setting, and while the graphics may not have been particularly great on a technical level, the fantastic art design contributed to making it look extremely memorable, and the soundtrack is frequently brought up in discussions about the best game music of all time in Japan. Unfortunately, the gameplay was problematic – one might even say bizarre – and the game seemed doomed to be forgotten as yet another obscure Gust RPG.
It thus came as a surprise when, in early 2021, Gust announced not one but three sequels to Blue Reflection: A console game, Blue Reflection: Second Light; a mobile game, Blue Reflection Sun; and a TV anime series, Blue Reflection Ray.
As part of this project, Blue Reflection: Second Light has ties not just to the previous game, but also Sun and Ray, with six of the ten main characters being from other series. The game does not assume that the player is familiar with the other series, however: In fact, Sun has not even been released yet. Zero knowledge of the series is needed to enjoy the game. Fans who are familiar with the first game or Ray, however, will get more enjoyment out of the game. The characters from Blue Reflection Ray in particular are fleshed out more, and fans who watched the show might be surprised at the direction Second Light takes with one of the characters.
Blue Reflection: Second Light’s story begins with protagonist Ao heading for a remedial lesson during the summer holidays. As soon as she enters the school, however, she finds herself in another world, where the school building exists on its own surrounded by endless waters, populated only by three girls who have no memories. Ao’s arrival indirectly leads to change in this previously unchanging world, with an entirely new zone appearing out of nowhere, and as the girls explore it they discover that they have the power to conjure weapons to fight the monsters in the zone, recover their lost memories, and make other girls (who have likewise lost their memories) appear in this world.
It soon becomes apparent that the new zone is linked to one of the girl’s memories, and more zones, each also linked to someone, gradually appear, and these serve as the game’s dungeons. Eventually, what memories they recover make them realize that their original world is suffering from some sort of apocalyptic event, which contradicts Ao’s memories of a normal, peaceful world, and they set out to recover their memories to piece together what happened to their original world, figure out why they were brought to this world, and find a way to get home.
While the first game’s story was very bare-bones, meandering for 90% of playtime before dumping the entire plot at the last minute, Second Light’s story manages to be actually interesting (and not just relatively). The story is centered around the main characters and their lost memories, and this serves to establish each of the characters clearly, and also gradually reveals details about the outside world, slowly peeling away at the mystery. Additionally, while most of the supporting characters in the first game felt like they faded out and became little more than NPCs as soon as their time in the spotlight was over, this problem is fixed in Second Light, and all of the characters remain relevant throughout the game.
The game is largely divided into two sections: The school, and the dungeons. In the school, the player bonds with other characters, receives side quests, crafts items, and builds installations around the school which provide bonuses such as buffs. This accounts for a massive amount of the game, and a player that wishes to see all of the content might spend hours at a time just doing the bonding events.
In addition to leveling up through combat, characters also learn skills through the “Talent” system, purchasing abilities and skills with Talent Points that are gained from doing certain bonding events, or clearing side quests given by a character. Other bonding events yield Fragments, equipables which give characters buffs or other effects.
Crafting in the previous game was very basic, but Second Light puts more emphasis on it, with the player needing to craft materials to build installations, and both crafting and building installations being linked to story progress at times. In addition to materials, the player can also craft consumable items to be used in combat. When crafting an item, the player chooses four characters to participate in the crafting process, and any applicable skills, learnt through the Talent system, influence the finished items: These can make a significant difference, strengthening the effects of items and adding or changing other effects.
The building process for installations is even more straightforward than crafting: The player only needs to prepare the materials needed and designate a location. There are only so many slots available for installations, however, and so the player has to look at what is available and figure out what combinations are the best. Certain combinations of installations also provide additional bonuses. Thankfully, once an installation is built, the player owns it permanently: If removed, it is simply sent into storage and can be taken back out anytime at no cost.
A lot of story progress is linked to crafting items or building installations, which usually leads to a character’s memory being jolted and results in either a new dungeon or character appearing.
The dungeons are very straightforward: Each dungeon is comprised of multiple areas, and the player’s goal in each is to get to the end and defeat the boss in order to restore the corresponding character’s memories. What makes them stand out, however, is the art design: Many of the dungeons take elements from the real world and turn them into a gorgeous dreamscape.
Enemy encounters are done the same way as the previous game: Enemies can be seen on the field, and touching or hitting them initiates a battle. If the player manages to hit an enemy from behind, they start the battle at an advantage. Second Light also adds a new feature in which Ao enters a stealth mode, which displays enemy vision cones on the field at the cost of moving slower. This allows the player to sneak past enemies or figure out the best angle of approach to hit them from behind, and there are also stealth sequences that make use of the mode.
Combat in Blue Reflection: Second Light is completely unlike that of the previous game, and is instead clearly based on the semi-realtime system seen in Atelier Ryza. Icons corresponding to characters slide across a bar indicating how many Ether Points (EP) they can spend on actions are, and each characters starts a battle with a Gear Level which designates the maximum number of EP they can save up: For example, a character at Gear Level 1 can only save up to 1000 EP and thus would not be able to use abilities costing more than 1000 EP, while a character at Gear Level 3 would be able to save up to 3000 EP and not only use more expensive abilities, but also use cheaper abilities in succession (such as three 1000 EP abilities in a row).
Each action a character takes builds towards their Gear Level rising and also the speed at which their EP rises, and when a character reaches Gear 3 they transform into their Reflector (magical girl) form.
Unlike Atelier Ryza, where the player only takes control of one character at a time, Second Light allows the player to take control of the entire party of three frontline characters and one supporter. Each character has a button associated with them that can be pressed to bring up their action menu, and time is paused when menus are open, allowing the player to plan out actions and string them together. This results in battles that, despite being fast-paced and semi-realtime, can still manage to have a high level of strategic planning. The game also gives consideration to players who are less inclined to enjoy this sort of gameplay, with there being an option to toggle auto-battle for two of the party members so that the player only needs to take control of one, making it work more like in Ryza.
An interesting feature that the battle system has is the “One-on-One” mode, available during boss battles. This can be triggered by the player managing to make the boss falter and then destroying the barriers that appear, in which case the mode starts with the player at an advantage, or conversely by the boss doing so to the player, which results in the player at a disadvantage.
Some bosses will also trigger one-on-one mode at will without either side at an advantage. In this mode, one character goes up against the boss alone for a certain amount of time, and has to dodge or counter attacks while fighting back. Damage done to each side is massive, and the player can trigger a powerful finisher that does massive damage. A player who fails to defend against the boss, however, might see their character knocked out extremely fast.
A significant feature of the battle system is how successive attacks results in a combo meter building up, which gives the player significant damage buffs via a multiplier that goes up alongside the combo: The third attack in a combo will do 1.5 times damage, while the tenth will do 3.25 times damage. It thus becomes important to keep the combo going, but enemies will use special attacks that reset it. The player thus has to use certain special abilities that defend the combo meter from resets.
The biggest problem with the previous game was the gameplay: It was unbalanced, awkward, and suffered from technical issues such as bad loading times. Compared to it, Second Light is significantly better. Gameplay is fantastic, with battles being far more fun and maybe balanced a little better. Load times on a PS4 without a solid state drive are practically non-existent, to the point that a player who wants to read the lore sometimes displayed on them will probably not be able to (these entries are also available in the menu, thankfully). That being said, Second Light still does have its own problems.
While the combat system is fantastic, there are some minor problems that sadly stop it from being better than it could be. Despite the importance of the combo system, the number of characters with skills that block against resets are few, and so the need to always include at least one such character feels like it limits party combinations.
While the one-on-one mode might seem like an interesting idea, in practice it is quite unwieldy. Even though there is an entire category of Fragments that improve a character’s performance in this mode, the player is almost never able to determine which character actually participates: The nature of the battle system makes it difficult to determine which character gets the hit which initiates the mode, and when the enemy initiates the mode the player has no choice in the matter at all. In the mode itself, the recast times for the player’s abilities combined with animations might result in simply not being able to defend against enemy attacks.
The one-on-mode mode is high-risk high-reward, but it frequently feels like both risk and reward are detrimental to the experience. If a character is defeated in one-on-one they are knocked out, and if revived their Gear Level is reset to 1, which is a big setback in boss battles. In exchange, the player can deal huge damage to the boss, and sometimes culminating in a fancy finisher for massive damage, which can be a cool way to end a boss fight, but the emphasis on setting things up with the combo system and crafted items that provide buffs means that the player might be working to set up something fancy, akin to lining up dominoes, only for one-on-one mode to butt in and render it moot.
The game does have a different type of finishing move in the form of the Ether Tides, special attacks which use up 3000 EP and can only be used at above Gear Level 3 and combo 15, and resets the combo. As a finisher which requires setup which also gives the player initiative, the Ether Tides are a far more satisfying form of finisher, akin to the Joint Attacks of the previous game, and it is extremely frustrating when the setup for one is ruined by a one-on-one barging in out of nowhere.
The absolute worst part of the game, however, is the stealth sequences. The player has to use stealth mode to observe enemies and sneak around them, hiding behind objects along the way. Unfortunately, many aspects in the stealth sequences are badly implemented: Enemy fields of vision have no indication of how they are affected by cover, and it can be unclear if an object is sufficient to hide from an enemy. Height differences make it extremely difficult to figure out how wide an enemy’s field of vision is: This is bad enough when the enemy is higher up and the player is unable to gauge how wide the field of vision is, but it gets worse when the enemy is located lower down and the field of vision indicator clips through the terrain and becomes completely invisible.
Furthermore, while some enemies patrol set paths, others move around completely randomly, making some segments not a matter of skill but a battle against RNG, with enemies brazenly walking behind cover to spot the player, or staring at the top of the ladder that a player has to climb for minutes at a time. There are no penalties for failing a stealth section other than being sent back to the start of the sequence, with some of the longer ones having checkpoints, but the later and longer sequences are nothing short of miserable to play through, and the checkpoints are nowhere close to sufficient.
Thankfully, the vast majority of the stealth sequences are relegated to sidequests, and the ones that are in the main story get nowhere close to the worst ones, but a completionist who wants to see everything might be in for a very bad time.
Building installations around the campus is a fun way to customize the look of the school, and also unlocks character events, but this reviewer did wish that there was more freedom to the feature: There are only so many slots available for installations, and some installations can only go in certain slots, but in the end the player is able to place almost all of the installations available, and so one has to wonder why they don’t just let the player actually place all of them instead of leaving a small number out.
The limitations on what can go where does not really contribute anything to the game’s balance, and removing those limitations would have made it easier for the player to make more aesthetically pleasing layouts. The roof of the school is also mostly empty, and one cannot help but feel that it would have been nice to be able to place installations there – Besides, wouldn’t it make more sense to have the telescope on the roof?
One cannot discuss Blue Reflection without discussing the music, and Second Light mostly lives up to expectations. Unfortunately, “mostly” excludes the battle themes, which are fairly generic and come nowhere close to the amazing beats in the previous game.
This is particularly puzzling when one considers how the battle track that many people consider to be one of the best in the first game, Overdose, is in fact in Second Light, playing at certain points in the story. For example, it plays in the cutscene right before a battle, and while one would expect it to continue playing as the battle starts, it instead fades out and is replaced by Second Light’s regular (and far less impressive) battle theme when the battle actually starts. This happens a second time in the same dungeon with the first game’s second battle theme as well.
The soundtrack is still fantastic: It’s just that the majority of the good tracks are relaxing kinds of tunes, as opposed to the exciting high-octane battle themes in the first game being more memorable. The music also reuses motifs from Blue Reflection’s main theme a lot more, which contributes to the soundtrack as a whole feeling like it has a stronger identity.
Gust has a reputation for making “comfy” RPGs, and Blue Reflection: Second Light might very well be the epitome of this genre. There is a very strong “slice of life” feel to the game, and the closed-off world, a setting not uncommon in other Japanese media but rarely seen in non-visual novel video games, makes for a very distinctive experience. Despite a few kinks, Blue Reflection: Second Light shapes up to be one of Gust’s best games yet, featuring some of the best art design and music they have ever put out, relatively well-polished gameplay, an extremely fun battle system, great characters, and a very distinctive setting.
The Good: A very distinctive world, great characters, amazing art design and music, and fun battle system.
The Bad: Extremely bad stealth sequences that are nothing short of miserable to play through.
Conclusion: Despite a few kinks, Blue Reflection: Second Light shapes up to be one of Gust’s best games yet, featuring some of the best art design and music they have ever put out, relatively well-polished gameplay, an extremely fun battle system, great characters, and a very distinctive setting.
This review was written based on the Japanese release of the game and originally published on 3 November 2021, and may not reflect changes made to versions released in other regions or in later updates