A Strange Combination
Blue Reflection: Second Light works hard to blend end of the world stakes with moment-to-moment slice of life feelings. It’s a messy marriage that doesn’t always work, but there are some nice moments along the way.
Who Are You?
A young girl wakes up in a mysterious school, surrounded by water with seemingly nowhere to go. Three other girls already live there, but none of them can remember much about who they are except for their names. Until this new girl arrived, they hadn’t even given it much thought, though now that they do, all of them agree that this is very strange. Still, with nowhere to go and no way out, there’s not much to do except let the days go by.
That all changes when, during a conversation with one of the girls, something you say seems to resonate with her. Suddenly a pathway forward emerges, allowing you to explore a world filled with demons but which seems to be filled by the memory of one of the girls in your group. Pushing forward will allow them to remember who they are, but it could also bring the world they’re living in crumbling down around them.
Over time you’ll find more amnesiac high school girls, recover their memories, and start to unravel the mysteries surrounding the strange school you’re all living in. What feels initially unconnected to the original Blue Reflection eventually reveals strong ties to both that game and the anime spin-off. Players jumping into Second Light as an entry point in the series may feel a bit lost at points, but the game mostly does a good job of explaining things and setting the stage as needed.
A Big Heart(scape)
Most of your time is spent either back at the school or in those demon-filled worlds called heartscapes. Each heartscape is a dungeon made up of multiple layers for you to explore and uncover memories of the girl whose heart it is tied to. You’ll learn who they are as they do. Along the way, you’ll search out ingredients and items, fight demons and make your way through side areas you can open up with the right items.
The various heartscapes have a great sense of style, with each feeling utterly unique compared to the rest. Some are bright and cheerful, while others are wistful and sad. Some are quite scary. There are areas that feel like a normal city or beach, while others feel surreal and over the top. I enjoyed the visual design of each area, though fair warning to those playing on Switch, maybe stay away from trailers for the game. The actual visuals here pale in comparison to the PS4, with a lot of the game feeling like there’s a layer of Vaseline smeared all over it. This allows the larger areas to be fully represented without loading, but at the cost of being hard to look at.
When you run across a demon, you’ll enter combat which is one of the biggest strengths of Blue Reflection: Second Light. The real-time combat in it feels inspired by the combat of the Grandia series, and I mean that as a big compliment. Each of your characters will move along a grid, able to use a command when they get to the end of the line. The team at Gust did an excellent job making this combat feel all its own though as well. There are a number of cool additions to it which stand out.
As your girls attack, they’ll actually be able to go further down the line. Doing so allows them to chain multiple actions together at once and becomes more efficient. Raise their level on the line by landing attacks, and you’ll soon be able to access stronger moves. Take too much damage, though, and your level might drop, requiring you to build it up again.
Keep It Going
Meanwhile, each attack, you land chains into a combo. Grow that combo, and each attack will do more damage. Periodically, though, your enemies will throw powerful attacks at you, capable of breaking the combo. Having that reset at the wrong time in a boss fight can prove too big a challenge to overcome, so you’ll need to be ready for it. Certain moves, used at the right time, can protect your combo and are absolutely crucial in some fights. Your party is made up of three girls at a time, with a fourth in a support role able to help out and even trade places with one of your main three if needed.
Excellent combat made exploring the heartscapes mostly a joy. The only issue I had when doing so were the game’s stealth missions that it throws at you from time to time. They’re not that common and not that hard, but they break the game’s flow and are never particularly fun. Every time one would show up, I couldn’t wait to get it over with.
When you’re not fighting your way through heartscapes, you’ll spend time bonding with the girls on your team back at the school. What starts out feeling eerily empty eventually becomes filled with life as your team grows. While only six girls are eventually playable in battle, a number of others arrive in support roles.
A few different activities are available here. You can craft a wide variety of items using the things you find in heartscapes, including building materials and healing items. Building materials can then be used to build all kinds of additional areas around your school. Food stands, beach chairs, trees to sit under, eventually you’ll create some pretty wild things. Each area you create provides buffs or debuffs to your party.
Dating Your Friends
These new areas also tie into the other main thing you’ll do back at the school, dating. You’re constantly encouraged to take all of the girls in your group on dates, which open up throughout the game and as you create more areas around the school. Along with a variety of side quests, these are the main way to unlock shards which you can equip to power your characters up and to gain talent points that you can use for new moves and stat increases.
In practice, these dates are generally just a chance to hang out with one of the girls and get to know her. You’ll usually have a couple of questions to answer along the way, letting you make it your own a bit. There are some lovely moments on some of these dates, and they do a great job of helping you get to know the members of your team. While technically optional, you’ll need to do at least some of them to get the sort of bonuses you’ll need in combat.
That they can be so lovely makes it more frustrating when a fair number of these encounters get a bit gross. You’re frequently encouraged to flirt with the members of your team, which is usually pretty well received. While this happens regularly, it never goes anywhere. There is a romance in the game but none for your main character. This all seems to be there just for a chance to make these girls squirm. It’s fairly uncomfortable. If it was just a couple of comments throughout the game, it would just seem like characters joking around here and there, but it keeps coming up.
A Question Of Style
A lot of Blue Reflection: Second Light can end up feeling uncomfortable. It puts you in control of a group of strong girls who are well-realized characters and mostly likable, and then the game can’t seem to stop leering at them. Why is one of the first moments of the game spent nearly giving us an upskirt shot? Why are some of the costumes effectively see-through? Every chance the camera gets, it’s zooming in on their butts. This isn’t some of the most egregious fan service out there, but it’s consistent and uncomfortable. These are high schoolers.
It also doesn’t help that the game’s story never quite comes together. It’s not terrible by any means, with consistently interesting characters who it at times puts in interesting situations. One of the last girls to join your group in particular presents some interesting challenges for your group to work through. The main plot though tries to delve into issues of memory and identity in ways that never really connect. Several twists feel like they’re meant to surprise, but they’re telegraphed so far ahead that it’s incredibly easy to see them coming. This robs them of a lot of their impact.
I had a lot of fun during my time with Blue Reflection: Second Light. A colorful world filled with interesting characters and some of my favorite JRPG combat in a long time makes for a consistently entertaining play. I just wish the main story ever really became interesting. As a slice of life RPG, Second Light succeeds. As an apocalyptic epic, though, it falls short. This leaves a total package that lies somewhere in the middle.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed), PS4, PC; Publisher: KOEI TECMO America; Developer: Gust Co. Ltd.; Players: 1; Released: November 9th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Blue Reflection: Second Light provided by the publisher.