It took me longer than I was expecting to figure out whether or not I actually liked Blue Reflection: Second Light. There were moments where I got immersed in the story and the dynamic between it’s cast of characters. But also moments where gameplay felt like a slog. Just busywork to get me to the next plot point.
I’m Not Upset, Just Dissapointed
This kind of relationship between story and gameplay has always been something that pushes me away from fully enjoying a game. The two need to work together in order to convince me to keep going. The gameplay propels the narrative forward in an enjoyable way, and the narrative justifies the gameplay in a compelling way. However, I felt Second Light only hit home for me in one half of this statement.
As much as I tried to enjoy the gameplay, I just couldn’t. That isn’t to say that it’s irredeemably bad. Just that it was a little disappointing. Now that I write this out I can’t help but think of the clichéd phrase: “I’m not upset, just disappointed.”
Honestly though that old and tired phrase is a pretty accurate representation of my feelings toward the gameplay. Specifically the traversal and combat. Two very big components of the time you’ll be spending in this world.
The Beginning of a Long Summer
However, let’s touch on the story first. Second Light follows the protagonist Ao Hoshizaki and a group of girls living in a school surrounded by blue waters. How they got there and why they’re there, are both unknowns. The entire group except for Ao have all lost their memories. Yet Ao has no idea of what the place is. Only that she was headed for summer school before awakening at this strange imitation of a school.
Ao was not the first or last to arrive here, but is the most determined to uncover its secrets and help her newfound friends to recover their memories. They come to learn that their best bet are places called heartscapes. Heartscapes are areas linked to one person’s memories. They change in appearance and landscape depending on whose emotions and heart is tied to it. Inside this heartscape are fragments of their memories. And so they venture forth, exploring, foraging and fighting demons in order to piece together the puzzle of what’s going on.
Get Me Out of Here
On paper this is a fairly interesting premise, and narratively it definitely is. However, it falls short in it’s heartscape gameplay. Combat is fairly simple. It’s a turn-based/real time hybrid that has everyone, whether hero or enemy, acting on a timeline. As time passes you gain access to your abilities, the first tier gives you 1000 points which is enough to complete one basic action. However as fights progress you gain access to higher tiers, allowing you to string moves or use items and healing abilities. This makes combat a bit of a waiting game where you eagerly await the button prompt telling you you’re now allowed to make a move. I was not a fan of this style of combat. I enjoy a good turn-based RPG sure, but this felt like a weird warping of those gameplay mechanics.
My time in combat also never felt as tactical or strategic as it might in other turn-based titles. It instead became a matter of dealing the most damage while watching out for attacks being resisted or exploiting a weakness. There were status effects and items that gave out buffs, but rarely ever did they feel necessary. I’d mess around with them for the sake of engagement, but they felt like window dressing for the most part. You could, after all, get away with simply attacking and occasionally healing. The only times when you’d actually make use of your full range of abilities, mainly out of necessity, would be on the highest difficulties.
Getting around the heartscapes can sometimes be a tedious task. You walk, run and sneak around enemies, trying to hit them first for a slight advantage at the beginning of a fight. You slowly balance and cross beams over gaps, hang on tightropes, and climb ladders. Standard fare, but mightily mind-numbing. What really doesn’t help is the fact that they use the same voice line everytime Ao gets to climbing and crossing. Prepare to have the limits of your sanity tested in that department.
You also collect resources along the way. The things you collect are used as materials for the game’s crafting system. You can use the crafting system to create meals that provide HP recovery or buffs to defense and attack damage among others. You can also use your foraged resources to craft items used in the construction and upgrades of building/amenities.
Enough Fighting, Let’s Talk
As you play through the game, exploring everyone’s heartscape and hanging out at the school. You end up spending quite a lot of time with everyone, forming bonds with your newfound friends. This is the part of the game that I felt was the strongest. The writing shines here, with every person having their time in the spotlight and gaining depth as characters. You start establishing favourites among the group, ones you may identify with. Others you may find annoying but endearing, or a buzzkill who means well for the people they care about. The time I spent with each of Ao’s friends ended up being the one thing I was looking forward to. Especially when out in the heartscapes fighting demons.
The characterizations are strong in Second Light and this really lends itself well to the depth of the main story. It stops proceedings from just being “go fight demons to get on with the story” and rather a genuine wish to help each girl recover who they are. What’s essential to this is the amount of time you spend with each person.
Aside from the main story cutscenes, there are interactions that occur naturally, as you wander the halls of the school. However, there are also optional “dates” that you can go on with the girls. I was at first taken aback at the choice of wordsI wondered if it was a more literal translation from Japanese, or if Second Light was a dating simulator disguised as a JRPG. Thankfully though, these dates aren’t just straight up romantic interactions for the sake of fanservice. They’re rather moments where you get to hang out with your favourites. Although, you will find the odd flirty dialogue option, which ends up being more adorable than romantic.
For the Eyes and Ears
I enjoyed the soundtrack on offer, although at times I’d have liked some variety in the hub area theme. Lucky for me the song is pretty good. It’s this wonderfully light and airy music that just gives me a warm feeling reminiscent of long summer days. If I could think of a single word to describe it, it would be wholesome.
You won’t really find much to be amazed at visually. Character, enemy, and environment design are adequate, but never really go much further than that. The moment to moment visuals aren’t especially pretty either. However, there are little slices of beauty, like when a sunset hits just right. Providing deep shades of orange and yellow to the surroundings. Or this shot of a boss room lit up by floating lanterns of soft pink and orange. I’d have loved some more use of colour to add some life to the world.
Blue Reflection: Second Light is a great story carried by excellent characters, but dragged down by uninspired gameplay. I really wanted to enjoy it more than I did. But I just couldn’t convince myself that I was having a good time outside of cutscenes and dialogue.