My time in Blue Reflection—the recent "magical girl" anime inspired JRPG by Gust recently released for PS4, Vita, and PC—is punctuated with gentle chimes, quiet hums, and someone's delicate hand stirring on a row of piano keys. The world is always shown through a veil of blue-grey that mutes all but the brightest of colors… Until you enter The Common. Everything feels more vivid there—especially the wildflowers.
Blue Reflection is a warm drink on a cold, grey day. More than that, it's more committed and consistent in its tone than anything else I've played this year.
This came as a shock when I first started playing. I'd been curious about Blue Reflection since I saw its Japanese trailer, which showed a group of costumed teen girls wielding great, glittering ribbons of magic against enemies. I expected it to be colourful and upbeat and energetic, entirely committed to that same youthful and unstoppable energy that has come to define mahou shoujo (or "magical girl") stories.
But this is not a game where waving a wand and shouting a catch phrase is enough to make the bad things go away, and its tone matches that outlook perfectly.
The protagonists of Blue Reflection navigate everyday high school life on top of their regular forays into a space called The Common, where the full spectrum of human emotion lives amid flooded ruins, grassy fields, and latticework tunnels draped in wisteria. There, feelings that aren't dealt with in a healthy manner are preyed on by demons, which players then fight in a kind of turn-based combat that relies heavily on delaying opponent moves in order to maximize the timing of your own.
Time freezes while the girls are in The Common, which allows them to use idle periods at lunch or after school to pop in and out as needed without any of the scheduling pressure applied in similarly-styled JRPGs like Persona 5. This plays a big role in Blue Reflection's laid-back vibe. At no point has it felt like the game will cut me off or shut me out if I don't execute every single day perfectly, or address every single problem within a strict timeline.
That said, just because the game's built in a way that doesn't artificially ratchet up the tension doesn't mean that it plays everything straight and sunshiny, either. A magical girl can dispel a demon no problem, but she can't just wave her wand to wipe someone's trauma away. In that light, a super-saturated and unflaggingly optimistic tone would ring pretty hollow here.
It's not that developer GUST made a grey game about some grey topics. Blue Reflection doesn't feel depressive; it feels calm. This is not a grimdark twist on the magical girl genre, and the world isn't excessively cold or unkind. The world just is. It's a hot bath and a bit of reflection time after every single school day as much as it's a friend betraying another friend's trust. It's a looming demonic threat as much as it's a trip to the mall with a new acquaintance. It's chat conversations with silly stickers thrown in between replies as much as it's a girl jogging down the hall because she heard someone in the library needs help.
It's all that soft piano music, too, and all those bright little flowers. Even when things get heavy, Blue Reflection is a subdued, warm, and overwhelmingly soothing experience.