Developed by Bandai Namco and set to release in 2024, anime-inspired MMORPG Blue Protocol has already been released in Japan, but has yet to arrive on Western shores.
Despite publisher Amazon Games’ best efforts, I was initially skeptical, fearing that Blue Protocol might be a predatory loot-box-based game steeped in Genshin Impact-esque gacha mechanics.
However, after only an hour of play, it was clear that slick combat, gorgeous visuals, and meaningful character customization were the order of the day. This wasn’t a callous cash grab. Publisher Amazon Games is aiming for a more “controlled” model of monetization, with an emphasis on seasonal battle passes, according to Blue Protocol franchise lead Mike Zadorojny.
Zadorojny was keen to stress that the Western release places limitations on the game’s gambling elements. In addition to a season pass “every few months”, there is a “cosmetic monetization model” which, rather than offering purely “random boxes” like the Japanese version, has “hard stop mechanics” which “after X number of pulls, guarantee you the top tier box [letting you] choose the item you want.” Though he concedes that it’s still a “gacha mechanic,” Zadorojny was keen to emphasize that it exists in a “more controlled fashion” than you might expect.
Given Zadorojny’s previous background as a senior developer on successful free-to-play MMO Guild Wars 2, it’s safe to say that the franchise lead has experience in cultivating a sustainable free-to-play environment. Though I’ve yet to see Blue Protocol’s system in action, the fact that gacha elements are both restricted and confined solely to the cosmetic bodes well for the game’s future.
With an art style reminiscent of Genshin Impact and Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Blue Protocol looks and feels like an anime come to life. Combat is a well-polished affair, with a tight action economy reminiscent of Diablo 4 and character synergies reminiscent of the aforementioned Nintendo Switch RPG.
During the hands-on, we experienced one of Blue Protocol’s first dungeons. Six of us ventured into a canyon full of monsters and, while tough to follow at times, the combat felt frantic and rewarding. In Blue Protocol, none of the classes fit neatly into the traditional tank-DPS-healer trifecta. Instead, each class offers you a wide range of abilities, forcing you to select a small handful to use in combat.
In much the same way as Guild Wars 2 or Diablo 4, this encourages you to give serious consideration to your ability choices, while also allowing you to craft your own take on any of the classes. For instance, when playing the shield-wielding Blade Warden, I equipped a range of support skills and area-of-effect abilities, causing my character to act a lot more like a traditional healer or support class.
Zadorojny made it clear that the developers were focused more on “player fantasy” when designing the game’s five core classes, focusing on a “spectrum” of roles each archetype could play, rather than committing to the classic MMO trifecta. “It’s really about giving player agency back in terms of choosing the skills you want.”
Amazon Games also understand that MMOs need more than satisfying combat to survive; they must also cultivate a [sense of player community]. Blue Protocol uses a “team system” (think guilds but with a less old-timey name) to help players organize themselves. Though it’s currently “very basic”, there are “plans to expand it moving forward” because, as Zadorojny put it, “MMOs and online games, are all about community.”
Given that Blue Protocol is full of six-person dungeons and large-scale raids designed for 30 players, much of the content itself will necessitate a strong player community. While matchmaking exists, [co-op experiences] are always more fun when undertaken with buddies.
To this end, Blue Protocol offers the usual slew of emotes and chat channels to help players find new comrades. Thanks to the title’s gorgeous anime-inspired visuals, however, these emotes look and feel bolder than you might expect. Whether this will result in the kind of community building that Zadorojny wants remains to be seen, but the characters will certainly look good in the attempt.
It’s also possible that Blue Protocol’s nascent community could find itself galvanized by a common love of a shared story, in much the same way as Final Fantasy 14. Like the Square Enix juggernaut, Blue Protocol is set to have an “evolving story”. Though I’ve only seen the first hour or so, the game’s opening had a pleasing combination of melodrama and hilarity, reminiscent of the best JRPGs.
Though the real test of an MMO comes on launch day. Blue Protocol is shaping up to be a promising arrival on the scene. The prospect of community-oriented play, character customization, and less gambling-heavy monetization practices sits well with me and hints at the prospect of a free-to-play game that may stand the test of time.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.