In July of 1998, Hudson Soft published B.L.U.E. Legend of Water, an underwater adventure game that sank into obscurity. Videos of the game on YouTube have a couple thousand views, and there doesn’t seem to be many discussions about the game online. Perhaps the game was ignored during what many consider the best year in gaming. Nonetheless, B.L.U.E. Legend of Water is a very good game that should have gotten more attention than it received.
You take the role of Maia, a seventeen-year-old girl who discovers ancient underwater ruins after visiting her father at an ocean research station. She’s been having bizarre dreams featuring voices and weird structures. To solve the mystery, Maia has to venture into the ruins and prevail over the traps and puzzles inside. The game is split into two parts. The research station is where you gather information by talking to other characters. The ocean is where you explore and solve puzzles. Alternating between these two locations sets a consistent pace throughout five chapters. This gives the game an organized structure without fillers in its story and gameplay. Every time you dive into the ocean, you have a new objective to complete and a new location to explore. Every time you head back to the station, it’s to grab a new item or to learn something new from the other characters.
I found the method of navigating the station to be unideal. Instead of controlling Maia, you guide her by selecting specific spots in a room. I would’ve preferred the option to move my character with the analog stick or the directional pad. As for the swimming controls, they’re sufficient and easy to learn. You swim forward with the square button and you swim backwards with the X button. Strafing to the left is done with the L1 button and the opposite is done with R1 button. Examining and using objects is done by using the circle button. The triangle button opens a menu containing your items, a map, and an option called “artificial intelligence.” Your only companion during exploration is a dolphin named Luka that you can issue one of four commands to. Search mode causes Luka to find notable things in the environment like an object or a path. Cooperation mode lets you team up with Luka and is primarily used to push large objects such as boulders. Standby mode causes Luka to stay in place, which is useful for switches that need to stay triggered. Guidance mode is used to attract enemies away from Maia. For the most part, issuing commands works well, and there aren’t many moments when Luka won’t immediately do an action. This is good because a suboptimal version of this system could’ve created situations where Luka would ignore commands or take too long to perform an action. Imagine having to select the same command from the menu multiple times to make Luka do one thing. This would have made solving puzzles tedious and potentially unbearable in the long term. I’m surprised the AI commands weren’t assigned to each of the four buttons on the directional pad. Bringing up the menu isn’t a big hassle, but it does put a momentary stop to the action. Overall, I thought the partner system was well made, and I enjoyed figuring out which of the fours commands would help me solve a puzzle.
B.L.U.E. Legend of Water adds tension to the swimming gameplay by including an oxygen meter that depletes over time. What I like about this feature is that it also doubles as a health bar. Taking damage takes a chunk out of your oxygen meter, which reduces the amount of time you can stay underwater. This enhances the sense of tension without leading to frustrating moments because enemies and traps are not in abundance. Likewise, taking damage isn’t too consequential because you can always swim to the surface to replenish the oxygen meter. Being above the surface also allows you to save your game. This is especially convenient when you’re inside places such as the ruins and a decrepit submarine. Interior environments is where the oxygen meter acts as a sort of ball and chain. Unlike the exterior environment, you can only replenish your air by discovering spots where there is a surface you can stay above. As a result, you have to be wary of how long you stay underwater and how far you are from the closest surface. The game does an excellent job at giving you enough air so you can explore and enough time to swim back and replenish the oxygen meter. However, there were tense moments when I desperately swam as fast as possible to get air. For example, I was exploring the submarine and discovered a small case on the floor. Upon picking up the case, a creature broke out of a glass tube and began chasing me. I had to swim away while avoiding damage to maintain as much oxygen as possible. I lured the creature to another room but my oxygen meter continued to deplete during two short cutscenes I couldn’t skip. I used a bomb to destroy the creature and luckily found a surface to replenish my air.
The ruins are where most of the exploration and puzzle-solving take place. Unlocking doors, activating switches, and putting things in the correct order make up the bulk of the game’s puzzles. They’re not difficult nor complicated, but there are serviceable obstacles to overcome. The amount of puzzles and rooms increases as you unlock more of the ruins. Your first excursion involves a handful of rooms, and the main puzzle involves pressing four buttons. The third time around, you’re pushing the hands of a large clock to unlock doors and trying to place the correct colored gems on a stone hand. Interior environments, such as the ruins, are where the swimming controls become stubborn. Swimming in exterior environments is easy because you have a lot of room and there aren’t many obstacles in your way. By contrast, the ruins are made up of small rooms and hallways that lead to a lot of colliding with walls and floors as you turn. Another downside to the ruins is they become visually repetitive. It feels more like just a place to keep puzzles in than a relic of an interesting and mysterious civilization. I didn’t get the feeling that I was learning more about the ruins and their history the deeper I got inside (my inability to read Japanese might have something to do with this). Fortunately, the game takes a dramatic turn in the last two chapters in both story and tone. The events are so wild that I can’t bring myself to spoil them in this review.
B.L.U.E. Legend of Water doesn’t have a lot of bad qualities, and that’s why I found it to be surprisingly enjoyable. A game set underwater with a character you must give commands to has the potential to be a dreadful experience. B.L.U.E. Legend of Water avoids this by having sufficient controls and a reliable AI partner. The puzzles were fair and never frustrating. The oxygen meter is well balanced because it doesn’t make being underwater a constant race against time. With only five chapters and two primary locations, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. For those seeking a reason to play the game more than once, there are five branching points throughout the story that change the ending depending on how many you trigger. B.L.U.E. Legend of Water is an easygoing adventure that deserves more than being a footnote in the PlayStation’s vast library of games.