Sunday, June 16, 2024

Blue Reflection: Second Light was the gay magical girl version of Persona I needed

After years of anticipation, three of the most popular games in Atlus’ Persona franchise are available to play on Nintendo Switch. For the uninitiated, each Persona game usually revolves around a group of teenagers who summon Personas, the physical manifestation of a person’s inner self and deepest desires. To protect the world they live in, the characters use Personas to fight demons, monsters that are the physical manifestation of a person’s negative emotions.

I initially planned to give Persona 3 or 5 a try once I finally got a Nintendo Switch. However, I found myself wanting more than what was offered. I didn’t want to play as a moody, teenage male protagonist who could only romance other girls while fighting inner demons. Somehow, I found myself looking for games inspired by the magical girl Japanese anime subgenre.

Sara Khan’s essay discussing Sailor Moon and other magical girl anime demonstrates how the genre has a long history of being queer as f*ck and impactful to LGBTQ viewers like me. I wanted to see if I could be my ideal queer magical self in a video game. Then, I discovered the JRPG Blue Reflection Second Light.

Released in 2021, Blue Reflection: Second Light is a sequel to the first Blue Reflection game released in 2017. However, no prior knowledge of the first game is needed to play the second. All you need to know is that you are Ao Hoshizaki, a teenage girl who suddenly finds herself in a mysterious school surrounded by water. Alongside three other teenage girls, you must uncover the reason why you are there while recovering the lost memories of the other girls and working together to survive.

When I started playing the game, I couldn’t help but notice a few similarities to the Persona franchise. For one thing, the girls get transformations that allow them to become Reflectors, a more powerful version of themselves that can fight demons. These demons are very personal and found in Heartscapes, physical locations that represent each girl’s most precious memories, which are similar to Persona 5‘s Palaces.

Blue Reflection: Second Light
Blue Reflection: Second Light features heavy queer subtext

A final similarity that Persona and this game share is that of social links, which allow you to gain new abilities in exchange for spending time with specific characters. A notable difference is that Blue Reflection: Second Light has an all-female cast, which allows for a focus on strong female friendships with heavy queer subtext. The latter is implied by dates, which are simply going for walks with another girl to specific locations at school, watching cutscenes, and occasionally selecting dialogue options.

One of my favorite dates involved Ao talking to the character Shiho Kaguga at a takoyaki stand, one of the many facilities you can build for the school. Shiho is one of the additional major female characters who joins as you progress through the story. She is also kick-butt with a sword, good at cooking, and beautiful, so of course, I had to make Ao flirt with her when the opportunity arose in the dialogue options. Eventually, I bonded enough with Shiho to hold her hand during dates. This also happened with other girls like Kokoro.

To participate in dates, you must first build facilities the girls can use to pass the time at school, trigger stat boosts in battle, and cause Heartscapes to appear. These facilities can range from a food stand that gives a defense boost in battle, to a stone lantern that increases the damage you give and take. Any of these facilities can become date spots and participating in these dates not only allow the characters to bond, but gain skill points that can be applied to get new abilities that can help you survive the Heartscape and craft high-quality items. 

Players can go on dates with other girls

As fun as the dates are, it is worth noting that the date’s dialogue options aren’t flawless and might read as queerbaiting to some players. Ao sometimes says, “Just kidding!” when you select some of the more flirty options. There is also a moment when Shiho says, “But we’re both girls!” when Ao says she’d rather marry a woman like her than have a husband. Regardless, it is still nice that the game considers the fact that Ao might not be straight. Some JRPGs like Persona still have the cishet male hero as the default, even though being gay, bi, or trans shouldn’t be a big deal. Despite Ao’s orientation not being confirmed, there is another major female character who is eventually confirmed to be queer and whose feelings for one of the other female characters end up playing a key role in the storyline.

Blue Reflection Second Light was the gay magical girl version of Persona I needed. Despite the high stakes involved, it felt like a summer vacation where I got to play a teen girl who befriended and flirted with other girls.  Not only did the game take the time to make you care about bonding with the girls, but it showed that powerful emotional bonds can become tangible power you can use to rise above your circumstances.

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