Rogue Galaxy Reader Review
Rogue Galaxy is the latest Japanese role-playing game to surface from developer Level 5, previously responsible for last years stellar title Dragon Quest VIII as well as the classic ps2 series Dark Cloud (or 'Dark Chronicle' for the second title). Coming hot on the heels of Final Fantasy XII at the tail-end of the lifespan for one of the most RPG-friendly gaming systems in existence, you could be forgiven for thinking that Rogue Galaxy would be an absolute no-brainer purchase for dice-rolling fans. You'd almost be right.
For the main part the game casts the player as a teenage boy named Jaster Rogue. As an orphan living on a desolate sand-filled planet with only a vicar and a few other town people for company, Jaster dreams of one day exploring the vast reaches of space. A chance encounter with a real-life bounty hunter and a case of mistaken identity later, Jaster is aboard the pirate starship 'Dorgenark' ready for adventuring across one of the five distinct planets that inhabit the Galaxy. The ship is filled with a host of colourful crew members, each with their own story to tell and unique place in the main narrative. Some characters are definately more forgettable than others, but you'll need them all to succeed in the main quest.
The game's visual style has certainly helped create a large amount of anticipation, and this is one department in which it certainly delivers with aplomb. The colourful, well animated, anime-inspired gameworld is at times as good to look at as anything yet seen on current or next-generation systems. Each planet has been designed with an individual identity in mind, giving the various story chapters a unique feel and some memorable moments. The mining planet 'Vedan' is a standout here, with neon-lit trees cutting a stark portrait against an industrial backdrop that brings to mind the gritty neo-futuristic landscape of Blade Runner. Indeed the whole game comes across as a sci-fi homage at points, with the various Star Wars films serving as a primary influence in both plot and visual styling.
Audio quality is also generally excellent throughout, with some superbly evocative musical accompaniment from composer Tomohito Nishiura. References in the audio design are varied, and players will likely be able to spot influences from other science-fiction works such as Halo and Akira fairly readily. The score also tips its hat to the film composer Vangelis on numerous occasions. Never a bad thing.
Visual flair aside, Rogue Galaxy plays out as a pretty straight-forward action rpg. You play much of the game with a party of three characters, usually comprising of Jaster and two other members of the crew determined by the plot circumstance or via free choice. Combat is in real-time and extremely fast paced with no loading times to speak of. Each encounter also contains a thin layer of strategy in the form of party commands and chainable attack sequences. Many battles can be won simply by mashing the attack button, but this approach usually takes longer than pausing the action and thinking briefly about the best approach for any given situation. The combat is certainly enjoyable, and the various enemies will keep you on your toes at least until your party is sufficiently levelled up to withstand the hefty amount of damage most enemies inflict.
Unfortunately the frequent combat encounters show up one of the worst elements of the game, the character AI system. Your compatriots are generally useless, either doing precisely nothing on some of the more guarded settings, or alternatively deciding to hack at everything in sight with no thought of safety, usually resulting in a fairly swift death followed by the use of a thankfully abundant resurrection potion. There are no healing spells to be found here, but the game compensates by providing a fairly frequent supply of cheap HP and AP replenish items which will keep you in the battle as long as needs be. Dungeon sequences can also be stupendously long-winded. You'll find yourself looking at the same level design stitched together on numerous occasions, and the grind mentality can come into play a few times over the course of the 35-40 hours the main quest will take to complete.
Character levelling is handled entirely through combat experience and each character has their own unique progression tree. Items found or bought from shops or NPC's are placed into slots on each party member's upgrade board, eventually unlocking new special moves and summon-like abilities. Eash weapon in the game also has its own elemental and proficiency attributes, and maxed-out weapons can be synthesised with others in order to gain higher-grade equipment. The amount of weaponry and equipment on offer is fairly steep, and you'll end up changing the primary and secondary load-out on each character every few chapters in order to keep pace with the sometimes unforgiving combat.
Longevity certainly isn't an issue here, but it is a shame that some excellent design choices are somewhat brought back to earth by the clunky script and voice-acting. Dialogue throughout can be overly patronising and charcterisation is certainly at a premium. It feels as if Level 5 tried to pack too many story threads into one game, with the result being that certain crew members fall completely flat. Not enough time is given to the relationship elements between key protagonists such as Jaster, Kisala and Zegram, and you'll often be left to fill in the blanks as to the motives for some of the minor characters actions.
There are also a few side-quests on offer which will help stretch the game out to over 60 hours for dedicated players. Jaster earns the ability to trap and capture various insect creatures early on in the game, and can then pit these in battle against against cpu characters. This plays out as a chess or pokemon colliseum style minigame which could easily become addictive once you begin to build up an army of little warriors. In a nod to a certain other RPG Jaster also has bounty-hunting duties, earning a points score for each pack of beasts killed, which then accumulate on a hunters leaderboard.
For all its flaws Rogue Galaxy gripped me from start to finish and even in its lowest grinding moments was never less than hypnotic. It will inevitably fall short in comparisons with its big rival Final Fantasy XII, but in truth the design ethos behind both titles couldnt be more different. Level 5 has produced a colourful, fast-paced adventure game which in some respects share more similarities with Zelda or Okami than anything Square-Enix related. With that in mind I would implore people to judge it on its own merits as a unique experience. Its not a galaxy away from becoming a classic, and I hope enough people give it a chance to blossom into a truly deserving sequel.
8 / 10