Review by Hiroyuki Sakai
A stellar experience in the waning days of the PS2
Rogue Galaxy starts you off with Jaster Rogue, a young go-getter whose dream is to get off his boring, desert rock of a planet to see the galaxy through his own eyes. Because of a fortunate meeting with the renowned space hunter Desert Claw, a group of pirates mistakes Jaster as this man, and through much fault of his own, is brought along with the crew to search the galaxy for treasure.
The game quickly teaches you in an hour or so exactly what you'll be doing, combat-wise, for the bulk of the game. On the surface, the game is a hack-and-slash with very little else involved besides jamming on the X button, a few jumps and a few throws. However, there are far more ways to deal with the 200+ enemies the game throws at you. Besides your main weapon, which is used by simply hitting the X button, each character gets a subweapon, such as a gun or bow-and-arrow, which can be used a set number of times, as shown by a bar on the screen. But you can't attack all day long, as there is an action gauge which limits you and makes you either wait until until you can attack again, or block an enemy attack to charge the gauge completely.
And you will need to do a lot of blocking, not just for this, but because the game is hard. Typically, I can go through RPGs without buying my own healing items, and usually selling most of them off to get money for armor and weapons. However, Rogue Galaxy does nothing to hide the fact that the enemies are there to kill you, not to just look pretty. Throughout the game, unless severely overleveled, the beasts of the game will do enough damage to take down around an eighth to a third of your life bar down with one hit. Combined with the fact that your allies intelligence in battle seems like that of a child, you will need plenty of healing and reviving items as you journey through the galaxy. The makers of the game were kind enough to put save points, which heal and allow you to teleport to any other save point on the planet, all over each world.
Though your allies seem braindead most of the time, they can surprise you by actually doing some work and saving you from time to time. Not to mention, they seem to know they suck, so they will often ask for your advice on what to do. When in battle, and depending on the situation, Jaster's crew will call out to him and ask for advice, displaying a small screen which gives one or two options, the most frequent being healing items and abilities.
Abilities are gained by using Rogue Galaxy's Revelation Flow Chart, similar to FFX's Sphere Grid and FFXII's License Board. By using items found along your quest from treasure chests or enemy drops, the player can insert items into the Revelation Chart's slots, and once all the slots have the required items filled, an ability is learned and more possibilities are gained. Although many of the games abilities are useless, there are plenty that are very useful throughout the game for each character. The most useful of these is, arguably, the Burning Strike attack.
Each character gets a Burning Strike once a scroll is put on their Revelation Chart. The character then gets a new gauge on screen during battle. By picking up Burning Chips from attacked and defeated enemies, the character builds his or her gauge, and when at a required amount, can execute the Burning Strike attack. By pressing R1 and Square near an enemy, a choreographed screen of you doing damage to the enemy is initiated, and continues with increasing damage until the end, so long as you hit the correct buttons when they appear in the hit boxes that appear on screen.
Although combat sounds a bit complex, each new step is explained fully and accurately, and the game leaves room for you to do your own experimenting by letting you control either of the eight playable characters you want. You'll find yourself slowly getting stronger as you fill the Revelation Flow Chart, gain levels as well as weapon levels, and unlocking more potential from each member of your crew.
The game is an RPG after all, so there is plenty of world exploration to do, as well as a story that unfolds as you go along. This, however, is definitely the games weakest point along with the characters. As a game about space pirates, it's pretty easy to deduce that the game will be about you and your mates saving the galaxy and looking for treasure. However, including the numerous side-stories that are forced on you at each planet, the story is lacking in almost every way. Each quest has a very expected layout and an even more expected ending, which makes you want to just skip along and get to more fighting and searching. Luckily, Rogue Galaxy enables you to pause and even skip through its many cutscenes.
The characters, for the most part, have been done to death in other forms of entertainment. Jaster is an incredibly typical, kind-hearted but strong main character that always strives to do the right thing. Kisala is a cute love interest that is Jaster's equal in terms of humanism and the like. Simon is a small yet mild-mannered man with an accent, whose only real purpose is for humor. Steve is C-3PO, and strangely enough, seems to be the story character with the most depth. Zegram, who looks almost exactly like Xiahou Dun from Koei's Dynasty Warriors, is the typical "lone wolf" that does what he wants and doesn't take orders from anyone. Lilika is an amazon woman that acts exactly as one would expect an amazon woman to act. Jupis is an annoying alien akin to Jar Jar Binks, but is actually intelligent as he is a hacker, and has a funny line here and there. Deego is a most pathetic, brute-of-a-man/dog, very similar to every "big guy with a big heart" that you see in Hollywood. The game seems to know the characters are dull, and doesn't spend much time on character development, which is strangely a good thing, and allows you to be on your way.
The game isn't just battle-story-battle-story either, as there are plenty of side-quests that can occupy your time. The biggest one is called Insectron, and consists of setting traps to catch these little Pokemon-esque bugs in order to battle them on a chess board. You can catch a large variety of these bugs, and whichever ones suit your battle style best, you can keep, feed, make stronger, and breed. The battles are simple, and consist of you and your opponent choosing your five best insectors to duke it out. One is chosen to be your king, and if the your opponent's king is defeated, you win; if your king is defeated, you lose. The large number of different insectors is enough to keep those interested in this mini-game interested even longer.
There is also a side-quest which is undertaken throughout your quest is that of hunting. Each time you battle, your Battle Recorder records what beast you've just fought, and how many of that beast you've killed. After you've killed a beast for the first time, you can look in your battle recorder to view how many more of the beast you must defeat (usually 20-30) in order to complete a hunt. Each hunt completed earns you a certain amount of points, which allow you to move up a ladder of 100 other hunters in order to be number one, and gain prizes along the way. Along with these enemy hunts are much larger, more dangerous hunts called Quarries. Quarries can be bought as you go through the game and are basically boss enemies that earn you a large amount of hunter points. For the Quarries, you first buy the a sheet of paper that tells you where a Quarry is. When you go the spot listed, a question mark with a circle called a thinking circle will be on the field. When you enter it and press X, you must use the hint given to you and use a certain item to draw the beast out, and defeat it to earn your points. These hunts add a lot of replay value to the game, and can be completed at whatever pace you like.
The next biggest side quest is the Factory, which is gained as the story progresses. By talking to civilians across the galaxy, you earn blueprints for items that can be made. By setting the different machinery down, plugging everything in, getting the materials set and making sure everything reaches its destination at the proper time, newer and better items can be made and will appear in shops around the galaxy later on. Although the factory is difficult to get the hang of first, it is definitely worth the time.
The story, albeit being a little bare, is told via gorgeous cel-shaded visuals, which is what the developer Level 5 is known for. The character and enemy design is some of the best I've ever seen. If you take the time to steady the camera and look around, the environments that Rogue Galaxy has to offer are simply breathtaking. With pausable and skippable cutscenes that take your breath away, along with virtually non-existent load times, and a soundtrack that is often beautiful, but overshadowed by the visuals and gameplay, the entire experience is immersive, cohesive and addictive, and always leaves you satisfied. Numerous things to do, see and collect makes the entire game enjoyable for well over 40 hours, and the pros of the game far outweigh the cons, making Rogue Galaxy one of the biggest and best games on the PS2.
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