Review by Heatmiser
Lots of gameplay, a little of which is actually really good
Rogue Galaxy, Level 5's latest RPG offering for the PS2, is a stone-cold dungeon crawler-- so right off the bat you know that nuance and originality have been thrown right out the window. But if you can stomach mind-numbingly long labyrinths and repetitive battle after battle after battle, then maybe keep reading; RG has a lot to offer once you get by the monotony. A LOT of monotony.
After an opening sequence that pits you against a giant lizard with only a fat Scottish guy and a C3P0 rip-off as your comrades in battle, you, the wannabe hero Jaster Rogue, will finally get your ultimate wish granted: the chance to be aboard a space pirate ship, going around from planet to planet, trying to find treasures and hot chicks and gold and drinking rum all day, in space. Well, at least that's what every bit of marketing and advertising lead me to believe. In reality, Jaster is taken onto a space pirate ship alright, only to have to wade through tedium like getting your visa renewed (seriously, there's an entire DMV planet out there) or crash landing in some crummy rainforest world. Believe me when I say I had hoped the story to Rogue Galaxy would have a lot more pillaging and grog, and a lot less whiny lizardmen and talking cats. Maybe the game designers were the ones drinking too much rum.
Fortunately things do eventually heat up, and you'll be knee-deep in swordplay and laser beams before you know it. Battles come fast and hard, and you'll be scrambling to keep up with a great deal of them, particularly toward the end of the game where your butt will be handed too you more often than not. While the graphical and sound effects are dazzling- Rogue Galaxy is one of the finest looking games around, cel shade or not- the amount and tedium of the battles will likely wear you out pretty quickly. Every character has ONE small combo, simply by using the X button a few times. Kingdom Hearts this is not. In fact, the fighting system in this game is more reminiscent of the early .hack series, in its lack of complexity and overall repetition. Thankfully you have a horde of cohorts with which to do battle, ranging from a hot Amazonian chick to an absolutely creepy-looking axe-wielding dog man. The coolest part about all your chums is that throughout the game, whether you're in battle or just roaming around a town, they'll spout off vocal tidbits every now and then, which really amplifies their charms, making them seem way more lifelike than any video game characters I've experienced in ages. Nothing like one of your battle mates shouting "It's too hot around here!" the moment you land on a desert plain, or another one saying "Why all the glum faces?" after a particularly harrowing death that the party has experienced. Some of the characters in the game will have more life to them than some of the gamers I know playing it.
Sadly, that is pretty much where the ingenuity ends. There's a bland abilities chart, the new cliche of every RPG seemingly since FF10 introduced the sphere grid. There's also a very Dark Cloud-esque weapons combination system, letting you meld two old weapons into one powerful new one. While these additions are a ton of fun at the beginning, all these overused and overdone gameplay elements won't be very interesting for very long. So how about the two major sidequests, Insector (bug) fighting and factory maintenance? Well, if you want to see a bland, awkward, unfun mash-up of Pokemon and chess, then Insectors are for you! Thankfully even the gamemakers knew this was a waste of time, since you can literally go the entire game and not touch the Insector elements even once. Same goes for the factory, a horribly complex and overly complicated sequence where you line up different mechanical doodads and doohickeys in a makeshift factory, in hopes that you will eventually produce an item-- none of which are, again, necessary to make to finish (or even enjoy) the game. So let's review: the two major sidequests are pointless and unfun. Whee.
I'm glad I can finish this review on a happy note, however: US gamers will be playing the director's cut, which is replete with an entire new world (the gorgeous beach world Alistia), a handful of new weapons and costumes for your characters, and a big, bad, mean ghost ship, ripe for the lootin', matey. Sadly, you have to complete the game to get to the lootin' (matey), but it's clear that Level 5 and Sony went all out for Rogue Galaxy. Beautiful graphics, tons of gameplay, wonderful sound effects and voice acting, and a myriad of items and goodies to find everywhere in the half dozen or so planets you'll be visiting. I just wish there was some variety in the X button-X-button-X button-combo random battles (yeah, you heard me, random freakin' battles), with which you'll be dealing roughly, oh, once every 6 seconds for the entire 50-70 hours of gaming you'll get out of this title. But if tedium and repetitive gameplay won't deter you from experiencing a fun, jaunty little space pirating story, then give Rogue Galaxy a try. It's not the blockbuster we all thought it'd be, but hey. There's cleavage and swords and laser guns. More than enough for most of us.
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