Review by BloodGod65

Reviewed: 02/20/09 | Updated: 07/07/10

Every bad idea throughout RPG history, now in one convenient package

Within a period of four years, Level 5 has garnered a pedigree that rivals some of the giants of the gaming industry, with previous games on the Playstation 2 (Dark Cloud series, Dragon Quest VIII) being well received by critics and fans alike. Regardless of Level 5’s previous successes, in the gaming business each release can make or break a studio, and a single bad game can ruin a company (see the unfortunate case of Free Radical and Haze for more on this inescapable truth). It’s a shame then that Rogue Galaxy sullies Level 5’s excellent reputation to such a degree that they may never recover.

So what makes Rogue Galaxy so bad? It violates the two basic rules that all good RPGs follow. I’ve said it before and it deserves to be said again. Every RPG absolutely must have two things in order to be successful; a great story and a good battle system. Unfortunately, Rogue Galaxy possesses neither of these essential traits. For the moment though, let’s focus on the failings of the narrative.

In true JRPG fashion, Rogue Galaxy focuses on a sandy haired youth named Jaster Rogue who dreams of traveling the universe as a space pirate, having adventures and becoming famous. His dreams for adventure are soon fulfilled when his home comes under attack from a huge monster. Seeing as it’s the only sane thing a boy can do in the circumstances, Jaster runs off to slay the beast. On his way, he meets a mysterious stranger who eventually hands over the wicked sword he carries and disappears. Jaster then meets another group of strangers, a robot named Steve and a short fat thing named Simon. They mistake Jaster for the sword-wielding stranger he was with, and being the adventurous youth that he is, Jaster makes no attempt to correct them as they take him onboard their pirate spaceship.

From there the plot becomes ever more derivative and uninspired, essentially serving as a greatest hits compilation of RPG’s most overused scenarios. After leaving his homeworld, the pirate ship soon comes under attack and lands on a jungle world inhabited by superstitious, but surprisingly civilized, tribal people. After that, the pirate crew lands on a metropolis world and ends up getting tossed into jail (and this is just within the first five hours!). Another issue this raises is that the game constantly feels as if it’s just throwing up roadblocks for no good reason, just so players don’t get too interested in what’s going on. Sure, there has to be stuff going on but surely Level 5 can come up with something better than this.

As much as I wish I could just move on, there is at least one more problem with the story – the writing is awful. Most of the writing is hackneyed drivel, and it often comes off as something that would be found in a cheap, made for TV movie. On a more positive note (finally…) the game does present players with a nice synopsis of recent events upon loading a game, so if you’ve been gone a while you can get back up to speed. This is a cool little idea that should become a standard feature for all RPGs in the future.

Even as important as story is to an RPG, even a train wreck can be somewhat redeemed by passable combat. Alas, that doesn’t happen and this unmitigated disaster unfurls even further. Combat takes place in real time, which earns it a brownie point for being different from the glut of turn-based titles that still flood the market. The whole affair unfolds more like a brawler than an RPG, with button presses unleashing combos and the ability to defend, along with a jump button of all things. It’s even possible to pick up an enemy and throw it at another. When it’s necessary to use a spell or item, bringing up a menu is required but given the fast paced nature of the fighting, this usually serves as a welcome reprieve.

The party consists of three players, only one of which the player has control over. The other two are controlled by the computer AI, which couldn’t be any worse. The term “brain-dead” comes to mind when attempting to explain the effectiveness of their presence. Rarely will they make any move with any semblance of tactical sensibility, and you’ll usually see them lying on the ground dead, due to their inability to block. To make matters worse, they also have to ask for the player’s permission to use healing items or abilities. More often than not, I spent just as much time in the menu using healing items and resurrecting them instead of fighting. Boss fights become an exercise in futility, as massively damaging attacks and moronic companions quickly take their toll.

Additionally, the battle camera is a constant headache because it is controlled manually. Players will not only have to juggle attacking and taking care of infantile party members, but they’ll also have to keep the enemy in their sights while it moves around and out of sight. It might have actually have been nice to have a computer controlled camera, although as disastrous as other parts of the game are, this might just be wishing for extra punishment.

Interestingly, though the game uses random encounters, there is no transition between an exploration screen and a combat screen. Basically, when the enemy attacks, players will fight exactly where they stand.

Persist in fighting and characters will eventually level up, which brings the game’s Revelation Flow charts into play. The best description for this is that it’s a highly tweaked version of the License Board from Final Fantasy XII. Each character has a unique chart that has numerous pieces for new abilities. By filling a segment, any connected segments become open to fill. In order to fill these areas, players will have to use a wide variety of items that can be bought or picked up from defeated enemies. Each area has an exact item required, and once it is in the inventory the space will light up to show it is able to be filled. Overall, it’s a pretty cool system that allows characters to become powerful fairly quickly. It does run into a roadblock in that the chart for a few characters require odd and rare items for key, low level abilities, leaving them weak for a longer period in comparison to others.

There’s one other major issue with the game – Mimics. Anyone remotely familiar with RPGs is no doubt familiar with these evil fiends, who pose as a treasure chest and then attack when it is least expected. But I daresay nobody has ever seen them quite like this, or in such a limitless quantity. Not only are they common, but they’re ridiculously tough (always much more so than the regular enemies of the area) and it ends up being like an impromptu boss fight. Eventually this leads to a Pavlovian reaction of avoiding treasure chests altogether for fear of a cheap game over screen.

If there’s one good thing I can say about Rogue Galaxy, it’s that it is beautiful. During gameplay, it looks like some hybrid of cel-shading and anime. The effect is not only unique, but it’s pretty snazzy to boot. Characters all have their own cool look, with lots of little details apparent. Environments are also nice to look at. Unfortunately their design leaves a lot to be desired, because levels are usually just an expansive series of rooms and corridors. When watching the cut-scenes, the graphics are a combination of the aforementioned cel/anime with a touch of CG. Once again the overall effect is pretty awesome and in the end it makes this game a hell of a lot more fun to look at than play.

Unfortunately, it’s not so fun to listen to the game. The voice acting varies, even with the same characters. Sometimes they’re entirely believable, other times it seems like they don’t even care. Granted, the script really doesn’t have much to work with. But oddly enough, the characters that don’t play a central role to the game are typically better and more consistent.

The battle system of Rogue Galaxy sets it apart from the plethora of turn based RPG’s on the market today, but the whole thing is dragged down so much by moronic AI allies and a lame story that it doesn’t really matter. In the end the most important aspects of this RPG are completely awful, making it impossible to look past its faults.

Rating: 3

Product Release: Rogue Galaxy (US, 01/30/07)

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