Review by FantasyMayDie
Reviewed: 07/08/13 | Updated: 03/31/14
If you're looking for an age old story of heroes, Rogue Galaxy is right up your alley
Question: What do you get when you cross Dark Cloud, Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy 12 into an RPG about space pirates? The answer: Rogue Galaxy.
So here we are in the midst of the PS2's final days. Many of you may believe that this means there are no longer any worthwhile games, much less RPGs, left for this dependable system. Well for those of you who are ready to give up on this endeavor, you may just want to reconsider putting your PS2 away just yet as Level 5 has delivered us one final voyage, and its into space of all places. For years, Level 5 has been one of my favorite game companies due solely to their distinct, classic, yet unique approach to RPGs. Coming out with great titles such as the Dark Cloud and DragonQuest series that utilize a classic take on gameplay, story, customization, and their now trademarked cel-shaded art style; And here they are squeezing out what is possibly the last big RPG outing for the PS2 with their newest game, Rogue Galaxy, which proves to give us all of those things and then some.
Ill start off by going over one of the games strongest points, really cant complain here. Level 5 has beautifully crafted the game with vibrant colors, defined character designs, and some nice looking worlds. As expected, the trademark cel shaded style is back once again, and while I dont think its quite as nice looking as say DragonQuest VIIIs visuals, its a solid (and anime reminiscent) looking game. Particle and lighting effects are considerably well done, along with some very smooth battle animations. Youll notice that some great design work was also put into the alternate costumes and various weapons which becomes apparent once you start to upgrade your characters. Like any good RPG, the CG movies in the game are gorgeous, reminding me of the art used in movies like The Animatrix, Vexille, Appleseed, etc. and come in many doses. The only graphical weakness are that even though the worlds themselves look great, the dungeons that make up these worlds are awfully dull/repetitive looking, but Ill come back to that.
This now brings me to the next section of my review, the story, which is hands down one of the weaker aspects of the game. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, we meet our main character who is a hopeful youth named Jaster Rogue who dreams of getting off his boring desert planet of Rosa. Jaster wishes to explore the galaxy he so often gazes upon at and free his planet from the rule of the Longardian Empire. Sounding Star Warsy enough for you yet? Well were just getting started as we are thrown into Jasters life the day that a beast arrives into town and through some unforeseen events eventually finds himself teaming up with a (Armadillo?) masked man named Simon and a frantic robot named Steve, or as hes more commonly known, C3PO.
After the skirmish, Jaster, who is mistaken as the legendary hunter Desert Claw is offered the chance to be recruited into Dorgengoas crew, the most feared pirate in the galaxy. Its here that he meets infamous characters like our lone wolf Zegram, the feisty love interest Kisala, a talking cat thing, who is the obnoxious first mate to Dorgengoa named Monsha, and other characters that will join your party throughout the storyline. Finally given the chance to live his dream of exploring the galaxy, Jaster experiences what it is to be a pirate. Or does he?
If all of this sounds too cliche for you then leave any other expectations at the door. While Rogue Galaxy is a fun enough adventure, ultimately it just goes over every old RPG plot point in the book, deriving on a very predictable script. Youll honestly see every twist coming hours away. The pacing of the story also indulges itself with more than a few issues. The story starts out relatively interesting at first, but youll find that once you set out to other worlds Rogue Galaxy essentially throws its main story out the window for about half the game; literally hitting what feels like a plot standstill as a big chunk of the plot involves Jaster and the crew running around trying to accomplish one task but constantly being sidetracked by sub-plots that tend to overstay their welcome.
In the grand scheme of things, the story isnt bad per say, it simply lacks any sense of originality. As a result, the plot points feel very inorganic. It also leans on feeling a bit fillery at times. However it doesnt really hinder the experience too much as it makes up for its lackluster plot with a sense of fun, scale, and adventure as you explore these worlds. Eventually the game did managed to somewhat redeem itself by picking up (both in storyline and pace) in its third act, delivering an appropriately thrilling, epic conclusion that you would expect in any good RPG.
A mixed bag of sorts. I've gone over a few of the characters already but Ill go into more detail here. During Jasters travels, we meet other characters who join the party. The first is Lilika who is that of a tough Amazon woman archetype, with a badass personality and honorable back-story, and one of the more interesting characters. Jupis is a brilliant dinosaur-like scientist that goes on a crazy rampage when he feels betrayed by the reality of his world. And Deego is a muscular talking dog who is essentially a depressed, washed up war veteran.
Throughout the storyline, some of the characters show hints of development in parts but dont really flesh out much in the long run. In you tally up the role call, you will find that you are in fact given a total of 8 playable characters, who unfortunately feel as though that they were put in just for diversity. Regardless, they do prove to be fun and interesting cast of pirates even with the lack of depth. The bad guys and side characters effectively serve their purpose to spicing up the plot, though some of them were a little too cartoony for my taste, which is weird to say about a Level 5 game. I must also admit that one thing that struck me as weird was that for supposedly being the biggest, baddest pirate crew in the galaxy, Jaster and the gang seem to spend an awful lot of time helping people, but I digress.
Perhaps the most interesting person in the game though is a character named Seed, who is albeit slightly rushed into the game, but manages to get great character arc while it lasts. All in all, these are characters that will stick with you after playing, but youll remember them more as caricatures than actual characters.
Here is where this game is truly a mixed bag. Lets start off with the foundations shall we? Rogue Galaxy basically plays like a combination of Kingdom Hearts 1, Dark Cloud, and Final Fantasy 12. You engage in random battles and are able to move around freely. You can jump, run, guard, and slash away at your enemies with your sword while also firing guns as your sub weapons. However battling isnt as simple as slashing away forever, as your Action Gauge will deplete and run out. During this time you must wait for your gauge to charge up before attacking again (not unlike FF12). During battle you can also pull up a sub menu with the triangle button which contains your items, abilities, equipment, etc. Sounds pretty cool right? Honestly speaking, these ideas are a nice take on real time RPG combat that has found itself evolving over the past handful of years. However, what starts out as promising gameplay slowly starts to lose its novelty.
The Not So Stellar:
Ill start off with the biggest flaw in the gameplay, which are *drum roll*, the dungeons. From the get go, it becomes clear that the games premise is to explore and travel to other worlds via of your ship (Kingdom Hearts). Now while the worlds themselves are vast and vibrant, once you start heading into the dungeons they become more redundant than anything. Rogue Galaxy is in all respects, a dungeon crawler, a hardcore one at that. Now I dont dislike these type of games, but these so called dungeons as they are called, are just incredibly and unnecessarily long.
They seriously take up what feels like 70% of the gameplay, with a high battle rate I might add. At times they can even go on for a few hours at a time (so go in prepared). It also doesnt help that Rogue Galaxy treats them as the epitome of dull and recycled. Each new area of a dungeon looks almost, if not exactly the same as the last. Its like the developers couldnt be bothered to mix them up, just a little bit. Theres not even much to do in these dungeons other than leveling up and finding treasure chests. So youre basically just running straight through the entire time, which gets pretty damn tiring. They did do the courtesy of placing various save points at least, but it doesnt make up much for the poor design. At least in Dark Cloud 2 the dungeons were randomly generated to mix it up some. Call me subjective, but I think its safe to say that by the time youve gotten to the Gladius Towers, you will likely be begging for the game to throw you a bone and lay off the tediously excessive pathways and floors; but in reality, youll still have at least a few more to crawl up to.
Another thing I want to point out is the serious lack of balance in the combat. Youll notice quickly that enemies are unusually powerful. While it will take you a good 10+ hits to kill the average beast, they can wipe out your HP in 3 or 4 (if youre not blocking), which is just crazy. They can even break your guards and daze you, leaving you completely wide open to attack, with their most basic combos. This prompts you into having to continuously bring up the sub menu during battle and constantly spam potions along with other healing items. I dont mind challenging fights but the execution here just feels so sloppy to where I felt: Is this really how Im supposed to play this? Battles basically just become attack, attack, block, and then if you get hit by a combo: potion, potion, and another potion. It ends up feeling pretty juvenile to be honest, theres no real strategy to be found here whatsoever. Another way that Rogue Galaxy is unbalanced is that your abilities are very strong compared to your normal attacks, some able to wipe out an entire hoard of enemies in 1 or 2 strokes. Meaning that most of you will likely just spam your abilities most of the time rather than having to worry about spamming items and waste time attacking head on.
I shouldnt forget to mention your partys combat abilities. Like every other RPG out there, you form a party of 3 to take out into battle and while you can give certain commands (Step back, Go all Out, etc.), you cant really do much else to control them other than actually switching to them (through the sub menu). This results in having to watch over them much more than you want to because they will usually walk right into a powerful enemies combo without even attempting to divert damage which means you will have to constantly heal and revive them over and over. Rogue Galaxy also includes an Active Chat feature where your companions will occasionally talk/voice thoughts while you travel. This can be cool at first, but it can also be annoying since they will utter the same 5 phrases when in the same area, with someone commenting on something every 15 seconds or so. Thankfully this feature is optional and can be turned off. It didnt bother me much overall, but could get on my nerves if I was in one area for too long.
One thing that should really be noted as well is: Beware the Mimics! Anyone whos played a classic RPG before remembers that they are the enemies who disguise themselves as treasure chests and have always had a reputation for being harder than your average foe. Well Rogue Galaxy takes this to a whole new level. Unless you are prepared and really buff up your characters in battle, Mimics can be ridiculously tough to beat to the point where running into them often turns into a 10-20 minute boss battle, with no option to run away. So make sure that you save often just in case you find yourself up against one.
Additionally among my disappointments were the actual boss battles. Simply put, because the bosses throughout the game are considerably overpowered, each boss fight becomes spamming your most powerful attacks, running around to avoid damage, and having your other party members buff up your stats until they are finally defeated, which never failed to leave me feeling a tad unsatisfied. They also lack any real creativity. Which is really quite a shame after such a unique and cool first boss battle against the Mark VIII Salamander which utilized shackle breaking, climbing up on platforms, and hitting key hot spots. What happened to that?
Its not all bad though. Where the game succeeds is that while the battle system may lack balance, its still quite rich in depth. Each character is given different special attacks and their own personal Burning Strikes (button sequenced ultimate attacks), as well as supporting abilities to increase other characters offensive or defensive stats. Every party member also comes equipped with their own unique set of moves and main/sub weapons, making all of them equally fun to play as. I must say that they pulled the diversity off splendidly, as each character was controlled similarly enough to where it didnt feel like a huge leap to go from one person to the other, yet they all still felt distinctly different.
A neat feature that Rogue Galaxy managed to implement successfully was it's "Suggestion" support system. Earlier I made it a point to say that your party AI can be quite dumb at times, but thankfully Suggestions are a small saving grace. During the heat of battle, your partners will give you these Suggestions that pop up on the screen such as using healing items or executing special abilities, saving you both time and hassle, which can prove to be a great help. All of which can be executed with a simple tap of the L1 or L2 buttons.
Leveling up can be quite a rewarding venture as well. Similar to the Dark Cloud games, your real strength will come more from leveling up your actual weapons rather than your characters. This is done in a straightforward fashion (combining two different weapons together) but is truly satisfying when you do create a stronger (and usually better looking) weapon. This is done through a frog who eats your weapons (stay with me) but he will only do so with seasoned weapons that have been maxed out. Personally this feature this saved me from being too bored by some of the dungeons as I had a good incentive to grind up my weapons through constant battles, which was really all the dungeons were good for.
Early on, Rogue Galaxy will introduce you to its Revelation Flow Chart, which is more or less a poor mans Sphere Grid. This is where you can increase characters stats/elemental strengths, and grant them new abilities. While the idea of the Revelation Chart is somewhat tired, it manages to stay surprisingly fresh. In this game, instead of just simply placing HP, MP, and AP spheres into specific nodes like FFX, you use a whole unique combination of items found throughout the game (everything from a rare jewel to something you can buy in a shop) to fill in the criteria of new skills.
In the long run:
Rogue Galaxy is quite an unbalanced experience in terms of gameplay. It has great innovation and ideas but is somewhat hindered by the glaring negatives of its bad ones. Battling it out is fun enough in itself but youll likely find yourself spending more time in the sub menu using items/abilities rather than actually fighting due to the ridiculous damage rate that enemies inflict upon you. And I dont think I need to go into any more detail about how incredibly tiresome the dungeons became. They alone made me really hesitant to play through this game more than once, which is a first. The battle system and customization themselves is pretty cool though (with all the typical RPG-isms that you expect).
The gameplay portion did take more space than I had intended, so lets end the review on a less conflicted note shall we? Everything from effects to weapon audio is spot on. The voice acting isnt too shabby either. Jaster is played by Will Friedle (Terry from Batman Beyond) and does a pretty solid job overall, even if some of the dialogue isnt the greatest. Most well done perhaps though is Zegram, who is played by Crispin Freeman (Spike from Cowboy Bebop)! He certainly doesnt disappoint here and brings his character to a higher level of badassery that is otherwise lacking. Everyone else in the game sounds great too. You may find Jupis voice annoying at first but I cant help but laugh whenever he goes off on a crazy tangent. Totally fits the character. My only complaint regarding the acting is that its a bit flat and monotone in some areas, and there are times where the characters are crying but dont really sound like their voices are breaking at all. The more cartoony characters can be a little over the top and annoying as well.
Musically Rogue Galaxy is a joy to listen to. While its not the best soundtrack out there, I cant really say that there were any times where I felt underwhelmed by the OST. All the music is very fitting to both the different worlds and various cutscenes. Some of my favorite tracks in the game were The Galaxy Federation theme, the Judai Desert guitar riffs, and the ending theme song. I noticed too that the music (particularly in shops) sounded an awful lot like Dark Cloud 2s shop themes, which isnt necessarily a bad thing, just an observation. If there were any drawbacks to the soundtrack, its only that many of the tracks arent particularly long, so you will find the background music looping noticeably when lingering in one area/world for too long.
In conclusion, Rogue Galaxy is an enjoyable adventure that keeps you busy but never really soars far beyond what youve seen previously. While it does try to combine many old ideas in a new way, it ultimately succeeds in some respects while falling short in others. Basically if you go in expecting the next big gem you'll be disappointed; But if you take it for what it is, a fun RPG with plenty to do, it's sure to please. I must apologize as I didnt mean for the review to run so long but I think this is one of the most mixed videogames Ive ever played to be honest.
Regardless, its still worthwhile as long as youre prepared to do a lot of dungeon crawling. The third act of the game also left me very satisfied and happy that I played it all the way through. If there is one thing that I hope that future RPGs do take from this game, its that they utilize the Story screen that presents itself every time you load up your game data again, which gives you a nice reminder/summary of the events currently transpiring in the game. Thought this was a cool and original idea thats worth keeping.
Rent or Buy:
If youre looking for more of the same, then look no further. Its a fairly long title (30-40 hours story wise) that doesnt break new ground, nor did it really have to. I almost felt as if it was merely set out to be one last hurrah as well as a comfortable/familiar pick up to the RPG veteran community, and it succeeded in doing just that. Buying the game is entirely up to you, but Id say that despite its faults, Rogue Galaxy is an age old story of heroes thats worth a playthrough.
Product Release: Rogue Galaxy (US, 01/30/07)
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