Review by brutusmuktuk

Reviewed: 08/19/13

Fantastic moments mired in game's excesses

Rogue Galaxy is Level-5’s best game to date (as far as I’ve played, anyway). Where Dark Cloud 2 was a huge improvement upon the original Dark Cloud, Rogue Galaxy is an improvement on the former. Level-5 has never failed to pack their games to the brim, and this is no exception. The first 15 hours feature some of the finest moments in gaming. However, the same problems that plague Dark Cloud 2 soon rear their ugly heads yet again in Rogue Galaxy. There’s just so much to do that it becomes a bother. Level-5’s mantra is to include more of everything, even when less would be more welcome. The game becomes so bloated I just wanted to get to the end. This does not ruin a fantastic game, but it does leave me feeling less satisfactory than it could have.

The Good:
+ Some great characters
+ Tons to do
+ Nice combat system

The Bad:
- Uneven story
- Too much to do
- Overstays its welcome

The Ugly
~ Why pad this ridiculously bulky game with pointless subplots?

For the first 15 hours or so, Rogue Galaxy is incredible. It features an excellent story with lots of humor, and even one of the most touching moments I’ve seen in a video game, when the priest who has acted as Jaster’s father bids him a tearful farewell. Jaster is just your usual boy hero, but the characters who surround him are colorful. The game begins on the desert planet of Rosa, when a giant monster descends upon Jaster’s home town and attacks. A mysterious man runs into Jaster and leads him towards the beast, where they’re met by a pair of characters searching for the legendary hunter known as the Desert Claw. These two are Simon and Steven. When they see Jaster’s sword, given to him by the mysterious man, they mistake him for the Desert Claw and ask him to come with them. As Jaster’s ambition is to travel outer space, and as these two proclaim themselves space pirates, Jaster does not object to becoming the Desert Claw.

So begins the adventure of this young man. Aboard the pirate ship, the Dorgenark, Jaster meets the lovely Kisala, daughter to the captain, Dorgengoa. As Dorgengoa likes to enjoy lengthy naps, Jaster never meets him until later on, so the interim captain is a cat with an attitude. Also aboard the ship is Zegram, a bad-ass with a gruff voice and just the right lines of dialogue to elevate him to being the most awesome character in the game. The voice acting in the game is spot on, even for the less interesting characters, but the game’s script is also well-written, at least for a while. The game delicately mixes story and gameplay all throughout, and it’s during the first 15 hours that it hits all the right notes, never taking a wrong step. After that, things grow a little uneven.

The story grows cumbersome as the writers bring aboard three additional characters, of whom only one is well-developed. This character, Lilika, also serves as the game’s sex appeal, with breasts hanging out of every outfit she wears. (In fact, the game is shameful in terms of its female characters – only two of the eight playable characters are female, and all of them prefer less clothing to more armor). Of the other two, Jupis is colorful and Deego is bland, but their stories are not very interesting. However, the story is even more largely bloated by a series of subplots that introduce meaningless characters for the sole purpose of adding cheesy sentimentality. Level-5 has a penchant for adding sappy subplots to their stories, and it’s too bad because parts of Rogue Galaxy demonstrate they are capable of generating genuine emotional content. The worst of the subplots takes place on an optional side planet that I would recommend avoiding if you’re interested only in the main story. Its only purpose is to add hours to the game.

The game’s combat plays very similarly to Dark Cloud 2, only this time around there is a three-party system. It might have been interesting to include a co-op element, but as it stands the other two characters are computer-controlled. The AI isn’t terrible, but sometimes the game throws up less conventional enemies that throw your allies for a loop. The combat is fluid, allowing you to easily switch from melee to ranged and then to quickly block an enemy counterattack. Each of the eight playable characters has their own weapon set, but Jaster’s sword and gun combo is the easiest and strongest. The other characters do play differently, but mainly they are all slower in some way. On top of melee and ranged combat you can use abilities that either nuke the enemy party or buff you and your allies. In regards to abilities, Jaster’s are on the lower end of the scale, except for a couple that buff himself. Steve, Simon, and Jupis have the best nuke/ally buff of the bunch.

The combat is not particularly easy, and at first it is quite fun. Enemies deal enough damage to kill you in two or three hits, so you will want to keep plenty of health and resurrect potions handy. There are moments when the game’s difficulty skyrockets, but you should never take even regular encounters for granted. Early on the game provides a demonstration of the sort of difficulty you can expect when it pits Jaster alone against two massive golems that can kill him in two hits. You will likely die – a lot – but you will learn to practice caution. The most difficult, and most annoying, moment of the game has you using Deego alone, after fighting an easy but lengthy boss, against an enemy much faster and who dishes out more damage. The fight is less fun than tiring, as winning requires you to hold down the block button for most of it and use plenty of healing potions.

As you begin unlocking more abilities for characters, you will likely begin to rely on them to nuke enemy parties rather than use your sword and gun. At this point you will be tired of the combat and just want to complete the game. Sadly, Level-5 prevents this strategy from working some of the time by including shielded enemies. There are enemies that require you to use a charged attack to remove shields, though in the process of charging up you will likely take massive damage, and there are other enemies who require you to switch to your barrier break gun. A third type of enemy only takes damage by jumping and attacking their heads. The purpose of these enemies is probably to add challenge, but they do a better job of bogging down the game. You will relish those battles that do not have shielded enemies, particularly late in the game when more than half of all battles will have such enemies. These special enemies also cause problems for your allies, who sometimes seem at a loss for how to approach them. They will die a lot against such enemies. You might die, too, careful as you are. I recall one moment when, after over 20 minutes of no save points, a simple encounter suddenly wiped out my entire party because I couldn’t open my item menu in time. I see that as a waste of time, plain and simple.

The game’s side quests are numerous. First is the weapon system. Level-5 enjoys providing you with a plethora of weapons. This time around, all eight characters have a large arsenal of them. Weapons earn experience if you have them equipped at battle’s end, and after about 15 battles, the weapon maxes its stats. You can combine two maxed weapons to create a new, stronger weapon. You can either follow the game’s suggestions or come up with your own. In the end it doesn’t really matter if you do this. Getting a stronger weapon isn’t particularly rewarding, and when I fought the final boss some of my character were using rather weak weapons. The weapon combining system, just like in the Dark Cloud games, is novel at first, but the tedium involved makes it grow old fast.

Other side quests include a “Revelation” system where you unlock abilities for characters. This requires finding specific items, putting them in the right spot on the revelation chart, and then unlocking more abilities to unlock after you have completed one revelation. These abilities range from passive stat increases to the abilities you can use in battle. This is a simple diversion that consumes little time and gives you an excuse for collecting all of those pointless items you do.

Later you also unlock a factory mini-game that allows you to create items that you can buy in shops. These items are not very spectacular, but the mini-game is a nice diversion. It does require you to do simple math and actually think, but after about 10 creations I lost interest. If you like hunting large monsters, you can unlock quarries to hunt and earn monster hunter points. These points go towards a ranking system, and as you move higher in rank you begin to earn prizes. This was the one side quest I came closest to completing, reaching the number two spot, but when the game came to an abrupt end, I decided 50 hours was long enough to invest. Another side quest, and one that did not appeal to me, is the Insectron quest. You can capture Insectors and then feed them, breed them, train them, and put them in a battle tournament. It’s a mix of Pokemon and Monster Hunter, and while I do enjoy Pokemon, I had no interest spending extra time capturing all of the Insectors.

I realize my review is rather negative despite the positive rating, and the problem with this, and with Dark Cloud 2, is that the games are both very good, but their excesses become too much by the end, leaving me with a less than satisfactory feeling by the end. Had Level-5 done away with its bulk and created a more focused storyline, I would have rated this higher. As it stands, there’s way too much to do. It’s not just daunting; it’s tedious. The game itself reminds me of a buffet. When you first arrive with an empty stomach, you eye all of the many dishes the restaurant offers and your mouth waters as you imagine stuffing yourself. The food is excellent, but after you’ve had your third plate, your stomach feels bloated and you end up wishing you had just skipped that last plate. Rogue Galaxy has some amazing parts, but, alas, it has far too many parts.

Rating: 7

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

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