Does the thought of mountains of stats, gear, and skills appeal to you? Does swimming through an avalanche of combat, slowly but steadily growing stronger and stronger sound like something you’d enjoy? Most importantly: do you like grinding? If you answered yes to these questions, you are probably a person who should play Rainbow Moon.
The setup of the game is rather simple. Trapped on the titular Rainbow Moon by the foulest of foul villains, your hero must find a way home. There are a few wrinkles in the plot along the way, but by and large, it’s completely ancillary to the experience. Throughout my playtime, I was completely disinterested in both the overarching plot and the smaller subplots that comprised the bulk of my town visits and side quests. Compounding this issue is the brick-stupid dialogue, which, while uniformly strange, is at least unintentionally amusing at times. But again, it should be stressed that the ideal Rainbow Moon player is not one concerned with plot or character motives.
The focus in Rainbow Moon is laserlike and twofold: combat and character-building. As the hero and his gradually expanding group of misfits wielding various stabby, slappy, and shooty implements, you will wander (slowly) around a massive world map filled with towns, dungeons, and danger. Along the way, you’ll solve tons of fetch and kill quests for the local populace in your journey to find a thing that you need (or something). In a somewhat inspired twist, the game features both on-screen and random encounters. The onscreen battles are, predictably, initiated by simply walking into foes – bosses and guardian-type enemies are often encountered in this manner. On the other hand, random battles will frequently pop up on your HUD, and can be skipped with the press of a button. This ensures that combat and the precious experience points and rainbow pearls procured from it are never more than a few steps and a few seconds away from town.
Exploration, as I mentioned, is quite slow-paced. Your avatar plods across the screen, and you’ll be doing a lot of back-and-forth as you wander out of town, kill some monsters, and go back to heal, shop, and engage in other party-building activities. But while the pace isn’t exactly lightning-quick, there’s a lot of meat to those activities. The world is vast and full of side quests and optional dungeons, and there are tons of items to find and knobs to fiddle with. Your characters gain levels, learn new skills (which themselves level up and become more powerful through repeated use), and can boost their stats through the use of rainbow pearls dropped by foes after battle (more on those later, though).
Regardless of how they’re initiated, battles begin with your characters dropped in a formation of your choice on a grid-based battlefield reminiscent of basically any other strategy RPG. Each combatant is allowed a certain number of moves per turn, and this number grows as the character gains in experience. Early in the game, combat can be a tedious exercise that will test your patience, since you’re allowed so few moves, and will often fight huge numbers of foes at once. However, once you start to gain levels and skills, you’ll be able to move farther, hit harder, and take out several enemies with a single blow, and before long you’ll have an intricate understanding of the positioning of your allies and what each and every one of their skills can do, range-wise. Even amidst hundreds of battles against the same foes, it’s always satisfying to feel your character go from barely surviving a one-on-one fight to smiting multiple foes in a single strike.
After battle, your characters gain experience points, money, and rainbow pearls. These pearls are used at special NPC to give your characters small boosts to their stats, including HP, MP, strength, speed, etc, and it is here that the game occasionally becomes a grindy number-fest. Only the character who delivers the killing blow to an enemy receives pearls, and the cost to boost stats starts to add up quickly. Oftentimes, encountering enemies that are too tough for you cannot be surmounted in any way other than grinding for pearls to raise your stats. Packages of pearls are available in exchange for a few dollars of real money, and it was hard to escape the sense that the entire system was designed to either encourage grinding or paying.
There are tons of items, skills, and equipment available, some of which are unique to certain characters (weapons, for example). Weapons and armor can be refined through the help of a blacksmith and numerous trinkets found on the bodies of your foes. This is a good method to getting some quick boosts if you’re stuck, but each piece of equipment is only allowed a certain number of adjustments, so you’ll be forced back into grinding for pearls after long. It can be fun, however, to come across a powerful weapon and slowly build it up into a stunning implement of destruction, so there’s definitely enjoyment to be found in hunting down new gear.
Beyond that, there isn’t much to say about the gameplay. There’s a ton of it, and it’s all pretty solid, but those gamers who crave a strong narrative or need something more than the allure of combat and numbers might not be able to make it through. The main story path is long on its own, and the nature of the game is such that you must complete at least a few side quests to gain enough strength to continue. If you’re in the target audience and don’t mind some grinding, this game is the very definition of bang for your buck.
Technically, Rainbow Moon is superb. The art style is simple but charming, and the game never suffers from any kind of performance issues. There’s a pleasant amount of animation and variety in the environments, especially considering how expansive they can be. Additionally, weapons and armor show up on your character, so finding new gear brings a certain amount of visual satisfaction.
The user interface is elegant, and accessing information, changing equipment, and adjusting skills are all easily and quickly accomplished. The controls in combat can take some getting used to, though, as the isometric viewpoint will frequently cause you to move your character in the wrong direction and waste a turn. There are options to help you customize movement in battle, but the very nature of the perspective in battle means none of them are perfect.
For me, the game’s most standout feature was its soundtrack, composed by Rafael Dyll. In short, it’s fantastic. Dyll has captured some ephemeral quality of PlayStation 1-era RPG classics and distilled it into his own work, which is always fresh and well-suited to what it accompanies in-game. Battle and boss themes are catchy and don’t grind on the nerves (especially important, since you’ll be doing plenty of grinding yourself). There were a number of occasions where I would stop in a new area just to stand around and listen to the music (which made the game’s handy auto-pause feature occasionally a nuisance, but I digress), which is the greatest compliment I can give the game’s music.
Rainbow Moon is a game that I couldn’t help but come away from with pleasant feelings. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s well-executed and knows exactly what it wants to be. There is a certain type of player out there who is going to absolutely love this game, and get hours upon hours of enjoyment out of it. The only question you have to ask yourself is if you are that kind of player. If not, at least try it out for the sweet music!