I seem to be starting my reviews lately stating that “I’m a fan of such-and-such company” and unfortunately for creativity, I have to start this way again. I’m a fan of Level 5, as are probably most people who have played their games. I thoroughly enjoyed both Dark Cloud games and found their work on a much-beloved series (Dragon Quest) to be refreshing. Unfortunately, their latest presentation leaves much to be desired in key areas. Let’s take a look.
Our story begins by introducing the protagonist, Jaster Rogue. Jaster is an orphan, left on the steps of a church of the desert planet Rosa and bearing a strange birthmark. His dream is to go into space and have adventures. When a monster attacks the town, he fights alongside a mysterious stranger named Desert Claw, who gives him his special sword. When the stranger leaves mysteriously, two Space Pirates seeking Desert Claw mistake Jaster for the hunter and recruit him for the pirate Dorgengoa.
Now, at this point I’m going to stop talking about the story. Frankly, if you’ve ever played an RPG before, you can finish the rest of it in your mind, complete with side stories, character interactions, and often times dialogue, and you’d most likely be right. Rogue Galaxy takes EVERY RPG cliché, adds nothing new to them, and stuffs them all in a storyline that is so predictable it is BORING. Let’s tick off some of the key features, shall we?
- Orphaned kid destined to save the galaxy
- Rough but kind-hearted lone wolf crew member
- Prissy robot
- Insta-love interest
- Native warrior constantly talking about “the spirits”
- Betrayals foreshadowed a mile in advance
- Evil, power-hungry corporate head
Okay, I think I can stop for now. Honestly, there was only one interesting, moving part in the whole storyline about halfway through the game, and the rest of it I could have done without. And most likely, you could too. That’s why this game’s story gets a 60% from me. Baaaaaad.
So the story is terrible, the characters are two dimensional, and the dialogue is corny. Why pick up this game? The gameplay for one. One thing I have to respect Level 5 for is managing to stuff in a decent, engaging, yet not overly-complicated creation system into every game. They built both Dark Cloud games around it, and snuck it into Dragon Quest VIII, making it probably the most original installment of that series. Rogue Galaxy carries on that proud tradition with two distinct systems: the fusion system and the factory system.
I’ll start by going over the more mundane of the two: the fusion system. Each character can use his or her own type of melee and range weapons, and as you use the weapons their experience goes up. Once the experience of a weapon is maxed out, you can fuse it with another maxed-out weapon via your tracheotomy-inspired frog, Toady. When a weapon is maxed out, Toady will give you suggestions of what to fuse it with, but you can generally fuse the weapon with any other weapon of its type (no cross-character contamination, mind you.) Usually you make stronger ones, though it is possible to make weaker ones. I found this system to be simple and enjoyable, and others may want to try and make everything. I ended up with some really good equipment just by randomly combining stuff, so it’s not critical to follow Toady’s advice.
The second system is much more complex than the weapon fusion and is also your key to acquiring rare items and weapons. The factory system becomes available about 10 hours into the game and can be best described as a mixture between Dark Cloud’s town system and Dragon Quest VIII item synthesis. The factory system gives the party access to, well, a factory floor with lots of machinery. By talking to certain NPCs in the game, you can get recipes to create weapons and items. In the factory, you have to set up your machinery to process the ingredients in the right order and so that they are combined at the right time. The best way to explain is via an example.
Let’s say you want to create a sword. The sword requires a type of gem, a type of metal, and a type of alchemical ingredient. They HAVE to all reach the final combiner at the same time. The machinery to refine the gem takes 5 seconds, while refining the metal requires two machines that take a total of 8 seconds. The alchemical ingredient is processed using a machine that takes 6 seconds. So you have to process the first two ingredients, make sure they make it to the combiner at the same time, and then make sure that combination and the processed third ingredient make it to the final combiner at the same time as the other ingredients. I never said it was easy.
The thing about the factory system is that it’s really addictive and playing around with the machinery so that everything works and FITS is an enjoyable challenge. Of course, once you get a general template, you only have to make minor tweaks to make other items, but it’s still fun and gives you a sense of accomplishment. And once you create an item, it becomes available at some shops. Good job Level 5.
There are other aspects of the gameplay that should also get notice, particularly the battle system. Following on the coattails of Final Fantasy XII, the battle system tries very hard to be as integrated into exploration as possible. When a battle starts, you just get a warning message and the enemies pop out of the ground for you to go around whacking at. Once battle is done, you flip your sword, the spoils screen is overlain, and you can continue moving. So, while the battle system is slightly separating, it does a good job being fluid without going as far as FFXII does.
Fighting during battles involves you using up an action gauge, and once it’s been used up, you have to wait until it recovers to attack, use abilities, etc. The nice thing is that all healing during battle can be done via menus which pause the battle and revives are pretty easy to get by mid-game. In fact, by the end, healing items are so omnipresent, I had to get rid of them when I got new ones because I didn’t have space in my inventory. But you know what they say about games with lots of healing items? You use them.
One note about the battle system, however: some bosses are EXTREMELY cheap. On more than one occasion I had full 999 health and via multiple hits out of nowhere I was killed. When this happens at the very end of an 8-part final boss battle, TWICE, well, I’m sure you can understand my anger.
Linked to the battle system is the hunter system. When you kill a certain number of an enemy type, you are awarded points for it and go up in hunter rank (hopefully.) The problem is that every now and then, the other hunters on the roster gain points as well and you can be unseated from your rank. Higher ranks give access to some decent loot, though, so it’s worth pursuing.
And what game would be complete without a “raising” sim? The answer is Rogue Galaxy, but Level 5 put one in anyway. Early in the game you get access to cages in which you can catch Insectors- little insects that you can raise and train to fight in colosseum battles. Honestly, I did not do a damn thing with the Insector battling, and unless you’re going for completion or really like monster ranching sims, you probably won’t do much with it either.
Last, but not least, there is the Revelation system that works much the same way that the grid systems of FFX and FFXII did, with one difference. In order to unlock an ability, you have to have the correct items to place in slots on the grid. It’s pretty obvious which item goes in which slot, but finding them can sometimes be difficult and I still didn’t unlock everything on any of my characters by the end of the game.
Looking at the big picture, the gameplay truly saves Rogue Galaxy from being awful and puts it in the above-average category, so I give it an above-average 90%.
Along with being the masters of creation systems (no offense to Gust, mind), Level 5 also does cel/toon shading like nobody else. They are to cel shading what Square Enix is to CG, and Rogue Galaxy shows that off nicely. The game manages to blend cel shading and CG cutscenes into a complete work of art, and it’s something you have to see in order to fully appreciate.
It’s a shame then, that the character designs themselves are so uninspired, otherwise I’d have given the graphics a higher score. However, I do give Level 5 props for the atmosphere provided by the look of things (for example, your starship looks like a 16th century Galleon.) Graphics get an 85%.
Dark Cloud series composer Tomohito Nishiura returns to score Rogue Galaxy, and I had no problem with that. Nishiura’s compositions are hard to explain; I shouldn’t like them, but I really do. Ever since Dark Cloud, his music has really had an impact on me. Something about his compositions convey a loneliness and sadness, not in a heartbreaking way like Mitsuda, but in a contemplative way. It’s good music to sit and absorb without it being too overwhelming.
Of course, that’s really just the town themes. Battle themes are ultimately fitting, and although there is really only one for regular battles and one for boss battles, they don’t get tiring. I might not recommend getting the soundtrack unless you’re a Nishiura fan, but it’s definitely something worth listening to (and it just so happens we have samples and a review of the soundtrack here at RPGFan.)
The voice acting is also very good, with most of the cast made up of extremely experienced and talented voice actors and actresses. I was surprised Cam Clarke didn’t lend his talents, but he was probably being hit up for the next 15 Tales games. I felt bad for the VAs sometimes for having to deliver such trite lines, but they did a great job nonetheless. My wife thought some of the NPCs were over-the-top, but honestly, every NPC and many of the PCs were “characters” and so I feel should have been overdone, otherwise the dialogue would have seemed even more disjointed and strange. Sound/Music gets a nice 90% from me.
The control scheme in Rogue Galaxy was good overall, but had some glaring flaws that ticked me off. Since this is an action RPG, being able to move around effectively and hit things is important, and in this regard, Rogue Galaxy delivers. The big problem is in changing which enemy your main character is targeting. I would have preferred using the shoulder buttons to do it, but when you control movement with the analog sticks you have to use the D-pad to switch targets, and that’s not very ergonomic. In addition, just pushing left and right on the D-pad won’t switch between every enemy in battle (you actually have to get close to them), making the process is downright frustrating. It also doesn’t help that in the factory system, getting things aligned using full-analog controls is a bit of a pain. So sorry, Control, but you’re getting a big fat 70%. Gotta do better next time.
With an awful plot, some shoddy controls and poor dialogue working against it, you might expect that Rogue Galaxy would receive a poor overall score from me… and you’d be right if it weren’t for everything else. The gameplay, in particular, was a saving grace but the music and graphics also pulled this game from the depths of despair into something fun. If you can, I recommend picking up this game since you won’t be able to do everything during a short rental period. Overall, Rogue Galaxy gets an 80% and a chastisement to Level 5 to do a better job with the story next time. Now go and play.