Rogue Galaxy (PlayStation 2) review
"Rogue Galaxy is the latest, and most likely last, Playstation 2 RPG from Japanese developer, Level 5. The game takes a number of the action RPG elements from their past series, Dark Cloud, refines them, and throws them into an outer space setting. The result is a game that stands tall even amidst the stiff competition on the Playstation 2. "
Rogue Galaxy is the latest, and most likely last, Playstation 2 RPG from Japanese developer, Level 5. The game takes a number of the action RPG elements from their past series, Dark Cloud, refines them, and throws them into an outer space setting. The result is a game that stands tall even amidst the stiff competition on the Playstation 2.
The game revolves around Jaster Rogue: a ridiculously named adventurer with ambitions of going into space and changing the galaxy. Predictably, Jaster gets his chance very soon after the game begins as he is invited onto the ship of the legendary space pirate, Dorgengoa. Upon boarding, Jaster teams up with the ship's crew and is eventually tasked with finding the lost planet, Eden, in order to plunder the planet's treasures. While this might appear to be the beginning of an epic storyline, the ensuing plot is somewhat mundane and never really takes off. It's not that the plot is bad -- there's no eye-roll worthy developments or anything that brings the game to a screeching halt. Rather, the story suffers from a lack of ambition and never attempts to rise above what other RPG fare has to offer. The storyline is, however, sufficient enough to tie Jaster's adventures from planet to planet together and there are a fair number of plot twists sprinkled throughout to keep things at least mildly interesting. On the other hand, the game's characters are pretty well developed and all have distinct personalities that set them apart from one another. Everyone that joins the party is likable and it's really the characters that drive the storyline rather than the events. Still, one can't help but wonder what could have been, especially given the promising premise.
The storyline is as cookie-cutter as they come, but the game's forte is clearly gameplay -- an area where few other RPGs can even hope to compete. Most of the game consists of dungeon crawling through sprawling environments, all of which look pretty distinct and are quite lengthy. It's similar to what you'll find in games like Final Fantasy XII or most MMORPGs today. There's more variety to the dungeons here than what most RPGs offer thanks to the presence of some platforming which has you jumping from area to area and provides more opportunities for exploration. This keeps the dungeons from becoming a straight "point-A to point-B" affair. This is significant, because the reward for exploring the areas thoroughly is the countless chests scattered about which contain everything from healing items to weapons that bolster your characters' stats. The treasure is hidden all over the game's locales and it takes quite a bit of dedication to find most of it. Luckily, it's actually worth seeking out the chests because it's not only an easy way to obtain valuable weapons, but it's also necessary to help characters learn new abilities and create custom items. It's this rewarding exploration that makes the game fun even outside of battle.
As with almost any RPG released in the last 20 years, you'll need experience points to level up and this is still the most direct way of making your characters stronger. However, there's also a system called the "Revelation Flow" which is where your characters will learn all of their abilities for battles. It's somewhere between Final Fantasy X's sphere grid and Final Fantasy XII's license board in that you place the appropriate items on a character's revelation grid in order to learn the ability you want. It's simple, but it works well and you progress through the grid at a reasonable pace. If you want to learn some of the more advanced abilities, you'll have to scour the planets for those chests that you've missed. It's very worthwhile to devote time to learning those powerful techniques, though, as they allow you to absolutely annihilate the opposition.
Level 5's games have always emphasized customization and Rogue Galaxy follows suite while going a step farther than past games have. First, there's the weapon fusion system which players will encounter a few hours into the game. This allows two weapons that have been thoroughly used to be combined to create a (potentially) stronger weapon. The results are usually satisfying and the game warns you if you're about to accidentally create a weapon that's weaker than the ones you started out with, which helps to eliminate any unwanted frustration. In addition to the weapon fusion, there's a factory system which allows players to use blueprints in combination with the appropriate items (those hidden chests really are important) to create new items and weapons, many of which are some of the most potent in the game. This system is far more complex than the weapon fusion system and does take some time to get used to, but for those who really enjoy the customization elements in their RPGs, it's a godsend.
Rogue Galaxy utilizes an action RPG battle system that feels like an advanced version of what Level 5 did with the Dark Cloud games. Battles take place on the field you're traversing rather than on a different screen, so it doesn't pull you out of the experience. When in battle, the most basic function is the standard melee attack which can be used to perform either a five-hit combo attack or to use a charge attack that can break through an enemy's defense. Additionally, characters are armed with projectile weapons which make it possible to deal long range damage at a fairly quick rate, so long as the weapon's ammunition isn't depleted in battle. The jump ability is also incorporated into the combat and is necessary for damaging some enemies or evading certain attacks. Characters can use any of the Revelation Flow abilities they've learned which consist mostly of offensive attacks and some extremely useful techniques that improve your teammates' attack power and defense. The battle system would be a complete mess without any defensive moves, but luckily, there is a block button which is vital for surviving some attacks, especially in boss battles. To further prevent the game from turning into a button-masher, there's a bar that gradually depletes as a character attacks and this bar can only be refilled by waiting or blocking an enemy's attack. This helps the game retain a good pace in the battles and keeps it from becoming entirely focused on offense. When this is all compiled, it forms a surprisingly fun combat system that's reasonably fast paced and has a decent amount of strategy to it. The controls are responsive and the fighting doesn't feel sluggish at all, which is a primary concern for any game emphasizing action-based combat as much as this one.
You only control one character at a time, since this is an action RPG, so the two other characters are controlled by the AI, which does an admirable job of fighting the enemies effectively. If you aren't satisfied with the what the AI is doing with a character, you can issue an order to them or take direct control of whichever party member you wish, so you never run into any major problems. The combat is more challenging than one might expect from an RPG -- in the worst case scenario, enemies can eliminate your entire party in a matter of seconds if you aren't paying attention. Luckily, there's an abundance of strong healing items available that make it possible to get through the game's occasionally brutal battles without too much of a struggle. Despite the game's difficulty in combat, it doesn't feel unfair nor does the game devolve into a level-grind-fest requiring you to mindlessly hack away at enemies to advance through the storyline. Most RPGs that try to incorporate a battle system as action-focused as this one end up feeling unpolished and overly simplistic, yet this deftly avoids that pitfall. The core mechanics of the fighting are very well implemented and bring an addictive quality to the combat which makes the game a joy to play and difficult to put down.
Unfortunately, the gameplay isn't entirely without its flaws and these issues are most prevalent in combat. The biggest hindrance the game runs into is the camera system. While you have complete control over the camera in theory, it can be difficult to keep the camera positioned where you want it during fights which gets annoying when you want a certain view on the battlefield. At worst, the camera will give you a view where you can't see anything when your character is backed into a corner, but these instances are rare. Outside of battle, the camera is sometimes becomes a pain to control in tight corridors and you'll have to babysit it more often than you should. And as fun as the combat is, it does get a tad bit repetitive as you progress through the game. The developers threw in a couple gimmicks such as different guns that have effects like freezing an enemy or breaking through an enemy's shield, but these really don't add anything to the game. The fighting never becomes boring, but it would have been nice to see a bit more variety in the enemies you fight or the attacks at your disposal, especially given how frequently you'll be in battle. Still, these are relatively minor problems in practice and do little to mar the otherwise excellent gameplay.
Graphically, Rogue Galaxy is stunning, especially for a Playstation 2 game. Everything has a very stylized, cel-shaded look which has become a trademark of Level 5's RPGs. This game really shows just how far they've come with that technique as the environments are all beautiful and extremely detailed. Even the larger areas retain that attention to detail -- most notably the towns. The character designs are pretty well done, if somewhat derivative. None of the characters really stand out as being particularly unique, but the designs do match the characters' personalities and look good. What's particularly impressive about the graphics is the equipment -- specifically that the equipment your character is using is what you'll actually see in-game. Everything from the main weapon to the character's outfit changes to whatever you actually have your character equipped with, which is a subtle but noticeable touch that more RPGs should really try to integrate. This is doubtlessly one of the most graphically impressive games on the Playstaion 2 and it's clear that Level 5 really pushed the aging hardware to its limits for this game.
The sound in Rogue Galaxy is similarly well done for the most part. The cut scenes are fully voiced and the characters are all well cast. The many lines of dialog are skillfully delivered and don't feel forced. Few things can ruin cinematics in an RPG like poor voice acting, so it's nice to see that those potential failings were avoided here. The soundtrack ranges from good to excellent. Most of the songs in the game are enjoyable and fit the mood well, but are ultimately forgettable. However, there are a number of standouts on the soundtrack that are absolutely fantastic. Not every song is golden, but the soundtrack is impressive overall and there were no songs that stood out as being particularly weak. The sound effects consist of typical RPG battle sounds and little else. They aren't anything special, but they do get the job done.
Rogue Galaxy is a lengthy endeavor, even by RPG standards. The first play-through should take anywhere from 35-40 hours, but that's without doing any sidequests or taking time to strengthen characters. For those who want something more to sink their teeth into, the game has an ungodly amount of optional material to go through. First, and most significantly, is the entire optional planet that players can explore. The planet is about the same size as the others in the game, so considering that it's entirely optional, that's a huge chunk of extra content right there. Apart from exploring the optional planet, there's a number of other diversions such as seeking out the materials needed to create the most powerful weapons in the game, creating rare items, joining various tournaments, and a number of others. All told, the extra content in the game contains enough material to keep you enthralled for untold dozens of hours even after the main game is finished. The game's length should absolutely not be a concern here because it is packed to the gills with worthwhile things to do.
Most RPGs live and die by their storyline, and by those standards, Rogue Galaxy would be a very unremarkable game. Yet, the strength of the gameplay is enough to offset the game's lacking storyline. People who absolutely require an intricate storyline will probably be disappointed by the game, but those who stay for the gameplay will be rewarded with one of the richest role-playing experiences the Playstation 2 has to offer.
Community review by Daisuke02 (June 29, 2007)
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