With PS3 RPG numbers being on the worryingly low side, I certainly wasn’t expecting one to appear on the digital PSN platform, but that’s exactly what developers SideQuest Studios have given us. Their ambitions are clearly high and I couldn’t wait to see if they could pull it off.
The core battle system of the game is grid-tactics and turn-based, similar to Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea. If you find those games a little too dry and complicated, don’t ignore this game yet. It’s simpler and you’re slowly initiated to the options over time rather than enduring a lengthy and overwhelming opening tutorial. The battle maps are flat too, so you needn’t worry about attacking from above or moving blocks around just to reach enemies. So in effect, battles can be much shorter than the genre stalemates, but don’t expect to defeat enemies with single attacks for a while.
Battles involve taking turns to move and attack before the enemy party respond in kind. Every action costs a sub-turn point, be it moving forward or performing an attack. Levelling up rewards you with extra sub-turns at rare undisclosed intervals, but you’ll be damn grateful when it happens. If you level up your speed stat you may be able to sneak in an extra round of attacks before the slower enemies too.
For fans of Tactics and their ilk, shouldn’t be concerned that the game may be too simple for their tastes. The depth just takes a while to become apparent, mainly in thanks to the lengthy induction process that never rushes you or bombards you with anti-newbie jargon. Hell, it might be six hours before you even get a second party member, depending on how much levelling you need.
Levelling up works over two tiers. After a battle everyone alive is awarded equal amounts of XP. But what really matters are the Rainbow Pearls. These are only given to characters that land a finishing blow on an enemy. This can be quite awkward when some of your characters are much weaker than others.
When you take the Pearls to one of the -thankfully numerous- Savants you can upgrade your stats. Strength, defence, speed, luck, MP and HP can all be upgraded for the price of a few hard-earned Pearls. There’s a limit to how many times you can upgrade within each character level though. Once you’ve levelled up in the traditional way with XP, you’ll be allowed a few more upgrades again.
Skills are what break up the combat from the standard Attack command. These cost MP, but become an essential part of your arsenal if you don’t want each battle to take an age. The possibilities of the combat open up so much more once you start to unlock skills that attack multiple enemies at once, daring you to think that maybe, just maybe, the battles will get shorter over time.
Equipable weapons and armour are a little thin on the ground for my tastes, but as the game opens up you are introduced to the game’s crafting system which lets you use materials to give items permanent stat boosts. Just try not to be too annoyed when you spend some rare items on an upgrade only to stumble on a better weapon for free in the next area.
Let’s face it though, that could be hours away. Even early on I had to grind away on the same small island before being brave enough to take on the bosses sitting in my way who would laugh at the tiny dents I’d inflict on their health bars with my strongest attacks. This sort of grinding won’t be an issue to hardened genre fans, but newbies may find it a real drag. While I can respect the developer’s choice to slowly drip-feed the features over time to ease players into the experience, I feel that too much grinding is required to progress towards new environments. The outdoors are beautifully hand-drawn-style locations that tick all the right boxes, but the dungeons and mines are too samey and well, really boring to hold an extended interest.
The quests themselves are typically fetch-based and the characters in the game are mere framing devices between errands. The story side of the game seems to have been chucked in as an afterthought or mere courtesy to juxtapose all the fighting, which is a shame seeing as it’s always good to feel like you’re fighting your way towards something other than a stronger group of warriors to smash up monsters with.
But there are so many other elements that insist that you keep at it, just in-case that special something clicks into place, allowing you to lose weeks to the game. Some of these little touches may go unnoticed, such as the in-game day affecting different monsters appearing, stat boosts or wells opening up. Random encounters can be politely declined when walking around, which is great if you just want to get back to the village to spend some Pearls. The graphical style is much more alluring than the usual retro (lazy) sprite-fuzzed graphics thanks to smooth edges and brightly detailed outdoor environments.
On the flip-side, there are a few gameplay elements or mechanics that seem to be needlessly excessive inclusions. Torches are needed to see more than two feet ahead of you underground and the blasted food metre (think GTA: San Andreas) requires constant snacking from one of your miserably tiny inventory bags. Many turns are wasted in combat thanks to moving in the wrong direction, thanks to the d-pad instructions sometimes being off-centre or them getting obscured by enemies. The enemy AI is a bit uneven too; sometimes they’ll walk towards you and then back again in the same turn, making them look stupid. But other times, they’ll show vicious insight, greedily surging towards weaker team-mates.
But then you remember other parts of the game that give you a cheeky nudge and remind you of the other good features it has to offer. Such as being able to save anywhere or topping up your health and MP for the price of a few coins instead of dipping into your potions bag. There’s certainly more encouraging features to be found in Rainbow Moon than negatives. It’s important to note that this is the developer’s first attempt at an RPG, as they’re generally known for Söldner-X, a side-scrolling shooter series. This is one hell of an RPG debut and we should keep our fingers crossed that SideQuest Studios have a taste for another.
- So much game for £9.99
- Combat eventually strikes a nice balance
- Eases you in gently….
- …But a bit too slowly
- Dungeons and mines are samey and dull
- Lots of grinding required in each area
The Short Version: There’s no denying that some solid grinding is required to see Rainbow Moon through until the end, but as far as games for this genre go, this is a great place to start for curious newbies, as the various elements are clearly explained and introduced at a steady pace. If you find you have the patience for the game, then this could be the best gaming value you’re ever likely to get for £9.99.