I had high expectations for Rogue Galaxy: cel shaded graphics, real time battles and space pirates. After diving into the game, I’m happy to say I’m not disappointed. At first, I was put off by the beginning of the game; it felt so familiar. The story starts off in a desert town, Rosa, where its inhabitants are restless because of an overbearing empire with troops stationed within its walls. While the troops help keep beasts out of the town, their main purpose is to make sure there’s no uprising. A young man, Jaster Rogue, isn’t satisfied with the status quo and wants to free Rosa from the grasps of the empire as well as become a space pirate to travel to distant planets.
If you’re thinking that Rogue Galaxy sounds a lot like Final Fantasy XII, we’re both on the same page. The story’s not the only thing that feels like FFXII. The skill system, called revelations, is like a simplified version of the skill grid in FFXII. Instead of spending points to unlock skills, items can be used to apply to the revelations grid, which will then unlock and upgrade abilities. Battles are also similar to FFXII. While not exactly on a gambit system, it’s still possible to give simple directions to the whole party such as, "attack the same target" or "stand down."
What’s not like FFXII are the visuals. I’m a huge fan of cel shading and I already thought the cel shaded characters looked good in game, but I was blown away by the introduction movie (the one that comes after the tutorial). The juxtaposition of cel shading with CG in the intro diminished any doubts I had about the game. The whole airship scene felt like I was watching the intro to a full length animated movie.
One thing I was worried about was load time. PS2 games are known for their long load times, which was why I was surprised to see that Rogue Galaxy has almost none. Walking into a building was seamless. The first couple of times I opened a door to a shop, I just stood still dumbly, thinking I needed to wait for the interior to load, but I really didn’t. Opening a door revealed the inside of the building and I could walk through as soon as it opened. The only noticeable loading I saw was when I teleported, which is understandable, but even that was short.
Other than the lack of load times, I was also thrown off by the platforming elements of the game. I’m not used to an RPG that not only requires platforming, but actually plays like a platformer. Characters can jump, swim and grab onto ledges as well as Lara Croft. The first boss fight is more like a Shadow of the Colossus boss fight than any RPG boss fight.
Speaking of fights, the real time battles are a well needed change of pace from turn-based battles. Players can only directly control one character of a party in a battle, but can switch which character to control at any time. Damage to enemies are done with either the main weapon (like a sword) or a secondary weapon (a gun). There’s an action gauge for each character, which depletes each time the character attacks. When the gauge is empty, the character can no longer attack and must wait for the action gauge to build up again. Blocking an attack will instantaneously max out the action gauge. While all this is happening in real time, players can also bring up a menu which pauses the game and allows them to use items, change weapons, and use abilities. I had a few issues with the camera at first, thinking it would lock on to enemies automatically, but after a while, I learned to manipulate the camera to a higher viewing angle to get the best view of battles.
I never expected Rogue Galaxy’s gameplay to be so deep, but I’m happy to see that it is. I’m guessing the real time fights and unlockable abilities will keep me playing the game until the very end, even if the story doesn’t. I would recommend Rogue Galaxy to anyone who’s interested in an RPG but is turned off by turn-based battles. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it FFXII-lite. Maybe FFXII for people who can’t sit on the sidelines.