Sometimes, a game isn’t a perfect complete package even though it does a lot of little things right. Rogue Galaxy is exactly that type of game. It may not be for those who want an epic Game of the Year, but for someone who wants a charming RPG that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Rogue Galaxy is the answer.
Rogue Galaxy starts us off with our protagonist, Jaster Rogue, who by a fortunate twist of fate gets mistaken for an infamous bounty hunter named Desert Claw and is invited to work for a mysterious patron above an airship. Throughout the game Jaster meets a few one-dimensional characters, some of whom are available to join the party. There’s a knock-off C-3PO robot and his Scottish R2D2 pal, a gruff Amazonian warrior, a mysterious eye-patch wearing unshaven man, and a gorgeous and cheerful pirate girl.
Cliched party members are nothing new to the realm of JRPGs, so I wasn’t especially put off by them. What did annoy me was that active-chat was on by default, which meant party members were free to talk during exploration. This could have been amusing if dialog was more varied, but after an hour or so of my party members saying the same things over and over again, I turned it off in the options menu. This doesn’t turn off their voices during battle, which is a good thing.
One of the aspects in Rogue Galaxy that interested me was its graphic style. I’ve always been a fan of cel shading, so seeing a few screenshots of the game piqued my curiosity. The game is beautifully animated and sometimes, playing the game feels more like watching an animated feature than playing an RPG. The Miyazaki-like intro movie was what really sold me on the style.
The game’s graphics engine is one of the best reasons to play it. Many of the story’s cut scenes utilize the graphics engine and if you pay attention to these things, you’ll see that the items you have equipped on each character shows up in cut scenes. Details like that are what impressed me about the game. The engine’s versatile enough that even battles make use of it to launch the players seamlessly from dungeon exploration into fighting.
The second thing I was intrigued by was fighting in Rogue Galaxy. As a deviation from turn based battles, Level 5 implemented a blend of real time and turn based fighting in battles. The player has direct control over one character while the AI controls the rest of the party. Slashing with swords and shooting are done in real time. Players can interact with the environment by climbing on platforms, throwing boxes at enemies and even picking up enemies to throw at other enemies. The action part of the fighting is like a stripped down version of Devil May Cry. While it may seem overwhelming at first, players will soon feel at home with the hectic pace of real time battles.
New in the US version of the game, AI party members will ask or suggest to use an ability (more on those shortly) or item. They will call out the name of the player’s character and some choices will be displayed on screen for actions such as using a healing item or performing some ability. Players can then press the corresponding shoulder button (L1 or L2) to give permission to execute that action or L3 to deny any suggested action. This sometimes gets unwieldy in battles, especially trying to keep track of everyone’s health, so I just stock up on healing items and set the party command to "Go All Out" which tells them to automatically heal any party members who need HP.
The turn based aspect comes in when the menu is brought up. Through the menu, players can issue commands to other members of the party. Action pauses and players have time to pick items to use, change equipment and use abilities. Abilities are Rogue Galaxy’s version of magic and they can affect a player’s stats — such as a defense boost, deal area damage with magic, as well as lend extra elemental damage to weapons. New abilities can be unlocked through Revelations by collecting dropped items or buying items from shops. Revelations for each character can be seen on a grid-like board. Unlocking one Revelation opens up paths to other revelations. The game has a handy feature that makes the Revelation option glow in the main game screen, which tells you when someone in the party has an unlockable Revelation.
So now that I’ve gone over the parts of the game that I like, what about things I don’t like? For one, I don’t like how there’s no healing magic at all. The only way of replenishing health or reviving characters is through items or a teleport spot. This was more annoying when I still had hope that someone in my party would learn healing magic, but after resigning myself to the fact that I have to stock up on items each time I visit a shop, it’s more bearable. On the bright side, ability points could be reserved for more damage-dealing abilities.
Buying healing items also wouldn’t be as annoying if the AI controlled party members were smarter. Teammates don’t run from damage and there’s no way to command them to stay behind and attack from afar. Most boss battles involve either stocking up on tons of healing items to keep my stupid teammates alive so that they can deal damage and serve as a tank, or letting them die off and tackling the boss myself. While teammates are handy in regular fights, I wish they were more helpful in boss fights.
The first couple of bosses required some thinking thing beat, but I was disappointed to see other bosses only required a stockpile of healing and revival potions to defeat. This might be a way of balancing out the stupid teammates in your party, but the better way to go around it is to make the AI smarter and require more strategy to beat bosses.
Maybe it was novelty wearing off, but I became less enthusiastic about the game after the eighth hour. Dungeons, while still beautiful, seemed like cut and paste corridors and rooms. They’re not as bad as being maze-like, thanks to the on-screen map and target arrow, but some variation would have been nice. Luckily, battles never seem to be sprinkled around too liberally and mini-games break up the monotony of dungeon crawling.
The big question is: is this game any fun? Yes, very much so, but only if you’re willing to overlook its flaws. If you’re looking for a gorgeously rendered, slightly different RPG with your typical anime-inspired drama and dialog, you shouldn’t be disappointed with Rogue Galaxy. If you’re the type who prefers a studio recording of a song instead of a live recording with its imperfections, please move on.
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