I’ve been reading Osamu Tezuka manga the past few days; namely, a couple of the titles published by Digital Manga Publishing via one of their ever-present Kickstarters. Under the Air was the first; a seinen short story collection, it’s one of the better Tezuka books I’ve read in awhile. After finishing that, I started Melody of Iron, another anthology, but with a long title story (100+ pages) and few others, instead of many short tales. Though nowhere near the level that Vertical lavished on their Tezuka volumes, the localization and printing quality of these books is pretty good for DMP. However, after three backed Kickstarters, I may be done with buying new series from this company.
For several years now, DMP has had a reputation for turning to crowdfunding whenever it wants to print—or reprint—just about anything. Not only has this been the case for niche titles, which is understandable, but also reprints of their biggest hits. One prime example is the BL drama Finder, which is so popular that new volumes wouldoftenhit the New York Times’ manga bestseller lists back when they had them. Perhaps this overreliance on crowdfunding was a reason why Finder‘s Japanese publisher terminated its contract with DMP. Many of their readers haven’t been too happy with them either; their books tend to get delayed and often have unreasonably low print runs, and their lack of communication on classic manga Kickstarters leaves much to be desired (on the other hand, a BL Kickstarter of theirs that I backed—mainly for reprint add-ons—had timely updates and great communication overall, though I don’t know how they’ve been since). On top of all that, they have practically no distribution—it’s hard to get many of their books even through a manga specialist like Right Stuf—and it seems like a fair number of their former employees didn’t like the place, either. Although a handful of Tezuka fans have damn near succumbed to Stockholm syndrome when it comes to DMP, I sort of hope that Tezuka Productions’ deal with them is the next one to be terminated.
Anyway, back to the manga itself: as is customary for most all Tezuka printed in English these days, there is a disclaimer at the start of these anthologies that basically says that the depictions of various races in these works are products of their time, and that they should be seen as such. I would suggest to Tezuka Productions that they start mandating this sort of thing for gender depictions as well. Tezuka’s depictions of women are interesting at best but are more often problematic; Princess Knight and Message to Adolf have been some of the worst offenders for me, personally. The women in Melody of Iron (so far) and Under the Air are a bit more standard for Tezuka: not much more than love interests, wives, and/or relatives.
On a whole other end of the gender depiction spectrum, there’s the 1997 shoujo TV anime Revolutionary Girl Utena. This series, about a girl who was inspired to become a prince when she was younger, and the duels she finds herself embroiled in to win the hand of the “Rose Bride”, borrows heavily from both the magical girl genre and “girl prince” stories like The Rose of Versailles and the aforementioned Princess Knight to create something new. I talked bitprophet into watching the first dozen or so episodes with me—the Student Council Arc—and fortunately, he was intrigued enough that we ended up going through the whole show. This was my second full viewing of the series, so I was mostly interested in catching little details I had missed the first time around. Turns out that there were many: Anthy’s smiles, the consistent theme of animals in the humorous “Nanami episodes”, various spoken lines, even more props and objects. It remains a dense, character-driven series that requires a patient soul to fully deconstruct. This is a series where even its greatest weakness—its relentless reliance on reused animation, and indeed, entire scenes—ends up working in its favor. It’s glamorous while adhering to a certain routine, a routine which could be subverted at any moment. It’s the high drama and messiness of adolescence whirling around its simultaneously bland and eccentric title character in a series of duels accented by a primitive CG castle and hard rock choral music with strange lyrics. There’s nothing else quite like it, and I’m glad I watched it again. As for the other versions of the Utena story, a rewatch of the movie is being planned, and I’d already reread both manga series earlier in the year, thanks in part to a gorgeous new box set.
And now, games! After beating Persona 5, I tried Wolfenstein: The New Order, but sadly found that it is not to my tastes, being a methodical shooter more in the vein of Call of Duty than the classic high-octane Wolfie I had been accustomed to. However, I found myself absorbed into Puzzle Quest, enchanted by Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, and mildly amused by Mountain. I also played a pair of mediocre sequels in the forms of Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, the latter of which was not nearly as bad as I’d been led to believe. There were also a few short Steam games—Quest of Dungeons and the two LostWinds adventures—which were okay. Then, there is the beautiful mess of Nier.
Nier is about a doting dad and his sickly daughter living in the far future of what is heavily implied to be our own world. It also stars a cynical magic talking book, a foul-mouthed huntress wearing the most ridiculous outfit in video games this side of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, and a sweet and dangerous boy. It’s considered to be one of the best works to come out of the late cavia inc., a studio that was generally known for average-to-bad games with crazy plots. All the best parts of Nier involve spoilers (or, at the very least, things worth discovering for yourself), and I’ve only played the first ending so far, so I’ll just say that cavia doesn’t disappoint and I’m sure there’s a lot more to come. In addition to its entertaining storytelling, Nier has a striking visual aesthetic that strongly recalls ICO and other Fumito Ueda games, a soundtrack that absolutely deserves its stellar reputation, and some excellent voice acting. However, it also has some janky animations, alternately fun and annoying combat, meh sidequests, forgettable farming, and bad fishing. It is not a great game, but at the same time, it is. Nier is a weird, wonderful exemplar of gaming’s B-tier and I’m looking forward to getting the rest of the endings, even the one which erases your save and prevents you from playing it again (well, at least with that one account…).
Aside from Nier, I’m currently playing NotGTAV, a crudely-drawn, humorous, and extremely British variant of Snake. I’m also playing my first Nintendo Switch game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. One of my greatest regrets in not ever getting a WiiU was missing out on Mario Kart 8, so I was delighted when this Switch port, which includes all the DLC, was first announced. It’s a damn good Mario Kart game, with an unbeatable spread of both new and old levels, including a great Bowser’s Castle, a pair of killer F-Zero-themed courses, and personal favorites such as Music Park and Grumble Volcano. My only real complaint so far is that the new Rainbow Road is somewhat underwhelming. It’s also still a little weird to see non-Mario-themed elements, like the characters Link and Isabelle (and those F-Zero tracks), in a Mario Kart. Otherwise, the little tweaks they’ve made are mostly great, and I’m having a good time. I’ve recently started the 150cc Grand Prix, after clearing 50 and 100cc, and will devote my attention to those courses whenever I’m not diving further into the craziness of Nier.
As with the old Gaming Roundups, which I addressed last time, another annual feature of this blog was a backlog assessment. However, unlike inpreviousposts, a photo of my current backlog will not accompany this year’s entry. Roughly half of my backlog nowadays is digital, so the best overview of the games I have yet to finish, or even start, is at the Backloggery. As you can see, as of this posting, there is… a good amount. Some of these are games I will never, ever go back to, usually either due to lack of interest or an annoying issue I have with the game itself (oh hi, Crayon Physics Deluxe!). However, the vast majority are games I genuinely want to play and beat.
To start off my 2016 gaming, I chose a title which is representative of my favorite type of game: quirky, mid-tier, colorful, reasonably polished, and Japanese. This game was Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure, an action RPG of sorts by Nihon Falcom, the folks behind my beloved Ys series. I had actually gotten this game for free; before Valve (understandably) banned this sort of practice, publisher Mastiff gave away Steam keys in exchange for Greenlight votes and joining the official group. Seeing as how I would’ve voted for it anyway, signing up for this promotion was a no-brainer. Gurumin, which took me roughly a week to beat, was more or less what I expected: somewhat janky in places—the pacing of the localized voiced dialogue, the slightly imperfect platforming, the graphical glitches at the edges of the screen—but otherwise a decent little story-light game with lovingly-crafted graphics. Drill-wielding heroine Parin is a likable protagonist, and the world she inhabits is rather charming. It’s the type of very good all-ages game that I don’t see too often nowadays outside of Nintendo’s titles and a few other places, and certainly very rarely on PC.
A couple of days after starting Gurumin, I fired up my first lengthy turn-based RPG for this year: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. A 3DS port of a never-localized Sega Saturn game, this is, technically, the oldest JRPG I’ve played in some time, and it shows. Besides the usual low-budget MegaTen trappings, Soul Hackers‘ demon conversation system and certain other gameplay bits are a touch cruder than those that have come along since the late 90s. The story is very 90s as well: it takes place in a fully networked city where a Second Life-esque virtual world is being beta tested. The player character, a member of the hacker group Spookies, becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving demons, summoners, and the city’s advanced intranet. It’s not bad, especially since there are “hacks” available that allow you to make the game less frustrating on the fly; I have the “automap” one on almost all the time. As of this writing, I’m still playing it, but given recent story developments, I hope to beat it sometime next week.
The third game I started this year, which was also the first one beaten, was Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe, a very different kind of falling block puzzle game. The basic conceit is that, instead of moving or rotating the pieces that fall, you play a little person inside of the well who uses its gun to destroy individual or adjoining blocks of a single color. A row of deadly spikes on the well’s bottom incentivizes you not to clear the board, and, in a similar bending of typical match-three mechanics, there’s no real penalty for stacking blocks too high, at least in the standard single-player mode. Throw in various obstacles, such as cannons which sometimes fall in place of blocks, a few power-ups, unlockable outfits and challenge stages (neither of which I’ve paid much attention to), and collectible gems, and that’s pretty much the game.
It’s a neat combination, and although the requirements to “beat” each stage are somewhat dull (accumulate a set number of large gems over an unlimited number of games), it also makes the game a bit less daunting than certain other falling block games I could name. Even so, I don’t think it has what it takes to join the lofty ranks of recent-ish hybrid puzzlers like 10000000 or Puzzle & Dragons. There is too little variety in the blocks, for one thing—it would’ve been great to see the difficulty slowly ramped up in the form of additional block colors, instead of trickier types of cannons, etc. falling from above. The platforming end of things gets kind of samey after awhile, too. Although the game is fun in short bursts, in general, “Deluxe” seems like a bit too generous an adjective to attach to its name.
So, that’s where I stand so far in my 2016 gaming. There’s still a lot left, of course, particularly when it comes to JRPGs. My main worry in all this is that the games themselves will become chores more than diversions, but hopefully I can pace myself so that won’t be a problem. Wish me luck!
Just got back from Portland yesterday. It was an exhausting trip, filled with plenty of walking and foodie’s food. I had wanted to write this post either right before or during the trip, but a lack of sleep got in the way. However, I managed to catch up, somewhat, last night, so here I am.
To start off with, at the beginning of this month, I beat Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abbadon, an action RPG which has one of the longest titles of any game I’ve ever played. In terms of both gameplay and plot, it was better than the first Raidou game, which I beat earlier in the year. New features—such as the ability to summon two demons at once; better accessibility to the Gouma-den, where new demons can be fused; and a negotiation system which, despite its usual tediousness, is the best I’ve seen in all of MegaTen—were quite welcome, though some repetitive elements stood out as the game’s greatest flaws. By that, I don’t mean the reuse of much of the previous game’s assets, which I didn’t mind at all. Rather, what bothered me was the overdone recapping, and even more, the obviousness with how the story’s branches were handled. Every so often, roughly once a chapter, a character would ask a rhetorical, philosophical question that basically asked Raidou to choose between revolution and the status quo. The answers to these ham-fisted questions don’t matter until the very end of the game, and even then, there is one final barrage of inquiries right before the branching path is settled upon. Despite these nitpicks, Raidou 2 was a decent game, though hardly the best MegaTen I’ve played.
A few days afterward, I finally finished reading a manga series which I had first sampled over fifteen years ago: Barefoot Gen. My first experience with Gen came with a copy of Volume 2, picked up cheaply at a certain bookstore in Philadelphia. Some years later, I picked up a used copy of Volume 3, but I didn’t buy any more of the series until last year, when I picked up the first and fourth volumes. Around then was when I learned that my older volumes were heavily abridged, and that the current edition, published by Last Gasp, is complete and uncut. Therefore, I repurchased volumes 2 and 3, and, later on, the last six books as well.
A semi-autobiographical tale inspired by mangaka Keiji Nakazawa’s childhood, Barefoot Gen tells the story of Gen Nakaoka, an elementary school-aged boy who survives the atomic bombing of his hometown, Hiroshima. By the end of the first volume, the bomb has dropped, and the story truly begins. Subsequent volumes find Gen making new friends, being discriminated against, and raging at not just the Americans who dropped the bomb and occupied Japan, but the Japanese Emperor and politicians who were so eager to wage war in the first place. It is, as noted in the always excellent ANN column House of 1000 Manga (spoilers in link), an angry manga, and sometimes, especially toward the end, Gen’s anger gets to be a little too much. The last few volumes are rather tedious at times, even as it explores the Japanese side of things during the Korean War; as a sign of the plot wearing thin, the final tragedy that befalls Gen and his group is one which, startlingly, doesn’t have much of a direct tie to the atomic bomb. Gen is also a violent manga; atomic bomb aside, it hews to the shonen manga tropes of its time, with lots of hitting and fighting, often between adults and children. Despite its pacifist message, seeing Gen so eager to physically fight people who dismiss his anti-war views is more than a bit disarming. Also, without giving anything away, in one of the later volumes Gen does something in the name of his personal philosophy that is so lacking of empathy and maturity it’s astounding. It’s an important manga, probably the best I’ve ever read about Japan during that era, but it’s also rather dated, and at least one of the included forewards was undesirably diversionary from the manga’s basic premise. It might’ve helped if the manga was broken up into chapters, as they were originally serialized, but instead, the manga flows together as one long story, broken up only by its separation into ten books. I recommend the first few volumes, but if you don’t want to stick with it after that, I really couldn’t blame you.
After Gen was wrapped up, and between new volumes of Nisekoi (aka the harem manga for people who normally dislike harem manga) and the always charming and hunger-inducing What Did You Eat Yesterday?, more games were played! I started, and am still playing, a Japanese copy of Picross DS, which I picked up on the cheap during Play-Asia’s annual Spring Sale. There’s nothing much to say about it besides that yeah, it’s Picross, though the zoomed-in 15×15 puzzles took me a little getting used to, not to mention the menus in a language that I can’t understand very much of. Right now, I’m currently stuck on a couple of flower-themed puzzles in Normal mode, though I’m sure I’ll push through them soon enough.
I also cranked through a few short games on Steam. First up was Escape Goat, a room-based puzzle game a la Adventures of Lolo and Toki Tori. It’s a solid entry in this genre, structured to encourage experimentation, and with precise controls and well-designed, if sometimes frustrating, puzzles. If you like this sort of game, as I do, you’ll like Escape Goat—enough said.
Second was Octodad: Dadliest Catch, whose controls were the opposite: intentionally difficult to master. This game, about an octopus trying to live as a normal suburban father in a nuclear family, revels in the ridiculous. Everyday tasks, such as mowing the lawn or picking out the perfect apple at the supermarket, are much harder when your arms and legs are tentacles and you want to blend in with actual humans. The story takes some interesting turns, and although I felt somewhat partially robbed of my final victory due to where a certain object landed, I found Octodad to be a neat little game overall. The pair of included bonus episodes were worth playing through as well.
The third short game I played through before leaving for Portland was the shortest and least interactive of the bunch: a wordless visual novel called A Bird Story. Produced by the developer of To the Moon, this is a similarly sentimental journey. In it, a young boy, who goes through the motions at school and is interested in flight, rescues a bird. It’s kind of cloying at times, and because of that, whether or not you’d like this would depend on your natural tolerance for such things. Thankfully, the length is just right, and most everything about it is simple and straightforward.
Now that I’m back, and catching up on my sleep, I think I’ll continue going through some other short games in my backlog, which I may or may not write about here. I also picked up Legend of Dungeon again recently, which has improved since the last time I played it, thanks to some patches. It’s now not as unfair as before, though it still lacks some of the refinement and balance of better roguelikes. Goat Simulator is also in my “Now Playing” list, though I’m not sure when I’ll go back to it.
I also may start the last unplayed PS2 game I have left in my backlog (if you don’t count Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, which I’ve put up for sale): Sakura Wars: So Long My Love. I may start that this week, depending on how I feel; we’ll see. At any rate, it’ll definitely get played sometime soon.
February was a productive month, gaming-wise. After completing Tropico 4‘s campaign, I went ahead and played On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two, which was more of the same Penny Arcade-themed adventuring, albeit with a gimmicky end boss. There was something of a cliffhanger at the end, though, and given that Episode Three was cancelled, I would have to rely on Penny Arcade’s own documents should I wish to know the rest of the story. (ETA: Pete has informed me that Zeboyd is working on Episode 3. Huzzah!)
I also took up Pokemon White again, where, among other things, I added the last three Gym Badges to my collection. There was also a handful of new story events to play through, where Team Plasma continued in their quest to free Pokemon everywhere from trainer oppression. Compared to past Pokemon enemy squads, Team Plasma is easier to empathize with, though no more or less devoted to their cause. Their leader, the enigmatic N, is certainly the most memorable such character that I’ve yet seen in the series. Although I’ve set the game aside again, largely for practical reasons (Pokemon White has a season-based system that uses the DS’ internal clock, and I haven’t seen Winter or Spring yet), I’m looking forward to taking on Victory Road and the Pokemon League.
Tropico 4 was also revisited, much earlier than I thought I would. This time, it was to play the first two DLC missions. The one contained in the “Junta Military” pack was quite challenging, while the “Plantador” mission had a thick streak of humor, with its pop-culture friendly occult theme. In between all of this, I made a lot of progress in Sonic Colors, finally beating it on the 28th. It remains a wonderful Sonic, and simply a great platformer in general.
After all that was wrapped up, I decided to go back to the Halo franchise with the next game in the series, Halo Wars. I was already familiar with developer Ensemble Studios’ work through Age of Empires II, and therefore expected good things from what wound up being their final game. Thanks to Halo Wars‘ interesting missions and marvelous control scheme, I wasn’t disappointed. By necessity, it’s a lot simpler than PC RTSes, but far from dull; it’s probably the most fun I’ve had with a Halo game since the original. Sadly, the campaign was over fairly quickly, but on the plus side, it gave me my last beaten game of the month.
The PS2 port of Baroque was decided upon as my next game, and the first one for March. I started it yesterday and played for the better part of the afternoon, but decided to drop it in the end. It’s a roguelike, but with action, as opposed to turn-based, gameplay, which is unusual for the genre. Nevertheless, it has roguelike-style difficulty, complete with randomly-generated dungeons and being booted back to the starting area at Level 1 every time you die. I died quite a bit early on, but made progress at a steady pace, and then, not very long after starting over yet again, I came across the Experience Wings.
The Experience Wings are a piece of equipment that boost the amount of experience points one can get from each defeated monster. Needless to say, they make level grinding much easier, lessening the pain I felt just on Normal difficulty. However, after going through several floors, I play through a story event that sends me back to the beginning, at Level 1. After making it so that the Experience Wings can be carried over to this new session, I do it all again, though it’s much more monotonous this time, and the same thing happens. While reading some info about the game afterward, I found that progression is determined not by what floor of the dungeon you make it to, but whether or not you can fulfill the arbitrary and oftentimes vaguely hinted-at goals given to you by the macabre, dull, and badly voice-acted NPCs. Upon learning this, I could readily envision the tediousness this would entail, and promptly decided to give it up.
So, what’s on the agenda next? As I said before, I’m on hiatus from Pokemon White again; also, I don’t think we’ll be tackling Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles‘ tough endgame again anytime soon. Right now, my plan is to continue on with more Halo games I haven’t played yet, namely Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach. I also have Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in my backlog, which I’d like to play co-op, but that’s not as big a priority. I also want to start another JRPG, though I haven’t settled on which one yet. Tales of the Abyss, perhaps?
How many games will I beat in March? Stay tuned…
Special Stage: Congrats once again to my friend and fellow Citadeler Tarale on her recent engagement! The incredibly geeky story of how she proposed to her boyfriend, via Team Fortress 2 and with some special help from Valve, made Kotaku Australia; here’s the story!
When Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny begins, it lets you know right away that this is an atypical entry in the series. After a brief battle sequence—the purpose of which is awfully vague—the two main characters appear in a completely different scene, where they’re spirited away and one is forced to share the other’s body.
From that point on, it continues as any Rune Factory does, on the first day of Spring with a strange new town and a lot of friendly locals to meet, but the differences start becoming noticeable again. For one thing, the house you’re given does not include an adjacent plot of farmland. In fact, it’s impossible to do any farming at all until certain story-related missions are completed. These seasonal farms, like the game’s dungeons, are islands spread throughout a vast ocean, which is traversed across with the help of a massive golem. This monster is both the game’s most important feature as well as the source of many of its flaws.
Exploring the world is done by walking all over the ocean via the golem. The golem is a neat feature, but as a form of transportation, it is far from perfect. As opposed to your typical Rune Factory dungeon, which is located close to home, Tides of Destiny‘s monster-infested islands can take half an in-game day or longer to reach. An instant-transport option is available for a good chunk of the game, but is later taken away thanks to story events. This setup can make it difficult to collect monster drops for crafting, but fortunately, reaching the farming islands is as easy as stepping into special portals within the golem.
The biggest single flaw, however, doesn’t have much to do with the golem and in fact messes with one of the core Harvest Moon fundamentals upon which Rune Factory has been based: the four seasons. This is the first Rune Factory I’ve played in which seasons are mostly irrelevant, mere points on a calendar. Seasonal areas are not dungeons this time around, and after restoration, can be used to grow just about any crop. Said crops are grown not through the use of seeds, but with Spirit Magic and captured monsters, each with their own specialty. All of this is fine, but aside from the winter-themed island, upon which only metals, gems, and crystals can be grown, any plant can be raised and harvested on any farm. For instance, with a well-groomed monster, it’s easy to quickly grow cucumbers on the Spring, Summer, and Autumn islands, discarding any need for the careful planning that typically goes into farming. On top of that, most monsters specialize in multiple types of crops, and the player has no option to tell them what exactly they should grow. Because of this, I wound up growing way more eggplants and far fewer tomatoes and that I would have normally.
The broken season system extends to the fishing as well. On the main island, the types of fish available to catch don’t vary much between seasons, and for rarities, one must venture out onto the golem to find special spots in the middle of the ocean—which are not added to the map once they’ve been discovered, unlike dungeons and seasonal islands.
Aside from the botched handling of ocean-crossing and seasons, there are flaws when it comes to the optional quests. For the most part, these quests, typically of the “fetch” variety, are all right, but there are a handful that appear early on and require high skill levels and/or rare items in order to complete, including one set which is informal in nature and impossible to get the details of again once it’s been triggered. There is also at least one quest which is impossible to even begin, an apparent victim of the worst bug I have yet seen in this series. As these sidequests are the only way to obtain new recipes for cooking, forging, and so on (though not all of them give out said recipes as rewards), this is somewhat frustrating. Also, speaking of technical problems, when multiple enemies or characters populate the screen, this game suffers from slowdown that’s worse than in some of the DS entries (note that I played the Wii version; I’m not sure if this is the case on the PS3 one). The localization is sub-par as well, with a not insignificant number of grammatical errors.
However, all is not lost with this Rune Factory, as it sports some above average dungeon design and carries over the great timing-based cooking/forging/crafting/alchemy system from Frontier, with a new addition in the form of woodworking. Loading times are also shorter than Frontier‘s, and the still character portraits that pop up during conversations have been replaced with animated 3D models. There’s also a neat musical easter egg that’s triggered by a certain Frontier character who appears for a cameo.
The story is a particular strong point, mixing certain themes from the older games (it must be noted here that all of the Rune Factory tales occur within the same world) with some interesting new ideas. The characters occupy the usual range of tropes, and are everything from charming to irritating, but as in Rune Factory 3, there are consistent mini-stories for each one that flesh them out over time. Two of the most interesting characters are the playable leads, Aden and Sonja, both of whom have more personality, for better or worse, than the rest of the series’ heroes. Aesthetically, and despite some odd decisions when it comes to what lines are given voice, the visuals and sound maintain the high level of quality I’ve come to expect from the series.
Tides of Destiny is one of the most ambitious, but also one of the most fault-ridden, Rune Factory games. It is highly experimental in its revamped approached to farming and exploring and unfortunately, the vast majority of these experiments are failures, but when the game does things right, it really shines. Still, this game is only for hardcore Rune Factory fans like myself. Everyone else would be better off checking out the slightly older, but far superior, Rune Factory 3.
It was a long time in coming, but I finally, finally managed to play Level-5’s space pirate action RPG Rogue Galaxy. I don’t know exactly how long I’d had it sitting around, but its presence there dates back from at least April 2008. After roughly a month and a half of playing, the Rogue Galaxy Era of my backlog officially ended on November 7, 2011 after watching the credits roll. Looking at my “Currently playing/in my backlog” list from that post, it seems that Persona 3 (or rather, Persona 3 FES, which I had acquired since then) should be my next major priority.
However, let’s not concern ourselves with that right now; this post is about Rogue Galaxy. Ah, Rogue Galaxy! I can still remember how excited I was about this game before it launched. The splendidly quirky Dark Cloud 2 had been my first introduction to a small development house called Level-5, and from that point on, I was immediately interested in anything they produced. However, since that time, I had played their masterful collaborations with Square Enix, Dragon Quest VIII and IX, and none of their other titles. The first Dark Cloud and Professor Layton games are currently languishing in my backlog, but Rogue Galaxy had been in the Pile of Shame longer than either of them. This is not the case any more, and now, I feel obliged tell you about this game which took me way too long to get around to playing.
Much like Dark Cloud 2, Rogue Galaxy is a beautifully cel-shaded action RPG (with even more beautifully cel-shaded FMVs). The story follows Jaster Rogue, a young man on a desert planet who dreams of going up into space. One day, his dreams come true when a pair of crew members serving under the pirate captain Dorgengoa mistake Jaster for one of the galaxy’s top bounty hunters and bring the young man aboard their ship. What follows is an adventure filled with planet-hopping, interesting characters, and gobs of clichés. Think Treasure Planet with touches of every JRPG ever, told through cutscenes as long as Xenosaga, Episode I‘s, but without the sluggish pacing. Finally, I’d like to mention one handy feature in relation to the plot: a brief recap of recent events that pops up when starting a new game or continuing from a save.
The game is jam-packed with things to do. In addition to the main quest, there are a handful of sidequests and optional goals, including bounties to hunt down, a multi-tiered insect fighting tournament, and a complex factory-based item creation system that’s reminiscent of the town-rebuilding aspects of the Dark Cloud series. Speaking of items, there are an overwhelming number of them—not just in the form of weapons and healing medicines, but shields, foods, metals, gems, machines, circuitry, random objects, event-specific things, a talking purple frog that can merge two weapons into one, and a handful of alternate outfits for your party members. These items are used in some of the optional activities I described above, as well as the Revelation Flow, charts (specialized for each character) from which new abilities and augmentations can be unlocked. Then, there’s the separate section for special items—three types of them, to be exact. This is a game that loves its stuff.
At the core of all this is some very good combat made use of in environments that are pretty but relatively monotonous, and all far larger than they need to be. The party-based battle system most closely resembles that of Kingdom Hearts; there are no cutaways to “battle screens”—instead, enemies simply appear on the field—and one character is directly controlled by the player while the other two are handled by AI. However, here the action can be paused at any time to access party members’ menus for special commands, and AI-controlled members will often ask for advice on which attack or item to use. All of the special moves, by the way, are accompanied by brief cutscenes, which are thankfully skippable, though not right away. Each character also has a set of “Burning Strike” attacks, which relies on a filling up a meter and timed button presses, as well as combo moves that recall the Double and Triple Techs from Chrono Trigger.
It’s an engaging, well-executed system… for the most part. Its major weakness comes about in the rare instances when characters find themselves in one-on-one battles. Although Rogue Galaxy tends to err on the easy side, once party strength is cut down by a third, you’re facing the toughest fights in the game. It’s easy to blow through a dozen or more healing potions during one of these battles, to say nothing of dying and getting “Game Over”.
As for the environments, as previously implied, they are generally gorgeous, but also wear out their welcome fairly quickly, with little variety within single areas, and wide, lengthy pathways that take a long time to get through. Backtracking to unlock special chests, defeat bounties, or seek out any other extra content is often tedious, to say nothing of going through the game’s dungeons the first time around. The save points, which double as teleporters, do help to lessen this tedium. Unfortunately, I wish I could say the same about the map system, which only allows for views of many different floors at once at save points, and can be unreliable once the ability to see all unlocked chests on a given planet is accessed.
The music is inoffensive and only occasionally ear-wormy. The regular battle theme in particular has a starting similarity to the one in a certain other game about pirates in flying ships. As for the voice acting and sound effects, much like the music, they get the job done reasonably well. There’s nothing truly outstanding about the sound design in general, but nor is there anything bad.
I’m sure I’m forgetting something; Rogue Galaxy has so much going on that it would be hard not to. It’s a beautiful, ambitious title filled with both great and frivolous ideas, and arguably one of the better Sony-published JRPGs of the PS2 era. However, it lacks some of the coherence and originality of the best that console has to offer. I hesitate to call Rogue Galaxy average—since it isn’t—but it’s also not the masterpiece it had the potential to be. That said, it is still a very good game, and although it took me ages to get around to playing it, I’m glad to have ultimately done so.