Rogue Galaxy Review
By now, when you hear that Level 5 is developing an all new RPG game, you know to expect something great. The developer went from a newcomer with Dark Cloud, to becoming one of the most important developers for the genre all in one generation. Dark Cloud 2 was an enormous leap over its predecessor, but it was Dragon Quest VIII that cemented Level 5 into the guild of highly respected developers with the likes of Polyphony Digital, Kojima Studios, Nintendo EAD, Incog. Inc, and so forth. With Final Fantasy XII enjoying enormous success this past year, it's only fitting that the console continues to keep its RPG momentum going, and Level 5's newest is that game.
Rogue Galaxy is unlike many RPGs out there, but at the same time it does share a plethora of similarities to other games. For starters, while yes, this is an RPG game, some may prefer to call it an Action-RPG game. The game's combat is much like Kingdom Hearts; in that battles occur in real-time and you can move your primary character all over the field, attack any time you wish or use an item any time you wish. On the other hand, the battles are random; in the same sense that the battles in Chrono Trigger were random. For instance, you don't see enemies frolicking around the terrain as you run around (like Final Fantasy XII). Instead, you'll usually see denizens of nearby villages/towns walking around. But as you run around, eventually you'll see a "WARNING!!" sign pop-up on the screen, which indicates an immediate battle. Enemies will come up from the ground, the shrubbery, or other parts of the environment and you'll be entangled in a fight. Like I said, it's no different than Chrono Trigger.
The action unfolds much like Kingdom Hearts, it's real-time. Except there is a bar that depletes for every action you perform, and when the bar is empty you have to wait a few seconds until it recharges. Likewise, there are ways to recharge the bar instantly (be it with an item or by blocking an attack). You'll have two action buttons, one for each weapon. For instance, your main character Jaster can wield a gun and swords simultaneously. Likewise, there is also a secondary action gauge that is depleted when you use your secondary weapon. Secondary weapons are very useful and can be every bit as powerful as your main weapon. A lot of times secondary weapons will be the key to progressing in the game (solving puzzles, boss fights, etc.), so the game makes good use of them.
Rogue Galaxy's battle system is far more complex than just your standard hack and slash battle system. While it may be real time, it still requires a lot of strategy to be properly utilized. There is an ability grid system in the game called the Revelation board. Much like the License Board in Final Fantasy XII, this board will grant your characters various abilities (magics, attacks, etc.). Gaining these abilities is simple: you will see a layout of [let's say] 4 empty squares with a grey picture inside. Scroll over to a grey picture and it'll tell you what item must be placed there. Drop the corresponding items into the proper combination of squares, and you've learned the specified ability. It's not very hard at all, and the game does a fantastic job of explaining pretty much everything.
In addition to learning abilities, there is a weapon synthesis ability, as well (a frog is the key component to this. Yes, a frog). This feature will become available to you at the end of the game's first real journey. It's a really simple tool that fuses two weapons of the same kind and then spits out something better. If something worse is going to come out, the game will tell you and give you the option to cancel. So if you want to fuse weapons, there's no crazy hunting required for uncommon items. Lastly, experience points will be awarded in full to the primary party of three, and in half to the other five (there are eight characters in total). That means your party will remain mostly balanced as you progress throughout the game. I can talk non-stop about various aspects that revolve battling. But what you need to know is that if you like real-time battles in Kingdom Hearts II, this game does it better. It has probably one of the best battle mechanics an action-RPG has seen.
The story behind Rogue Galaxy revolves a 17 year old kid named Jaster Rogue. You meet Jaster just as he returns from a hunt, only to find that his village is being attacked by a swarm of monsters. You'll soon meet a mysterious and very powerful man who will briefly aid you in battle. The mysterious man will then leave you to fend for yourself, but not before giving you his sword-piece. After you defeat the game's first boss, a pair of space pirates then mistake you for a legendary hunter who calls himself the "Desert Claw". They make the assumption that Jaster is him because of the sword that the mysterious man previously gave you. But fear not, these pirates aren't baddies -- they're actually one of the eight party members you'll have the choice of controlling/fighting with. And from here on, the game picks up and you'll instantly become submersed into the game and it's fantastically addictive gameplay.
If you've just recently came off the high known as Final Fantasy XII, and are looking for more, jump right onto Rogue Galaxy. In terms of replay value, Rogue Galaxy exhibits over 100 hours of total gameplay, including side-quests and such. The story itself spans roughly 35-40 hours, which is just around the proper RPG standards. Moreover, while you may discover that the story isn't exceptional, you'll enjoy the well written dialogue and the quirky cast of characters. If a C3PO-esque robot; a stocky, masked man with a Scottish accent; whacky, short-little villagers with googly-eyes and a talking frog (who is actually the weapon synthesis feature) aren't quirky to you...well you're quite devoid of a sense of humor. This game's a riot.
Aesthetically, Rogue Galaxy looks very much like Level 5's past two games: Dragon Quest VIII and Dark Cloud 2. The cel-shading is sharp, and the signature color palette is as vibrant as a Level 5 game gets. While it isn't quite on the same caliber as Final Fantasy XII, it still holds its own. But the scope of each locale in Rogue Galaxy is nearly as enormous and awesome as FFXII's; with buildings towering above you - it's certainly a sight. Moreover, the detail in each one of these locales is nothing short of splendid; you'd be hard pressed to really find any glaring flaws with the visuals, aside from the obvious muddy texture here and there. The characters look solid - and it should be said that their appearances will change based on the equipment they're wearing. But the game's main attraction is that it all takes place without a grain of loading involved. Unlike Final Fantasy XII where sections of the map are broken up into different segments that require loading, Rogue Galaxy is completely seamless - it's all rendered on the fly. The only bit of loading the game has is when you load your saved game...and that's pretty much it. Lastly, parts of the game's story do unfold via pre-rendered cut-scenes. Now, as pretty as they may be...the cut-scenes exhibit some noticeable compression issues and artifacting. The detail of the cut-scenes is phenomenal, but the quality of the video isn't anywhere near as good as it should be.
Now the only sore thumb here is Rogue Galaxy's audio. Coming from nearly 100 hours of Final Fantasy XII, the first thing I noticed was that the voice acting in Rogue Galaxy is a mixed bag. Some actors deliver better than others, which creates a really unbalanced presentation and that quickly becomes a little annoying. Jaster's voice-over delivery is a little stiff, by-the-book, and lacking a distinct character. Where as you have a charismatic character like Simon, who's lines are delivered in a full-blown Scottish accent and quirk. The more you play the game, the more you'll realize how unbalanced the voice acting is.
Moving on, the soundtrack isn't exceptional, either. Yet again, this part of the audio presents a mixed bag. Some of the musical arrangements are so horrifically annoying on the ears that they'll require you to mute the audio until you leave that particular area. A majority of the soundtrack is pretty enjoyable, but none of it is very memorable - unlike FFXII or even Zelda: Twilight Princess (not necessarily comparing RPG to RPG, here).
Still, at the end of the day, the sum of Rogue Galaxy's parts add up to a great RPG game that delivers superb action with real-time battle mechanics (Kingdom Hearts fans will eat this up). While the audio is certainly average in many respects, everything else about the game is first-rate. This is a worthy successor for gamers finished with Final Fantasy XII and looking for a new adventure to embark on. It's seamless gameplay featuring no loading times, and vibrant visuals will only make the experience that much more enjoyable. You can expect to spend anywhere between 40-100 hours, depending on if you play through just the story or do a few side-quests. Rogue Galaxy comes highly recommended to both RPG and Action-RPG enthusiasts.
2/22/2007 Arnold Katayev