They started off with one of the PS2's first decent role-players, Dark Cloud. The execution wasn't perfect -- and it usually never is for games that come out so early in a system's lifetime -- but it was a fun dungeon crawler with some good music and interesting town-building concepts. Dark Cloud 2 built upon this foundation by adding a larger, more diverse world, better story, cel-shaded graphics, and a swath of new inventive gameplay elements. It was perhaps a little complex for its own good, but a well-made game all the way around. Most recently, though, we've seen them given the task of handling the most cherished and popular series in Japanese RPG history -- Dragon Quest. With the 8th installment of the series, Level 5 proved it could do justice to the franchise and created one of the most vibrant worlds yet experienced.
Rogue Galaxy, though, brings us back to one of Level 5's pet projects. Somewhere between Dragon Quest, Star Ocean, and Skies of Arcadia, Rogue Galaxy is one of the most impressive RPGs to hit the Playstation 2 and is likely the last of Level 5's games for the system.
The game tells the tale of Jester Rogue, a youth on a backwater planet who soon gets caught up in an war that is tearing the galaxy apart. Sound familiar? It would seem so, but Jester's world has been enslaved, home to a rare resource that everybody seems to want. The game's first hour or so streams seamlessly from one area to the next without nagging load times. As much of a looker as Rogue Galaxy is, this is quite the impressive feat and there is little loading throughout the rest of the game, as well.
Of course, it isn't long before Jester finds some allies and heads for the stars. The space pirate motif and character designs are appealing and cel-shaded in Level 5 fashion. Perhaps what is most interesting, though, is the level of interaction and character control present in the game. Combat plays out a little like Star Ocean or Namco's "Tales of" titles, real-time battles where the player controls one character and the others are run by AI. In addition to the regular attack controls, you can guard, jump, use special items, and throw things in battle, making combat quite a bit more dynamic than most RPGs. These actions are wholly restricted to fighting, though, as Jester can jump, swim, and pull off other actions on the overworld, as well. This adds a little bit more spice to exploring towns and other areas.
Though just released in Japan, it is currently unknown whether or not Rogue Galaxy will be coming to the US. Considering the warm reception the game has gotten from critics and RPG fans lucky enough to play it (and SCE's penchant for eventually publishing their in-house RPGs on our shores), it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see it hit sometime next year.
12/21/2005 Cavin Smith