Rainbow Moon Review
Rainbow Moon was a godsend for those who missed the good ol’ days of strategy/RPGs. Most critics didn’t like the excessive grinding involved, and the balancing was admittedly a little off (only three characters in battle versus how many foes?). But most old-school games in this niche genre suffered from the very same issues, so at the very least, the in-depth adventure from SideQuest Studios is properly nostalgic. Now, it has arrived for the Vita and it’s basically the same game, but with cross-save and some sprucing up and streamlining of the menus.
The Vita’s beautiful screen really captures the charming color and detail that exemplifies Rainbow Moon. Perhaps the appropriate adjective would be “quaint;” the entire presentation, from the character and enemy design to the sprawling fantasy landscape, is indeed best described as “quaint.” But there’s some foreboding that goes along with that quaintness, as you will explore darker, more intimidating areas, and some of the bigger bosses rank pretty high on the induced fear meter. The special effects, which go on vivid display when you execute a crowd-pleasing special ability, really make the graphics shine, too.
The sound is the perfect complement to the attractive palette, as we get a rousing, classical orchestral score that accompanies our travels. I still want a wider variety of tracks for combat, just because you spend so much time locked in any given encounter. Other than that, though, the score and effects blend together beautifully, and the result is a technically proficient production with tons of appeal. There are no voice performances (as there were none in the olden days) and that great soundtrack can get a little repetitive, even outside of battle, but those are minor complaints. All in all, the visuals and audio are made for each other.
As I said above, in comparison to the PS3 version that released in 2012, this is essentially the same game. You’ve still got a gigantic amount of content, there are still a myriad of challenging and interesting areas to explore, and there’s still that unmistakable addictiveness that all strategy/RPG lovers have experienced. Remember, though, while Rainbow Moon can be compared to franchises like Disgaea, the bright, compelling title from EastAsiaSoft stands on its own. It combines exploration of a world map – which strat/RPGs typically don’t have – with the grid-based tactical combat some of us have adored since Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre.
The reason why this game is so appealing to so many fans is because of this aforementioned combination. There are elements of both role-playing and strategy and despite the amount of grinding required (and the inherent challenge), that won’t be a hurdle for the intended audience. That’s imperative: The audience for this particular title won’t care as much about the obvious shortcomings. Such flaws are expected and even condoned to some extent, provided the core remains as addictive as ever. And let’s face it, for such fans, that addictive quality comes from that burning desire to find better equipment, learn better skills, conquer tougher foes and in general, become as strong as humanly possible.
Those flaws do exist, though, and I will mention them for the sake of an accurate review. The control issues are still here; it’s just plain annoying to struggle with the grid selection for movement and targeting. The analog stick just doesn’t cut the mustard, as it’s erratic and irritating. On top of which, the balancing issue is indeed significant, and it becomes more glaring as you progress. Toward the end of the game, you find yourself facing stiff odds and unfortunately, those odds are overcome in very much the same way, each and every time. It’s less about strategy and more about just surviving by sticking to a tried-and-true formula. This is a point of contention and a big reason why the game doesn’t score too well with critics.
But again, being a confirmed fan of the sub-genre in question, I know the community. I know what they’re willing to accept in terms of problems, and I know what they value above all else. Thankfully, the developers fully embraced that which the fans appreciate most— an extremely engaging, in-depth adventure that rewards the patient and the dedicated. This is a community of micromanagement freaks and you know, we’re proud of it. You micromanage everything in Rainbow Moon and that includes keeping your characters well fed (if they start to starve, their HP drops). Learning skills, acquiring new equipment, snagging new allies; it’s all here.
The best part is that it’s here in spades. There’s at least 40-50 hours worth of content and close on to 100 if you really want to indulge. It’s also a bonus to have the more streamlined menu screens in the Vita version; it isn’t quite so cumbersome to navigate through options. The cross-save option is another plus, especially if you’ve already got the PS3 iteration. And again, I must emphasize that the Vita’s brilliant screen is ideal for this kind of visual presentation, which is just so pretty. It makes you want to keep wandering around, opening up new parts of the map and unleashing newer and more powerful skills in combat. In brief, there’s no shortage of things to do and in fact, you’ll always have another goal in mind.
The story isn’t anything special but again, that’s one of those failings that most strategy/RPG fans will mostly ignore. That’s simply because we spend so much time playing that the plot almost instantly falls by the wayside. The story in FFT was actually pretty damn good but as I really only cared about crafting an unbeatable team, I don’t remember much of that story. Well, I remember some of it because I’ve played it so many times. In the case of SideQuest’s effort, I know the story, dialogue and characters aren’t exemplary and in this particular case, I don’t care. It just doesn’t hinder one’s enjoyment very much.
Rainbow Moon for the Vita is everything you expect it to be and maybe a touch more. There isn’t much different when compared to the PS3 version, with the exception of the cross-save feature and the better menu presentation. But of course, this means you can now take your addictive adventuring on the go, and that’s reason to celebrate. I remember when the game launched for the PS3, a lot of gamers begged for it to become available on the Vita. Well, here it is and while there aren’t any big surprises, it’s still that immensely fun strat/RPG you fell in love with last year. Ultimately, that’s what matters, right?
The Good: Looks beautiful on Vita’s screen. Streamlined menus is a definite plus, as is the cross-save feature. As deep and wildly engaging as ever. Chock full of content. Appropriately rewards the patient and diligent. A great game to have on a portable device.
The Bad: Lingering and irritating control issues. Story isn’t exactly gripping. Yep, lotsa grinding.
The Ugly: “No, that’s really not where I wanted to move to…goddamnit.”
12/17/2013 Ben Dutka