Rogue Galaxy (PS2) – Review

Rogue Galaxy - CoverRogue Galaxy, developed by Level-5 (famous for Dark Cloud and Dragon Quest 8) and distributed by SCEA, has most of the usual trappings of a modern jRPG with both new features that try to expand beyond typical RPG elements as well as those that feel like some of Level-5’s past games. While the story is very engaging, there’s some significant problems with the pacing of the game with incredibly long, repeating dungeons, a rather annoying endgame, and some questionable decisions regarding combat make this an unfortunate disappointment, with a lot of work just to enjoy the details that do work well.

Story: A

The game is primarily the story of Jaster, a young lad ready to leave the planetary confirms of the desert planet Rosa and explore space. However, after aiding a mysterious stranger in ridding a village of a dangerous foe, he is then mistakenly identified as the “Desert Claw” by crewmembers of the Dolgenark, a pirate ship looking to “recruit” him for a mission seeking the largest treasure in the known universe. However, an evil corporation is also looking for the same, figuring that they can profit heavily from that. Slowly, Jaster and the crew come to release that a danger to the whole universe is about to be freed, and Jaster himself is one of the keys from preventing from happening.

I really liked the plot – it takes a while to get going, but the vast differences in characters really help. Each character has their own subplot that doesn’t affect the main story, but helps to keep the flow going. Unlike some other RPGs where if you don’t perform side quests, you’ll miss out on the resolution, Rogue Galaxy’s subplots all get resolves as part of the main story line and give a good feeling of completion to the game.

Gameplay: B-

Rogue Galaxy - ExploringWhile Rogue Galaxy is an RPG, it does a lot of things differently from your normal RPG to make it stand out. There’s no overworld, but instead, you wander in environments that double as both the usual towns and dungeons. Monster encounters will happen randomly but without breaking from the current screen, and as long as you wander between areas, there’s naught a loading screen until you reach some cut scenes or use transporters. Transporters scattered about the levels serve as save points, healing points, and ways to move quickly between any other transporters you’ve hit on the current planet, which is a very nice feature after you’ve delved deep into a dungeon and need to hit a store to restock on health items. Chests along the way contain items or potentially dangerous Mimics though you can recognize these on sight alone. To help you along, a minimap shows what you’ve explored and the general direction of the next goal to help you plan your travels.

Combat, as noted, occurs right off the screen with minimal interruption. Of the eventual 8 characters you have in your party, three of them will be active in combat, with only one controlled by yourself; you can only swap out characters outside of battle, and in the first few chapters, the character selection is fixed. Each character has a main weapon and a subweapon, giving each character a melee and ranged attack. While you fight, you have to watch an action bar, which depletes with each attack or item use. When it’s empty, you have to pause to let it refresh, or guard successfully against an enemy attack to refresh it instantly. You also gain the use of skills through the Revelation tree (see below) that can be used to unleash powerful attacks, boost your party’s strength, or otherwise be useful in battle. There’s also a special “Burning Strike” attack that requires you to hit a number of buttons times with their on-screen display to unleash a devastating attack. Numerous health revival items include single character and party-wide effects for hit point and status recovery. You can control the strategy of the party (attack the same foe or pursue different foes, for example), and at times, the computer-controlled characters will shout out two options for that character to do, usually a needed healing item or otherwise one of their skills; you have a few seconds to opt for one of the two using the left shoulder buttons, which triggers the action. Surprisingly, there is very little you can do to increase the defense of your characters, particularly those controlled by the computer, and as a result, you’ll find yourself burning through your healing items at what normally would be alarming rates, but restocking these are easy and cheap.

There are several features of Rogue Galaxy that feel like extensions of the gameplay featured in the Dark Cloud games.

  1. Character growth, besides gaining hit points with levels, also uses what is called a Revelation Chart, which is odd mix of synthesis ideas and the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. Each character has a unique chart and start with several blocks of 1 to 6 empty squares awaiting the insertion of a specific object or otherwise unknown. As you collect the correct object, you can then fit it into the appropriate space. When a full block of squares is complete, your character gains a new active or passive ability, and then more unknown squares are revealed for what needs to fit into them. This gives you some degree to your character growth, as you might find a rare object that can go in multiple places on the Chart and you’ll need to choose wisely where to drop it. The game uses this to tame your character’s growth as certain required items for higher power skills aren’t made available until after certain points in the game. It would have been nice to been able to drop a similar but slightly more powerful object in place as to alter the stats of the skill (similar to how alchemy works in Aterlier Iris) but this is still a nice idea for gradual skill progression and giving something for the player to look out for.
  2. Very shortly into the game, you meet a special mutated frog that has gained the ability to combine two like items into a new items of the same form, the only stipulation is that it’s not a required item (as you’ll be told this if you try to do this), and that you’ve used the item enough in battle to maximize the character’s skill use with it. The combined weapon is generally more powerful (though it’s possible to combined a very weak weapon with a very strong one and result in a weapon weaker than the more powerful one) and gains additional element attributes based on what each original weapon had. The largest nit I had with these feature is that it took work to keeping up with this approach. After battle, the results screen tells you when you’ve achieved the needed mastery in a weapon to be used for synthesis but with the large number of battles that can happen, you tend to overlook this statistic. As a run, I may have been able to synthesis a new weapon earlier had I been paying attention. There’s a lot of possible weapon synthesis routes for each character, and can also be very hard to keep track of.
  3. About 1/3rd into the game, you gain the use of a factory which you can use remotely (via the menu). This has the feel of Dark Cloud‘s rebuilding aspect at least in putting it together, but the minigame is a bit more of logical thinking similar to The Incredible Machine games. Throughout the game, you’ll find certain NPC’s that have an idea that gives you a blueprint of how to combine 2 or more items to make a brand spanking new one; once you’ve made one, stores will start stocking it for regular purchase. To make the item, you have to take the base items, pre-process them using special machining parts you play in this factory, and then combine them. The trick to combining them is that ingredients have to reach the combining machine at the same time, in the right form, or else the plan fails. Thus, this mini-game is a puzzle to know what equipment is needed and the length of paths between them so that processing happens correctly. The concept is neat, but working the GUI for it is a bit hard, and the worst part is the need to have to connect all the major equipment up to one of the multiple power plugs along the sides of the factor. I think if they had done away with the power part and made moving parts around a bit easier, I would have used this feature more, but as it is, it’s just a bit too slow and bloated to enjoy, and I only used it to make necessary items in the game.

Mind you, Rogue Galaxy does have some additional features not regularly found in RPGs that I appreciated as well. For one, while there are the usual save points scattered about each level, they not only heal you, but they also allow you to transport around any other save point that you’ve used before (on the same planet, mind you) without question; should you unlock all the save points on a planet, you also gain a full map with the location of all the chests on the planet which is very helpful for those going after completion bonuses. The minimap nearly always points you to a location where you need to head to next and save for a couple subsections in the maps, you can figure your way out there easily; should no goal be set, you’re usually in a small area that’s easy to talk to all the people there and try to leave its bounds which triggers a cut scene to lead to the next goal. A nice feature is that when you load up the game, you get a brief summary of where you are in the game in terms of plot while the game loads up the required data, which helps to refresh yourself where you’re going and what you need to do.

However, Rogue Galaxy does have several problems in gameplay that weaken the title. There’s a good number of dungeons but a lot of these feel extremely long and more forcing you to level your characters through plentiful combat and thus extending the gameplay. Some of these are a bit more open and have interesting design approaches, but all of them suffer from lacking any landmarks or significant variations. The mini-map is your lifesaver here because you only need to watch that to figure out where you’re going. Still, these dungeons are haphazard, with maybe a few triggers plot points in some of them. I’ve no problem with games that make sure that you’re sufficiently powered up by the time you’re meeting the final bosses, but Rogue Galaxy makes me feel that they’re forcing you to level up as much as possible, and given that the farther I went in the game, the easier it got in terms of completing battles, I think there’s just too much of this. It also doesn’t help that combat is rather limited in terms of what you can do. While there’s numerous monsters to fight, they all tend to have tactics that fall into about 5 or 6 categories with only variations in their hit points and elements strengths and weaknesses. In addition, you spend a lot of combat tossing around healing and revival items as you really have very limited options in increasing your characters’ defenses compared with their offensive capabilities. By the time the story starts to pick up nicely, the combat scheme unfortunately drags it down. In the last few chapters, the dungeons are so long despite the story reaching its acme that I was basically escape any battles that I could.

What even seems odd about the large repetitive dungeons is that this game suggests a large galaxy with numerous planets and thus the opportunity for numerous environs. While I strongly appreciate the reuse of planets for multiple events to avoid the linear direction many RPGs end up being, there’s only about 6 different planets that you will come across, feeling like this “galaxy” is woefully unpopulated. I think adding about twice as many planets, and thus cutting the number of dungeons per planet in half would have still avoided too much linear play, promoted exploration of the planets, and would have significantly helped with reducing repetition.

Rogue Galaxy - CombatAdd to these long dungeons the fact that the interface has just enough effects that it feels very sluggish when you want to perform certain actions quickly. For example, as you play, you’ll gain a special subweapon for Jaster that can break certain shielding some foes have, but outside of this function, the gun has no power compared to the other subweapons. Of course, the appearance of these shielded creatures are at random, so when you know you have them to fight, you want to pull out the gun, dispel the shields, and then go back to a more powerful gun. Unfortunately, the number of steps you need to do and how it takes to appear in the heat of battle as well as how frequently you’d want to do it make this process tedious, and in the end, I usually just leave my gun set to the shield dissipating one and go in for the melee. The same thing happens on the Revelation charts, as it takes just a bit too long for the placing and redisplay of the updated chart to make this more a chore than something fun. Also,when you initiate skills, the game always wants to show the short action sequence before it. The first few times for a skill, this is a nice thing to see, but like watching the same animation sequence in serial anime series, it becomes very old very fast, and I wish there was a way to disable these after a point, even though after a second, you can dismiss it. It’s still just the fact that it breaks away from combat for just a bit that makes it annoying.

Another major problem is that you have no way to reload your action meter or your subweapon meter except by depleting it and letting it refill itself. The action meter aspect is not so bad because you can then instantly refresh it by blocking an attack, but for some of the special guns to break shields, that can be critical time that shielded monsters get to run free immune to any other attacks. But even the lack of a easy way to reset the action gauge can hurt; sometimes you just want to not waste the last few segments of the bar and just get back up to full action faster so that you can dispense healing items quicker. This is particularly important when you have to fight some bosses alone (as in the final battle). There’s times where your character is down and you can’t bring up the menus fast enough to toss a healing item to save the day, resulting in the dreaded Game Over.

Finally, the final battle itself has everything I hate about the usual style of boss battles that Final Fantasy puts you up again. Not only are there 10(!) stages for this battle, but for 8 of them, you fight with only one character, which magnify the problems of the lack of an action gauge reset. There’s also no save points between them, meaning that if you screw up one, you have to redo all of them to get back to that. It’s not so much that these battles are uber-difficult particularly with all the forced leveling you have to do to get to it (a fortunate result), but just that if you’re not fast with your fingers in the single battles the first time you enter them and learn the patterns, you’re screwed and have to replay again. Additionally, as Jaster is the preferred character for use, suddenly having to play lead with the other characters may be difficult to get used to, such as not realizing one character’s weapon was a flame-thrower type unit and thus acted differently than a sword, and thus screwed up that battle the first time. Thankfully, the intervening cutscenes can be skipped with a button press; additionally, as long as you’ve bought all the best equipment and used the characters equally, the battles are certainly easy to complete.  Still, I know they were trying to complete out the story with these boss battles, but I’d wish they took the approach that FFX used, in that after the first two or three forms, the remaining battle(s) gave the player automatic regeneration or other special abilities as to allow him to finish the plot battles without having to work through the difficult titular boss battles.

Outside of the main quest and some of the unique , there’s also several side hunting quests to seek out specific monsters to earn rewards, as well as completing certain bounties for killing a number of certain types of monsters, which increases your hunting rank and gains some special rewards. There’s 9 very rare items that require you to perform certain conditions to also gain for additional bonuses. Several items are locked in chests that require special keys which are also difficult to acquire. There’s also a method of capturing insects luring them to a trap with fruit and then using them in arena battles as well. Completing the game unlocks a few additional quests as well as aiming for completion bonuses for your Revelation tables, weapon synthesis and such.

Value/Replayabiliy: B-

For myself, the game took about 35 hrs to complete. Normally, I’d say that’s about right for an RPG, but given how much repetition and forced dungeoning there was, it felt a lot longer and basically lacking more content by the end of the game. As with most RPGs, its replay value is limited as you can restart with some of your equipment but the plot progression is not going to change.

Graphics: A-

The game appears to use a similar engine to that from Dragon Quest 8 in both the use of cell-shading and the general appearance and animation. The styling is closer to that Dark Cloud 2 in terms of character appearances. Both of these games are excellent starting points for their graphics, and Rogue Galaxy is a good inheritor of these. There’s a few slowdowns when the action gets intense on the screen, but in general the game keeps pretty good pace.

Sound: A

The voice acting throughout the game is well done. There’s a bulk of serious characters, but a handful of both playable and NPC’s that have good comical voices to keep the plot from running too serious. There is a problem with background music during battles and during the long dungeons getting repetitive but this is more due to the problems with the dungeon lengths themselves.

Overall: B-

There’s several positive points about Rogue Galaxy; its story is very good, it’s pleasing to watch and listen to, and many of the side features of the game that reflect Level-5’s past performance. And while I can see that the elements of combat are interesting, the overall combination of the long, excessive dungeoning and some of the combat design choices can make this game rather frustrating to complete – not because of the difficulty, but simply because it can get excessively boring and tedious to work through. Avid RPG fans will likely want to try this game to see some of the more unique features, but it will likely be a passable title for others.

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