While Microsoft and Nintendo had its previous console efforts whimper away into the retirement home last year, Sony’s Playstation 2 continues to live successfully on its own, thanks in part to quality titles like Rogue Galaxy.
Ringing in the New Year as the Playstation’s first big title, developer Level-5 has pieced together what is pound for pound the most quality title released so far in 2007.
With the developer of such adventure titles as Dark Cloud 2 and Dragon Quest VIII behind the helm, Rogue Galaxy doesn’t lack in quality and really shows what the Playstation 2 can do technically for an RPG title. Additionally, with its faster-paced real-time combat, Rogue Galaxy should be able to draw in more than the traditional RPG fanatic and provides players with a potential 100-hour adventure.
The game centers on Jaster Rogue, the cliché RPG “diamond in the rough” who through one circumstance after another gets involved in a save-the-universe campaign. Raised on the sand-laden planet Rosa (just imagine Luke Skywalker at the beginning of Star Wars), a grown Jaster has become a hunter in order to earn rations from an empire force that keeps his people under slavery. At the start of the game, players join with Jaster following one of his hunts to find a not-so-typical scenario.
Monsters termed as “Beasts” suddenly overwhelm the city Jaster resides in and is threatened by a massive flying menace that threatens the area’s residential section. Confronting the menace, Jaster is joined by a mysterious hooded man looking to bag the monstrosity for his own personal gain.
The man leaves in a hurry, but not before giving away his seven-star sword to Jaster. Left with a one-of-a-kind sword in his possession, Jaster is quickly mistaken as “Desert Claw,” the number-one bounty hunter in the universe, by members of the infamous Dorgenark space pirates and is “enlisted” into the crew. While upfront, Jaster isn’t given a choice, he follows of his own will, hoping to live up to his childhood aspirations of traveling the galaxy and being in space.
Of course, as Jaster meets new cohorts, they can become selectable as party members giving players three total warriors to keep tabs on at all times. While the player controllers a character of their choosing, the remaining two party members can still be managed at any time.
Rogue Galaxy implements a suggestion system where a CPU-controlled ally will call out special attacks and item assists which can be utilized on the fly with the L1 and L2 buttons. The computer AI will execute basic attacks on its own but by offering the said suggestions, players can activate special attacks without surfing a menu and even be healed at the press of a button without interrupting the flow of battle.
All of the game’s battles are run in real-time, offering characters a longer-range and close-up melee attack mapped to the square and X buttons. Jumps can be executed for mid-air attacks and to avoid attacks, blocks reduce damage taken by enemy attack and the triangle button interrupts the battle to open up menus for item and special attack use.
The use of weapons and sub weapons regulating distances from the enemy bring some strategy to the table and special enemies with resistances require even more planning from players.
In RPG fashion, all of the crew’s characters gain experience through successful battles to increase their levels, but Rogue Galaxy strays from the beaten path with its revelation charts and item manufacturing.
A chart into which players can insert acquired items to unlock new abilities determines a character’s special abilities, or revelations. As an ability unlocks, any spaces in line with it on the chart are then unveiled for players to gain even more abilities. With the correct items, characters not only learn special maneuvers, but also stat increases and new types of devastating attacks.
And while shops allow players to purchase items, the ability to combine weapons into a new, more powerful weapon adds a lot of depth to the game. Not only can the characters themselves level up, but experience is also added to equipped weapons. When a weapon has full experience, it then qualifies for a weapon combination. The number of possibilities leads to a great deal of experimentation and possibilities for players who take full advantage of the feature. As the game progresses, players will even be able to utilize blueprints and create a factory to produce items.
To chalk even more features onto the optional and experimental to-do list, creatures called Insectors can be captured throughout the course of the game. By raising the critters, players can take part in special strategic battle tournaments and rise through the ranks of the galactic competition. Jaster can also rise through the ranks as a galactic hunter by cashing in special kills for points that eventually grant him special items.
While the quest itself can run around 30-40 hours, if players take advantage of all the extras in the game, they should be able to double or even triple the amount of play time to be had in Rogue Galaxy. The game’s purchase price provides two tons of things to do, and gaming perfectionists will have a blast unraveling all there is to see in the game.
Graphically, Rogue Galaxy is a top-notch title on the Playstation 2 thanks to its signature cell-shaded animation look. The characters are insanely detailed – even changing according to the equipment you sport – and all of the game’s cinematics look fantastic. Each character is also animated very well, breathing life and character into just about every being you encounter on your journey.
The only thing that takes a hit visually, is the lack of variation in the game’s environments – one area of a planet looks almost exactly like the next. For example, the jungle planet looks like endless corridors of trees and the only facet that breaks it up is the handful of huts and the waterfall/spring area. It’s a minor gripe; nonetheless, as with the constant battle encounters, you’ll be too busy trying to stay alive to notice any nuances in the environment.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of Rogue Galaxy, while it is still executed very well, comes in the sound department.
The hours of well-done voice acting in the game no doubt sticks out as one the game’s most attractive features. All cut scenes in the game are fully voiced and the voice-overs continue over into battle to notify you of a suggestion or impending trouble as well as add to the urgency of battle.
Characters in your party while walking around the environments also raffle off random chatter reflecting your current situation. The feature really fleshes out an already impressive presentation, however, the quotes can become insanely repetitive. Players who are brought to wit’s end by the chatter thankfully have an option to turn it off.
Sounds consist of your typical hacks and slashes with the occasional twinkle of magic effect typical of any RPG. Background noises reflect the environment you are currently vacating, providing a nice touch to create a proper ambience while traversing the terrain.
The music, however, hardly sticks out, and it’s clearly evident the voice acting overshadows the score accompanying the game. While the music comes in at appropriate times and fits the current mood – differentiating between traveling and battle – it gets lost in the heat of battle and very few memorable tunes are featured while moving from one area to the next.
Since battles are a huge part of Rogue Galaxy, it should be a relief to players that the encounters, for the most part, control very well and are almost seamless in execution.
While traveling from one point to another, battles are encountered randomly. One of the game’s most impressive features is the near absence of load times – when the warning screen pops up (which I imagine masks the extremely short loading time), the enemies appear directly in front of you and the battle begins. When you defeat all the enemies in the encounter, players can immediately continue walking toward their goal. The use of teleportation and frequent saves eliminates a lot of needless backtracking and keeps the action going at a steady pace.
Battles are spaced out in a satisfactory manner so players don’t have to be annoyed with a threat for every two steps they take but they occur often enough to make leveling easy and whet your appetite for battle. Battling an environment’s minor enemies can eventually be a little on the repetitive side, but it’s no different than any other RPG.
While the fighting is done rather well, it isn’t without its cons, though. Every once in a while if your character is near a wall, camera issues can rear their ugly head, making it impossible to see what you’re swinging at or being hammered by. The auto targeting (which can be turned off as well) can also lead to some frustration, cementing your character’s focus on an enemy who is not an immediate threat.
Perhaps the biggest letdown in the fighting mechanics is the CPU party member AI. When you have the opportunity to tell them what to do, all is well, but when the fighting is left to them, hope that you have a ton of resurrection potions. The game requires a huge amount of item management and you will find yourself buying an insane amount of healing items in order to keep your teammates out of trouble. I failed to see my cohorts block even the most obvious of attacks and their attack tactics seemed quite questionable at times.
Through the course of the game, the story of Rogue Galaxy unfolds with many twists and turns. While the story may seem a little on the slow side in the beginning with inane tasks turned into big ordeals, the game really picks up and explains the universe in which Jaster seeks to experience. Sure, it may be cliché to many RPG or anime standards, but Level-5 makes it work along with its excellent presentation.
Rogue Galaxy is living proof the Playstation 2 still has at least one good year left in it. Its graphics no doubt push the system to the max and looks like a livid animation unfolding a massive story on Sony’s black box. For PS2 owners, $40 never bought you so much to do on one disc and the fact the U.S. release has added features over the original Japanese release will easily give hardcore RPG players something to do for at least the next week.
With the item combinations, revelations, factories and more, menus were never so much fun and management nuts could spend hours doing nothing but tooling with the various options. All of the extra objectives at least double the game’s playtime beyond the main quest and all of them vary in nature, providing almost multiple games in one.
Rogue Galaxy backs up a stunning look with solid game play, effective execution and replayability. While the majority of the month has been spent looking forward to games coming out months ahead, Rogue Galaxy’s release ends January with a bang and kick-starts gaming into 2007. Although a few minor setbacks put a few snags in the game’s design, it should be no surprise to see the name Rogue Galaxy pop up again when the end of 2007 brings forth the “Best of” awards.
Rogue Galaxy is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Crude Humor, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence.