Reviewed: February 11, 2007
Released: January 30, 2007
With the new PS3, Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360s out in full swing, the older versions of these companies' consoles are seeing their last days. That doesn't mean that they can't go out with a bang and still put out good, even excellent titles while they're still around, though.
For the PS2, a perfect example of such a game is Rogue Galaxy. A sci-fi RPG about space pirates, set on many different planets that make up a vibrant galaxy, Rogue Galaxy is the new must-have for anyone who appreciates a good RPG, or good video game for that matter. With real time, action packed battles; a cast of playable characters with unique techniques, combos and special moves, an engrossing storyline, eye-popping graphics, and likeable characters, Rogue Galaxy will be one of the best games to come to the PS2 this year.
Rogue Galaxy is an RPG from the Level 5 developing team, the same people who brought you titles like Dragon Quest VIII and Dark Cloud. The story revolves around a young man by the name of Jaster Rogue, who lives on the desert planet Rosa. A war has broken out in the galaxy, and Rosa is an enslaved planet. When a beast breaks its way into Jaster's village, the soldiers who are occupying the area are no match for it. A cloaked man in town accompanies Jaster on the way to fight the beast, but mysteriously leaves after spotting two figures watching them. Leaving his sword to Jaster, the mysterious man vanishes without an explanation.
The two figures watching Jaster are revealed to be two space pirates by the name of Steve and Simon who are on the lookout for someone called the Desert Claw to recruit in their ranks. After fighting the beast and seeing Jaster's impressive fighting ability, the two are convinced that Jaster is the one they seek. Eager to fulfill a lifelong dream of traveling the galaxy and to save his enslaved planet, Jaster goes along with their assumptions, and joins Steve and Simon among others as a space pirate.
Admittedly, while it's a fun story, it isn't terribly original or new in the realm of RPGs. An exceptional young man swept up in circumstances that lead him to becoming the hero of the day is pretty standard. Still, there's more to Rogue Galaxy than meets the eye. The story and overall feeling of the game is rather lighthearted, but there's a deeper level to the story and the characters. While there is plenty of humor involved in the story, there are some more serious moments as well and the two elements are balanced out quite nicely.
The only problem story-wise is that the characters, while interesting and quite likable, are not the deepest bunch that I've seen in an RPG, and some of them tend to run along the lines of stereotypes at times, making some developments rather predictable. Still, that doesn't mean that it isn't fun to watch the story unfold, or that it's hard to get attached to the characters. And it definitely doesn't mean that it isn't fun to play.
The battle system in Rogue Galaxy is a blast and offers an impressive array of variety in gameplay. Battles are action based and in real time. You may choose on the fly who you would like to play as in battle, and each character has their own fighting styles, special moves (which cost ability points, of course), and combos. The other two members of your party are only distantly controlled by you, in a style similar to the Star Ocean games: you can set up different battle strategies to dictate how you want them to fight the battle.
For instance, you can have your party members focus on one enemy, or fight independently and fight whomever they want. Your other party members will call out to you at times, and a menu will pop up on the screen with suggestions of what to do, such as using a healing item, or executing one of that team member's special moves. All of this is done while the battle is going, so you have to keep on your toes and think fast. Battles are also significantly more challenging then your average run of the mill RPG, but not unrealistically so, which keeps the battle system fun and interesting.
New abilities for your characters are learned through a system called Revelation, which is a grid where slots for various items are grouped together. Putting items in the corresponding slots and filling up the group that they are in will allow the character to learn new abilities. Then, a new group of slots that are connected to it are opened up, which lead to new abilities. Think of it as the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X, only with items like "sticky gum" and "iron cube" used to fill up the slots instead of spheres. The Revelation system is rather easy to get the hang of, and you'll be pleased to see just how large each character's grid is, allowing for many, many different learnable abilities. Some of these abilities are passive, like fire resistance, but they all play a part in how effective your characters are in battle.
Along with the main storyline and battles, the world of Rogue Galaxy is huge and there is plenty to see and do. There is a side game that allows you to leave traps with bait out wherever you like in order to catch an insectron, which is, well, exactly what it sounds like. You can feed, train, and even breed insectrons and then take them to the Insectron Tournament to fight other insectrons for, of course, rewards. The Insectron Tournament is Rogue Galaxy's main mini-game, something that, admittedly, I usually hate in RPGs.
I know, I know. When the developers give me something extra to do in a game, I should be grateful. But nine times out of ten, mini-games are frustrating and monotonous. You want to do them for those ultra-cool, secret, strong items that you can get nowhere else in the game, but you don't want to piddle away hours of monotonous gameplay just to get it. Pleasantly, the insectron mini-game isn't particularly frustrating, and hunting for them and training them in and of itself is kind of fun, since it can be done more or less “on the go” regardless of where you are in the main storyline.
Rogue Galaxy may occasionally fall into the realm of stereotypes and predictability, but it is undeniably fun to play, and has many unique aspects that keep it from feeling generic. In fact, it's a pretty unique game, within the scope of RPGs in general. The game’s weapon synthesis method, bizarre as it sounds, involves a sentient frog named Toady joining you. He's not a playable character, but instead, he eats two of your weapons, and spits out a better one for you! Does that make sense? No, of course not, but it doesn't have to. The whole process is actually rather funny to watch, but don't underestimate Toady. He can regurgitate some very impressive equipment indeed. Rogue Galaxy is, simply put, a lot of fun to play.
If you like Dragon Quest VIII's graphics, then you'll love Rogue Galaxy's. Done in the same cel-shaded style as DQVIII's (albeit without the “love it or hate it” talent of Akira Toriyama at the design helm), the graphics are distinctly like the design of a good anime with bright, vivid colors and well-defined lines that make the look of the game pop out and catch your eye instantly. Character designs are very well put together, and some of them are rather unique.
While it's true that Jaster is the typical, seventeen year old, handsome, blond hero, other designs such as Simon's rotund, heavily armored body and the villain Norma's bizarrely sinister, yet girlish ensemble are really interesting. Still, even as typical as Jaster may look, it's a look that works and it fits right into the world (or world's, I suppose I should say) that he inhabits.
And then there are designs that, even given the lighthearted mood of Rogue Galaxy, are rather, well, silly looking. Rosencaster, a frightening soldier and warden of a terrifying prison, looks like Frankenstein's monster. Scars, long, rectangular head, the whole nine yards. And there are people with cartoony shark heads as well. Yes, I said shark heads. While all of these designs are admittedly a matter of personal tastes, I simply found it hard to get past some of them. There is a point at which creative liberties spill over into silliness, and unfortunately, Rogue Galaxy’s character design does get to that point occasionally.
World designs are quite beautifully done, however. Whether it's the huge, desert world of Rosa, the green and fertile jungles of Juraika, or the sprawling metropolis complete with flying cars on Zerard, Rogue Galaxy is just fun to look at. Colors, shading, lines, and frame rate all run together easily and smoothly. The CG is also smoothly put together and looks great, and really, isn't all that far off from the in-game graphics, which is rather impressive. Rogue Galaxy looks beautiful, and there's enough creativity and variety in its looks that it avoids feeling like a static world with generic characters inhabiting them, a trap that too many games fall into. The worlds in Rogue Galaxy are distinct and a level above many of what other games have to offer.
Rogue Galaxy sound like it plays: great. The team of voice actors that Level 5 hired to play the characters are superb. Some of them are instantly recognizable, for those of us that have spent many a day dorking out with video game and anime obsessions. Steve Blum, who most notably has lent his voice talents to characters such as Vincent Valentine of Final Fantasy: Dirge of Cerberus, Gale of the Digital Devil Saga series, and Spike Spiegel of the anime Cowboy Bebop, plays Zegram, the too-cool-for-you pirate, and his deep, calm voice is definitely perfect for the roguish character with a bad attitude that he plays. Will Friedle of Kingdom Hearts II, and, oddly enough, Kim Possible is also on the roster as Jaster. Just about every character's voice fits and sounds natural. Simon's happy-go-lucky Scottish sounding accent fits his carefree and friendly attitude.
The intense and serious Lilika sounds just as she should as well. My only bone to pick with the voice acting is some of the minor characters are a bit, well, annoying. Some of the outcasts from the tribal village of Burqaqua that Jaster and company encounter on Juraika (whose crime was an interest in technology and gadgets) sound a bit grating. Why are all of the outcasts, bizarre, impish men who speak and act as though they are completely insane? Lilika and other Burqaquan villagers look, sound and act relatively normal, so why the nutty, stereotypical tinkerers who sound as though they've had high doses of caffeine directly injected into their bloodstreams? It's a small complaint, and I realize that the intent is comedic effect, but, truth be told, it doesn't work all that well.
The music in Rogue Galaxy is also really impressive. Memorable, sweeping tunes make up Rogue Galaxy's very cool soundtrack. Each area that you are spirited off to has music that fits its scenery and atmosphere beautifully. The Dorgenark, the ship that your pirate party inhabits, has a rather catchy, laid back jazz tune to it, which fit the easy going atmosphere that the crew creates. The desert planet of Rosa has a sort of dry, lazy lull to it, that's fitting of a sandy planet constantly under the heat of a desert sun. Each track was obviously very carefully put together, and it's nice to hear. A good soundtrack to an RPG is rather important, as it sets the tone and mood of the game and the various stages that it goes through. Rogue Galaxy is an excellent example of how that is done well.
Rogue Galaxy boasts over seventy hours of gameplay, and good gameplay at that. Between the main storyline, exploring, the Insectron Tournaments, side quests, mini-games and the never-ending quest to max out your character's ability to fight like a god in battle that any true RPG fan simply cannot help but fall prey to, Rogue Galaxy is a game that you'll be working on for some time. What's more is that you'll have a blast with every hour you pour into it.
The gameplay is interesting and varied enough that even the most normally painful level grind should be fun. If you're the type of gamer however, who wants to just get to the good stuff and see all that a game has to offer you as soon as possible, be warned that the dungeons are quite long. It's a ton of fun to play, but don't expect to just power level your way up to the next part of the game. Rogue Galaxy takes its time, but in this case, that’s definitely not a bad thing.
With the next gen systems already out, it's nice to see that the PS2 is still getting some good titles for those of us who just cannot cough up the six hundred dollars that Sony is asking us to fork over for a PS3.
Rogue Galaxy is an RPG made for traditional fans of the genre. With a solid story, vivid and likeable characters, a vast, interesting world, and fun gameplay, Rogue Galaxy is simply a must-have for RPG fans.