Review: Avast, Mateys!! We set sail on ye flying wooden spaceships to a PS2 near you!!! Yargh!
This is a tale of two games, two games that are alike in story, but completely unrecognizable when placed next to each other. That game is: Rogue Galaxy. Originally released in Japan on December 8, 2005, the game told the tale of a young space pirate named Jaster and his crew's quest to find the galaxy's greatest treasure, the planet Eden. Although the game was made by Level 5 fresh off of mega-hits Dragon Quest VIII and Dark Cloud 2, it was heavily criticized for it's lackluster dungeon design, random chain attacks, and a huge lack of content (only four planets were included in the game's original release). Two years later, not only has the game been localized, it's received an entire rehaul.
Claimed to be the original vision for the game, the U.S. version has included a bunch of new extras including a fifth planet (named Alistia), a revamped chain attack, a visual overhaul, new weapons, new costumes, and a whole mess of other improvements. This brings up the question though: is the game worth playing?
Although it isn't the greatest RPG to come out for the PS2, it does a couple of important things right. For the first couple hours, the battles simply rock. Unlike most RPGs, the game ditches the traditional turn-base design and uses a mix of being an action game with menus. Each of the game's eight playable characters can be equipped with a main weapon and a sub weapon, accessible with either the Square button or the X button. Although this can cause the game to become nothing more than a button masher, there is a bit of fundamental strategy involved. Although it's usually ?power up your weapon with an ability, whack at the enemy, and use a million items during each and every fight.? However, as you progress through the game you'll notice that every boss has a critical flaw and attack style. Once you learn to abuse it, they'll drop faster than your Aunt Sally during Christmas.
One of the things that perplex me the most is the game's combo system. For the most part burning strike attacks are generally useless as they're only available for use during non-boss encounters. Players can build up their combo gauge by collecting burning souls which are randomly dropped bubbles by enemies. Collect enough, and you'll be transported to a scene where you have to press certain buttons simultaneously with how they're shown on-screen.
Aside from the main quest, there are several enjoyable mini-games that can account for doubling your playtime from 40-50 hours to over 100. In particular, is the Insectron, which is similar to a mix of Pokemon, Tamogatchi, and Chess. You have to raise your insects in cages, feed them to level up, and go into tournaments with them. Once you're playing a match against another computer (or another person), you move them along a Chess board and have your insects duel.
While most RPGs rely on a conventional leveling system to learn abilities at specific levels, Rogue Galaxy uses a grid-style presentation similar to Final Fantasy XII's gambit system. Characters learn abilities by placing items on a map, which can either be found or purchased at shops. Abilities usually have three levels in strength, with rarer items being used for the latter.
Another of the game's pluses is its presentation. Level 5, known famously for their use of cel-shaded graphics in games, completely pushes the aging PS2 to its limits and it shows. From the high-quality cinematics to the beautiful worlds that inhabit the game's Wilhimer Galaxy, the game manages to draw the audience in. Every planet in the game has its own unique feel to it, from the tribal village at Juraika to the bustling city on Zerard, it really feels as though you're at uniquely different planets all the time. As pretty as the towns are however, the game's dungeons are an entirely other story. Not only are they long and repetitive, their designs leave a lot to be desired. Every corner of the dungeon looks the same, and sadly, you'll be crawling around a whole lot in that huge mess. Not to mention that the level design for the last dungeon is one of the worse I've ever experienced in my life.
After all that, you'll be going around from planet to planet collecting treasure, which is pretty much what the story amounts to until the last five to ten hours of the game. Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the game would be the plot, or lack there of. For starters, the plot appears as the love-child between a Final Fantasy game and Disney's Treasure Planet. Not only is the story similar, the characters are just as bad as they reek of stereotypes. You've got the C-3PO wanna-be Steve, the Lapras look-alike Jupis, the amazing Amazonian Lilika, the tough militant canine Deego, the Jack Sparrow of the group Zegram, the mysterious Kisala, and finally Jaster? a Luke Skywalker clone. Unlike most RPGs that enjoy revealing the backgrounds of characters and what drives them, Rogue Galaxy gives it all to you in a matter of minutes for anyone else not named Jaster or Kisala.
Thankfully, the game's voice actors do a great job with presenting what little story there is. Voiced by C-list Hollywood celebs and various anime voice actors, they help to bring the galaxy alive. Of note is Will Friedle, who plays Jaster, as he shines in the role. None of the characters sound alike, and for the most part the lip-synching is done amazingly well. A slight annoyance though is the use of random speech in the game as you're exploring. Although it's an interesting idea as they actually talk about the environment, the lines become repetitive after hearing ?this route?bad choice? for the millionth time. The soundtrack on the other hand, although pleasant, lacks any memorable tunes with the exception of the opening and closing themes.