IGN Review of Rogue Galaxy
If you ever find yourself in Japan and happen to run into videogame designer Akihiro Hino and his guys at Level-5, then do yourself a favor and give them an enthusiastic high five. In fact, throw your hands up in the air like an Orangutan and smack the holy hell out of their palms with a high five so powerful it's straight out of Top Gun -- the kind made complete by a wide-eyed pearly grin and one of those wolf-like "Woos" at the end.
Now, in case you're wondering why you're scaring the nice Japanese man and his employees, let me explain. Hino and Level-5 have put together some of the best role-playing games ever released for PlayStation 2. Titles like Dark Cloud, Dark Cloud 2, and Dragon Quest VIII have all taken high honors with just about every publication out there, and the team has done it again. This time, Level-5 brings an all-new IP to the table with Rogue Galaxy, a pirate-themed adventure that's packed with delightfully weird concepts; A talking toad that chews on weapons to make better ones, a drunken battle axe-wielding cybernetic bulldog, and a C3PO-wannabe robot named Steve are just a few of the freaks you'll encounter.
Despite its bizarre setup, though, Rogue Galaxy is presented as a serious space opera and not a wacky parody. Different as some of the characters might be, they fit into their universe believably and don't come across as running jokes. That's not to say that there isn't humor (actually, there's a lot of it), but like Dragon Quest VIII before it, its silliness doesn't overshadow the importance of the plot (i.e. the player, as orphan Jaster Rogue, travels the cosmos with a band of buccaneers in a struggle against a greedy warmongering corporation).
Unfortunately, the plot itself is a little on the predictable side (chances are you've seen most of these situations before), and the characters don't have backgrounds that run as deep as they typically do in other RPGs. The good news, however, is that a strong performance from an experienced vocal troupe and great scene direction keeps things moving despite less than original conclusions. But let's be frank, Rogue Galaxy's main strength isn't its narrative, it's the game's ability to be interesting and fun on multiple levels. Who cares if the storyline isn't Shakespeare incarnate as long as it stays lively and gives us a good reason to keep slashing stuff? And give us a good reason it does!
Indeed, Rogue Galaxy is like a variety box of Krispy Kreme donuts in digital form. That is, it does so many things so very well, that it's hard to enjoy it only in small doses. Take the real-time action-based combat system for example -- it's great! Similar to Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts series in design, the battles give users complete control over their actions with both primary and secondary tools (aka melee and projectile weapons). Also, you can switch between either attack in any combination you want, with your only restrictions being action point limits or ammo for gun-type weapons. There are plenty of special moves that characters can unleash too -- charges, magical abilities, and burning strikes (a timed icon-based combo system similar to Zell's limit breaks in Final Fantasy VIII) among them.
The thing that makes this system so enthralling to play is that the developers have made encounters strategic. Some opponents, for instance, can only be hurt if you expose their weaknesses by jumping on their head or charge-slicing them to break armor; other foes can't be stopped unless you stab them in specific areas, or in the case of larger boss creatures, use a platform-creation gun to jump up to certain spots. Teammate NPCs can even make context-sensitive suggestions that make winning conflicts easier, and even with the extra help, battles are both fun and challenging.
Rogue Galaxy's combat system isn't perfect of course; teammate AI is rather non-aggressive, especially when players set it to anything other than "attack same target," and the camera has issues during encounters (it gets hitched semi-regularly on angles that block your view). Then again, because of its action-oriented nature, Rogue's problems aren't that big of a deal since most of the enjoyment in battle comes from what you, the player, does with the buttons, not the CPU-driven stuff.
Combat isn't all Rogue Galaxy has going for it either. It's also in possession of a very extensive weapon and item creation system that borrows elements from Dragon Quest VIII while adding things of its own. I'm particularly fond of the weapon fusion mini-game, since it requires users to gain experience for whichever instruments they want to fuse. It makes the collection of these ingredients feel a lot less arbitrary and lets you get some use out of just about everything before upgrading (smart move). Oh, and Monster Rancher or Pok¿mon fans should be happy to note that there's a little something in here for them too. Called the "Insectron Stadium," the bug vs, bug mini-game allows players to capture critters from all over the universe to upgrade and breed them for the ultimate low-life gladiator. The battles here play out almost exactly like those of the titles they emulate, but even so, it's a nice alternative way to spend your time.
Then again, finding alternative ways to spend my time is probably what I like best about Rogue Galaxy. There's an outstanding number of sidequests, mini-games, and optional things to do here (expect to spend anywhere from 50-80 hours with it). Players can test their mettle at everything from bounty hunting and discount shopping to exploring bonus dungeons or an all-new planet created specifically for the North American version. Speaking of which, the US edition has truly set a new standard in regards to how developers should port a game over from Japan. Not only is the text super sharp and typo-free, but the content has improved incredibly over its original counterpart: Additional weapons and items have been added, the video quality and framerate has been upgraded, and loading times have fallen drastically -- not to mention all the visual advancements that have been made (more detail, redesigned dungeons, multiple bonus costumes for each character, etc) ...not that any visual improvements were a necessity to begin with -- even without widescreen or progressive scan support, this one's a cel-shaded beauty with a fantastic style. It's easily one of the top 20 best looking PS2 titles ever made and joy to look out with almost no technical problems whatsoever.
To be honest, the number of problems that Rogue Galaxy runs into as a whole is on the low side. Other than the somewhat cookie cutter storyline and barely-there character backgrounds (which admittedly, is a definite issue for the role-playing genre), it's only other major quandary is its need for level grinding. Personally, I don't mind one bit, but for players who just want to get in and see the sights, the amount of time it takes to get powerful enough to move on could get off-putting -- especially when you consider how absolutely huge and hour-consuming every single dungeon really is.
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