Traditional. Turn-based. Two terms that hardcore role-playing fans really miss these days, especially those who were more inclined to the JRPGs of the original PlayStation era. And while Rainbow Moon undoubtedly features a form of strategy combat, the blending of traditional and SRPG elements makes it a candidate for great nostalgic appreciation. Despite a couple glaring flaws, this one is destined to satisfy those who have lamented days long gone.
Graphically, the latest from SideQuest and Eastasiasoft is vibrant and charming. There’s a ton of detail in your surroundings; as you wander about, you’ll smile at the colorful, beautifully drawn landscape, which is infused with gorgeous hues and shading. The interior sections aren’t quite as breathtaking, but that’s mostly due to the fact that you spend a fair amount of time in darkness (unless you keep burning through torches) in the dungeons. Enemy design isn’t particularly impressive in my eyes, either. But overall, this is one of the most attractive digital titles available.
The sound complements that appealing visual style by playing along with the perfectly implemented atmosphere. Besides the narrator, who speaks very infrequently, there are no voices but rather some exclamations, gasps and sighs ala the LEGO games (not counting the last one, which used voices for the first time). The soundtrack is fantastic and the effects, despite being a touch repetitive due to the very nature of the game, are slick and solid. In short, the graphics and audio combine extremely well to provide the player with a supremely lovely package. It’s not often you find presentations that gel into such cohesive beauty.
Rainbow Moon features an intriguing blend of gameplay elements, although you do spend the majority of your time locked in a strategy/RPG style of combat. The story is a little weak (one of the primary shortcomings) and in some ways, it almost feels like an open-world RPG like The Elder Scrolls , where you explore, take quest after quest, get more powerful with each passing step, and ignore the main quests for the sake of even more power. …of course, the presentation and style is basically the exact opposite of The Elder Scrolls , but anyway.
Also, the “open-world” label isn’t entirely accurate. While it’s technically not a linear adventure, you can’t just wander about willy-nilly; there are various paths to take through the landscape, and the dungeons are essentially mazes. Furthermore, the developers take a Zelda -esque approach to certain aspects, as you will need key items to bypass obstacles, such as the ladder to cross over sinkholes and a saw to cut down a particular tree. So it’d be a mistake to say this is a sandbox world, but it’s still a far cry from your typical strategy/RPG.
That’s an important point, because most of the trailers you see show off the strategy-oriented combat while you often only catch a glimpse of the exploration. The latter really is a major part of the adventure, so it’s nothing like Disgaea , for instance. That being said, you really do spend a huge amount of time battling, so the SRPG part really feels like the core mechanic. And that’s where things start to get a little dicey, because the designers made one critically poor decision concerning the basic control. The worst part is that one never seems to get used to it.
In most SRPGs, you can use a character’s turn to move a certain distance and attack. Their movement is often dictated by their speed and other inherent capabilities, and they can attack – or perform some sort of “action” – once. Rainbow Moon tosses a wrench into the works by featuring a system of primary moves and “sub-moves,” which essentially allows a character to move and attack multiple times per turn. It’s an interesting system and adds depth, but I think they would’ve been better served to use the standard move-and-attack once mechanic.
But that isn’t really the problem. The problem lies in the simple movement. You can use either the directional pad or the analog stick to start moving, but it’s all too easy to move in the wrong direction given the view of the battle map. Furthermore, you can’t take back that move; in standard SRPGs, you’d select where you wish to move and the game would confirm with you before executing. In some SRPGs, you could even take back the move if you found it to be a bad idea. And here, no matter how careful you are, you will inevitably make a mistake every now and then.
The other problem involves the amount of grinding you have to do, which even on normal can be a tad tedious. This is especially annoying when you land a new character, because you probably have to spend a fair amount of time getting the newbie up to speed if you want him or her to survive. Now, the only reason I’m harping on these two major drawbacks is because I’ve long since been a huge RPG – and to some extent SRPG – fanatic, so I can be picky and even anal. I tend to see just about everything that could’ve been done better, even if just about everyone could spot these flaws relatively easily. But that doesn’t change one fact:
This is one great, great game.
The depth isn’t quite to the level of Disgaea but then again, I don’t think it should be. This feels just right; the micromanagement is just about perfect, as we can equip our characters (and see the new equipment on their person as well), learn new skills, take on side quests, explore to our heart’s content, and participate in extremely well designed combat. You learn a little later on that each weapon has a “counter” weapon, so-to-speak, in that if your weapon is the opposite of the enemy’s weapon, you’ll gain a 37.5% bonus. Check a special wheel to learn what’s “opposite.”
Then there’s the overall presentation, which really is second to none. You are immediately enveloped in this ultra-charming world that is amazingly addictive, and not only because you want to reach the next level. There’s always something to do, and although the grinding can cause the battles to seem a little repetitive and boring, the combat gets awfully deep. You will soon be looking forward to the challenge big battles provide, and the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction you get when progressing is top-notch. There were just so many things that were done right.
You can save wherever you want, which gives the game even more of an open-world feel. You have a limit to the number of items you can carry, which enhances the strategy and adds to the challenge (in a good way). There are two types of encounters; the ones represented by foes you actually see on the map, and the ones where you’re simply made aware of the presence of enemies. You can press X to engage if you wish; if not, don’t do anything or hit Circle to cancel. They’ll even tell you how many and what type of enemies are in the battle, for extra help.
The bottom line is that Rainbow Moon is put together fantastically well. It really is a very solid and complete package from top to bottom. There’s enough depth to satisfy even the most hardcore, the blending of strategy and traditional elements is both innovative and extraordinary, the feel and style is just beautiful, and yeah, the hours can really melt away. The control issue and the all-too-common grinding are just too big to ignore and unfortunately means I can’t give this game the 9 it would’ve deserved. But trust me when I say, from one old-school RPG and SRPG fan to another, this could be the best $14.99 you spend all year.
The Good: Beautiful, lustrous visuals. Great soundtrack. Blend of traditional RPG and strategy/RPG elements is intoxicating. A total, complete package; the small details are appreciated. Engaging, rewarding, complex combat. Highly addictive.
The Bad: Grinding can make the game feel repetitive. Story is weak. Movement during battle can be erratic and frustrating.
The Ugly: “I moved where I didn’t want to…again…and now I’m fu****.”