ROGUE GALAXY (2007) – LEVEL 5
As far as alluring concepts are concerned, being a space pirate has to rank up there with the best of them. Just imagine; trawling the widest reaches of the universe for fantastic treasures – it’s enough to bring to out the adventurous kid in anyone. Rogue Galaxy (which was an original project by Level 5) aims to capture this feel, and set it within a RPG mainframe. The end product is a very nice concept with several praiseable qualities, but a product that ultimately does not deliver the satisfaction that you were perhaps expecting from it.
The story of Rogue Galaxy takes place in a galaxy caught in the middle of a civil war, where bounty hunters and other neer’do wells travel far and wide in search of fame and fortune. On the barren desert planet of Rosa, we find a young individual called Jaster Rogue returning from his duties when his town is attacked by a huge beast. After being saved by a mysterious individual called Desert Claw, who gives Jaster his sword, Jaster is mistaken by two robots seeking out Mr Claw (who just so happens to be the best bounty hunter in the galaxy) and is invited to join the crew of the legendary space pirate Dorgengoa. Eager to live out his dreams of travelling in space, Jaster accepts and joins the crew of the Dorgenark, the most famous pirate vessel in the galaxy. From here on in, he joins a ragtag bunch of individuals as they search for Eden – the long lost planet rumoured to hold treasures beyond ones wildest dreams.
While the basics behind the story sound cool enough, unfortunately Rogue Galaxy is one of the most predictable games I have ever played; I played this game alongside a friend, and many of the comments we made off hand about what may happen turned out to actually be true…including several major plot twists. As a result, it was a bit sad to play through the game and witness it move from one predictable setpiece to another. At least your fellow pirate crew make it interesting along the way; as you travel to different planets you find yourself helping out individuals who eventually join your party, and this is where some of the best storylines are to be found, especially the tale of dog-man Deego as he looks to settle a score with an old ally.
The best elements to be found in Rogue Galaxy are all gameplay based. The combat for example, is a hybrid of the fast flowing action from the likes of Kingdom Hearts II where you fight monsters in real time, although by pressing the menu button in battle combat will freeze allowing you to use items and abilities. Combat itself is actually quite varied – any character in your party can be controlled and switched out at any time, and everyone has a short range and long range attack; for example Jaster can slash enemies with his sword and then shoot them with a gun. Equipment can also be changed on the fly in battle, meaning you always have the correct setup. The main problem with this system however is that after using an ability, the cooldown time is remarkably quick, allowing you to spam abilities like there’s no tomorrow – sadly, this method becomes one of the most efficient ways of dealing with some of the tougher bosses in the game.
Alongside this combat system there is a rather complicated weapon upgrade system to get to grips with. Each battle you participate in will give your characters money and experience, but will also give experience to the weapons you currently have equipped. When fully maxed out, these weapons can then be combined with similar equipment to make even more powerful weapons, by feeding them to a magic frog called Toady (this does get explained in the plot by the way). Thing is, Toady can analyse weapons once they are maxed out to tell you the ideal weapon to combine with…but he doesn’t say whether it will actually make weapons better or worse. There’s a ridiculous amount of combinations to make in this game, and pretty soon you will get tired of levelling up weapons and just stick with tried and tested equipment.
Aside from the main story, Rogue Galaxy deserves credit for offering players a hell of a lot to do. By collecting certain items dropped by enemies in battle, you can fill in what is called a ‘Revelation’ system (think the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, just far less complex) which will unlock new abilities for your characters to use in battle. Throughout your journeys, the game will keep track of how many enemies you have mercilessly crushed underfoot, and if you have killed enough of a certain creature you can cash in for Hunter Points which improve your overall Bounty Hunter rank. There are 100 places to climb, and it will require relentless dedication to fulfil every quarry especially as there are a few extra powerful quarries you can go after for a small price. If that wasn’t enough, you can craft entirely new items and weapons in a fully functioning factory simulation, and even collect insects in the wild to fight for you in an Insectron tournament for big cash prizes. It also helps that Level 5 were kind enough to add two new bonus worlds into the international copies of the game, extending the challenges awaiting you further still. Dig deep enough, and there’s a good 70 hours of content to be had in Rogue Galaxy – although that may be due in part to some of the laziest dungeon design I’ve seen in an RPG, which has you traversing some incredibly long paths with repetitive area design (the last dungeon in particular is overwhelmingly disappointing…and long).
If there is one thing that Level 5 excels at, it is cel shading; both Dark Chronicle and Dragon Quest VIII got the treatment, and Rogue Galaxy is no different. At times the game looks absolutely gorgeous, and although it isn’t perhaps as sharp and colourful as DQ VIII was, it has aged quite nicely. There is also a fair amount of CG sequences thrown in there as well which all look quite splendid. There’s a pretty nice soundtrack stuffed in there as well, with the standout tracks being the Galaxy Corporation, the ship interior music and the battle theme. Voice acting in Rogue Galaxy is also generally excellent, although the ‘Active Chat’ feature by where party members will randomly talk while you walk along can grate very quickly – fortunately it can be turned off in the options menu.
I must admit that I was put off by Rogue Galaxy initially – I invested about 10 hours into my first playthrough before getting annoyed with the gameplay mechanics and leaving it for months while I played Persona 4 (not being able to heal without items always puts me off for whatever reason). I am glad that I have gone back and completed it though; the battling offers something a bit different to the norm, and being a space pirate is a welcome change of environment. If you don’t mind a bit a slightly predictable plot and long dungeons then it’s worth giving a go.