Developer: SideQuest Studios
Release Date: Out Now
It's a rare occurrence to find brand new full length strategy RPGs exclusively on PSN these days, but that's exactly the case with EastAsiaSoft's Rainbow Moon. Developed by Sidequest Studios, the game was designed around the old-school concept of RPGs that really require you to level grind a lot and such to progress through the game. Don't be fooled by some of the older conventions it exhibits though; you'll find Rainbow Moon to be a surprisingly solid title in the strategy RPG genre.
The game begins with its hero, Baldren, being tricked into entering a portal by his arch-nemesis and finding himself marooned on a distant and foreign world known as Rainbow Moon. To complicate matters, not only does Baldren's arrival in this strange land seemingly bring about a plague of monsters, but it turns out that no one knows how to leave this world either. Thus Baldren's quest to discover the secrets behind Rainbow Moon and how to escape and get back to his own world begins.
Unfortunately, if you want a deep complex plot filled with twists and turns, you're not going to find it here. Beyond the intro, there isn't too much to the story that will keep you enthralled in the tale. There are no cutscenes that occur at any point or anything of the like. Rather, the story is told through conversations with other characters, for the most part. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the story is not necessarily the main focus here as with most RPGs. Though it does start to pick up a bit later on in the game when you have invested some time into the world itself, there aren't any elaborate backstories of sorts that keep you wanting to know more about the characters, and for the most part, there really isn't too much depth to them at all. Luckily, Rainbow Moon delivers some interesting and compelling gameplay that will be your main reason to continue playing.
Not unlike Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea, Rainbow Moon is a mixture of traditional RPG and SRPG at its heart. You'll explore the overworld in order to complete sidequests, fight enemies and level up, and find loot for your character. Loot in partcular becomes one of the main draws for quests as you're constantly looking for better weapons, armor, skills, and whatnot to combat the increasing levels of different enemies in each area. Unfortunately, most of the side quests and even the main quest boil down to being fetch quests where someone will require you to go get a certain number of items or kill a certain enemy. Again, the loot ends up being the impetus for completing these quests.
There's also a day/night cycle in effect as you walk through the world, and each step you take translates into minutes gone by in the world. When it gets to be late, the screen becomes increasingly darker around the edges of the screen and slowly circles in on your character until the darkness encapsulates everything but Baldren and a small diameter around him. The only way to proceed in these conditions is to use a torch to brighten things up a bit, sleep next to a campfire and wait for dawn, or sleep at a tavern until daylight comes around. It's an interesting dynamic that plays into some specific events, but it can be a bit irritating to have to deal with if you're stuck in an isolated area with no torches handy.
Another dynamic created to infuse a bit of realism into the game is the use of a food meter which gauges how hungry each character is. If you don't feed them with the different food you find/buy throughout the game, the meter will eventually dwindle, and if it reaches zero, that specific character will start losing HP until they eat again. Like the day/night cycle, it's interesting at first, but can also get in the way of the game if you're running low on food in your supplies.
However, one aspect of the game that I really enjoyed is the stat-upgrading system. After each battle, you'll accumulate Rainbow Pearls (which are acquired when one of your party members defeats an enemy), and you'll use these to upgrade your characters HP, MP, and other stats like strength, defense, speed, and luck. You can also use random loot and rare items acquired from enemies in battle to increase the stat bonuses of your weapons and armor, making them even more powerful and giving you a lot of options when it comes to customization. Throughout the game, you'll be needing to make use of both of the above aspects in order to progress through each subsequent area and to make sure you're not underpowered when fighting enemies in new areas.
When it comes to enemy battles, Rainbow Moon does something very interesting that I've yet to see featured in other RPGs. The majority of battles are initiated through running into enemies on the overworld, but in a twist, random enemy notifications will pop up every now and then and allow you to either engage in battle or choose to ignore them until it goes away. The random enemy encounter notification will show you the main type of enemy you'll be fighting as well as its level; this is especially useful for those who are simply looking to grind so they can improve their level and/or stats. In this sense, SideQuest Studios has seemingly one-upped Square Enix with this useful innovation. Of course, the game still makes you fight battles when the story calls for it, but choosing whether to fight random battles or not is somewhat of a paradigm shift for how RPGs initiate battles and it makes me wonder why no one had thought of it before.
As is the norm for strategy and tactical RPGs, each battle unfolds on a grid-like system where you and your characters take turns fighting the enemy forces. Each character will take one turn to either move, attack, perform a special attack, defend, or use an item, and as you progress through the game, the number of moves a character can make in each turn will increase. However, unlike some newer SRPGs (like Final Fantsy Tactics A2), all characters (even your own) are impassable on the grid, meaning that you'll need to defeat an enemy in order to pass by, go around it, or even go around your own party members if you want to pass by. This is even the case with loot that is left behind with the enemy, though it actually helps enrich the strategy a bit since enemies cannot pass through loot (though your party members can pick it up by moving over it).
It's in this sense that Rainbow Moon feels a bit more like strategy RPGs of old, but that's not entirely a bad thing; just a bit different for what most are used to. You'll find that this particular aspect is actually a vital thing to take advantage of; especially during boss battles, which are the most heated and intense sections of the game thanks to having to strategize between defending against an overwhelming number of enemies and a significantly stronger boss enemy on the field as well. It's in these battles that the game is undoubtedly at its best because of the immense challenge of having to fend off waves off enemies while protecting your characters, almost like a chess game of sorts.
Most of the main quests will eventually send you into dungeons to accomplish a specific task, and while the fact that they employ a map that gradually reveals itself as you move through the dungeon is cool, they mostly consist of fighting enemies placed at predetermined points and flipping switches to open passages to proceed. There are optional corridors and such to find and discover, as well as plenty of optional loot to find, however, so that helps keep them from feeling too boring, but many dungeons essentially feel the same, only bigger and more maze-like.
However, the content in Rainbow Moon cannot be understated - this is an extremely large game and world, and it'll take you a good 40+ hours alone to complete the main quest. Even ignoring that, Sidequest Studios built in so many side quests, optional areas, extra items, and higher level enemies to battle that you could potentially spend a hundred, if not hundreds of hours playing this game. To drive this point home, one of the trophies is to accumulate 100 hours of play time, and another gold trophy is acquired by getting one of your characters to level 500. Yes, there are enemies that go up to level 999, and your characters can as well. Again, lots of content to be had here.
Perhaps probably one of my favorite aspects of the game though, is its music, which gives off a very New Age vibe. Many of the battle themes are extremely catchy; one even sounds very reminiscent of the theme from the 80's show, MacGuyver, and the theme for boss battles is suitably epic sounding. EastAsiaSoft has even released the soundtrack for purchase separately or as part of a bundle (with the latter being the better value), so I definitely encourage RPG music fans to check it out.
Ultimately, Rainbow Moon is an interesting game and can be very fun if you're part of the right audience, but it won't be for everyone. There's lots of level grinding to be done, and battles and dungeons can feel a bit tedious if you're playing for a while, which is why I recommend playing in hour bursts. However, there's a lot of rewarding content for players who love deep strategies and character building as well, and the addition of an explorable world adds a unique feel to a genre that usually focuses only on the battles. If you're into long, stat-building Strategy RPGs, Rainbow Moon is definitely something you should check out; if you're unsure about it, you can always try out the demo first. It's far from perfect, but at only $15, it's one of the most expansive and best values you can buy on the Playstation Store.
+ Huge explorable world
+ Deep strategic battle system
+ Stat-upgrading system and upgradable weapons/armor is pretty fun
+ Music is pretty catchy
- Story is a bit mediocre/lifeless
- Lots of grinding
- Dungeons can feel a bit tedious at times
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
It's not for everyone, but Rainbow Moon boasts a lot of content and some great strategy gameplay. Just be prepared to grind quite a bit.