Developer: Experience Inc./
Publisher: Acttil, llc
Release Date: May 3, 2016
ESRB: T for Teen
Within just one month, the Vita has gotten two dungeon crawler role-playing games from Experience Inc. The first title was Stranger of Sword City; a challenging, but polished, DRPG that bears a rather traditional overall mindset for the subgenre. Following shortly after (in terms of US release) is Experience Inc's newest DRPG title, Ray Gigant, which feels like a sharp contrast from Stranger of Sword City in a lot of ways.
Rather than applying a strong old-school mentality to its core design, Ray Gigant actually makes many aspects associated with DRPGs more approachable and even has a noticeably bigger emphasis on storytelling.
When I say storytelling, I do actually mean anime-like storytelling as Ray Gigant borderlines visual novel territory with its early exposition. Honestly, you could probably replace a lot of the terminology with phrases from Neon Genesis Evangelion and it will sound like you are talking about the same thing. Powerful monsters known as Gigants have laid siege upon the world and crippled most of mankind in the process. The current line of defense against Gigants are within Tokyo, aka the Outer Academy, whom are training (generally) young adults because of their aptitude to wield special weapons.
Though there may not be any mecha involved (or trippy mind games), Ray Gigant does certainly start off with a particularly unlikable main protagonist. Thankfully, the smug-faced Ichiya with a slight "Get in the robot, Shinji!" complex is but one of three main leads for the title. Each of the three protagonists create a fairly sharp narrative contrast between one another which is intriguing. Of course, you have to actually get to that point, which can be a lot to ask for when it comes to the very slow, and predictable, first arc with Ichiya and the many heavy-handed tutorials throughout.
Still, because there was so much early exposition, I almost had doubts that it even was a DRPG. But, Ray Gigant certainly is, and an odd DRPG at that.
Ray Gigant deviates from the traditional DRPG mold in a lot of ways. To use a cliched reviewers phrase, it feels very "streamlined" compared to most of its contemporaries or even recent Experience Inc RPGs. There are no party members you essentially have to create for scratch, necessity to manually heal after battles, or even random encounters to deal with in dungeons as almost all of it is predefined throughout the story. Heck, there aren't really even levels you have to grind as stat boosts are entirely dictated by item drops which feed into small player skill trees.
Instead, the main concept that players will have to keep in mind while traversing dungeons is the AP gauge and, of course, winning battles. If you have no AP you simply can't attack, defend, heal, or whatever, and this concept carries throughout the entire dungeon. On the same spectrum, if you have a lot of AP (up to 100) you can technically take as many as 5 turns per character. So, from dungeon crawling to battles Ray Gigant becomes one strange AP balancing act, which is primarily gained from either waiting turns, taking hits, or finishing battles quickly. It's a unique approach for the subgenre, to say the least.
To add even more strange variables to gameplay are mechanics such as Parasitism, Apotheosis, and... uh, weight . Parasitism is basically a gauge that ticks up by ten percent per battle turn and nullifies the need for AP at the cost of using a character's own HP at 100%. As you may be able guess, this is very dangerous in tougher battles though it has a few small perks. Apotheosis, on the other end, is... uh, basically a rhythm game that does a ton of damage to enemies based on how well you complete it, and will be pretty much only be seen on bosses (or to cancel out Parasitism). Compared to the other two systems, "weight" is much more inconsequential in comparison (...unlike real life). Basically, a character's stats will minorly fluctuate towards either agility or sturdiness based on eating in combat or certain story scenes. There is a lot to the systems but they do not necessarily lend to much actual variety once you adjust, oddly enough.
For as many concepts as Ray Gigant plays around with, it stumbles with rather fundamental DRPG gameplay components. Some changes are totally welcome (no random battles!) and others... very much not. While isn't common (just often enough), one very strange design detail is that you can not target foes separately in combat. You see, the entire party has to focus on the same target before moving onto the next during a turn. For example, if you overestimate, or underestimate, how much HP an enemy has you can easily waste AP, which is downright counter-intuitive to its inherent dungeon design. I can't tell you how many times I've queued up multiple attacks strong against undead enemies, for example, only to have my ally attack a non-undead type for only 1 HP of damage right after, essentially wasting AP.
Another pretty core issue that Ray Gigant has is that it is not particularly deep or varied. In combat you basically have three skills (eventually six) that you can slot in for each character at once and the character parties themselves are fairly homogenized. There will always be one tank equivalent, one long range support character, and a magic user of some sort in groups going as far as to have eerily similar skill trees too. This in turn led me to play multiple groups, and even boss fights, basically the same. It also does not help that there is very little dungeon variety as each party will pretty much only see one unique dungeon theme before transitioning to another group like ten or so hours later. Which, coupled with the quickly recycled enemy types, and canned animation loops for enemies and allies (despite their initial novelty), leads Ray Gigant feeling very samey throughout outside of the storytelling.
It is quite odd to play two games by a shared developer, and within the same exact subgenre, so close together and feel totally different about them. But, Ray Gigant embodies both ambition with its several solid DRPG ideas but at the same time is also clearly lacking in execution with most of its components. For every one welcome aspect Ray Gigant takes towards making DRPGs more approachable it takes two steps back with its oddly implemented gameplay systems and overall lack of depth. At best the title is an "interesting enough" diversion for both its distinct storytelling and gameplay concepts, but is not terribly remarkable about either as a whole.
+ Multiple character perspectives creates interesting tonal shifts as the story progresses
+ Streamlines many DRPG elements from having no random battles to being able to easily escape dungeons
- Why is the party only able to target the same enemy in combat?
- Fairly slow start due to heavy-handed tutorials and very predictable anime storytelling
- Little dungeon variety
- Character customization isn“t very deep
Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10)
While I can not simply fault Experience Inc. for trying something different with Ray Gigant when compared to more traditional dungeon-crawlers likeStranger of Sword City, it ultimately does not go far enough to really make any one part of it that compelling.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.