Rogue Galaxy hits the market at a very unfortunate time. As a solid action RPG, it was overshadowed by that 900 lb. RPG gorilla which was release a few weeks before Rogue Galaxy made its own debut. As a solid PS2 game, Rogue Galaxy is dogged by the doomsayers who have been using terms like “swan song” and “last PS2 gasp” for well over a year. Regardless, Level 5’s Rogue Galaxy is a fun, if quirky, action RPG that can drain away the hours with the best of them.
Set in a sci-fantasy universe, Rogue Galaxy opens on a small desert planet in a galaxy torn by war. An idealistic, starry-eyed young man named Jaster Rogue yearns for a better life, knowing he is destined for greater things. And, yes, this does initially feel very much like a certain well-known space opera. However, the plot soon veers from that familiar territory into other very familiar territories. Rogue Galaxy’s plot is, unfortunately, something of a mish-mash of sci-fi clichés. Jaster soon joins up with an all-too-familiar (pardon the pun) rogues’ gallery of characters, including the shady pirate, the innocent-but-daring pirate princess, the stuffy robot, the jaded warrior, and several other as they set off for daring adventure and all that.
Overlooking the shortcomings of the story, however, one finds quite a fun game. Players control Jaster and up to two friends on their journeys through the various sci-fi dungeons, battling monsters and stealing their stuff. Combat is fairly simplistic, much like Level 5’s Dark Cloud series. Each character has a primary and secondary attack, in addition to some powerful abilities. Players choose a character to control, with the rest of the party being driven by the somewhat-lacking AI. Occasionally AI-controlled characters will suggest one or two special moves they can bring to the fight, which are then accepted or not by a quick press of the shoulder buttons. The rest of the time, the AI-controlled characters just mindlessly attack their enemies. The menu system used for micromanaging the entire party is decent, and the action pauses when entering the menu mode, so the trickier battles are manageable.
I found combat to be tough, especially early on in the game. Perhaps I was just overconfident, but I met the “game over” screen more often in Rogue Galaxy than I do in most RPGs. The combats themselves randomly pop up without much warning, and some can come mere seconds after each other, making it difficult to limp to a save point for healing when necessary. The save points themselves are fairly well spaced out, although there were a few times that I felt I was way too far from the safety of a reload.
Level 5 seems to like weapon leveling, as that mechanic is once again used in Rogue Galaxy. Characters aren’t the only ones to get better as they combat enemies—their weapons do as well. Weapons become seasoned with use, and after about 15 or so successful battles, they “max” out in experience. Each weapon also has several different elemental values, and these begin rising slowly after the weapon has maxed, battle by battle. Since it just wouldn’t do to have a high-level character toting around a puny 2nd level sword, Level 5 also brings back the “weapon synthing” mechanic found in the Dark Cloud series. Two compatible weapons, both maxed out, can be combined to form a better, higher-level weapon. There are an insane number of weapons available, so players wanting to gather up a complete set will find a Herculean task set before them.
Characters also improve through a system known as the revelation board. This board, a grid-like layout of ability improvements, is completed by filling in the various squares with items found (and made) throughout the game. As items are added and abilities unlocked, new abilities are made available. These abilities and powers soon outshine even the most powerful weapons, so it’s a good idea to fill these spots in as soon as possible.
And if just fighting through the main storyline and crafting the perfect weapon isn’t enough, there are plenty of side-quests to fulfill. There’s a hunt contest, with Jaster and company trying to defeat a set number of each of the baddies they encounter. In addition, certain boss monsters have a price on their head, further helping Jaster move up in rank of the galaxy’s greatest hunters. At times, combats will randomly spawn with certain objectives, such as defeating all enemies in under a time limit, doing so without damage, or doing so without using any fancy items or abilities. Players are awarded “Hunter’s coins” for succeeding in these challenges, and these coins can be traded in for valuable prizes.
I was a little disappointed to see there was no fishing game included in Rogue Galaxy, but we are given a Pokemon-esque insect-collecting-and-fighting game to take its place. Jaster must set traps throughout the galaxy to catch these little bugs, which can then be teamed up and pitted against other bug teams in battle. These little guys also gain experience through fighting and feeding, and new “insectrons” can be bred from those caught in the wild.
Finally, players can also build new and powerful items in the Factory, which is reminiscent of the town-building aspect of the Dark Cloud series. Players search the galaxy for blueprints for various items, and then gain access to a factory floor. A proper assembly line needs to be built out of various parts, and the proper proportion and number of items needs to be added to each end. Upon a successful blueprint completion, the factory will soon start producing the item in question, and they’ll become available at the item shops galaxy-wide.
Level 5 really likes their cell-shaded games, and Rogue Galaxy shows they’ve become very good at implementing that visual style. The game looks great in its own stylistic way. In addition, there are very few load times while wandering around the dungeons, so game play moves smoothly throughout. Voice acting isn’t quite up to par with the visuals, with a mixed bag of character voices. I also found the characters to be too chatty when wandering around the dungeons. Controls are smooth, although the menu system just wasn’t as clean as I would like. I wasn’t able to figure out exactly what was wrong with the system, but I felt like I was hitting a few too many buttons to get where I needed to go.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Rogue Galaxy. Sure, the story isn’t original, and the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but the carrot-and-stick of bigger and better items and weapons drew me through the game. In addition, I really liked some of the sub-games, particularly the Factory setup. Others may find their mileage varies, but my time with Level 5’s latest was time well spent.