Rainbow Moon is a true old-school RPG experience, which means there’s a big chunk of older fans who grew up with this style of game that will love it and a younger audience that would be more likely to hate it. There’s very little middle ground here; you either like this style of game or you hate it. I like it, and it’s a rarity to see in this day and age.
So what kind of game style is it exactly? Well a large portion of it is obsessive grinding. In the beginning, this can be rather tedious and maybe a little boring. You’re running around an island that looks great and is full of vivid colors, but actually ends up being hard to navigate. The enemies will be easy and will award very little XP, but you’ll hit level five within the first two hours.
For me, that’s where the roadblock was hit and the need for continuous grinding began. Just running around waiting for the chance to engage in a random encounter, a lot of the time for very little XP. Hitting that 350 XP goal to level up to six can seem like an eternity, and to feel truly safe in the thieves guild, you’ll want to be level seven. Grind and you’ll get there, eventually.
That, to me, is part of the game’s charm. It’s not about holding your hand and throwing massive amounts of XP at you to make things easier. If the higher level baddies are kicking your butt, get to work on grinding all the random encounters you can and level up and go take them out. This is old-school tactical RPG style… grinding is a necessity.
The last game I played that is like Rainbow Moon was Final Fantasy V earlier this year, and yes early Final Fantasy fans (to say nothing of other classic JRPG franchises) should both love this and feel right at home with it. SideQuest Studios has done a truly wonderful job of mixing old-school charm and style with gorgeous visuals and accessibility for anyone not put off by the need to grind.
As an RPG, there is a lengthy story here where it’d probably take most people at least 50 or so hours to complete (and there’s well over 100 hours worth of content here for those who want to see and do everything, there’s even a trophy for playing the game 100 hours). And no, I haven’t completed the main quest… I’m not even half way close and won’t be for quite some time. Now the story is largely unimportant, which is true for most JRPG’s. You’re a hero/adventurer, something bad happened, and now you’re fighting your way through an endless supply of monsters.
Since the need to grind is so prevalent, you’re going to spend the overwhelming majority of your time in combat. The combat is where the game shifts from being a purely old school JRPG experience to also being a fairly good strategy game. Yes, Rainbow Moon has traditional turn-based combat, but this combat takes place on a grid. You’ll have to move your characters around the grid and you can attack enemies who are standing on a square next to you (that can change later with skills and ranged weapons).
Despite being grid based, and the fact that there can be a lot of enemies on the battlefield, combat actually goes by pretty fast. Some folks might see the word “strategy” and get scared off, but the game actually does a really good job of explaining combat and introducing new concepts and tactics, so it’s overall pretty accessible to both the hardcore RPG player and a casual new player.
The combat really ends up being the best part of the game, which is good since that’s what you’re going to spend the vast majority of your time doing. The battles never seem cheap; if you’re defeated in battle it’s going to be pretty clear why.
Enemies on the map have their level displayed above their heads, so you’ll know exactly what to expect before choosing to engage them. You can defeat an enemy a couple of levels higher than you, but that does require strategy and also taking into consideration how many enemies their are.
If you’re level six, it’s easier to defeat a level eight Earth Golem and a Trail Imp than it is to defeat two Earth Golem’s, Two Thieves, and Four Wannabe Heroes.
With every battle, unless you escape or the enemies flee, you’ll earn XP. The more enemies in a battle and the tougher the opponents, the more XP you’ll earn. In the beginning it’s slow going, but by the time you hit level 10 you’ll find that you can easily handle or at least hang with more powerful enemies, and as a result you’ll be earning a lot of XP.
Each character who kills an enemy will also get Rainbow Pearls, and these are what you’ll use at Savant’s to upgrade your character (increase Strength, Defense, Speed, Luck, Health, and Magic). As such, you’ll want to make sure you’re not letting one character get all the kills as everyone needs their own Rainbow Pearls (characters in battle earn the same amount of XP).
All this battling and level grinding will take its toll on both your characters health and magic points. Thankfully, you’ll find plenty of bags, chests, and random items that contain health potions, herbs, food, and even more importantly Rainbow Coins. Rainbow Coins are the games currency, and with them you’ll be able to rent a raft, stay at an Inn, buy new equipment (potions, armor, weapons, magic, skills, etc.), and visit a Healer. I’ve spent a lot of Rainbow Coins at the healer restoring my health and my magic, and occasionally having to revive fallen companions.
In the beginning, Rainbow Coins aren’t in abundance. You’ll find small amounts here and there, and enemies in battles will drop a little after you kill them, but you’ll quickly be burning through them at a healer.
As you progress though and get stronger, the Rainbow Coins become much more prevalent and it isn’t hard to save up some. If you get in a bind and need some, you can also sell items to shops (anything from old weapons to random things you’ll find around the world like lumber, ore, and ruby’s).
The only real complaint I can level against Rainbow Moon is that there really isn’t anything to the main story to draw you in. The characters you play as and meet really have no development (at least not any that I’ve seen thus far), and there’s no need to care for the story.
But what it lacks in story, it more than makes up for in the fun factor, which is really the most important thing to me. I can play a really fun game with a poor story a lot quicker than I can a game with a great story and really boring and frustrating gameplay.
There’s a lot of charm in Rainbow Moon, and yes level grinding can become addictive (a couple of more battles can easily turn into a couple more levels). There’s also just a lot of stuff to do. The world is vast and open for exploration, and there are many side missions.
Some may complain that the game never really advances much from its first battle, but how many games truly do? Combat will open up and you’ll learn new tactics and new skills, but overall it is largely the same. The combat works though, so why mess with it?
For the trophy hunters, Rainbow Moon is sporting over 50 trophies including a Platinum, which is a rarity for a PSN title. Take note though that this isn’t a game that will be easy to Platinum, in fact you’re going to have to be obsessed with this game. There’s a trophy for playing over 100 hours (there’s definitely more content than that here), and a trophy for reaching level 500. I don’t even want to see the person who makes it to level 500.
If you like traditional RPGs in the spirit of the early Final Fantasy games, mixed with the strategic elements of something like Final Fantasy Tactics, with a big world and many dungeons to crawl, you’ll love Rainbow Moon. It has that old-school charm and style that a lot of us grew up on, mixed with some absolutely gorgeous bright HD visuals that makes gaming today so much easier on the eyes.
I’ve really enjoyed just about every moment I’ve spent with the game and have no doubt that I’m going to be pumping in a ton more hours into it. It’s scratched a major itch that was reignited earlier this year when I played Final Fantasy V, and it’s just the type of game that’s addicting enough to keep me coming back daily (or at least weekly).
If grinding isn’t your thing then you probably won’t enjoy Rainbow Moon nearly as much as I do, but from where I sit this isn’t just one of the best PSN games available, it’s also one of the most enjoyable games released this year period.
For $14.99, you’d be hard pressed to find a quality game that offers even half the amount of content and value that Rainbow Moon has. The game has more to offer than many $60 retail games (it’s also better than many $60 retail games). If you’re a PS3 owner who enjoys RPG’s, this is a no-brainer purchase all the way. An absolute joy to play with very little flaws.
Rainbow Moon gets a four out of five: GREAT.
* A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.