After a colourful but structurally weak introduction to the game (not much is really explained in the opening scene and the story never reaches the heights of classics like Chrono Trigger) the hero Baldren is warped away to Rainbow Moon and as luck would have it his arrival in this hitherto unknown land brings with it monsters; a lot of monsters. Don’t expect too much from character development or in-depth storytelling; there is a lot of text to trawl through if you want but it is largely surplus to requirements. Get item A to get past obstacle B to find person C who will give you item D; many will know the drill. The most important thing that you’re told is that the combat is not as complicated as it sounds. For the most part this is true.
Combat is a large part of any RPG. Random encounters don’t intrude on your experience unless you want them to, Rainbow Moon wisely eschews constant interruption but in a clever way that lets you have the encounter if you want to. Enemies are either present on the screen or invisible assailants hiding in the bushes. If you choose to walk up to an enemy you can see, then you have the ‘Encounter’ and battle it out. If a ninja monster wants to attack you then you can choose to accept the encounter, or not. It is a neat solution that pays heed to the days gone by while respecting the more streamlined approach of modern gaming.
Other attempts to streamline the genre are less well implemented. The combat is grid based and movement is sensibly restricted to the four main compass points, each assigned to a directional pad press. The whole game is viewed from an isometric perspective and the extra effort to streamline the experience causes a little confusion. Because there is no ‘confirm’ option on your selected movement (or attack, other than a special move), the first choice you make with the d-pad is accepted and executed. This leads to your character moving to a square on the grid you didn’t necessarily want them to. It is a minor niggle and it doesn’t affect the ‘Attack’ command as much but it requires more careful thought than the ‘confirm your choice’ approach taken by Final Fantasy Tactics. It can and likely will lead to some inexplicable errors for new players.
Despite these efforts to streamline the experience, grinding is required even on the easiest setting. For genre stalwarts that won’t be too much of a surprise but for the casual audience you need to be aware that you have to engage in random battles, especially in the earlier stages of the game. If you don’t, you won’t survive the first dungeon style cave the game throws at you without a few deaths along the way. The dungeons themselves are reasonably well designed but carry an additional annoyance; most of them are dark and you will need to constantly light torches to find your way around. It is a fine idea in principle but in practice it soon becomes tiresome.
Experience upgrades are not dictated by your level either. You acquire two currencies on your adventure, Rainbow Coins and Rainbow Pearls. Coins are used for item purchases, Pearls are used for buying your experience points with a maximum cap per level to prevent ‘over-grinding’ and making your experience a pushover. It is a little confusing determining how much each attribute costs to upgrade but it gives you a great deal of freedom in upgrading your character's statistics. Speed and strength are recommended by the game in the early stages and this is a good choice because the battle system soon begins to flower into something more complicated than it first appears.
Once you have levelled up a bit then you gain access to sub-turns, which effectively increases your available move roster for each turn you take. Upgrade your speed enough and you will be whizzing round the map trouncing imps and bees with ease. The usual special move system is implemented and tied to Mana Points, all of which are standard fare. Whilst not as tactically engaging (or overwhelming) as the Disgaea series, the time spent at the design phase shines through. Rainbow Moon gradually draws in inexperienced players with easy to understand battles before eventually blossoming into a comprehensive battle system before you realise it. Item upgrades are nicely handled as well; akin to Final Fantasy VII many items have upgradeable slots that you can put items into to bolster their strength giving another welcome layer of customisation and strategy.
You will also have to juggle hunger points and item management during your time with Rainbow Moon but it soon becomes second nature and adds to the depth of the experience on offer. Further levels of complexity are added after the slow start, as soon as you add a second member to your party (with some ranged attacks) when the combat improves again. Rainbow Pearls are given to the character that lands the fatal blow to an enemy so you need to think about map placement and relevant hit point damage per attack more as the game progresses.
Graphically Rainbow Moon is top notch. Beautiful sprites and backgrounds make it look like a well directed 16-bit game, only better, perhaps how they would have been made if they had had the technology at the time. Picking up a small niggle (that may have been an intentional choice) is that character design in the menu system is generally better than the in game avatar that you walk around for most of your time. This harks back to the days when developers couldn’t include accurate character models in real time that looked like their static counterparts but so much effort has gone into creating the look of Rainbow Moon it jars slightly when Baldren looks brown, weary and downtrodden on the world map and spritely, happy and purple in the menu.
Music is suitably chirpy and has the quality that all great RPG game music does. It annoys you at first but you soon find yourself humming along without thinking about it. Characters are not given full voice acting but do offer a cutesy ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye’ when you interact with them.
It is easy to recommend Rainbow Moon to RPG players. It has been such a long time since a true old school RPG graced consoles that, almost by default, it is worthy of your attention. If you have never played a turn based RPG like this before it is a harder sell. There are hours of content here for your money. Too many in fact to fully complete the game before reviewing it (unless you wanted to wait until September 2012 to read about it) but a lot of them are spent doing much the same thing: walking around, battling, and levelling yourself and your items. You probably already know if you'll enjoy the Rainbow Moon experience.
There is a lot of joy to be had, but potential players need to wean themselves off the instant gratification of the FPS to properly enjoy what Rainbow Moon is: a fresh faced entrant to an old genre that plays out with equal parts homage and innovation.
Beautiful and colourful world
A massive amount of content
Excellent value for money
Requires a huge investment of time and grind
Combat mechanics take hours of play to properly open up
A Vita version would have been welcome
System: PlayStation 3
Genre: Strategy RPG
Developer: SideQuest Studios
Reviewed: July 2012
Writer: Blair Macdonald