ikabubu's Rogue Galaxy (PlayStation 2) review

A very solid and satisfying voyage for the wide-eyed adventurer.

Rogue Galaxy is a very enjoyable adventure that offers an abundance of things to do and places to explore. The game is far from perfect, but it serves as a worthy purchase for aficionados of Action-RPGs.

The game starts on a simple note:

A youngster on a remote desert planet yearns to explore the galaxy. After a major mix-up, he is whisked on an adventure that will have him discover his hidden potential and eventually save the galaxy.

The game definitely succeeds in weaving a tale of adventure and treads on familiar tried-and-true territory. It does not take any risks of creating a bold, riveting, and convoluted melodrama. Instead, it succeeds on creating a roller coaster ride through lush planetary settings on your way to a greater destiny of saving the known worlds. If you've ever encountered any sort of science-fiction, anime, or adventure story, chances are, you've already come across the archetypes presented in Rogue Galaxy. However, just because you follow a timeless mold is no excuse not to exert any effort to separate yourself by creating depth. The plot is held back by predictability, one dimensional characters, and shallow storytelling. The story also telegraphs its intentions to you in predictable fashion long before it enacts them. The characters are definitely familiar, but I found them to be big and colorful exaggerations and had trouble identifying with any of them. A significant amount of glaring plot cliches hinder the game from being truly involving and the characters from being believable. All this builds up to an ending that is very anticlimactic and doesn't make common sense.

Rogue Galaxy is a very accessible game due to its Action-RPG style. The gameplay succeeds in the breadth more than depth, and there is much fiddling and adventuring to be had. Your plot-driven journey is still the centerpiece for the game, but there is much you can do if you want to distract yourself. You have everything from the Item Synthesis to the Pokemon-esque Insectron Battling. There are plenty of weapons to be discovered, strengthened, and combined, and there are much items to be invented in the Factory. There are Quarries to be hunted, extra dungeons to explore, and much much more. None of the side quests have any real impact on the main adventure, but they serve as very good distractions for completists or for anybody who wants to break the pace. The experience of traversing different areas is made easier by seamless transition with virtually no loading times creates a smooth experience. Traveling across the solar system is also made easy by being able to instantaneously warp between Save Points you have activated. The ease of travel keeps the experience and sense of exploration on a flow and is most definitely a technical highlight of the game given the PS2's limitations. If there is one draw-back to this, the ease of travel definitely diminishes some sense of interplanetary scale and sense of movement between different worlds.

The bread and butter of the game is still in the battles. All characters have two weapons, can jump, can block, lift objects/enemies, and have a list of special moves. There is no magic/spell system in the game, and although elemental affinities are present, it is exploited by weapon attributes. Some enemies require a special weapon to break through their guard. It is very tedious to have to switch your weapon, target and attack every enemy with a barrier, then switch back to your main attacking weapon. All this translates into button-mashing battles of attrition, which creates a lack of tactical depth in the combat. A complete reliance on items for healing also makes the battle a bit more tedious than it has to be, since you have to fumble through the list with no assignable shortcut buttons. The controls are also a bit loose. It's just fine when you're merely traversing areas, but attacking with weapons feel sluggish and imprecise. It's not uncommon to find yourself doing a three hit attack at empty air, because the enemy you are targeting is behind you. The Lock On feature is handled by the directional pad, which forces you to let go of the left analog stick (essentially stopping your character's movement) to adjust targets. Action-RPG battles are always fast paced and require constant movement as well as proper targeting, therefore, I found this layout very impeding. Rogue Galaxy also suffers from spikes in difficulty, merely due to the drastic differential in levels of a new area's enemy set. This artificial difficulty adjuster only forces the player to go through significant grinding sessions, which definitely bog the game's pace down. in addition, the dungeons are long. Players may find themselves low on healing items long with nary a vendor in sight. With Rogue Galaxy's singular dependency on healing through items, this small difference creates very frustrating stretches of dungeon crawling.

Level 5 has definitely shown mastery in making lively and colorful cel-shaded worlds on the PS2's limited and aging hardware. All the characters look great with a very unique animations and lively cel-shaded palettes. There are some very eye-catching glitter and sheen effects as well as a clean, distinguishable look to everything. Every weapon has a distinct look, and every item has a unique picture. Each planet has it's own visual theme that binds all its sub-areas together, though the areas themselves are a bit plain, linear, and unambitious in design. There some large stretches of the same texture, and the level design is sometimes noticeably dungeon-crawl-like cut and paste or straightforwardly simple. Overall, the cel-shading effect gives the world a consistent feel of being quite like watching an animated science-fiction adventure. The visuals are easy on the eyes, and don't showcase anything overtly pompous. The game looks very clean, vibrant, and lively. The sound design for Rogue Galaxy is definitely solid across the board. Sound effects are good enough to what you expect them to be. Every engine hum, sword hit, laser shot, explosion, and footstep sounding as they should be and are in the right places. The music is definitely serviceable, even if nothing stands out as particularly memorable. It compliments the themes of the settings and creates mood, as it should. The voice acting in the game are very good, even if it sounds a bit forced. It is also marred by the trite script, but that is a fault of the plot and not the audio.

Level 5 has definitely created a very solid entry into the PS2's expansive library, and a good swan song for the system. Unfortunately, the right balance that is necessary in creating a great RPG "soul" in plot and cast has eluded the creators quite a bit. The game has its impressive moments, its solid adventure, and its broad selection of things to do. Rogue Galaxy tries. It really does, and I find it hard not to love it for the ambition. There are significant design and narrative issues that hold it back from being great, but it is still an adventure most definitely worth embarking. 

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