Rogue Galaxy - Staff Retroview  

Oh Yes, Space is Expansive. It's Also Vapid.
by Ethan Pipher

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40-60 Hours
+ Many planets to explore including an extra planet for the North American release
+ Inspired graphics and character designs
+ Addicting item synthesis systems and deep side-quests
- Terrible writing in almost every cutscene
- Endless missed opportunities for intriguing character arcs
- Clunky menus with unpredictable load times
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   Space. Pirates. Pirates in space. Pirates and robots in space. Robots and dog-people and bounty-hunters in space. Hooked yet? Because these are just some of the things Level-5 throws out there to grab the attention of RPG-hungry consumers in its ambitious space-epic, Rogue Galaxy. Although following a rag-tag team of do-gooders around an expansive galaxy isn't exactly a fresh idea, it can still be an exciting idea nonetheless, and this original IP hopes to deliver an engaging experience using the tried and true clichés of the space opera genre. So, does Rogue Galaxy do it? With sprawling worlds, varied locales, quirky characters, and an incredible number of collectables and side-quests, the answer is, surprisingly, a resounding "not really".

   Let's start off with the good stuff. Rogue Galaxy is primarily an action RPG and luckily does not necessarily fall prey to the hack-and-slash woes of many of its siblings. While battles can be paused to bring up an abilites and items menu, much of the action is real time and there are more than a few options for destruction at the disposal of the player. First of all, every character who joins the party along the way is entirely playable and most of them feel refreshingly different from one another to control. Each character has a primary and secondary weapon to attack with, the ability to jump, and also the ability to guard. To add to the options, when the game makes its subtle switch to battle-mode, the field gains boulders and other obscure objects that can be picked up and hurled at the enemy. While is it generally possible to ignore all the aforementioned options and just mash the attack button until the fanfare plays, players risk missing a great amount of depth found in discovering the weaknesses of the numerous different enemies in the game. If the time is taken to get familiar with the system, enemies will be dispatched with ease and battles will be plowed through at great speed while taking considerably less damage. This rewarding feeling is an essential for games and to have it so apparent in the battle system is a big relief.

   Another pleasing element of the game is its visuals. The cel-shaded style is crisp, works well and stays consistent, even when the adventure travels from jungle worlds to desert worlds and most things in between. Even more impressive are the intense full-motion cut scenes that stay true to the cel-shaded style and are just beautiful to behold. To further enhance the visual experience, the main character designs are interesting and dynamic. From the good-looking hero to an armor-clad dog-man or stunning amazon woman, it is obvious the artist was truly inspired.

It looks interesting, but it It looks interesting, but it's not.

   Unfortunately, this is where character and inspiration part ways and the expansive game that could starts to lose steam and begins to aggressively disappoint. While the plot itself is no shining star, Final Fantasy IX and XII prove that great storytelling can provide more than enough light to make up for it, but Rogue Galaxy does not follow suit. While the voice acting might not be terrible, it's difficult to tell from the gilted, inhuman, unnatural lines being uttered. Not only does poor pacing take away any hope the game has of connecting with the player, but all dialogue is either stuck in the superlative or is hopelessly vague. Supposedly emotional scenes induce cringes, apparently huge plot twists produce yawns, and motivational speeches inspire apathy. To make matters worse, there are times when potentially complex, interesting situations arise to bring hope to the cause. As an example without giving too much away, a man's child was taken away from him too early and he isn't ready to let go yet. This situation is initally dealt with in an intriguing fashion, but instead of exploring the slowly twisting paths of a heart ridden with loss and desperation, the game chooses to only show one dimension; it is very boring and very insulting. This is indicative of almost every situation the protagonists encounter. Although there are one or two exceptions, dumbed down scenario after vapid speech after unconvincing reaction begins to tear away any connection the gamer might have with the story or its characters. And when there's no connection with the story or the characters within, it's much more difficult to pick up the controller and push the adventure forward. The deep gameplay and massive worlds begin to lose their colour and the voices that beg to be explored fade into the background. It's a huge missed opportunity since the groundwork was there, and it's extremely disappointing.

   Outside of cut-scenes, however, the aural experience becomes more pleasant. While the music never really takes off after each track starts with promise, it also never falters from accurately capturing the mood of the current surroundings. There are a few tracks that initially demand attention, but the whimsical nature of the music almost encourages that attention to be directed back to the action on screen. There are also one-liners that the characters will more than occasionally murmur as they explore the worlds. Sometimes the variety and context-sensitive nature of these quotes is very impressive. In contrast, other quotes are repeated throughout the entire game, even when they're inappropriate to the context. It's a bizarre mix and can turn an otherwise impressive feature into a confusing annoyance.

Hack, slack, jump, guard, and...throw jars? Hack, slack, jump, guard, and...throw jars?

   Thankfully, Rogue Galaxy has a few more impressive tricks up its sleeve to alleviate the strain of the poorly told story. There is an engaging weapon synthesis feature involving a frog that is as bizarre as it sounds, but it is addicting nonetheless. The game also boasts a deep item creation process utilizing a factory that becomes available along the journey. There is also the massive insectron mini-game, a thorough bestiary that requires a certain number of each beast to be defeated, an individual name given to every single NPC, and many Quarries to track down for those who have the desire to fight an extra boss battle or two.

   With all this content crammed into one disc, the game does have a few bizarre hiccoughs to show for it. Occasionally, when a battle finishes, the mini-map will fail to reappear and the menu is no longer able to open until another battle is complete. It doesn't break the game, but it can be confusing and frustrating in certain scenarios. Menus can also have a pretty dramatic range in load times. This is true for the in-battle menus as well as the regular menus. Sometimes they're instant and other times there's a brief worry that the game may have frozen. It doesn't help that the menus feel a little clunky to begin with. But in a game that will take near 50 hours to complete if the plethora of side-quests are barely touched, it never becomes a major concern.

   In the end, those who can truly and blissfully ignore story, character, and dialogue in a game that desperately tries to be story, character, and dialogue driven can at least enjoy the thorough battle system, pretty visuals, insurmountable side-quests, collectables, and item creation that Rogue Galaxy has to offer. Those who believe all aspects must compliment each other for a game to be held as a success might want to skip this one, as they will always be hoping for a great deal more than at least this group of space pirates can come close to providing.

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