Rainbow Moon Review
A love letter to isometric JRPG's that's an undeniable grind throughout
If the definition of insanity, as Albert Einstein (and more recently that Far Cry 3 maniac) once put it, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome, then my time with Rainbow Moon has left me downright certifiable. You see, Rainbow Moon is a classically difficult Japanese strategy-RPG, with all of the associated frustrations of levelling, and addictive qualities of drip-fed progression, in the ilk of Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics. So when, at 20 hours and over 100 battles in, I still held out hope that the monotony of level grinding would even out into a well-balanced, varied experience, I realized it was about time that someone called the men in white coats.
Rainbow Moon’s philosophy is longevity through difficulty: Over and over again, new areas present a horde of enemies whose experience levels far exceeded your own, forcing you to trek backwards and harvest experience points from earlier, weaker foes. Fans of level grinding may relish such a design, but it’s a paradigm that often slows progression to a snail’s pace and artificially lengthens what ends up being a 50+ hour game.
Considering that length it’s not much of a surprise that Rainbow Moon takes its time to get started, with a ridiculously lethargic opening section. It takes at least 3 hours before your combat skillset extends to anything beyond a simple attack and defend rhythm. And just when you think you have conquered the training islands’ dungeon, and you are good and ready to start your quest proper, a second very similar introductory dungeon rears itself, adding another hour to your already comprehensive training. It’s tediously long and unnecessarily drawn out, which is far more than can be said for the narrative.
The very first cutscene sets up the simple tale of our protagonist, Baldren, who is pulled through a magical portal onto the mysterious world of Rainbow Moon by his rival during a midnight forest fight. Unfortunately for Baldren droves of monsters managed to follow him through, and have begun terrorizing the moon. That’s about it as far as exposition goes, as there’s basically no further story development throughout beyond Baldren attempting to find a way of the moon, which turns into one massively dull extended fetch quest after another.
The premise is wafer thin, but German developers SideQuest Studios (creators of Söldner-X) have clearly focused their efforts elsewhere, having moulded a bevy of interesting strategic gameplay elements into the most time consuming activity – combat.
Fights play out on an obstacle filled isometric grid, and actions are turn based, with the order of moves dependent upon any individuals’ speed statistic. All the usual combat abilities are accounted for, but the more interesting options are found within offensive, defensive and unique special skills: Area attacks with elemental powers, pinpoint precision distance arrow shots and raining fruit to replenish your stamina are what truly make for fun battles.
There are however some cheap tactics that can be exploited, such as hiding your character within awkward situations on the grid where the four opposing squares of combat are obscured by dropped enemy loot, making yourself inaccessible, and SideQuest all too often resort to increasing difficulty through saturating the battlefield with enemies. These adversaries may look as diverse as the creatures of Hyrule, but they lack a great deal of strategic diversity, with only a few threatening anything other than a standard melee attack set. Likewise boss designs mainly resort to damage sponges, consisting of little more than long drawn out skirmishes. Despite such complaints, combat is mostly fun throughout though, due to the assortment of tactical situations that develop within each individual skirmish.
It’s the customisation options outside of fighting that form a nice complementary icing atop a decent cakey base. Purchase an assortment of armour and weapons for each character within your group from armouries, combine them with items and materials found throughout the world to improve your personal attributes through blacksmiths, buy special gems that grant specific statistical boosts off of vendors and learn new skills from scroll masters.
All of this is achieved using the games’ primary currency of coins. However, a secondary currency of enemy dropped pearls provides you the option of upgrading personal attributes within the confines of your current level. It allows you to mould specialisation characters – a heavy close quarter’s tank and a bow wielding distance character – whilst forming a well-rounded cohesive team.
The interplay of these elements form a surprisingly dynamic and deeply customisable battle system that manages to sustain interest when all else around it fails. There just isn’t anything worth caring about within Rainbow Moon’s exposition. Its characters aren’t so much characters as empty husks to employ in combat and when the umpteenth tediously extended fetch quest rolls around from the latest acquainted village idiot, you’d be forgiven for falling asleep.
Graphically Rainbow Moon is also a simplistic, albeit colourful affair, reminiscent of Level-5’s PS2 RPG Dark Cloud’s cartoonish scrapbook texturing, dragged through Dragon Quest’s vibrant complexion. It’s not bad for a downloadable title, and serves its purpose well, but many locals are indistinguishable, and characters identical. Similarly there is little of distinction within its audio design to note, and considering how much time you actually spend within battles the few upbeat pop-y tunes that loop over and over again soon become an irritation.
With Rainbow Moon German developer SideQuest Studios have essentially crafted a love letter to isometric JRPG’s. Much like their previous title, Söldner-X, this is a solid genre effort, which single-mindedly sticks to staple tropes, throwing in little to mix it up. Some will undoubtedly find Rainbow Moon a war of attrition, as it’s an undeniable grind throughout. Whilst others who appreciate this kind of RPG, will find an interesting, tactical time sink, one of great value for money when you consider its $14.99 price point.
Just don’t expect it to change over time, alright, you nutter.