So let me start this off by describing my average Friday night back when I was in high school, it’s a weird place to begin I know but bear with me. I’d go to two places that night each week, my favorite pizza place to pick up supplies and the video store to rent a game for the weekend. Through this I played more random and obscure games for the PSX and PS2 than is realistically healthy and a huge number of those were JRPGs. There was a very specific flavour to that era of JRPG which has since been lost, it was a period of discovery between the simple elegance of the 16-bit era and the over dense black holes of content we have today. This game Rainbow Moon looks to evoke a lot of those old memories and it does it well so it’s a pity my thought after playing it is that some things aren’t worth going back to.
Starting off with the gameplay, this is basically your standard SRPG in the vein of something like FF tactics or Ogre Battle but sadly not up to the level of quality of those examples. You and the enemy take turns moving characters around a grid, attacking, using items, and all that jazz you’ve done a millions times before. The game has a few interesting twists here and there, like sub-turns which allow you multiple actions per actual turn, but overall it has some odd design decisions that hamper even this most basic of gameplay formulas. First off is the fact that the battle grid and the overworld map are both slanted at an odd angle, rather than nice straight lines that would be easily to navigate everything feels like it’s been turned 45 degrees to the left. This makes moving around awkward especially in battle where a bad move is a wasted turn. While you’ll eventually get used to it at no point does it ever feel right and you’ll find yourself making plenty of mistakes as a result. The other issue is the large number of enemies you’ll be facing in a battle compared to the paltry number of units you get. You start off with just your main hero and then you’ll very slowly find a few more compatriots. Some of the literature I’ve read on this game led me to believe there’s around six characters total you’ll get in your party, whereas a small enemy party even early in the game when it.s just you will be around five units. My complaint isn’t that the battles are hard though it’s that they feel incredibly lop-sided and the amount of time you’ll spend watching your enemies move around while you sit and fiddle on your smartphone will greatly outpace the time you’ll spend actually doing anything. There’s also the fact that having so many units versus so few means your best tactic in a majority of battles is to turtle up and just defend while letting the enemy come to you and slowly chipping away at their health. This is the least interesting and dullest thing you can do but as you’ll see that sadly falls right in line with the rest of the game.
The thing that was advertised most about this game was its hour count; they say it’s around forty hours on normal and a full hundred on hard, I can believe it too because glaciers move faster than this game. Everything takes forever to happen whether it’s finding new equipment or characters, building up a level, or just trying to push through the combat. This game trades in tedium and punishes you with poor boring quest design that in my albeit limited experience with the game (I only managed to put in seven hours) was primarily fetch quests. The point where I gave up was when a story quest had me hand items back and forth a full six fucking times between two characters situated a minute away from each other, that is the polar opposite of interesting in my mind. This insanely slow pace even fucks up the hard to ruin basic gameplay as it means you’ll be stuck with the same tactics and resources for far too long and grow tired before you gain more sub-turns or buy new abilities. This game essentially having the engine on idle the entire time is what caused my utter apathy towards it and made it so I couldn’t play more than a half hour at a time lest I risk wanting to slam the PS3 into my head just so I could feel something again. Oddly enough I think this wouldn’t have been a problem at all if this were an iOS or PSVITA game, you only play games there for small periods when you’re actively trying to waste time whereas booting up my PS3 for this and spending my ever diminishing video game time on it just feel like a waste.
Of course a slow pace could be forgiven if there was at least an interesting story to drive us forward but unfortunately the story is wafer thin and what is there is poorly written. The premise is that you’re a random swordsman named Baldren who has a duel with his nemesis (whose name I’ve forgotten as I only saw it in the intro movie) every year in a sort of contest, this year he tricked you and cast you into a portal which takes you to the land of Rainbow Moon. You’re now trying to get back home and various nondescript NPCs will be happy to help after you deal with their various chores and bullshit. That’s really all there is to it, you’ll hop around a bunch of islands solving problems while rarely talking extensively with or getting to know any of the characters. No motivation is provided here aside from figuring out how your nemesis sent you to RM but seeing as how your history with him is ill-explained to begin with and this new world seems fairly pleasant-if not kind of banal-you’ll end up running out of curiosity almost instantly. The writing here is trite and clichéd with no memorable characters or true interaction or growth, this game is all about the mechanics which as I’ve already stated aren’t that good in my mind. This game is for people who enjoy the G part of RPGs more than the stories attached to them and if you’re part of that audience I suppose you’ll get your $15 worth.
Lastly there’s the presentation which is colourful and simple but in more places than one rather annoying and kind of bland. Visually it has a big head fantasy thing going on similar to Fate or Arkadian Warriors but with a softer edge than either of those titles, it’s wholly uninteresting but serves it’s purpose well. My problem here is simply a lack of variety, very quickly you start to see enemies get palette swapped and everything already started off looking incredibly generic. The sound design doesn’t fare much better, the music is fine but there is an abundance of truly obnoxious voice samples. Every NPC has a few little vocal ticks they’ll spit out when start and end dialogue with them and they are some of the most annoying noises I’ve ever heard. The merchant does a weird perverted little grunt and the healer has a wimpy nasally “buh-bye” that made me want to waste healing items so I wouldn’t have to talk to him, its weird thing to pick on but it really bugged me for some reason. Overall there is a workmanlike quality to the presentation of this game, it’s not overtly offensive but it’s not really outstanding in any way either.
Back to my original point, this game brings to mind all my worst memories of those Friday nights, such as renting a bad game and being stuck with it for the weekend. Just like those games this one has a few interesting quirks but ultimately didn’t grab my attention and will be forgotten about until someone brings it up in conversation a decade later. Honestly I feel kind of bad tearing this game down; it is somewhat competent and I’m positive there’s an audience out there for it but it committed the ultimate crime in my eyes, it was dreadfully mind-numbingly boring. When I was playing it I wanted nothing more than to stop and when I wasn’t I took every chance I could to procrastinate and avoid playing more of it and that’s a bad sign if there ever was one. So for an experience I couldn’t wait to escape but have to admit at the very least isn’t flat-out broken or anything, Rainbow Moon gets a 2 out 5 stars. If you really really like SRPGs and are desperate for content this summer then this will probably be for you but if you’re looking for anything more than grids and very slowly increasing numbers than maybe stay away.