By Umar Bastra
Rainbow Moon on PSVita is a port of the PS3 downloadable game that was released in 2012 and developed by SideQuest Studios. It blends SRPG (Strategy Role Playing Game) elements with that of a traditional RPG to create a flawed but deeply enjoyable experience, one that you might just find yourself coming back to long after you have completed the main storyline.
Rainbow Moon follows the adventures of our hero, Baldren, who is on his way to face his long-time nemesis, the evil wizard Namoris. Out of curiosity, Baldren then decides to go to the meeting place ahead of time, but little did our valiant hero know that Namoris had laid a devious trap for Baldren – one that would turn his world upside down, or should I say, completely transport him to a whole new world. That world is Rainbow Moon. Baldren now has to defeat Namoris and find a way back home.
That is about the gist of the story; it’s about as paper thin as you can get. There are no plot twists throughout the game and it’s pretty straight forward for the entirety of the main campaign. While Rainbow Moon was clearly not designed to tell a grand a story it would’ve been nice to have had a solid narrative to drive the game forward. Instead, Rainbow moon relies on its gameplay mechanics to hook players. Now, while the story might be a weak point for the game, it is very tongue-in-cheek and some of the dialogue is quite humorous. As an example, one side-quest has you retrieving a walking stick for a senile old man who got himself trapped in an ominous dungeon.
The local monsters have stolen the stick and it is up to you to get it back and save him. Once you retrieve the stick and bring it back to him however, he blames you for stealing it and accuses you of taking advantage of an old man and then disappears without a word of thanks, only to re-appear about 30 hours later and act as if you were his long-time friend (just to send you on another item hunt, the ungrateful old geezer). So at the very least the dialogue makes up somewhat for the lack of an interesting overall plot.
Before I actually started a new game there were a few options available in the way of difficulty setting and play style. There were two difficulty settings. One was normal and the other was hard, your pretty standard options. However, there was a nice informational box stating that hard mode was for those that enjoyed grinding. I decided to go all out and choose hard mode. Then there were the play style options. These options gave you starting out bonuses to help you get into the game, similar to the starting gifts in Dark Souls. One option gave you starting gear and items while the other gave you a little bit of in game currency called Rainbow coins. The final option, however, offered you nothing at all, besides the promise of a treasure exclusive to this option later on in the game. Naturally I chose the final option. However, because of my choices, the opening hour of the game was absolute torture.
If a battle consisted of more than one enemy, I was toast. So my only option was to fight one level 1 enemy at a time for about an hour until I levelled up and was strong enough to face more than one (but less than three) enemies. This game was a grind, of the purest kind, but there was the unmistakable pleasure of grinding for an hour and finally conquering your road block, and it was at that moment that I knew I was hooked.
Unlike your usual SRPG, there is actual exploration in Rainbow Moon. You can move around the world and explore towns and dungeons instead of having one central HUB. There are two ways in which you can engage enemies. Some of them will be visible on screen and battles can be initiated by simply walking up to them. The other way is random encounters, with a twist. A little box appears while you are walking in a field showing the monsters, as well as their levels, that you can engage. You can either choose to ignore it or choose to fight. I found this to be a wonderful take on traditional random encounters and it completely takes away the tedium associated with it.
The SRPG elements mostly come into play during battles but unlike normal SRPGs you can only take 3 characters into battle. Each character takes turns moving around a grid-based battlefield and getting into a position to attack the enemy. It’s pretty standard stuff and at first felt very shallow. But once you reach a certain level you gain what is called a sub-turn. It’s essentially a turn within a turn. Usually each character takes a turn to execute an action whether it is to attack, move or use an item, but with sub-turns characters can take multiple actions within the same turn, and this is where the fun really starts.
You could unleash all hell by attacking an enemy multiple times within the same turn (and turns are dictated by your speed stat, so the faster you are, the quicker your turn will come around) or perhaps use a few turns to move in close and then defend to bait an enemy so that another character can carry out the onslaught. It’s a fun system and coupled with a variety of different skills, battles never feel like a chore and they never drag on for too long, which is usually the case with most games in the genre.
After battle your characters gain experience points like every other RPG out there. But along with that, characters that deal the finishing blow gains items called Rainbow Pearls. These items are used to increase your basic stats like strength and defence, which don’t increase automatically after level up. So not only do you have to grind for experience but for Rainbow Pearls as well; you also have to make sure that the character whose stats you want to increase is the one who kills the enemy.
I found that this mechanic added unnecessary tedium to the game and stats could’ve been increased automatically with Rainbow Pearls being used to grant added bonuses to stats – they do add extra points to your health and mana however they automatically increase during level up, but considering the cost of Rainbow Pearls, you won’t want to bother wasting them on that. You could argue that this allows you to mould certain character builds, but at the end of the day each character in your party already has a predetermined build and you will be spending most of your Pearls on strength and speed, not to mention that these stats are capped per level as well. Skills can be levelled up with continuous use.
The graphics and art style in Rainbow Moon are not the greatest you will see on the system, but it is very vibrant and colourful and grows on you after a while. I want to highlight that the soundtrack in this game is utterly fantastic. Rafael Dyll did an amazing job of capturing the spirit of old-school RPGs and there were often times I felt like a kid again playing Grandia or Lunar for the first time. The soundtrack was truly a huge highlight for me and I feel that Rafael Dyll needs, nay deserves more attention!
When it comes to down to it, you can’t criticize Rainbow Moon for being too much a grind, it was designed to be that way and for what it is and what it does, it does very well. There are micro-transactions, too, but I’m not a fan of this newly introduced trend in gaming so I didn’t bother with it. Even if there are a few unnecessary mechanics in the game (like a hunger meter that you need to replenish by eating food, that serves absolutely no purpose in the game besides adding unneeded annoyances), Rainbow Moon still manages to be a thoroughly entertaining game that is sure to please all those grind junkies out there.