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Rainbow Moon

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: EastAsiaSoft
Developer: SideQuest Studios
Release Date: Feb. 16, 2016 (US), Feb. 17, 2016 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'Rainbow Moon'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 10, 2016 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

Rainbow Moon is a strategy RPG with a strong emphasis on exploration, character development and turn-based battles.

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Programs like RPG Maker mean that indie RPGs are a dime a dozen on the PC, but it takes some real searching to find them on consoles. Unfortunately, when you do find them, most of the games are short or not very good. Rainbow Moon, which is already available on PS3 and the Vita, has a lot of solid moments and strong concepts, but there's an equal number of frustrations and flaws.

The warrior Baldren is sucked through a magic portal to the land of Rainbow Moon. The same portal sends monsters swarming into the land. As a generically good guy, Baldren sets out to slay monsters and find his way home alongside a band of colorful characters. There's a real story, but it's so predictable and slowly paced that a lot of players will probably forget it's there. There isn't a single memorable character in the bunch, and the plight of Rainbow Moon is only exciting in terms of how many colorful monsters must be slain. This is one of Rainbow Moon's core flaws, and it really drags down the title.

The gameplay is basically SRPG comfort food. There are a lot of familiar gameplay mechanics, and it's well executed but completely unexceptional. There's a grid-based combat system with character turn orders displayed at the top, and you can manipulate actions to assure that you get more turns than your enemies. Characters have weapon affinities and biases that increase or decrease the damage they take from certain attacks. Skills can modify what you're hitting the enemy with or enable you to damage multiple enemies at once. The most interesting feature is the Sub-Turn system, whereupon characters gain the ability to take multiple actions in a turn. Unfortunately, the system takes a while to come into play, since your number of sub-turns is tied to your character's level.  Once it does, though, you can craft more complex and interesting tactical maneuvers.

You have three resources in Rainbow Moon: experience points, Rainbow Pearls and Rainbow Coins. Balancing the three resources involves careful thought, since everyone can get EXP, but pearls and coins need to be more focused. Experience points are awarded to every character in the battle regardless of their contribution, but the character who strikes a killing blow gains Rainbow Pearls. Leveling up earns you HP, MP and skill points, but Rainbow Pearls are where the true power lies, since they are used to upgrade character stats. This starts out fairly cheap, but high-tier upgrades can be very expensive. Rainbow Coins are the money used to buy equipment upgrades, which allow characters to catch up without critical Rainbow Pearl expenditure.

The core problem with Rainbow Moon is that it takes the RPG staple of "grinding" and makes it the premise of the game. It can work; Disgaea prides itself on it. The major difference with Disgaea and Rainbow Moon is that the latter isn't very engaging. There's very little in the way of mechanical depth to speed up your grinding. You're building up your characters through repetitive battles. A cynical part of me feels obligated to mention that you can buy coins and pearls through the PlayStation Store. You don't technically need to buy the add-on content, but it sure makes you consider if the time spent bashing colorful monsters in the face is worth more than a couple of dollars to smooth out the process. I can't help but feel like the game was designed to hit the same marks as a F2P game, where the ability to skip to the fun parts is just a few bucks away. You can still play and enjoy the game, but the grinding halts your forward momentum in a somewhat frustrating way.

Unfortunately, this only highlights a weakness that's inherent in the genre. A well-designed JRPG either makes grinding more optional than necessary or makes the grind feel engaging. Rainbow Moon is mostly a case of repeating the gameplay to see numbers get bigger. This isn't a crippling problem, but there's no real carrot at the end of the stick, aside from the promise of bigger numbers. The lack of characterization and story really hurts. There's no excitement in continuing, no urge to find out what happens to the characters, and no push forward but the inexorable rise of numbers. This can be fun, but other games have executed the same idea in a better way.

That's a shame because when things work out, Rainbow Moon's gameplay is fun. It doesn't reinvent the wheel or do anything distinctive, but it's a colorful retro-style SRPG. The core combat is engaging when you're on par with the enemies. They can hit hard, and you feel rewarded for thinking about how to best take advantage of your turns, make use of choke points, and develop your skills to overcome the enemy's numerical advantage. When I hit the expected power spikes, it was fun. Rainbow Moon is dozens of hours long, but had it been half the length, it would've been a much better game because the fundamentals are strong. At no point did I grow to dislike Rainbow Moon, but it did overstay its welcome. Rather than looking forward to more, I had to push myself to get beyond the next hump.

Rainbow Moon isn't a very tough game. You need to grind for stat blocks rather than legitimate difficulty. Once you're on par with the enemies, they have a lot of exploitable weaknesses. Healing is plentiful, and punishment for losses are limited. You never quite sleepwalk over enemies, but it can be difficult to figure out when you've hit the right point. Generally, if you can reliably take a fight, you'll stomp it with a little planning. If you can't, then it's time to grab more pearls and try again.

This is a charmingly retro-looking game with cute and colorful characters. The actual animations are kind of stiff, which adds to the retro feel but also makes it look dated. It's hard to hold that against it, as it does the job well enough. The soundtrack isn't memorable, and the voice acting is pretty repetitive.

Rainbow Moon is a good game buried under tedium. It has a lot of fundamental strengths that lack an engaging push to keep you going. For a budget downloadable offering, it's absurdly long and packed with content, and the fundamental combat system is fun. Had the developers toned down the grinding and added more substance to the story, Rainbow Moon would've been an easy recommendation. Instead, it's a game for those who are fond of grinding out levels and skills. Anyone who's looking for a fast-paced or engaging story will be sorely disappointed. At the budget price of $14.99, there's plenty of reason to give it a shot, but don't be surprised if you can't drag yourself across the finish line.

Score: 7.0/10

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