About a year and a half ago, Rainbow Moon, a strategy RPG in the style of classic grid based games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea, released on the PS3. It had a… let’s say lukewarm reception. Its story was shallow, its animations were stiff, and its gameplay was overly focused on grinding. It wasn’t without its good points however. The graphics themselves were fun and cartoony and the game could be quite deep once you did the prerequisite grinding. It was enjoyed by enough people to get a re-release on the PS Vita only a couple days ago and it’s quite faithful to its console release. Whether that’s a good or bad thing will depend on how you view the original.
For those who missed the original version, here is a quick rundown. You play Baldren, a stereotypical RPG hero who finds himself stranded on the titular world of Rainbow Moon. Monsters have overrun the moon and your goal is to exterminate the pests before making your way back home. That’s about it, so if you are looking for a serious story, look elsewhere.
Outside of combat, Rainbow Moon is your standard JRPG. You wander around towns and dungeons accepting quests and completing them in order to advance the plot. However, once you encounter an enemy, things change to a more traditional grid based setup. There you have to manage your characters actions in order to move into range of the opponent and attack them without opening yourself up to an onslaught of attacks. Speed and action management are pretty much the core of the battle system and many battles are won through a slow and methodical kiting strategy.
Another huge part of the game is character management which is surprisingly deep. You can spend coins to purchase weapons, armor, accessories, skill scrolls, and more, while you can spend a second currency, pearls, to upgrade your characters’ stats. You can also upgrade your equipment through a rudimentary forging system as well. You’ll spend hours questing around the world trying to find the right items to build an unstoppable juggernaut of a party.
Unfortunately, that’s about all you will be doing. The core of the game is repetition. Battles, though grid based, never really mix things up. Once you find a strategy that works, you can apply it to every encounter in the game. You won’t find interesting, “run from the enemy” or “take down the enemy leader” objectives here. When played on the PS3, this can cause the game to drag.
But when played on the Vita, this formula works a bit better. The grinding isn’t so bad when you are on a long flight and are just trying to pass the time. The Vita’s ability to suspend the game, pretty much whenever you want, makes you feel like you are tethered to it a bit less. The Vita version also has cross-save functionality. So if you were playing Rainbow Moon on the PS3 you can always transfer your save to the Vita and take it on the road with you.
However, the graphical flaws that plagued the PS3 version are just as prevalent here. Characters look like one of those free Korean MMO companies tried to rip off Heroes of Might and Magic. Animations are stiff and robotic, with character models standing stiffly upright as they march along maps like robots performing some sort of military drill. Basic attack animations look kind of like an apathetic teenager playing with semaphore flags, while advanced attacks are filled with all the glitter and bloom that you have come to expect from Disgaea and other similar titles. Its style is very inconsistent and while this really doesn’t affect Rainbow Moon’s playability, it doesn’t score it any points either.
In fact, it seems like developers SideQuest Studios missed some big opportunities to improve Rainbow Moon's playability. For example, the touch screen isn’t utilized at all, and it would be a perfect fit for the strategy RPG battle system. The same goes for the Vita’s backside touch pad. Without utilizing them the face button controls do feel a bit cramped and cludgy at times.
When all is said and done you are still looking at the same grindy experience that was released before. If you are the kind of gamer that really enjoys managing weapon affinities and hunger bars, then Rainbow Moon will please you. It’s decently difficult, which is great if you are sick of the dumbed down, newbie friendly RPGs we have seen in the past generation, and it’s mechanically deep which is great for completionists and other obsessive types.
Unfortunately, that’s all it is. It’s just watching numbers go up for the sake of watching other numbers go up. It doesn’t feel like a fully fleshed out Vita title, it feels like a budget mobile title. Granted, you can pick the game up at the cheap price of $15, but the fact that you have to buy both the PS3 and PS Vita versions separately makes it difficult to enjoy the cross save functionality. If you are dying for a brand new strategy RPG and you haven’t played Rainbow Moon yet, it won’t be the worst use of $15 dollars to pick up the Vita version, but no one would blame you if you simply waited for the next Disgaea release.
This review is based on a retail version of Rainbow Moon for the PS Vita.