previews\ Oct 19, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Rogue Galaxy - PS2 - Preview 2

It's the year 2000 all over again. Six years ago we were waiting for the release of PlayStation 2. As its debut drew closer, game developers launched their final major RPGs for the current PlayStation. Though '98 had some biggies, it was '00 that took the world by storm. At that time I predicted that we would not see another period like it until the PlayStation 3 was scheduled to arrive.


I was right.


Kingdom Hearts II, Grandia III, Disgaea 2, and Valkyrie Profile 2 are already in stores and the year's not over. The long-awaited Final Fantasy XII is just around the corner, as is the newest chapter in the .hack series. 


Level-5’s latest masterpiece-in-the-making. 


On January 30th, 2007, Sony Computer Entertainment America will release an all-new RPG series: Rogue Galaxy. The game is incredibly entertaining, combining elements of Dark Cloud, Kingdom Hearts, and the yet-to-be-released Final Fantasy XII. The former should come as no surprise -- Rogue Galaxy comes from Level-5, the studio that created the Dark Cloud series.


The latter is probably a coincidence, but the similarity between the Rogue Galaxy and FFXII upgrade systems is still worth noting. Both use a checkerboard layout where, once a new skill has been learned, that skill ventures off into multiple directions. For example, one skill could open the door to four other potential skills. In Rogue Galaxy, you'll need to drop specific items into the skill slots to learn the new moves. FFXII uses points to unlock skills, not items, but the concept of skill-branching is very similar. Every skill leads to additional offshoots, creating a tree of skills that will continue to branch out till the end of the game.


Rogue Galaxy's gameplay is like a faster, more refined version of Dark Cloud (hence the comparison to Kingdom Hearts II). Battles are real-time, in full-3D, and offer full action/RPG attack options. Menu selections allow you to power up your characters and unleash special attacks. But the majority of your actions involve physical weapon-to-monster's-flesh combat. You'll literally run up and perform the necessary actions, just as you should in an action RPG. 




The controls are high-quality, reliable, and easy to use. Automatic targeting can be turned on and off with the press of a button. Leaving it on is a simple way to annihilate less difficult monsters. They approach, the battle begins, and they're automatically within your sights. You don't have to adjust the camera -- which is fully controllable and works very well -- because the game keeps the view where it should be focused.


As a diehard fan of the Dark Cloud series, I loved every minute of these battles. They're exciting, challenging, and happily familiar without feeling like a clone. Jumping is typically a pain in these games, but that's another area Level-5 has nailed. This was essential to the success of the game, and when you enter a battle for the first time you'll know why: Rogue Galaxy features aerial combos. Some monsters can only be damaged by hitting a specific area of their body. Thus, you may need to jump and slash the heck out of their upper half.


Weapons can become infused with elemental powers, greatly increasing the strength of every blow (for a limited time of course). And while all this is happening, the player will slowly notice that the graphics are in no way representative of the genre's norms. Rogue Galaxy is gorgeous. Most locations look and feel enormous. Each stage is made more eventful by the graphic style -- a combination of effects that have to be seen.


The character models are top-notch, moving fluidly in and out of battle. I'm also enjoying the voice acting, which in turn makes the characters very likable. A skip feature lets you bypass any unwanted story sequences, allowing you to get back in the game almost immediately. This is not the kind of story you're going to want to ignore, but all games need to have a skip function in order to accommodate the needs of every potential player. 




Coming to a galaxy near you this January, Rogue Galaxy is a must-play RPG for anyone who loves the Dark Cloud or Kingdom Hearts series.

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