Monday, July 23, 2018

Rainbow Skies (PS4) Review

Over 4 years ago, Rainbow Moon hit the PS3 and Vita.  Since then, the team was hard at work bringing out the spiritual successor, Rainbow Skies.  At first glance, it looks a lot like Rainbow Moon.  Upon further examination, it also sounds and plays a lot like Rainbow Moon.  Since that game was a fun mix of RPG with SRPG-style combat, more of the same is not a bad thing

The story is more involved this time around.  It starts with two friends, Damion and Layne, accidentally setting monsters loose in their town.  While trying to fix it, they inadvertently crash down to the world below (they live in a floating city).  Just before they hit the ground, Ashly, an aspiring mage, casts a spell of binding on a nearby monster.  Of course, things go awry, and the three must travel together, seeking a way to undo said spell.  I really like the setup for the plot, and there is some good dialogue in the game.  On the other hand, Damion is really obnoxious.  While he is your stereotypical loudmouth braggart, he wears out his welcome rather quickly.  You don't have to be a jerk to everyone!

As you move around the map, there are enemies to fight, chests to plunder, hidden items to seek, and people to interact with.  The main quest line is fairly easy to follow, and there are plenty of side quests, of course.  Looking at one of the companies involved in the game's creation, this makes perfect sense.  All quests are tracked in the journal.  It can also alert you to ones that are available, even if you haven't found it.  This is really nice, since I don't like missing out on quests.  Even with plentiful side quests, Rainbow Skies feels shorter than its predecessor.  This is largely in part to the reduction of grinding.  There were a few points where I still needed to, but it was far less common than the previous game, which is a big step in the right direction.

Combat is largely the same as Rainbow Moon.  When you either touch an enemy on the field, or accept a random encounter, your party will be transported to a medium-sized area laid out on a grid.  Characters will take their turn based off their speed value.  When it is your turn, you have a certain amount of actions that you can take.  Moving, attacking, using an item, or activating some battle skills will take one action.  So, if you are far from an enemy, you can spend your actions to move closer, but if you are next to them, you can instead attack multiple times.  It a really cool system that rewards you for being smart (or cowardly) with your turns.

Fights just feel better than they previously did.  At the start of the game, they were a lot easier too.  It was a good way to ease players into the game and its systems.  However, it does start to rear its unbalanced head as you go through the story.  When you know what you are doing, fighting against small groups of enemies isn't any trouble.  It's when the game throws you against 12 enemies that it gets more annoying.  The damage they deal isn't always the issue, either.  It's waiting around for your turn, and having to sit through the skill animations.  Hopefully, it isn't a technique that poisons, since that damage is completely bonkers.  I accept some damage per turn, but taking almost 20% each time is absurd.  Couple that with limited potion space for anti-venom, and it's a recipe for frustration.

Now back to the animations.  Oh boy, those obnoxious animations.  It's one of my biggest complaints about the game.  The basic fireball spell of Ashly's is palatable, but every other skill has an animation that is just too long, or too silly.  The wacky ones could be fine, but seeing them more than once or twice diminishes their appeal drastically.  You might notice a "Skip FX" function when selecting the skill, and that can help, but it's also way too limiting.  You have to hold the button before you confirm the target, and it is way too hard to skip enemy animations.  Plus, you have to see the animation once per battle before you can skip it.  To make that worse, if a character uses another skill in-between, you can't skip it again.  Only repeated uses of the same skill allow you to skip.  Ugh.

Beyond that, your characters learn several skills, and the skills can gain levels to make them stronger.  MP costs of these skills starts off more reasonable than the ones in Moon, so that isn't a problem until later.  The area of effect for the skills could use some work, though.  Many just aren't useful.  Either the target areas are awkward, having one panel that has to have a target, or some other problem.  The basic ones are fine, but just past that it becomes much harder to actual find uses for them.  I could live with not needing most of the area of effect, but not at the cost for some of the later skills.  They are not high, but they add up, and are not at all efficient when you only hit 1 out of 3 or 4 squares.

A big new addition to the formula is monster party members.  After a certain point in the story, you can find monster eggs from enemies you have defeated several times.  Take the eggs to a special NPC, pay some money, wait a few battles, and presto!  You can then retrieve your new monster from the NPC.  It's really helpful to have more party members in battle, and very nice that the first they give you can heal.  At the start, you can only have one monster in battle, but that number increases as you progress.  Monster tend to be very strong, but not that sturdy.  Rotating them in and out is a great idea, plus it lets them heal between fights.  They do need equipment and stat upgrades, so the downside to using them is scattering your resources even further.  However, it is still great overall.  I would like to be able to use the monsters earlier than you currently can.

Similar to Moon, you can increase character stats in Rainbow Skies.  Last time it took Moon Pearls, which were obtained by killing enemies.  The huge problem was that only the character that struck the final blow got the pearls.  This meant that characters that fell behind would stay behind.  Thankfully, that has been rectified.  Now, the different colored chips you need are enemy drops that go to a shared pool.  It's a lot easier to increase stats now, and the boosts (especially to HP) feel more significant.

Equipment has received an overhaul as well.  For one, armor, helmets, and weapons now show up on your characters!  They can also level up independent of the character's levels, which gives them more slots for upgrading.  Monster parts can be used to give stat boosts to equipment.  While it may be tempting to save them, you will get plenty throughout the game, so use them.  As an added bonus, selling upgraded equipment will net higher prices, so you aren't missing out on money by using the parts instead of selling them.  I like that you can keep equipment useful for longer, because money is still a problem in the series.  There is a lot to buy, and not a lot of money to do it with.  You don't start with many inventory slots for important things like potions, and having to pay more and more money to increase your capacity drains more money than it rightfully should.  If they again add money as DLC, I may get some when it's on sale, as it helped in the last game.  That is far from an ideal solution though.

While Rainbow Skies looks, sounds, and plays very similar to Rainbow Moon, this is a good thing.  Just about every aspect of the game has been improved.  There are still a few annoyances, but overall the game is very fun.  Fans of the first have likely already started playing Rainbow Skies, but I'd recommend it to any fan of RPGs.

The Good:
RPG with strategy RPG battles is still a fun mix.  Several additions and improvements over the previous game.

The Bad:
Poison is way too powerful against the player.  Combat skill animations are annoyingly long and silly.

The SaHD:
Why does the archer hit people with his bow instead of shooting an arrow?  Throwing a rock is not the same thing!

(Review code for Rainbow Skies was received from the publisher)

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