Come for the gameplay, stay for the gameplay.
Your mileage with Rainbow Moon will depend entirely on how much you like strategy role playing games. SRPGs are traditionally a somewhat niche genre, and though the success of games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem has seen them hit more mainstream appeal than before, they’re still largely catering to the initiated.
Of course, mechanically, Rainbow Moon actually stands as one of the best entry points to the genre currently available on the market- it’s pretty deep, with a plethora of mechanics, and yet at the same time, it makes a lot of concessions to what it assumes are newcomers to the genre. However, it’s gameplay over a course of over 20 hours is unabashedly and unchangingly that of an SRPG with little to no variation, and after a while, the only way you can see it through to the end is if the mechanics really appeal to you- which they will, but only if you’re a big fan of the genre.
"Unlike other SRPGs, which usually have pretty interesting stories charged with intrigue and laced with politics, Rainbow Moon does not have much of a story to tell."
Of course, it probably won’t seem like that to begin with- to begin with, the game seems to play like a classic SNES era RPG, asking you to explore dungeons with an overhead perspective. But as soon as you are engaged in combat, you’re whisked away not to the classic turn based 16 bit RPG battle screen, but to a grid based map, and all of a sudden, it becomes clear what this game is trying to do- much like Atlus’ celebrated Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, it is attempting to blend the more hardcore SRPG gameplay style with the classic 16 bit RPG style.
It works, and it is actually enough to hold the newcomer’s attention for a bit at the beginning- but then, as you realize that the two halves in this union are not equal, that the dungeon exploration is essentially a glorified menu selection to get from one battle to the next, and that the real meat of the game is in the SRPG battles, you lose interest in the JRPG half, and play only for the SRPG half.
Unlike other SRPGs, which usually have pretty interesting stories charged with intrigue and laced with politics, Rainbow Moon does not have much of a story to tell. Essentially, you are transported into a new world at the beginning of the game by an evil sorcerer, who is also responsible for unleashing a plague of monsters upon this new world. Now not only must you clean up the mess that has been created, you must also hunt him down to find a way back home. It’s a simple story, and it really doesn’t do much to engage the player’s attention. It falters in terms of actual narrative and pacing, and characterization is reduced exclusively to almost throwaway fetch quests.
"The only penalty for death is loss of HP (duh) and mana- after that, you just seek out the nearest healer (and they're almost always pretty close by), and use admittedly hard to get Rainbow Coins to 'revive' yourself."
Thankfully, where the story seems to be lacking, the gameplay more than makes up for it. Rainbow Moon is actually one of the less complex SRPGs around, but you wouldn’t know it at a glance. It’s full to the brim with all sorts of mechanics and concepts: as with any SRPG, you battle on a grid based map, and where and how your character is positioned and stationed comes into play. You need to keep track of your characters’ movement range, the weapons they’re equipped with, their passive skills, the positioning of enemy units, their weapons, their skills.
Unlike most other recent SRPGs (like, say, Fire Emblem Awakening on the Nintendo 3DS), however, Rainbow Moon tries to simplify it a little for the player too. Thus, a concept like permadeath- a long time staple of the genre, and one of the reasons it never really did catch on with the public- is altogether removed. The only penalty for death is loss of HP (duh) and mana- after that, you just seek out the nearest healer (and they’re almost always pretty close by), and use admittedly hard to get Rainbow Coins to ‘revive’ yourself.
Almost as if to compensate for the loss of strategy that the removal of permadeath results in, though, the game does introduce an all new mechanic with its own risk/reward system- killing enemies results in them dropping loot, which you must go collect. Loot is important, because you can use it to upgrade all your gear, which makes you more effective in battle. At the same time however, loot is an additional consideration that is thrown into the mix, as you must weigh moving a character to collect the loot versus using said character for something else- for attacking, or for providing support to some other unit on the map, for example.
"It's a game that's in a very weird place- it's fundamentally sound at its core, and it's addictive as it should be when it works. But perhaps in an attempt to appeal to the newcomer, it strips away so much that often, it's hard to find a reason to play the game in the first place."
At the same time, however, Rainbow Moon is a forgiving game. It has the mechanical depth and complexity, but it also doesn’t want to scare the player off, and so it tries to work with the player through its thirty hour play time. The upside to this is that you won’t ever get too stuck in a specific portion of the game, because the RNG was too unfair.
The downside, on the other hand, is that although it’s deep enough, the distinct lack of any other motivation to play the game- the lack of a story, the lack of gameplay variation- coupled with this, the lack of any challenging difficulty, means that the game is often reduced to a boring, monotonous grind that you have to force yourself to play through.
It’s a game that’s in a very weird place- it’s fundamentally sound at its core, and it’s addictive as it should be when it works. But perhaps in an attempt to appeal to the newcomer, it strips away so much that often, it’s hard to find a reason to play the game in the first place. If, however, should you find yourself gritting your teeth and getting into it, you will find a mechanically accomplished SRPG that provides hours and hours of fun. And at only $15, a game that offers possibly the best value for money on the PSN Store.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.
Great, addictive SRPG gameplay with mechanical depth; the loot and crafting system introduces a unique risk/reward dynamic; over thirty hours of gameplay, which, at the game's asking price, makes for a really compelling proposition; an attempt to fuse the SRPG with the JRPG
The fusion of SRPG with JRPG is just aesthetic and ultimately meaningless; the removal of some core SRPG mechanics like perma-death, coupled with a distinct lack of difficulty and a banal story, mean that you often lack any motive to actually play the game at all; gameplay can often get extremely repetitive
It's an accomplished SRPG with hours and hours of fun. If you can look past its flaws and stay with it for its mechanical depth, you'll get the best value for your money that the PSN Store currently has to offer.