Rogue Galaxy Review

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Publisher: Sony
Developer: Level-5

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

In the midst of a war on the edge of the galaxy, an orphan named Jaster Rogue is eager to experience life beyond his world. Rosa is a desert planet occupied by an indifferent military. Rogue's luck changes when he encounters famed galactic hunter "Desert Claw," and the Desert Claw gifts Rogue with a rare and valuable sword.

Thanks to the sword, the piratical crew of the Dorgenark – led by the massive presence of the pirate Dorgengoa – mistake Rogue for the Desert Claw, and recruit him for a quest on a galactic scale. With two vast empires stuck in a dubious war, and recent archaeological finds leading the way to a legendary planet's treasure, Rogue will discover more of the universe's secrets than he ever thought possible. He might even battle exotic insects or build factory assembly lines, along the way.

Kyle Ackerman

Now that the latest generation of consoles is in full swing, the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii have captured most gamers' attention. That makes it easy to forget the console that sold the most units: the PlayStation 2. And with the release of Rogue Galaxy, we're reminded that some of the best games out right now are still being released for the PlayStation 2. Rogue Galaxy is a superb role-playing game. But it's more than just a role-playing game.

It's as if developer Level 5 searched for everything great about other console role-playing games, and implemented the best features of the creme de la creme, while adding its own irresistible dollop. There's a detailed RPG, a challenging and action-rich combat system, an incredibly engaging plan for unlocking new character abilities, and sub-games that nearly constitute games on their own.

New items are created and unlocked by feeding them to a mutant frog that can make mastication mixes (alright, that sounds nearly as strange as it is). There's an even more detailed construction process, by which players can manufacture new items by building a factory layout that creates new items. Furthermore, there's a whole subculture of insect collection, training and combat that culminates in a bug chess tournament. In case that's not enough, registered hunters can travel the galaxy in search of big game quarries.

Of Tablets and Troopers

The core of Rogue Galaxy is the lengthy story that takes Jaster Rogue and his growing party of companions from world to world, uncovering the secret of an ancient planet, coping with an interplanetary war, and ridding the civilized world of horrible beasts. Along the way, Rogue will collect keys from their undead guardians, free the most sophisticated mainframe in the universe from under a hacker's thumb, and escape an inescapable prison.

Experienced console gamers will find the plot engrossing. The story keeps you going for dozens of hours, and could occupy a casual player for months. Certainly, folks who've never set eyes on a role-playing game out of Japan may be a little put off by the strange ears, authoritarian talking cats, and tenuous plot connections, but that's really just par for the course. Apart from the cats, that describes an episode of Star Trek equally well. Anyone who's ever tried a console-RPG on for size will find Rogue Galaxy a compelling ride.

More than anything, it's the crew of the Dorgenark that makes the journey so enticing. At the very beginning, there're Simon and Steve. Simon's a portly, not-quite-Scotsman in power armor, while Steve is an effeminate robot with the soul of a little boy (literally). Kisala becomes a close friend of Rogue, and is the daughter of the ship's captain – an exceptionally gentle woman, except with a pair of knives.

At the outset, they are accompanied by Zegram, a rakish rogue with seemingly dark intentions. Along the way, the crew meets Lilika, the buxom and perennially underclad savage huntress, whose skills as a warrior far exceed her patience. Jupis is an ingratiatingly insane hacker, responsible for exploits powered largely by mental acuity and overcaffeination. Finally, we meet Deego. He's the laconic military man with regrets, and he'd fit the stereotype perfectly if he weren't a humanoid dog with a face like a boxer and a penchant for his battle axe. The crew makes it fun to sail the starry seas.

Keeping Combat Compelling

Combat in Rogue Galaxy is a lot more engaging than the turn-based systems that typify the genre. Combat takes place in real-time, meaning that it takes dexterity and tactics to survive each battle. At the same time, players usually head into the fight with two allies. Any one combatant can be controlled by the player, but the others have AI that can be controlled in great detail. They'll also shout out to you during combat, suggesting several possible actions they could take – you pick, using the controller's shoulder buttons.

Given the vast number of special combat abilities, numerous items with special effects, and nearly every character's ability to fight close-up or using ranged weapons, there's a lot to track. And yet, it's just manageable enough to be incredibly fun. Given the myriad monsters and special bosses that all require different tactics (such as striking a special part of the body or breaking shields), combat stays interesting and challenging.

The game certainly isn't easy, and warns you to save at every opportunity. Yet, the save points seem so carefully chosen that if you can't make it from one to another, you probably aren't ready to tackle that particular area. Rogue Galaxy does have randomly spawning encounters, but the combat system actually makes them interesting instead of just adding to the length of the game. Also, the game will constantly offer you challenges, such as completing a combat without taking damage, within a time limit, or with a single character. Those challenges are optional, but have their own rewards.

Too Much For Any One Game!

Admittedly, the plot and combat will occupy typical gamers for many hours, but Rogue Galaxy offers a lot more than simple collection quests to extend play. (Though there are plenty for those who want them. In fact, even the collection challenges are interesting. There's beast hunting, of both ordinary and epic beasts.) But the many special abilities that characters develop aren't strictly tied to the character's level. Each character has a flow of "revelations." By placing specific found items in the revelation screen, characters get new powers and unlock even more spots in which to place found items. This makes the massive accumulation of objects interesting, and makes every chest hidden in the wilderness even more valuable.

If collecting isn't enough, once the hacker sub-plot is completed, players can manufacture new objects using a factory that comes under player control. Blueprints are scattered all over the galaxy, and each new item requires many of the objects that are also used in the revelation flow. But even given the plans and the materials, the manufacture of each item is a logic puzzle that requires forethought and patience in equal measure. Once an item has been prototyped, it will become available in shops throughout the galaxy. And then there's the Insectron – because you need your fix of catching, caring for, and collecting monsters for battle. Using various traps and bait, players can catch insectors (battle insects) on any planet in the galaxy. These creatures can be raised, bred and fought, all with an eye toward participating in the great Insectron Tournament. The tournament has players using a variety of insects in a competition that's like five-on-five bug battle chess. Given the sheer number of bug combinations, this game is surprisingly entertaining, and very good at dragging players away from the main story.

A Reason To Keep The Old Console From Gathering Dust

Rogue Galaxy is a challenging and exciting role-playing game that's incredibly entertaining. Certainly, there are newer and fancier consoles available, but for the deep experience of Rogue Galaxy, players will have to stick with the tried-and-true PlayStation 2.

If any one single factor makes this game great, it's probably the game's previous release in Japan. Certainly, Rogue Galaxy was already a strong game, but by responding to imperfections in the original release, North American gamers have received a title that is almost perfectly honed. New content and the help of all those "testers" playing the Japanese version have assured us an incredible experience.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 29, 2007 3:09 PM.

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