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Rainbow Skies Review: Rainbow in the Dark

Rainbow Moon wasn’t a hugely impactful game when it released in 2012, but it was nevertheless a charming and scrappy RPG that found an audience who remember it fondly. The belated follow-up, Rainbow Skies, is decidedly less memorable, serving up an RPG experience that’s better at filling time than providing entertainment. It has an enormous amount of content and a story that will take dozens of hours to play through, but unfortunately that doesn’t count for much once boredom sets in.

Rainbow Skies begins in Arca, a skybound city that floats above the continent of Lunah. Damion, a monster tamer in training and your typical RPG foolhardy hero, is preparing for his final test (which serves as a battle tutorial, naturally). Things go wrong and Damion, along with his frenemy Layne, end up falling from Arca. Down on Lunah, a young magician named Ashly is trying to master a bonding spell that will make monsters follow her commands, and after a series of predictable mishaps she ends up bonded to Damion and Layne, the three unable to leave one another’s company.

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Searching the world to find the counter spell that will undo this bond is the primary motivation for the first fifteen-or-so hours. It’s not a particularly strong motivating force, and while there are attempts made to have fun with it, the game suffers from a waffly script that grows less charming the further you get in. By the time a more substantial ‘save the world’ plotline kicks in halfway through the game, it’s not enough to drive a deeper sense of investment into the game’s bland world.

Lunah is not an exciting world to explore. There’s little sense of variety or personality between its numerous townships and dungeons, nor are the NPCs you meet along the way lack any distinct charisma. It also suffers from an unsightly art style, with repetitive settings and monsters that often look plasticky. The few scant cut-scenes and voice samples are similarly unappealing. The old-school eight-directional movement feels rigid, and the movement speed through the world is irritatingly slow.

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The combat system is more exciting than anything the overworld can offer up, as the mechanics that dictate your skills and the game’s difficulty have some flair to them. Some enemies are visible in the game world and can be run into, initiating combat, or you can choose to activate random encounters by pressing ‘X’ when you’re informed that an enemy is nearby, which is a welcome touch.

In battle, you and your opponents are transferred to a grid-based map. Your team consists of the three protagonists and an increasing number of monsters you can recruit to your side (this is a game with many different mechanics–you’re still getting tutorials past the twenty-hour mark). Combatants each take turns in an order determined by their speed stats, and are able to perform a limited number of ‘actions’. Moving just one square costs a single action, and you can’t make many actions on a turn, meaning that you may of often resort to planting characters in a stationary position and hurling whichever attacks are able to reach nearby enemies. Each battlefield is virtually identical (a small obstacle or two being the only differentiator), meaning that there’s little room for tactical nuance beyond deciding which enemies to hit first.

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Practically every aspect of your character can level up, from individual attacks to weapons and armor–the more you use something, the stronger it gets. Seeing your characters evolve and improve is rewarding, and if you play at the default difficulty setting you rarely need to grind–if an enemy proves too difficult, you probably need to upgrade your skills and equipment with the money and skill points you’ve unlocked up to that point.

However, the most effective ways to strengthen your characters in battle can also encourage repetition. Because most of your strongest attacks are reliant on specific placement of your characters and the enemies on the battlefield, and your bigger attacks tend to use up more action points and a lot of mana, it’s often not worth getting too fancy in a skirmish unless you get lucky and happen to have, say, four enemies standing in the exact squares your strongest attack will hit.

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I found myself using the first attacks I unlocked in the game, which leveled up and could do a lot of damage to a single enemy, over and over until the end of the game. The versatility of Ashly’s fireball, a single-unit attack with low mana cost and enormous range, meant that it far outstripped every other ability I gained in terms of usefulness. This meant that most of the battles in the game played out the same way, with only very occasional boss fights demanding any more acumen or strategic thought.

If you’re interested in greater challenges however, Rainbow Skies does take an interesting approach to difficulty. In most towns, you can increase the game’s difficulty if you have met certain conditions. To jump from the second difficulty to the third, for instance, you need to win ten fights at that level. If you turn the difficulty back down to the default (which can be done at any time from the menu) you’ll need to win ten fights again to move back to the second difficulty. It’s a smart system, although for many players the default difficulty will be enough. It’s not hugely challenging, but each increase means significantly more grinding is necessary. If the game wasn’t already extremely repetitive this might be a more enticing prospect.

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Perhaps Rainbow Skies’ best feature, if you own a Vita, is its implementation of Cross-Save. If you buy the game on PS3, PS4, or Vita you immediately own it on all three of them, and can swap saves between them. The Vita experience is the same as the PS4 version, and if you have Internet access you can download your save file from the server and keep going. The art looks better on the smaller screen, and it’s a game that benefits from not having your full concentration on it–one better suited to quick pre-sleep sessions, or as a distraction while half-watching TV.

Rainbow Skies is the RPG equivalent of a store brand Cola–cheaper, but with far less flavor than the bigger brand names, and liable to go flat on you much faster. It gets the job done if you’re looking for a real time sink, and there’s potential depth there if you’re willing to wade through repetitive combat to get there, but it’s simply isn’t enjoyable enough to justify the commitment it demands.

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