Rogue Galaxy is the latest game from the creators of Dark Cloud, which means it retains many of the good features that the series developed in its two main games. This latest installment is more mature, with a more far-reaching agenda and some characters with a bit of extra depth. The cartoon style graphics are still being used, but they look great. My only regret is that the game clearly steals many of it's new features from Final Fantasy XII!
The story is the usual...how many more times must I type this: a young adventurer called Jaster dreams of being a space pirate and exploring the galaxy. By chance (mistaken identity) he is picked up by a band of pirates, and they go off in a simple search for treasure, only to stumble across a plan to destroy the whole world. So that's that, then, now let's get onto the mechanics.
The battles are quite fun. A bit like Star Ocean or Kingdom Hearts for the PS2, you have a battle party of 3 from your total team of about 8. Battles are real time, and apart from the player you control, the other two team members act on AI. The settings for this are very basic, so your team mates will basically attack one target, attack nearest target, or do nothing. To add more creativity, the game has included "suggestions', which work quite well. While battle is underway, your two team mates will shout out for your attention, basically when they think a good special attack or item is needed. Sometimes its a heal potion, but more often, it is a request to do one of their special moves. Now because battles are quite hectic, this rather annoying sounding feature actually works pretty well. Most of the time I was charging into battle with my controlled character and leaving the other two to their own devices. A quick glance at the HP levels, which are always visible on screen (even if the team mates are not) gives you a warning if things are getting out of hand. But even so, the suggestions come at pretty good moments, always offering to heal if someone is approaching 50% or so of HP left, or use a crowd clearing attack if everyone is healthy. You can quickly accept the suggestions with one click and then get straight back to your own devices, so it does feel like real teamwork. Everyone has a few signature moves of their own, and one "limit break" style super attack which takes special strike-points to collect before it can be executed. This ultimate attack (called a Burning Strike) is possible even harder than FFXII's Quickening chains to pull off, as it demands that you watch two areas of the screen at the same time and hit buttons to an exact timing - not easy!
Battles are pretty dynamic and can turn nasty very swiftly if you don't watch what's going on. Luckily level-building is not too much of a chore and upgrades to weapons is pretty constant. This feature is carried over from the Dark Cloud games, because weapons can be combined together to form new, stronger ones, and their features modified with other items. You can spend a lot of time in this game seeking out dozens of weapons (each person has two weapon types that they use), and mixing them together to make better ones. And you'll need them - Monsters are mean and relentless, and some of them can be tough - even regular dungeon monsters can be annoying - especially if they have shields up. Out of all the good features of the game, this one really annoyed me. Jaster has a very weak gun which has the sole feature of being a barrier breaker - any monster that has a barrier needs it removing before you can do any damage, and only this gun can do it. The result is that you'll be endlessly swapping this barrier-break gun into play to break defence and then out again to damage them with a stronger one (as the barrier-break gun does zero actual damage). In later dungeons where lots of enemies have this shield it becomes a MAJOR pain to keep going to the menu for this over and over again. But that's one of the few niggles I had with battles...the other one might be that it's hard to tell who your player is targetting when there are several enemies on screen.
On the subject of creation, the old "town building" feature of Dark Cloud has also been retained in the Factory, where you can build complicated production lines to synthesize new items out of various things that you find throughout the game. This has always been a fun feature of the series. Items to be collected include things like lipstick, bananas, music boxes, flowers, bits of metal, small animals, masks and jewels, all of which have no use in the game except as factory ingredients. You could spend a very long time in the Factory mini game just trying to create new items, and it can be quite a fun distraction.
As for size, the game does not have that much to offer in locations, but boy, some of those dungeons are LONG! (if you play it, chances are that the Two Towers will try your patience quite a bit!).There are only about 6 planets so travel is a breeze. The in-game map is vital as the dungeons are often huge labyrinths constructed of cookie-cutter repeat corridors, but they still look pretty good, even with the repetition.
Let me just say again at this point, however, that some of the games ideas are clearly "inspired" by Final Fantasy XII, most notably the save icons, which also teleport you, the ability to swap team members in battle, and the Two Towers dungeon which looks remarkably like another tall tower in FXII. It also has a "quarries" sub-game, which is a direct copy of FFXII's "hunts". However it's probably an easier game to play...some of the bosses look great but none of them are particularly hard if you take a bit of care. The ending is also pretty good, with quite a long chain of bosses to kill without any saving allowed (hint - make sure to level up characters evenly!).
Overall, a good, solid fun game to play with no real letdowns. Put some time in and you'll soon be hooked all the way to the end.