It’s safe to say that games are becoming more and more complex, while gamers and publishers alike clamor for the next generation of consoles to arrive. In an environment like this, a game that gets back down to basics is highly welcome. In this case, Rainbow Moon is looking to do just that, bringing a no-nonsense strategy RPG to the Playstation Network for the paltry sum of $14.99.
As a game sold on a digital platform that typically houses smaller-scale titles, it’s easy to presume that Rainbow Moon would be a lightweight role-playing game. As far as the story goes, that’s definitely correct. It’s a lot thinner than most RPG fans may be used to: You play as Baldren (or whatever you prefer to name him), who’s been warped from his home planet onto Rainbow Moon via a strange portal. But wouldn’t you know it — a bunch of monsters came along with him and are terrorizing the once-peaceful moon. As a result, he’s looking to make Rainbow Moon safe again to regain the inhabitants’ trust, and hopefully find a way back home.
While the plot itself isn’t very deep, the script and dialogue retain a lot of charm. Rainbow Moon never takes itself too seriously, at one point tasking you to find a character’s “mojos” (yes, plural) before he joins your party. In another instance, a character asks that you find his male friend because his “services” – those are the game’s quotation marks, not mine — are needed. The quest log then notes that they have a “strange relationship, but that’s none of your business.” It’s all very dorky, but it’s hard not to crack a smile at some of the absurdity presented.
In any case, you would do well to throw all of that nonsense by the wayside, as the real meat lies in the gameplay. On the surface, it’s a standard grid-based strategy RPG. You control a party of characters around a battlefield, taking turns until you eventually emerge victorious like in Final Fantasy Tactics. Winning battles earns experience, and you level up as you earn more. Simple.
What makes Rainbow Moon unique is the joy it takes in the grind that many RPGs have come to be known for. While each active member of your party earns the same amount of XP at the end of a fight, each individual character also earns Rainbow Pearls for every enemy that they kill by their own hand. These Pearls are then used at a Savant to augment their base stats. These stats increase as you level up, as they would in any RPG ever, but here you can increase things such as your strength and defense – and even hit points and magic points — between levels. Interestingly, while enemies give different XP depending on difficulty, there isn’t much variation in how many Rainbow Pearls you get (except for bosses, which net way more).
The distribution of Rainbow Pearls makes it fairly easy to game the system, however. If you ever find yourself in a bind either in a tough dungeon or against a particularly ruthless boss, you can simply go into an easier area and grind for Pearls to buff your stats. While there’s a limit to how much you can increase them per level, the difference between being maxed out is usually substantial enough to overcome previously difficult battles with relative ease. Strangely though, this doesn’t make the game feel broken in any way. The grind manages to stay fresh even though there’s nothing groundbreaking in the way it works. The mechanics are rock-solid and thoroughly enjoyable, and it’s easy to fall into a “one more battle” mentality.
Rainbow Moon has a few quirks to separate it from other SRPGs. Different days of the week affect the world at large; one day might give your enemies less health to work with, while another might net you extra Rainbow Pearls. You can also get a speed bonus in a fight, if you enter it at a very specific time of day. And while some may be (understandably) turned off by the idea of a grind-heavy RPG, you only grind as much as you want. While random battles are common, they’re entirely optional and require a press of the X button to engage, and you can escape any battle at any time at the cost of any XP you may have earned. However, there are some enemies wandering the map that you have no choice but to engage directly.
Besides Rainbow Pearls, you still have standard currency with which to purchase weapons, armor, and other goods such as potions and food. You can further upgrade your gear by visiting a blacksmith, who’ll combine them with enemy drops to boost your stats. This crafting system is hardly as expansive as something like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but it serves its purpose well and upgrading the right items for the right characters can make a world of difference.
While Rainbow Moon isn’t a graphical powerhouse, it’s still an attractive game. There’s a good variation in environments, and the enemy designs can be pretty cool. There’s a lot of palette-swapping between enemy types as they get stronger, but that only serves to appeal to old-school RPG fans. The character designs for the members of your party could stand to be a little better, but overall the aesthetic is pleasing to the eye.
As the developers aimed to please those old-school RPG fans, they did well to make sure that there was a soundtrack to match. The music in Rainbow Moon is very catchy, particularly the various battle themes, and can sometimes be downright fantastic. Composer Rafael Dyll did a great job channeling the sounds of the games of yore, and it’ll stick with you for days.
There’s very little to dislike here. Perhaps some will wish that the story wasn’t so bare-boned, while others may grow weary of grinding for hours at a time. For someone looking for a simple RPG fix, though, Rainbow Moon offers a meat-and-potatoes experience that is so rarely seen these days. The main quest offers dozens of hours of play time, and dozens more open up after that if you’re so inclined. At just fifteen bucks, this is easily the PSN sleeper hit of the year.