February 15, 2007

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Rogue Galaxy, (PS2)
Level-5, 2007
By Glenn Given production@hippopress.com

Space is the place for whiney blonde heroes, dashing space pirates, intergalactic princesses and ... hrmmm, I think Rogue Galaxy is cribbing from somebody.

Dragon Quest VII creators Level-5 have managed to avoid (most of) the horrid non-sense of traditional RPG plots with Rogue Galaxy. Granted they do so by employing nearly every space opera cliche that ever spilled from George Lucasí hackneyed gourd, but somehow it all works. The sci-fi tropes that American nerds have clung to like a fundamentalist to a King James Bible find new life through cel-shaded anime interpretation. As Jaster Rogue (the aforementioned whiney blonde) you skip from planet to planet methodically advancing the plot from your orphan beginings to the inevitable hero-hood. While not as brain-jarringly idiotic as most RPGs you are likely to find, Rogue Galaxy isnít exactly Proust. What keeps you going are the smart design choices and genuinely fun gameplay.

Level-5 seems to have learned that players donít want to be locked onto rails in their game worlds and has graciously implemented a convienient save system that makes hopscotching from deep in a dungeon to the deck of your spaceship a snap. While fighting skews closer to Kingdom Hearts than Final Fantasy, Rogue Galaxy doesnít blur the tactics of sci-fantasy combat into a button-mashing contest. Players still need to make strategic decisions in battle but can generally rely on the AI to notify you when a boss-smacking special move is ready to go, or if any party members are on the brink of death. Theyíve also improved on the overly obtuse development systems found in recent RPGs by notifiying players of the availability of new skills when the correct items are found. Itís the tidy handling of these details that makes Rogue Galaxy an enjoyable game despite its flaws.

The flaws can grind your teeth when they do manifest, though. Combat is often harder than need be and some of the dungeon lengths drag on for far too long. There is an optional planet to visit added especially for the North American version but itís mostly ignorable. Rogue Galaxy gets on well enough with its plot held up primarily by its likeable characters (after all, who doesnít love a space pirate?); the meat of the game is a fun well-paced adventure with energetic combat and enough subtlety in its character development to satisfy. But, in the end, itís nothing amazing. If the best thing about a game is a pleasurably integrated save system how can you give it more than a B+

ó Glenn Given.