I love downloadable games for their often unique concepts and gameplay mechanics but most seem to end up a bit on the short side. Rainbow Moon stands in stark contrast to this trend. A classic styled RPG that could take you dozens of hours to complete. Does this make for the best value in a PSN title ever, or a grind that will have you wishing for the end well before you get there?
Baldren is taking a walk through a forbidden forest to face off against his arch nemesis when he comes upon an ancient, long-dormant portal. It seems Baldren's foe has different plans and he finds himself sucked into the portal to a world called Rainbow Moon. He's not the only new visitor to Rainbow Moon, however, as a plethora of monsters, led by Baldren's most powerful enemy, have also come along for the ride. Obviously the locals initially blame you for all their troubles, so you travel this new world looking for a way back home and proving to people that you aren't the reason for the monster invasion.
Most RPG storylines fall within one of two camps - they're either epic or funny - but Rainbow Moon doesn't really fall into either category. Every person you talk to in the game has a bit of back story, but then they dive straight into giving you hints about the world in general or talking about the next thing you need to do on your quest. They serve their purpose of providing direction, and a few of the side quests are interesting, but overall the dialogue is just a means to an end, and is by no means the game's main focus. Whether or not this is a negative quality will depend on the individual player, but from my perspective, when an RPG has a dull narrative it definitely detracts from the overall experience.
Thankfully Rainbow Moon's battle system fares far better. After a slow start, where you're allowed to perform only one move per turn at first, you'll eventually have a plethora of sub-turns that you can use as you like. Moving a square on the battlefield requires a sub-turn, as does any other action, so after a while you'll be able to do a lot more with your turn than move a single square. This is mitigated by later enemies practically requiring that you end every turn by defending, so while you may think you have five sub-turns you'll only realistically be able to utilise four of them for other actions.
Another unique aspect of Rainbow Moon is the acquisition of experience and levels. You'll gain experience for succeeding in battle, but only the character that threw the killing blow will be rewarded with Rainbow Pearls. When experience increases a character's level, all you gain is a boost to health and mana points; your base stats do not directly increase. Instead you get the ability to spend Rainbow Pearls on increasing strength, speed, defense, luck, or extra hit points and mana. This means you really have to spread the love around when it comes to your battle strategies, as you would in say a Disgaea title, though in contrast with Disgaea I didn't notice any rewards for healing or buffing, so you really can't focus any one character on that too much. Usually the balance between acquiring experience and Pearls works well but there were a couple of times where one would outpace the other and I'd be forced to grind for additional Pearls.
Grinding is actually a big part of Rainbow Moon in general. I completed the main storyline after 64 hours, but it only took me about 50 to get to the final boss. What I find annoying about the final boss is that his stage has absolutely no obstacles in it - it's just a flat arena. This means that there aren't too many clever strategies you can use to trap him on one side or another and you just have to get lucky that he's not smart enough to run up to your weakest character and kill him/her while ignoring your tank. This is actually a recurring theme for a lot of the bosses, but most of them come with minions or some obstacles that you can use to trap them into attacking your tank character. Even then, though, the boss will sometimes wise up and start making a beeline for your weakest character.
You gain new characters as you play through, but for efficiency's sake it's best if you figure out three you like and just stick with them. Since you're stuck with only three options for quite a long period of the game I simply stuck with them. The problem with this system is that characters that join you later in the game don't seem appropriately high leveled for when they join, and so after I got past the fourth character there was never a moment where I considered switching one of the original three out for someone new. It's unfortunate that this is the case because each character does come with a specialty. The game's weakness system means that sometimes one of your three will be at a huge disadvantage against a boss, but the money and extra experience/Pearls needed to get one of the other three characters up to speed just isn't worth it.
True to its name, Rainbow Moon is awash with colors, though the character models are pretty simplistic and uninteresting. The music is good, but naturally you'll find it repeats a lot over the 50+ hours of play time you'll get out of the game. One aspect of the sound design which I did quite enjoy was the minimal voice acting for NPCs you meet along the way. Each one will give you a little sound bite when you start and finish talking to them, and some of them sound so ridiculous that I couldn't help but smile (it's not what they say, but how they say it). Overall, Rainbow Moon's presentation is decent, but if the gameplay doesn't win you over then I doubt the visuals or audio will either.
The key question you need to ask yourself if you're considering purchasing Rainbow Moon is this: 'how much do you count grinding as value in a game?' If you really enjoy this kind of battle system I can envisage the grinding being its own reward, and so you'll get countless hours of entertainment out of this cheap PSN title. If you're like me, though, you need something to keep you going, and Rainbow Moon's battle system and story just aren't interesting enough to keep the grinding from feeling like... well, a grind.
This review is based on a download copy of Rainbow Moon for the PlayStation 3, provided by the publisher.