We all want to relive what we loved as a child and JRPGs were that thing for me. But does Rainbow Skies live up to the hype and my rose tinted nostalgia glasses?
The Long and the Short
Now, I’m just going to clear the air and come right out and say it, I didn’t make it all the way through Rainbow Skies. I know, I know, game review blasphemy, but hear me out. I thought this over and over in my head before I started this review and I eventually came to this conclusion: writing something is much more valuable than sitting on it and letting it fade into the aether. Obviously, I’ll always try my best to complete a game, but if I’m not feeling it or if I hit a roadblock, then so be it! It’s all a part of the experience and that’s really what I want to try and showcase.
Fear not my friends, I may still go back to it someday, but as of right now I think I’ve had my fill. If I’m perfectly honest though, I do feel horrible about it. Not only was I looking forward to soaking in some classic tactics RPG goodness, but Eastasiasoft was kind enough to send me a code so I could take a look at it early.
Admittedly, I’ve not played a “traditional” RPG in a long time, but I’ve always considered myself a fan of the old school, turn based ways. Maybe I’ve just grown out of this style of game or maybe I just need a little less wait to take my turn and more “real-time” action in my RPG, but I’m not quite sure that’s it. If anything, there were many mechanics in Rainbow Skies that were quite clever and fun. But, there was just something about how it was all put together and a few nagging imperfections that eventually pushed me away.
But that’s enough about my “dropped game” guilt and let’s dive into the how and why I got there and some of the reasons it may still be worth checking out!
Monster Party in the Sky!
In Rainbow Skies you begin your adventure as Damion a brash (somewhat brainless) denizen of a floating island in the sky where he is about to complete his final trial as a monster trainer. Not many people have too much faith in Damion, (including his Uncle, who happens to be his guardian) so it’s no surprise when he lets all of the monsters loose on the island while training with his friend/mentor Layne.
Instead of successfully cleaning up the self-inflicted mess Damion and Layne find themselves on a downward spiral of trouble….right off the island and onto the surface below, Lunah. This is when Damion and Layne meet their third and final party member and want-to-be sorceress Ashly.
So, it’s not exactly a grab the edge of your seat, I need to know what happens next, beginning of a story, but you could probably say that about most RPGs of this type. It wasn’t really the story that made me want to stick with Rainbow Skies at this point anyways, it was the witty dialog and character interactions (short all the annoying sounds the NPCs make when you talk or interact with them).
All around the game seems silly, light hearted and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I can more than appreciate. It’s definitely the type of game you would want to play when you’re in the mood to just relax and vegetate on the couch for a few hours at a time. At this point in the game there wasn’t really too much to complain about.
Let me see that helmet…
Well, I really shouldn’t say there wasn’t anything to complain about. Actually, there was one thing that irked me from the very beginning. Even before I encountered the story or the silly dialog. And that was the graphics.
It wasn’t the quality of the graphics either. You can definitely tell the developers put a lot of effort into creating the assets for this game. They are very clean and readable, but I just found they lacked any real style. Especially if you compared the ingame graphics to what is represented on the cover art. Where the cover art felt like it drew inspiration from classic Squaresoft JRPGs, the in game graphics felt much more like canned assets from generic RPGEngine 2010 (patent pending).
It didn’t stop at the graphical style either, the character and monster animations felt rigid and a bit too mechanical. I get where the devs were coming from and I see what they were trying to achieve with their seemingly low frame count animations. It reminded me a lot of the pixelated RPGs of yesteryear, but in my mind it didn’t quite translate nor was it as endearing as it used to be. Especially in 2018 when there is a variety of games (RPGs included) that try to bring back that nostalgia, but more successfully.
The one redeeming quality of the graphics, and this is something I love to see in every game RPG or otherwise, is that when you change your equipment it’s reflected on your character!! Just upgraded to that super badass sword?? It’s there in all of it’s glory, inside and out of battle. Just found that super strong, but super ugly helmet??? Well now it’ll rear its ugly head wherever you go!!
But a good RPG isn’t always about the graphics (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy!!). In my experience it’s the music that really sticks with you over the years (I’m looking at you again Final Fantasy!). So how’s the music in Rainbow Skies?? More than serviceable and mildly catchy. I mean, I had the overworld theme stuck in my head for a few days, so kudos to that! But, honestly after it faded from memory I’d say a little less memorable than you’d expect from this type of game. However, in the context of an RPG that is trying to bring back that classic feel, it certainly delivered.
My Little Rant
In the end it was the gameplay in Rainbow Skies was really the crux of my experience. And probably the most divisive. It’s what made me initially like the game, but also what eventually made me drop it like it was hot.
In Rainbow Skies you are given a plethora of systems and sub-systems used to manage your quests, gear, levels, side-quests and a variety of other features that you’ll interact with as you play the game. Again, nothing new in an RPG, but it was how it was handled that made me grow tired of it after my 15 hour stint.
For the most part (and your mileage may vary) this was cool and many of systems added a little spice to how your characters progressed gameplay-wise. For example, each one of your character’s abilities can be leveled up the more you use them during battle, and as the abilities level up you’ll unlock more abilities within that tier. Or you can level up each individual piece of equipment for each character by either attacking (for weapons) or being hit (for armor/accessories). Then there were “inherent” skills each character could level up and acquire that would increase your HP or Strength among other stats by consuming one of three types of skill stones (red, yellow or blue depending on the requirement of the skill). Which depending on the color would be easier or harder to find.
Lots and lots of customization!! Who wouldn’t want to configure their character with a fine tooth comb! And that’s all well and good, but in many instances what I was trying to level up either had little noticeable effects or the abilities just didn’t seem useful enough to spend time and resources on. This was really where the downward spiral became apparent for me. Most of the character abilities felt underpowered or had weird ranges that never seemed to line up with an enemy. Or if an ability was particularly useless or uninteresting I was forced to fumble around with it long enough to level it up just to see if the next ability in that tier was any better. The awkward isometric tactics style controls during battle didn’t help either. They felt backwards or slightly skewed in some cases. Certainly no Final Fantasy Tactics.
Then there’s your equipment, outside of being able to level it during battle, you can also upgrade it using materials and other specialized items to increase the armor’s “gear level”. This ultimately makes it stronger in either defense or attack and may give passive bonuses to your stats. Super useful, but then if you find a new piece of gear, you lose all of those resources you put into your old crappy stuff. Which sucks but it’s just something you have to deal with in most RPGs right? Well in this one the items seemed particularly rare so you really have to think about if it’s worth it before you spend!! The old armor will sell for more, but then you think to yourself, well I should have just waited to use it to level up my cool new armor!!
I know, I know, it’s a resource management and the art of self restraint. But I want to trick out my current armor and not think of the future dang it!! What really got me though, and what eventually made me put the game down was that it all just felt like a grind. Leveling up your character didn’t seem to go as fast as I felt it should have, I was playing for 15 hours and only reached level 9! If the battle system was fun and rewarding that wouldn’t really be an issue, but alas it wasn’t. It was a repetitive slog and just felt like a chore. But I digress… I could seriously go on an on about the niggly things found in Rainbow Skies’ systems that push my buttons in the wrong way but, I think you can see where I’m coming from.
It’s not all bad I swear!
It wasn’t all bad though, there were really some great features that I think any RPG could truly benefit from.
For starters, remembers those times when all you wanted to do was get to that one treasure box across the room, but it took you an hour because the random encounters bogged you down?? Well fear not!! Although Rainbow Skies “technically” has random encounters you can completely choose to ignore them! Instead of being forced into a battle, you will be prompted when you encounter an enemy. At that point you can either initiate the battle by pressing the confirm button or go about your merry day.
There are times when you’ll see an enemy on the map as well, here you’ll usually be forced to fight them if you want to get by, but otherwise it’s all up to you! The only real catch is if you choose to ignore too many enemies you’ll be severely underleveled and underpowered.
Another cool feature is your ability to increase or decrease the battle difficulty at any point in the game. In order to increase the difficulty you’ll need to meet the minimum successful “hard enemy” battles completed and talk to a specific NPC, but decreasing the difficulty comes for free! You’ll have to build up those successful battles again if you want to try your hand at the higher difficulty in the future, but from my experience it comes pretty naturally.
The real benefit to this is that for one, if the game seems too easy, you can increase the challenge, but you’ll also get money and experience bonuses for doing so. Not to mention the ability to unlock difficulty specific items, enemies, bosses and events. From what I can tell you are definitely encouraged to gradually increase the difficulty so you can see these extra features, but it’s certainly not necessary to beat the game. Also, if at any point that one a-hole boss is giving you a hard time, you can drop that difficulty a bit with little in regards to loses (other than you’re pride that is). And you can always build yourself back up to your desired difficulty level.
Phew!! That was a roller coaster, but I think that that’s a sign that this game had so much potential. And that I wanted to like it that much more. But the real question is, would I recommend Rainbow Skies to anyone who cares to listen? Well, that actually a tough decision. What I really think is that this game was made for a particular audience and to those who love old school, turn based RPGs with a large swath of systems then absolutely!! Go give it a go!! Honestly, I was right there with you. Also, if you liked SideQuests Studios previous game Rainbow Moon, which is a predecessor to this game, then Rainbow Skies is probably right up your alley as well. But for those of us who don’t quite have the time to grow to love a game like I used to, or would prefer to have their games be a little less grindy then you may want to look elsewhere.
And here’s the trailer!!
What are some of your favorite classic RPGs?! Are you looking forward to trying Rainbow Skies for yourself??
**Trailer and the image used in the header courtesy of Eastasiasoft**